The New Man is impossible without knowing the love of God. This is not just something we understand in our mind, but something we experience in our heart–we must be born-again. The Holy Spirit is the power who perfects holiness in us and makes Christ a living reality in our lives. He does this by producing in us the fruit of self-control. He shows that there can be no mixture between darkness and light (evil and good).
He creates in us the desire to separate ourselves from the sinful world and to live in a way that is pleasing to God. Self-control for a Christian is really Spirit-control. That is what the apostle Paul was talking about in Romans 8:
Romans 8:5–10 “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
Thus, self-control as the fruit of the Spirit counteracts all the works of the sinful nature. Once you are saved and the Holy Spirit indwells your life, you are no longer under bondage to the sinful nature. However, throughout your earthly life you will need to exercise disciplined control over fleshly desires.
The flesh (sinful nature) will do everything it can to regain control of your life. But as you surrender control to the Holy Spirit, He keeps the flesh from having power over you. This makes effective self-control possible.
To be holy means to be Christ-like. The characteristics which are called the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23 are the characteristics of Christ which are produced in us by the Holy Spirit as we submit ourselves to His control.
Self-control is the characteristic which makes it possible for us to separate ourselves from the world and unto God. It is the process by which holiness is perfected in us.
Galatians 5:22-23 “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
There are things from which the Christian must totally abstain. These are the acts of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19–21, Romans 1:29–31, Romans 3:12–18, and Mark 7:22–23). But God has created many good things for us to enjoy in moderation, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in accordance with the will of God.
Look at what the Bible says about self-control in specific areas of our lives.
1. Control of the tongue.
Self-control begins with the tongue. James 3:2 tells us, “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” James goes on to describe how difficult it is for us to control our tongue. The person who truly desires to have the fruit of self-control must start by allowing the Holy Spirit to control his tongue. The tongue which is under the control of the Holy Spirit cannot at the same time praise its Lord and Father and curse people, who have been made in God’s likeness.
2. Control of sexual desire.
The physical union of a husband and wife is honorable and blessed of God. In 1 Corinthians 7 the apostle Paul gives instruction for the proper control of sexual desire within marriage. He goes on to say that if the unmarried and widows “cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (vv. 8–9). The word control is translated from enkrateuomai, the same verb used for self-control as the fruit of the Spirit. People willing to remain unmarried need the “enkrateuomai” of the Holy Spirit to control normal sexual desires. The importance of this control is made clear in 1 Thessalonians 4:3–7:
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”
3. Moderation in daily habits.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12–20 the apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of honoring God with your body. Not only is he speaking about sexual immorality in this passage, but also about any other practice which would dishonor your body and thus dishonor God. Paul writes, “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both” (vs. 12–13). Gluttony and drunkenness are sinful habits of self-indulgence which we are warned against in Scripture:
Proverbs 23:20–21 “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor.”
How can we condemn someone for drunkenness when we eat excessive amounts of food and do harm to our bodies by overweight? Many of us need the help of the Holy Spirit to learn self-control or moderation in our eating habits.
4. Moderation in the use of time.
Probably the greatest example of self-indulgence in the Bible is the rich fool who said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years—take life easy—eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Jesus stressed the importance of using our time wisely in his discourse on watchfulness (Luke 12:35–48).
A balanced life will give the right amount of time to work, to Bible study and prayer, to rest and leisure. The man who is so devoted to his work that he neglects his family has not learned the proper control of his time. The person who is lazy or who wastes his time in worthless activities does not have self-control. The apostle Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians:
1 Thessalonians 5:6–8 “Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled.”
5. Self-control of the mind.
Today there are many attractions and distractions that can take our minds off of the love and righteousness of God. Your daily activities—what you read, watch, listen to, or expose yourself to, along with who you spend your time with, will affect your thought life. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to keep our thoughts on what pleases Him.
Romans 13:14 “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
These two Scripture verses tell us how to control our minds—don’t think about evil things, and do think about good and profitable things. It is God’s plan that, beginning with salvation, the believer will be led to a self-controlled life.
Titus 2:11–12 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
Self-control as the fruit of the Spirit is the self-denial of evil desires or pleasures. The verb form related to self-control is enkrateuomai, which is used in 1 Corinthians 9:25 to describe the strict training and discipline of athletes who are striving to win the prize. The analogies of the athlete and the soldier are often present in Paul’s writings. They both evidently speak of self-discipline, which is essential in sports and military activities.
Paul encourages the Corinthians to “run in such a way as to get the prize.” He goes on to say, “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (vs. 26–27). Paul is not speaking here of inflicting his body with lashes from a rod; he is speaking of keeping his body in subjection, controlling desires that are not pleasing to God.
The athlete who works hard to train his body only when his coach is watching will never win the prize. The driver who obeys the traffic signal only when a policeman is nearby is not practicing self-control. The worker who slows down on the job when the foreman is absent is not self-disciplined.
All of these demonstrate an outward appearance of conforming to the expectations of another without any real change taking place on the inside. Self-control is mastery over the desires of the self.
2 Timothy 3:2-6 “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions.”
Mark 12:30-31 “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Before Christ came into my life, my decisions were based on my feelings—to avoid pain or gain pleasure. I was constantly looking for instant gratification to vault me out of the weight of fear, anger, discomfort, boredom, and hopelessness. Satan oppressed me with lies and false beliefs creating anxiety and depression. John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; but Jesus came to give us life and life more abundantly.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Jesus shares several commands in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, chapters five through seven.
Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Galatians 5:22-26 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”