An Exploration of Galatians: Fruit of the Spirit Part 10
Galatians 5:22-23 - Self-control is not eating salads. It is a mighty power from faith that makes the other eight fruit possible and improves the believer both spiritually and physically.
”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.“
Galatians 5:22-23 NASB1995
We’re now at the final Fruit of the Spirit: Self-control. First, a little story about the photo above. I usually use photos from Unsplash for my devotionals (they are linked on Substack), unless I want something that is specifically targeted at a picture of a Biblical town or characters. Strangely, when searching “self-control” in this photo database, almost all of the photos were of Muslims performing their rituals and prayers. Nothing of use was found using the terms “temperance” and “moderation”. I guess that says a lot about the self-control of Christians (or not).
So I went with a generic picture of what could be called “healthy” food (yawn!). I’m not a fan of raw avocado except in guacamole and although the vegetables look fresh and bright, I would likely pick out the carrots and tomatoes for me and leave the rest for someone else, while I wait for my nice steak to finish cooking. The self-control that is in this passage really has nothing to do with hitting the gym or eating salads, unless those methods help you master certain desires. When you seek self-control from the Holy Spirit, you are often driven to acts of self-improvement.
So let’s look at this Fruit. Self-control comes from the Greek word ἐγκράτεια or egkrateia, meaning temperance and the virtue of one who masters their desires and passions, especially sensual appetites. In our culture, mention the word “temperance” and many who have had decent US history instruction will conjure up a vision of the Women’s Temperance League smashing bars (drinking establishments) with axes. That influential temperance movement led to the prohibition of alcohol sales in the United States through the 18th amendment to the Constitution in 1920, resulting in thriving criminal enterprises that easily subverted those noble aims. This failed social experiment ended with repeal of Prohibition by the 21st amendment in 1932.
My point with that little history story is that this Fruit has the word “self” in front of control. You cannot legislate morality by banning other people from doing something that you disapprove of; the whole point of gaining the Fruit of the Spirit, ending with self-control, is that this is an internal renovation of your soul by the Holy Spirit, leading you into virtues that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to emulate. You might be able to do a good job pretending that you have love or joy or peace or the others, but your lack of self-control will give the game away every time. I personally believe that this is the most important Fruit, which is why it is listed last. It is the structure that sustains and helps to grow the other eight Fruit, because it fortifies us for battle against temptation and sin. Oh, and having a little dessert now and then isn’t the battle; the battle is when you eat many of these things (see picture below) every single day.
So what does commentary say about self-control? I’m finding lots of useful information from Gotquestions.org on the Fruit of the Spirit:
Self-control (“temperance” in the KJV) is, of course, the ability to control oneself. It involves moderation, constraint, and the ability to say “no” to our baser desires and fleshly lusts.
One of the proofs of God’s working in our lives is the ability to control our own thoughts, words, and actions. It’s not that we are naturally weak-willed. But our fallen nature is under the influence of sin. The Bible calls it being a "slave to sin" (Romans 6:6). One definition of sin is "filling a legitimate need through illegitimate means." Without the power of the Holy Spirit, we are incapable of knowing and choosing how best to meet our needs. Even if we knew what would be best, such as not smoking, another need, like comfort, would take precedence and enslave us again.
When we are saved by Christ’s sacrifice, we are free (Galatians 5:1). That liberty includes, among other things, freedom from sin. “Our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). Now, as the Spirit gives us self-control, we can refuse sin.
Believers need self-control because the outside world and internal forces still attack (Romans 7:21-25). Like a vulnerable city, we must have defenses. A wall around an ancient city was designed to keep out the enemy. Judges at the gates determined who should be allowed in and who should remain outside. Soldiers and gates enforced those decisions. In our lives, these defenses might include avoiding close relationships with sinners, meeting with other believers, and meditating on the life-giving Word of God. We don’t exhibit self-control if we continually [daily] with that which would enslave us.
Self-control naturally leads to perseverance (2 Peter 1:6) as we value the long-term good instead of the instant gratification of the world. Self-control is a gift that frees us. It frees us to enjoy the benefits of a healthy body. It frees us to rest in the security of good stewardship. It frees us from a guilty conscience. Self-control restricts the indulgence of our foolish desires, and we find the liberty to love and live as we were meant to.
There are some great words of wisdom in this commentary. We are vulnerable to attack and the defenses we build against sin are many, including avoiding close relationships with sinners, meeting with other believers, and studying the Word of God. It’s interesting how sinful behaviors can be reinforced in a group. I recall work trips many years ago and a group of co-workers and I would stay at a hotel that had a free “happy hour” with alcoholic drinks and light snacks provided. I’m ashamed to say we outdid each other trying to get as many drinks on trays at the end of at least one of the happy hours so that we could sit there in the lounge overindulging in wine and beer for hours afterwards and watching sporting events. The hotel would laugh at this because they liked our company’s business and they would usually leave more chips and salsa on the counter and refresh the popcorn machine (nutritious dinner!). A great headache the next day was a shared experience as we stumbled into work to do more technical procedure reviews.
The advice in that picture is kind of a mixed bag. If you continue daily with those habits that enslave you, then you will fall seven times or more before finally standing up against that slavery. Or it can mean that God forgives us again and again when we do lapse into sinful patterns, but having true self-control moves us beyond those lapses and the perpetual grief to our souls.
Our culture is enslaved to the fleshly passions and baser desires because of our addiction to instant gratification. We are told to be self-indulgent, self-actualized and free of those old Biblical handcuffs keeping us from the ultimate and immediate sensual pleasures. I’m not going to get into a lecture about where we are going as a country because believers are well-aware of the new Sodom and Gomorrah that has been built on American soil.
However, (warning - an opinion ahead) it does give me tremendous sorrow to see that one of the side-effects of this self-indulgence and lack of any self-control is the insanity in this country around abortion on demand. Many people want zero restrictions and no cost to them to destroy unborn human lives anytime they want. This is at a fevered pitch right now and it is driving election results because of the 2022 Dobbs decision from the Supreme Court. They have no understanding of what that decision really did, which was to return the question of abortion legality and restrictions to the states to decide.
The economy doesn’t matter, uncontrolled immigration doesn’t matter, endless wars don’t matter, only the freedom to destroy that unborn life matters because you made a mistake (that used to be called sin) or it is inconvenient to your career or finances or plans. I’m not talking about the tiny numbers of abortion cases that are truly health related. When unborn human life is treated with less gentleness and respect than any animal species, then that lack of respect naturally starts to creep over into the already born and living population and groups begin to get categorized into stereotypes or “othered” so that widespread hatred becomes acceptable (like the stunning antisemitism we are seeing again). And people wonder how genocidal regimes get started. Well, enough of that. My heart is heavily burdened by this sad state of affairs. I pray about the lives of the unborn every week and I hope you do, too. This is from a person who in her secular wilderness wandering years was a “pro-choice” fanatic.
So let’s take a look at another commentary on this self-control, which is an aspect of faith. I found a link to this great article on the Fierce Fruit on Desiring God on Precept Austin; here’s a short excerpt (links go to Biblia):
“Godly self-control says no by faith in the superior power and pleasure of Christ.”
Fundamental to the Christian view of self-control is that it is a gift. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . . self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). How do we “strive” against our fatal desires? Paul answers: “For this I toil, struggling [agonizomenos] with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). He “agonizes” by the power of Christ, not his own. Similarly he tells us, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). We must be fierce! Yes. But not by our might. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).
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. “The grace of God has appeared . . . training us to renounce . . . worldly passions . . . in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). 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. “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12).
The fight for self-control is a fight of faith! We can only put to death these desires through the Holy Spirit! My next devotional examines the last phrase in these two verses: Against such things there is no law.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - I have been a poster child for self-indulgence and lack of self-control most of my life. Please instill this Fruit of the Spirit in me to aid me in the faith and strength it takes for all of the Fruit to prosper and grow. I also pray for the culture of death that finds slaughter of the unborn to be a “virtue”. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The Blue Letter Bible was accessed on 1/23/2024 to review the lexicon for self-control.
Gotquestions.org was accessed on 1/23/2024 to review the answer to the question about the fruit of self-control.
John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For more than thirty years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He is author of more than fifty books, and his sermons, articles, books, and more are available free of charge at desiringGod.org. By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org