Pastoral Perspectives

Fruit of the Spirit: Self-control

In class, a teacher asked her students what was something good that they did today.

The first kid said: “I gave money to a homeless man.”
The second kid said: “I helped my mom with the chores.”
The third kid said: “I helped an old lady cross the street.”
The teacher was very impressed and had high hopes for the fourth kid.
The fourth kid then said: “I prevented a murder.”
The teacher amazed, asked the kid how.
He replied: “With self-control”

The 6th petition in the Lord’s Prayer says: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The 3 loci of evil is our flesh, the fallen world and the devil. The devil does not work in a vacuum; he tempts us through our sinful desires and the ungodly influence exerted on us by this sinful world that we live in. The devil tempts us to shipwreck our faith.

If we are able to exercise self-control, and say ‘no’ to self, we do not need to yield to our fleshly desires and fall into sin. No wonder self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit and the more we grow in this aspect, the more fruit we bear in this area, the more we will grow in righteousness and therefore in the likeness of Christ.

When we hear that we have to exercise self-control, we may feel that we have been laden with a big burden and much effort is needed for us to get our act together. This is not so!

First, ontologically we have been made new. The nature of our being has been radically changed when we put our faith in Jesus.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

We have been crucified with Christ, buried with him so that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too are raised to live a new life.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

The nature of our being is radically different because the Holy Spirit now indwells us. Our bodies are the temple of the third person of the Godhead. When we believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes upon us, and we are filled with power to do his will which means submitting ourselves to the lordship of Christ.

The power at our disposal to fight sin is a great power. This power was at work when Jesus died on the cross; this incomparably great power was at work to raise Jesus from the dead. This same power is also at work in our lives, enabling us to withstand temptation. We must be convinced that we have a lot of power from the Holy Spirit to stand firm against sin.

“11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:11-13)

You may ask: “Then why is it that I don’t see myself overcoming my addictions and sinful habits?”

In the first place, do you have the desire to kick those addictions and habits? If you have the desire, with the Spirit’s help, you should experience victory, if not immediately, then progressively.

As in all crucifixion, the person hanging on the cross doesn’t die immediately. The body gets weaker and weaker and eventually death will arrive. Similarly, as you have been crucified with Christ, your sinful flesh is not immediately dead but it should get weaker and weaker as you continue to deny self by exercising self-control.

As a new creation, your mindset and therefore lifestyle should change – you will hate what God hates and love what God loves – even though it will take time. You will adopt new perspectives, acquire new habits and embrace new priorities. If, however, it is the same old same old for you, it can be a red flag to show that you have neither genuine faith nor the Holy Spirit.

If we do have the Holy Spirit, we will bear the fruit of self-control in areas of thought, speech and action.

“We cannot prevent birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from making nests on top of our heads. Similarly, bad thoughts sometimes appear in our mind, but we can choose whether we allow them to live there, to create a nest for themselves, and to breed evil deeds.” (Martin Luther)

Exercising self-control over our thoughts means we stop fantasising about having sex with someone other than our spouse, or stop letting our anger fester or jealousy grow, or stop scheming how we can make use of the other person for our own personal gain. Most of the battle is won in the mind and heart. Let’s turn our attention away from impure thoughts to Christ, and we can do this by praying the Jesus’ Prayer repeatedly and slowly, aloud or in our heart, calling out to Jesus:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have a mercy on me, a sinner.”

Exercising self-control over our tongue means we are quick to listen but slow to speak. We do not need to be the first to make a response and we definitely don’t need to be the one who always has the last word. Taking slow deep breaths can help us not to be too hasty or brash in speaking out, especially when we are agitated. Again, turn to the Lord and pray!

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3)

Exercising self-control over our actions means we should run far away (flee) from all sources of temptation rather than deliberately put ourselves so near the tipping point just to test how strong our self-control is. Look out for scenarios where we tend to give in more easily to temptation, e.g. when we are tired, when we are bored, when we are alone, when we are angry or even when we are celebrating a success, and all the more we cannot let our guard down during these moments.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Before we think that this is all too difficult, let me reiterate what I have said earlier – we are a new creation; we have the Holy Spirit in us; Christ is our Saviour and Lord; to Him we look and for him we live. This is our discipleship; this is how we work out our salvation; this is what it means to bear fruit.

“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) 

We are not alone! God is on our side!! We shall be victorious!!!

Rev Lee Kien Seng

June 6, 2021