Under Control

During this session of class, the point was brought up that self-control is one element in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. If you’re familiar with the Bible, this doesn’t really strike you as shocking or make you scoot toward the end of your seat. Hold on, though, you may just get there by the end of this post; because the funny thing about self-control is that we can’t control ourselves.

Let’s have a quick refresher on our passage, Galatians 5:22-23, which says,

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

“Oh yeah, that’s nice… *sighs*

Of course, we must also recall the verses prior to that passage:

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (19-21).

Remember which passage describes me? Describes you? Describes all of us? Yeah… the second one. This is a rough place to dwell: we fall, we fail, we fill; clamoring on our own to stand and walk and create something worthwhile. BUT WE CAN’T. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Even with Him, we really can’t do anything. Rather, we have to rely on His Holy Spirit to “do” for and in us what we never could (and still can’t) do for ourselves. It is in this context that self-control enters.

Self-control is an often misused concept. Typically spoken as a directive from one person to another, to make the one behave. For example, a teacher tells a small child to “practice self-control” and stand straight and quiet in line. While it is true that the child needs to practice self-control, the request made by the teacher is somewhat out of context. The truth is, we cannot control ourselves. We are chaotic creatures by nature, and this means we naturally choose chaos over calm; it’s our default. Self is not the subject doing the controlling, but the OBJECT being controlled.

Side note, just as self can be controlled by the Holy Spirit, it can also be controlled by sin. Sometimes, it is easy to think we are “in control” of our sin and can manage it without it getting out of hand. LIE. We don’t manage sin, it manages us (which is why, when she became saved, one of our VOH residents likened it to “being under new management!). Romans 6 speaks of our broken (or rather transferred) captivity as children of Christ, and presents a sobering picture of what we once were:

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Ok, back to self-control. Since self is the object, not the subject, of control; what does that say about responsibility? It is easy to be extremist. The real challenge lies in hashing out a firm belief in the “both and” principle: it is both God and you that work together (Phil 2:12-13). Meaning, this post isn’t an anthem providing anyone the excuse to be undisciplined or lacking in self-control. Rather, I hope it helps someone claim the key to discipline and self-control: the Holy Spirit.

Here’s another side note. Return with me to our teacher example, given earlier (don’t feel bad if you have to scroll back up and refresh yourself, I did!). This teacher was using self-control as a tool to get what she wanted from the child (obedience and conformity). Of course, there is a time and place for teachers to request their students to be self-controlled, I’m merely using this as an example to make a point: true, Biblical self-control is a mechanism of defense, not a weak attempt at behavioral conformity.

Proverbs 25:28 says a man without self-control is “like a city whose walls are broken through.” In other words, defenseless. When a city’s walls were broken down, their first line of defense was eliminated. Sure, they could have additional defenses set up, but they opened themselves up big time to defeat. Self-control is that for us. It’s our first line of defense against the enemy and guards our “cities,” our lives, our souls, etc.

And there you have it: the end of this blog post on self-control (by no means the end of the discussion on self-control). Did you have a lightbulb moment? Are you on the edge of your seat? More importantly than that, are you under new management? Please share by commenting.

Rachel Bailey
I began my internship with Vision of Hope in January 2013. In my current understanding of God’s will for my life, I am pursuing wisdom and experience to one day work with women with eating disorders. My desire is to plant my feet in truth, while reaching my arms as far as I can toward the broken and hurting. With God’s help and guidance, I hope to become a godly woman and counselor to provide Truth-based counsel rather than “evidenced-based practice.” My life verse is Ecclesiastes 5:7 which says, “For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God."