Self-control. The word itself is rather oxymoronic for a Christian, self and control, for we know full well that we are to be filled with the Spirit, not self-filled. We are commanded to die to self, yet as with many of the character traits of the Christian, dying to self can be most difficult. Even with many fervent prayers and much desire to serve with our whole hearts, self, who we are at our core, our spirit, many times seems to be clashing with the Holy Spirit of God.
Free will is one of the greatest gifts that our Father in heaven has given us yet is perhaps one of the greatest of barriers between us and God. Our self wants. We can repeat just the first few words of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” but many times only a few minutes later we say, “except for,” or “There’s just this one thing, Lord.” Controlling ourselves takes on many forms, but in God’s great wisdom He has broken it down to just three that should be our main concern, and all three are found in 1st John 2:16, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
Control of the self can and usually is, a daily battle, sex apart from marriage, pride, food, the proper clothing for the proper time, envy, the praise of men over the praise of God, the list is unending. “For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (Rom. 7:18) It seems that nearly always our spirit is at odds with God, and our flesh is against us. I dare not say that I fully understand the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit trinity any more than I do the flesh, spirit and soul of man, nor do I believe any of us truly can, but the flesh, oh how difficult it can be to control. “This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:6)
Only through the power of the Holy Spirit, to submission to the will and word of God will growth ever be seen, that can take an entire lifetime and still never be completely attained. Self-control, temperance, is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and as it is with all nine of these attributes of the Spirit of God, we cannot produce them, for they do not come from us, we can only humbly allow Christ to hang them on these weak vines that we are. It may sound strange, but control of the self cannot be controlled by the self. “For without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) “I can do all things through Christ,” (Phil. 4:13)
I knew a man once who did all that he possibly could to never use the word “I” in any sentence, to never speak in a way using this first-person singular pronoun. To say the least, he was many times at a loss for words, and found difficulties forming proper sentence structures. Now, I knew what he was trying to do, he was trying to take himself out of the equation so that God would always receive the glory, but if we are going to attempt to speak coherently to others, then me, myself and I are going to have to have a part of the sentence structures. They do not infer, when used properly of course, that we are in no need of God, or that we are attempting in any way to lift ourselves up, but that our Lord sees us as we are, individuals within the Body of Christ.
Self-control actually means allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our thoughts, our actions, our lives, letting our self be directed by Him by our own free will. We are self-directed when we are spirit led of our own volition. We are then and only then able to become true representatives of Jesus Christ, seeking to glorify God in all that we do, not only to ourselves, but to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and also to the unsaved world. “Keep every thought captive for Christ,” (2nd Cor. 10:5) is not a suggestion, but a commandment, and is the first step to self-control. The flesh is the mind, or better yet, the untrained mind, as it were. Think of the person who smokes cigarettes, without even thinking he will not only reach for a cigarette but will have it lit and half smoked before he even realizes that it is in his hand. Broken habits that do not glorify God are one of the main steps to self-control.
We are to have the “mind of Christ,” (1st Cor. 2:16) yet controlling the mind can be the most torturous part of the journey with Him. To divert the eyes from looking at something that we should not look at, to not listen to something that is not profitable for us, the mind can be trained. These are simple responses that can be taught even to those in the animal kingdom, sit, stay, roll over, yet the believer is no longer a “brute beast,” (2nd Peter 2:12) “speaking evil of things that they understand not,” he is a child of God, and these things we are to be willingly taught so that we do not sin against our Lord, so that His name is not blasphemed by us.
Our thoughts are just that, our thoughts, and to invite the Holy Spirit into them and to direct them is in direct conflict with our own interest, unless our interest are the things of God and the glory of His Son. As I stated at the beginning of this letter to you, it is oxymoronic at best, and at the most an almost impossible task. By employing self-control, by being a branch that the vine can confidently hang the fruit of the Spirit of temperance on, we honor God. We are allowing Him by the exertion of our own free will the right to assist us in dying to self, to teach us how to become more Christ-like every day.
One of the most uncomplicated ways that I can assist you in understanding this is to ask you to become Christ-serving, and not self-serving, to cast pride out the door and begin to walk humbly with the Lord our God. Learn to be a servant to all, but subservient to the Lord your God only, prepared to obey Him without question. In the long run my friends, He created all that is, including you and me, for us to believe that we even have a “self” outside of Christ sometimes is difficult to comprehend, for we would not even be if it were not for Him.