The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
The final facet of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. The previous facet of gentleness pertains to how we relate tenderly to others. The aspect of self-control pertains to how we govern ourselves. Sin prompts a person to indulge and to express his sinful passions. The Spirit prompts the new nature of a believer so that he increasingly determines to restrain his passions within boundaries set by the Lord. The Spirit also gives to regenerate souls a determination and empowering grace to identify and to mortify their residual evil passions while nourishing and exercising their growing holy and loving passions.
Self-control can seem like an unwanted confinement and a restrictive constraint. The tendency of the natural man is to throw off all personal restraint. Psalm 2 speaks of this when it portrays the rulers and people of the earth counseling together to break themselves free from what they regard to be the shackles the Lord would impose upon them. However, the boundaries set by the Lord do not dampen such holy and loving passions, but deepen and fruitfully guide their expressions. The demoniac called Legion was out of control. When Jesus set him free from his dominating demons, he was clothed with a self-controlling respect for other people and was in his right mind. In his new state, he desired and succeeded in governing his impulses and desires for the glory of God and the good of men (Mk. 5:1-20). He even showed his self-control when he restrained his desire to accompany Jesus and, instead, returned to his own city in accordance with His Lord’s directive (Mk. 5:18-20). And the man displayed not a hint of regret for this change that Jesus accomplished in him.
The entire Moral Law speaks of this blessed self-control. People naturally want many gods or no god, but the Ten Commandments specify one true and living God who is to be worshiped not according to our natural impulses and determinations but rather according to His revealed will. All of the manward Commandments redirect and govern the self-regarding and unbridled social propensities of sinners. Those divine laws arrest our natural attitudes and actions to promote ourselves at the expense of others and stimulate within us the true and loving operations of the mind of Christ. Accordingly, we endeavor to honor and exalt others while we regard ourselves as their loving servants (Phil. 2: 3-8).
It is significant for us to note that this final facet of the fruit of the Spirit does not speak of our controlling others. It is a sad reality that even we as new creatures in Christ can slip from our roles as loving servants into another attitude. Then we work to impose our desires and wills on others. We try to control them to please ourselves and to blame them to excuse ourselves from taking responsibility for our own faults and failures. Jesus explicitly warned His disciples against such imperious attitudes and actions toward others (Mt. 20:25-28). Our Lord also made it clear that the summation of the Law was not that we compel others to serve or to love us, or even to serve and love God. Instead, we, personally and in a loving unity that excludes compulsion, are to love God with our whole being, and to love others as ourselves (Mt. 23:36ff).
We now have considered all of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit...or almost all. There are other aspects and there are some concluding matters we should also consider. In Galatians 5:23, Paul adds to his list the words against such things. That phrase alerts us to the truth that while this list of the fruit of the Spirit is full and accurate, it is not exhaustive. There are some prominent aspects of Christian character that seem omitted from Paul’s list. For example, such things as wisdom, power, and righteousness are not explicitly mentioned. But they are certainly implied in the phrase against such things. And we surely can consider the believer’s love, patience, kindness, and gentleness, to be the highest wisdom, greatest power, and fullest righteousness.
As we grow in Christ we will become better able to discern further specifications of the sweet and gracious fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of our brethren. Those who have tasted the goodness and love of the Lord are able to detect and delight in all aspects and variations of the rich and multi-faceted fruit of the Spirit. There are more transforming treasures planted and growing in our lives than even the Word of God specifies.
Paul also tells us that there is no law against the graces of the Holy Spirit indwelling and issuing from the hearts of believers. The sweet and richly faceted fruit of the Spirit is not only heartily approved by God as the handiwork of His transforming grace, but the Spirit’s fruit is universally approved by men. The righteous delight in it, and although the wicked may despise and refuse it for themselves, even they prefer to have dealings with those who are loving God and men, than to deal with others who are wicked.
The fruit of the Spirit is not forbidden by anyone. It is not like the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. Those who are of the flesh continue to live in misery and to cause misery to themselves and others because they remain determined to be their own gods, dominating others, including God. The fruit of the Spirit is the opposite of the bitter forbidden fruit upon which those of the flesh continue to feed and then to spread to others. The fruit of the Spirit is freely offered to sinners who dwell in shame, guilt, and misery in the far country, where they feed on the husks that God forbids but which they remain irrationally convinced will make them like God. The fruit of the Spirit is not seized by men but is graciously given by the God of love, and it actually makes sinners, who receive it by faith, to be like God, and to love God and other people as God loves them. We who have this fruit now growing is us, will find on the final day that God has perfected it in us so that we may dwell with Him and reign with Him in glory forever, with not a trace of desire to sin, and not a trace of an outward law prohibiting us from having and enjoying anything our pure and loving hearts may desire.
Yours delighting in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit,