“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-25)
Would you not like to be self-controlled? To be in control of one’s self. I know I would! But what does it really mean to be self-controlled? The Bible talks about four aspects of self-control:
The first is “egkrateia“. This is what is talked about here in the fruit of the Spirit. It is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. This type of self-control is also spoken of in 2 Peter 1:5-7 “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love,” which talks about growing in Christian virtue. Evident here is that you need knowledge (understanding) in order to practice self-control; and that self-control leads to perseverance which ultimately leads to godliness and (agapē) love.
The second is “egkrateuomai“. This is drawn from athletes, who in preparing themselves for the games abstained from unwholesome food, wine, and sexual indulgence. The best Scripture to illustrate this is 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, which says: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.” Meaning that we should be self-controlled for the purpose of winning. Winning a prize which is eternal, not temporal. And so in order to do this we have to run with purpose in every step, making everything we do intentional.
The third is “egkratēs“, which means being strong, robust; having power over, possessed of (a thing); mastering, controlling, restraining. This type of self-control is mentioned in context of an overseer (Titus 1:7-9). It’s being self-controlled for the sake of others, to be an example, to lead your family well, to lead and correct the flock.
And, lastly, the fourth is “sōphronismos“. This is more an admonishing or calling to soundness of mind, to moderation and self-control. “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
So self-control goes hand-in-hand with putting up a good fight, working hard. “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” (Colossians 1:28-29). The Greek word for striving here is “agōnizomai”, which means to contend with adversaries, fight; to struggle, with difficulties and dangers. We must strive according to His power to be made complete in Christ.
Self-control, then, is being in control of one’s self; in the context of the Scriptures, the control of self so as to be in harmony with the will of God. You say no by faith in the superior power and pleasure of Christ. The self-control that is the fruit of the Spirit is actually Christ-control.
We can and have to choose not to sin! “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:5-7). Because “do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). We no longer have to choose to sin. We are being freed from the power of sin in our lives. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin, so we should live according to the Spirit, and set our mind on the Spirit. For “those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).
Let me give you a quote from John Piper: “And how does the Spirit produce this fruit of self-control in us? By instructing us in the superior preciousness of grace, and enabling us to see and savor (that is, “trust”) all that God is for us in Jesus. When we really see and believe what God is for us by grace through Jesus Christ, the power of wrong desires is broken. Therefore the fight for self-control is a fight of faith.” “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:11-13).
We should “apply your heart to discipline, and your ears to words of knowledge” (Proverbs 23:12). We should “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7b). But how can we apply our heart to discipline? How can we correct our heart? How do we create stamina, like an athlete, with regards to training the heart? I believe we need to really fully understand the love that God has for us, and realize that the same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus Christ for His earthly ministry is the same Holy Spirit that is available to you and me today for our earthly ministry, so that we can strive according to His power, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin, so that we are controlled by the Holy Spirit, so that we can bring salvation to all men, so that we can live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, for “a person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls” (Proverbs 25:28). Without self-control there is no defense, and are food for our adversary, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).