A few weeks ago, I came home from work and Matthew’s friend was at our apartment. I’m not antisocial, but I went in our room and closed the door. I mean, I said hi and everything, but I bee-lined for the other room pretty quickly. Why, you ask? Because I wanted to eat my 4 Cadbury eggs by myself and not have to share. True story. I mean, I didn’t plan to eat all 4. I just wanted to eat one or two and keep the rest for later. But you know, things happen. And 600 calories of sugar later, there we were.So now that that confession is out of the way, let’s talk about self-control. To some of us, maybe “self control” means not binging on Cadbury eggs in your bed on a Sunday afternoon. To others, maybe it means abstaining from sex, or alcohol, or something else that can be destructive in the wrong context. Maybe it means holding your tongue.
I think the term self-control is an oxymoron in a way, though, because “controlling” myself is something at which I tend to fail. (Hence the Cadbury-egg fiasco of 2016.) Conquering my own sin, I’ve found, is not possible. Maybe I can hide from it for a while, but actually defeating it, actually turning away and running from it, actually staying away from it, without Christ? Impossible. I’m not alone in this struggle, and neither are you. Paul, who wrote a lot of the New Testament, says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).
Self-control is the ninth and final fruit of the Spirit. It seems like it should be an easy one—it is more concrete, more action-oriented, than goodness or faithfulness or gentleness. Oh, but it’s not an easy one! There’s a reason that it’s a fruit of the Spirit that is refined on a deeper-than-surface-level only by God as He forms the Christian into His image. There’s a reason that enduring self-control not a common characteristic of the human race.
The good news is that “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). The good news is that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The good news is that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
It’s not easy. No cultivation process for any of the fruits of the Spirit is easy. Yes, God prunes and waters and helps all nine of them to grow in the person who has accepted and chosen to follow His son Jesus Christ. Yes, they will be ever-increasingly present in the life of the Christian who walks daily with Christ. But no, the journey will not be easy.
Just as the Bible is full of verses about God equipping and God cultivating, it is also full of commands for the Christian to obey and to walk in Jesus’ ways. Jesus himself said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Philippians 2:12 says, “ Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This is not a work-based salvation but rather a command to put some effort into becoming like Christ. God’s not telling you to miraculously exhibit self-control to run from sin all at once but simply to try; the very next verse (Philippians 2:13) says that “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” You make the effort; God makes the heart change.
So you see, we can’t sit here and expect to suddenly be self-controlled, or faithful, or loving, or kind. It takes an effort on our part, a daily effort to pursue God and His will for our lives. But as we serve Him, even when we fail, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).
Salvation comes through Christ alone. We are never going to be loving enough, or joyful enough, or peaceful enough, or patient enough, or kind enough, or faithful enough, or good enough, or gentle enough, or self-controlled enough to be our own saviors or to make ourselves worthy of our Savior. Rightness with God, my friend, is a gift given only through Jesus. And once that gift has been accepted, salvation is secure. But at that point, we are no longer slaves to sin, so why would we live as such? Instead, we should “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
As we strive to mirror Jesus, the power to resist the temptations—both of action and apathy—is ours. Self-control is a gift that is given when we choose to follow Christ, and it is cultivated throughout our lives as the Holy Spirit influences us and helps us become disciplined like Jesus was during His earthly ministry. The gift of salvation will change our eternity; self-control and the fruits of the Spirit will change our daily lives.