Finding Self-Control (Easier Said Than Done)

Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law.

Galatians lists nine qualities, collectively called the fruit of the Spirit. All nine types of fruit come from one source, the Holy Spirit, and together they express the character of the one God.

We typically depend on God to produce the first eight varieties of the Spirit’s fruit, primarily because we know (from numerous failed self-efforts) that we aren’t very good at producing these qualities on our own. Love? We fail at that all the time. Joy? That certainly ebbs and flows. Peace only lasts until we get angry or upset.

Our prayers echo our dependence on God: Lord give me patience. Make me kind. Teach me to be good and faithful and gentle. Eight varieties of fruit. Eight areas where we know we must depend on God to provide what we need.

An Apparent Exception
Somehow, however, when we get to self-control our perspective shifts; we make an exception with this ninth variety of fruit. We don’t ask for help in controlling ourselves because we assume it’s our job to control ourselves. We not only think we can manage it, we think we should manage it. That’s an error.

It’s a pretty easy mistake to make. Just look at the name: self-control. At first glance it sounds like the responsibility to control our baser impulses is up to ourselves. Doesn’t the word “self” mean that we must do the controlling? No, it doesn’t. We are as impotent to pull off control of ourselves we are to pull off consistent gentleness or kindness or anything else that reflects God’s character.

Clearing Up the Confusion
We’re right when we think that “self-control” refers to the control of ourselves, but we err when we think we are the ones who have the ability to exercise that control. The needed control of ourselves comes not from ourselves but from the Spirit. We can’t produce self-control any more than we can produce patience. We are no more successful at controlling ourselves than we are at unconditional love. Only the Spirit has the power to produce His fruit. He didn’t turn self-control over to us.

Our misconceived responsibility produces both stress and a guilty sense of failure. We’re in a bind: we must … but we can’t. Is there a need for self-control? Absolutely. But relax. The Spirit provides self-control just like He provides peace and joy and all the rest. Self-control is part and parcel of the fruit that is produced not by us but by God.

Becoming a Spiritual Gourmet
If a friend offers you a bite of their Tiramisu all you have to do to enjoy it is open your mouth, let them spoon it in, and savor their gift. It’s all receptive.

Spiritual gourmets do much the same. To eat the Spirit’s food we open ourselves to His presence, He “spoons in” His fruit, and we savor its presence. We don’t produce His fruit; we receive it. Self-control – just like the other eight varieties of fruit – isn’t our achievement but the Spirit’s gift. We only need to be willing to eat.

Finding Self-Control (Easier Said Than Done)
© Lynne Fox, 2017

3 thoughts on “Finding Self-Control (Easier Said Than Done)

  • September 8, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    That makes sense, context helps.

  • September 8, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Ahha, and therein lies the problem! I open my mouth and spoon it in when I should be controlling my mouth and choosing what is let in, non metaphorically speaking.
    Probably because of your venture into the fruit of the spirit and my conflict with your interpretation of patience not being needed in heaven I have been thinking about the fruits of the spirit (and the gifts of the spirit).
    Self Control seems more like a dance to me than a reception. The spirit certainly is the author of the self control but I have to use it and practice it.

    • September 8, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Pamela, now you have me thinking. I love your analogy of dancing with the Lord because our relationship with Him is exquisitely interactive. However, I’m talking here about the ORIGIN of self-control. So many people think self-control originates with self rather than with the Lord. I think self-control is a New Covenant phenomenon. In the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:4-6), adequacy originates with God, we receive it, it flows through us and is expressed by us. (Contrast the Old Covenant, which assumes that adequacy originates from within ourselves and ignores the need to first receive it from God.)


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