Self-Control In An Out Of Control Culture
But the fruit of the Spirit is... self-control (Galatians 5:23).
One of the fruit of the spirit that God has placed within us as Christians is self-control. In this age of looseness and excess, we have the ability from God to curb every human appetite and passion. Someone has said that true freedom only exists in restraint.
The highway of freedom has two ditches on either side. In one ditch is legalism, the excess of rigid and stringent laws and demands to curb behavior. In the other ditch is unbridled excessive living where any and everything is ok. A person who chooses to live without restraint will eventually become a slave to what he or she allows in excess. Ask the alcoholic, the drug addict, the gambler, or the sex addict how their life is going after a few years of unbridled living.
Each of us has to deal with the excesses we allow in the various areas of living. If we choose, we have the ability to exercise self-control in our spiritual life, in our mental and emotional life, and with the desires of the body.
Our spirit life must be guarded from excess. You’ve perhaps been around a person who is so “spiritual” that they are not easy to be around and are not practical enough to relate to the world around them. We can learn to be naturally spiritual, with our feet firmly on the ground while pursuing God in the balance of work, family, relationships, recreation, and church life.
We can learn to be self-controlled in our mental life. We can allow our spirit nature through the Word of God to rule our behavior. Obeying the Word of God as we go through our day is really allowing our spirit nature to govern our lifestyle. Our mind, influenced by our surroundings, seeks to lead us into paths of compromise with the values of our culture that go against the grain of our relationship with Jesus. If we go there, it will cost us our peace and joy in the Lord. We can learn to control our thoughts and not allow them to control us. I personally do this by meditating on scripture when I have what I call idle mental time, when I have some time to relax from working or from things that demand concentration.
Our emotions can dominate us unless we choose to restrain them. Emotions in a healthy person are generally a result of thoughts. When we are feeling down or blue, we should check up on what we’ve been thinking about. Thoughts fuel emotions. To change our emotions, we can learn to redirect our thoughts. When I was young my emotions ruled me most days. Life was a roller coaster. I was up and down and moody emotionally. Over time I learned to value the Word of God over my feelings and I learned to force my mind away from negative thinking by consciously choosing to think on scripture instead of the negative events from my past or present.
We can also learn to harness our will. Stubbornness can be expensive. It can cost us in our relationships, in our work, our family, and in our relationship with God. We can choose to daily take up our cross like Jesus asked us to do, and yield our will and our bodies to the Father. It is a good idea to allow others to have their way every time we can and not push our own agenda. Allowing others to do things their way and not demand our own is a good discipline if we are strong willed and tend to dominate things at home or work.
Lastly, we can learn to control the appetites of the body. We can learn to say no and refuse to yield to all of its appetites and desires. Bad physical habits are a challenge to break, and our bodies are regularly tempted to excess by the environment and the culture around us, and by previous indulgences we allowed in our lives before we were born again.
We can deal sternly with our body and refuse to be its slave! We can control it or our body will control us! Fasting is a great aid in controlling the body. Missing a meal or two can teach us to say no to physical urges. Really, the best way to control our physical habits is to keep a watch on what we think about throughout our day since thoughts, both conscious and subconscious, rule what we do.
The Father has placed the seeds of self-control in our spirit nature. Self-control is God’s strength, God’s ability manifested in our behavior. Let’s humble ourselves before God today, and ask Him for self-control in our out of control areas of life. He stands ready and waiting for our permission to help us!
I’ll leave you today with several translations of 1 Corinthians 9:27, where Paul mentioned his challenge with his own body:
But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit] (Amplified).
I am my body’s sternest master, for fear that when I have preached to others I should myself be disqualified (J.B. Phillips).
But I discipline my body and make it serve me, so that, while I am preaching to others, I myself may not be disqualified (Berkeley).
But I keep on beating and bruising my body and making it my slave, so that I, after I have summoned others to the race, may not myself become unfit to run (Williams).
Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside (Living).
But I hit hard and straight at my own body and lead it off into slavery, lest possibly, after I have been a herald to others, I should myself be rejected (Weymouth).
But I beat my body black and blue and make it my abject slave lest somehow, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified [from further Christian service] (Wuest).