SELF-CONTROL: Fruit 9 of the Spirit
Galatians 5:23b
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control ( self-control is restraint in the face of temptation ( every instinct, thought, motive, motion, and word under God’s control. Technically, self-control is not self-control, but God-control, whereby Jesus, enthroned over the passions of our heart, exercises His power to moderate us.

The call to be a Christian is the call to tame our urges. As believers, we have feelings, opinions, and passions, but we are to demonstrate a God-controlled response to life situations which is superior to responses made by unbelievers.

The truly noble Christian gains God’s victory over self. This is, for believers, true greatness of soul.

Ultimately, the battle of Christian living begins and ends, is won or lost, in one’s own self. To control outward aspects of life, we must first gain control over our own inner selves.

Extra care is required in defining self-control. It is not stoicism, a suppression of all emotion. Trying to be like the Star Trek movie character, Mr. Spock, is no virtue.

Self-control is not an effort to achieve the Buddhist ideal of Nirvana, the absence of all desire. Our Lord, who was self-controlled, had emotions and desires. He cried, became angry, felt pity and physical pain, and knew how to enjoy Himself at a wedding feast. Jesus was a young single adult male who experienced the full gamut of feelings.

Emotions and urges are God-given and normal. Trouble develops when we let Satan hyper-extend our natural feelings and passions. The self-controlled let God curtail their desires, cut them off at the right intensity.

Any part of life out of control is a red flag, indicating God is not in control of that area. The self-controlled do not skew their instincts out of control, but instead have each impulse and response curbed by King Jesus.

Yielding recklessly to our hyper-desires is easy, a swimming along with the tide of our old corrupt nature. Self-control, never automatic, requires bucking our own sinful selves, submitting to God, and complying with His desires.

Saying yes to God necessitates saying no to our old self in every area of life. I use “every” advisedly, and mean it literally. A few examples may help.

One, self-control entails victory over our attitude toward our lot in life. Control self-pity. Avoid excess. At times we may be perplexed and disappointed, but we must never despair. The self-controlled refuse to respond with rebellion or with sulking against God’s providence in their own personal lives.

At some point we must come to grips with the difficulties and burdens we all face in life. For God’s glory and for our own good, refuse to yield to bitterness. With self-control accept God’s will for us.

He chose our parents, determined our looks, shaped our personality, decided what talents we would or would not have. Learn to be like Jesus who, in Gethsemane, initially prayed for the cup to be removed, but then yielded, accepting “the cup the Father has given Me” (John 18:11).

Two, self-control entails victory over our attitude toward others. We must forgive our enemies and others who wrong us. A lady who lived long with hatred was asked on her death bed to forgive, but answered, “I cannot forgive though I go to hell.” Some would rather sacrifice their soul than their malice.

Three, self-control entails victory over our anger. Like Jesus, we need to be angry at times, not for our self, but for God and others. Once anger rouses us to the proper response in a given situation, quickly drop the passion. The self-controlled will not let an inner storm blow them off the straight and narrow path. What we do in anger can usually be better done out of anger.

Frederick, Duke of Saxony, the supporter of the Lutheran Reformation, when he became angry, would wisely shut himself in his closet and let no one come near him till he had mastered his passion.

Slow the lips. “I might as well say it as think it” is a lie of Satan. Leave angry thoughts unverbalized. Evict outbursts of temper, loss of control, flying off the handle.

Temper fits are outlets given to dark hostilities within, a flash of fury, a violent outbreak of emotion, resentment boiling over. Doors are slammed, cats are kicked, fists are clenched and rammed into walls or people, faces become flush, veins pop out on the neck. In personal relationships these outbursts of rage can in moments destroy camaraderie developed over years. Such outrageous activity should never be part of a Christian’s behavior.

Temper fits are learned behavior, a habit developed through years of practice. Adults with this ailment were not disciplined properly as children when they displayed this form of behavior, or worse, they may have learned the practice from imitating their parents.

Parents, when your children throw a temper fit, do not turn and look the other way. Be good and kind to your children. End this behavior pattern before it becomes their habit.

Four, self-control entails victory over our ambitions. Moderate aspirations. David knew he would someday reign, but when given opportunity to become king by killing Saul, refused to advance himself wrongly. David held in his ambitions.

Jesus subdued His aspirations, not seeing equality with God as something to be clutched at all costs. He rather yielded to the Father’s will, took on Himself the role of a suffering servant, and accepted God’s timing for His re-enthronement at the Father’s right hand.

Self-control demands neither rights, privileges, nor status, and holds ego under control. Many, driven by a lust to succeed, let their schedules run amok. He who has too many irons in the fire eventually gets his hand burned. Learn self-control. Get your ambitions under control. A reasonable schedule will follow.

Five, self-control entails victory over our appetites: sex only in marriage, food only in reasonable portions, no extended credit card debt, cars and houses we can afford, clothes in style, but not exorbitant ( the old maxim still applies, live on 80% of your income, give God 10%, save 10%. Never let goods become our god.

Abraham subdued his desire to accumulate wealth. He let Lot have the first choice of land, and was content with what was left.

The sweetest victories of life are times we overcome our own self. When we deny self, we know we truly do love the Lord.

I know me, and the intense energy and awesome power needed to overcome me. My old man, my sin nature, is formidable. My chief accomplishments are not my professional attainments. They, too, are due solely to God, but knowing the sheer might of my body of sin, I deem my victories over it my choicest triumphs.

Subdued anger, overcoming depression, ending profanity, curbing my eating habits, squelching wrongful ambitions, etc.( the battle continues to rage. My most common frustration is disgust at my own self, centered in my intense struggle to give Jesus greater God-control over me.

Jesus commanded, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34). “ (cross” is a self-denial we take voluntarily. Self-control proves we have chosen the path of self-denial.

We need this evidence. Jesus said, “Whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38). The proof that Jesus lives and reigns in our heart is that its desires and impulses are controlled by Him.

Having every instinct and desire under God’s control is a believer’s mark of distinction. The rabbis took pride in learning the law, the Greeks in philosophy, the Romans in brute power. Christians take pride in self-control.

“Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s temper, than capturing a city” (Proverbs 16:32). Disciplined inner strength is one of the rarest, most impressive traits in human existence. It is also spiritually rewarding, and required of believers.