When I adopted my dog in June and started walking him multiple times each day, an exciting thing happened—I started losing weight, and I haven’t stopped. I went from being sedentary (with one walk a day) to being very active. I haven’t dieted; I am eating desserts every day. I haven’t had to resist anything, only do what is appropriate as an apartment dweller for my high-energy puppy. When people remark on my significant weight loss, I merely say, “It’s my dog!” I can’t take credit for practicing any self-control around food, although most people assume that I am practicing super self-discipline, which is the way most of us think of self-control. But I’m just taking care of my dog and enjoying it. The secular definition of self-control goes something like this: “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations.” (1) But biblical self-control is the fruit of our regeneration, not something we work up on our own to fight ungodly pressures. Didn’t Jesus Christ practice the most remarkable human self-restraint and submission to God’s plan when he came to us in the form of a newborn? Didn’t he show the most incredible patience and humility when he was mocked, rejected, abused, and crucified? He is our Savior but also our perfect example to follow, to submit ourselves entirely to God’s desires, will, and plans over this season, as well as any other. Is the spiritual fruit of “self” control contradictory? No, because God aligns our hearts with his heart and mind, our desires are his, and we control our behavior based on those, putting aside our opposing desires or resistance to the Lord, as Jesus did. Jesus quietly suffered and died for our life with him, with full confidence in his Father’s plan. When we choose to emulate Christ, we will practice self-discipline as the fruit of our salvation. Our mental, emotional, and physical self-control gives us full confidence and delight in God’s plans by the Spirit’s power. It is my intention, over December, to help us redefine and embrace biblical self-control.
It is true that self-control reminds us that we do have a continual battle for our new nature to take precedence over our old sin nature. “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)… 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).” (2) We will dive into the great fight for our new nature in future devotions.
Every fruit of the Spirit is from God, which is why I always start with a meditation on God’s character—even self-control. Jesus had human desires and was tempted in every way but did not yield to temptation. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) The fruits of the Spirit are one way that the Lord shares his communicable attributes with us. “When we speak of God’s communicable attributes, we are referring primarily to His moral attributes such as love, goodness, and kindness. In one sense, we must not forget that there is a basic incommunicability of even these attributes, for insofar as such things as the love and goodness of God are infinite, we cannot imitate them. Nevertheless, because we bear God’s image, there is a manner in which we exhibit these attributes by way of analogy. For example, the kind of love we have as creatures is not identical to the kind of love our Creator possesses. However, at the same time, our love is not wholly dissimilar, such that there is no point of contact whatsoever with the love of God. Our Creator loves truly that which is lovely. As regenerate people, we possess the capacity to do the same.” (3) It makes sense to think of God’s love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and kindness. Self-control falls into the same category, I suppose, as faithfulness and gentleness—these are behavioral characteristics of human beings more than of our heavenly Father. We are to look to Jesus during his incarnation to see how he lived out these fruits entirely as the Son of Man.
Jesus didn’t respond with vengeance, fear, or resistance when so many mocked, rejected, and abused him, “but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” I believe that our Lord, Jesus Christ, never had to force himself to stop doing something, but by his power as the Son of God (as well as the Son of Man), simply did what was divine. We are blessed when we choose holiness and devotion to him over our worldly ways, with our thoughts, attitudes, desires, words, and actions consecrated to God. I believe this is our antidote to the burden of personal self-control as the world defines it. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:21-23) Peter emphasizes Christ’s willingness to suffer for the sake of his people—past, present, and future—and his perfect, active obedience to God’s law and will. Because of his eager submission to his Father’s plan, Jesus was entirely committed to doing whatever would be in accord with it.
Jesus didn’t respond with vengeance, fear, or resistance when so many mocked, rejected, and abused him, “but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” “…the affirmation of the sinlessness of Christ is significant as coming from a man who lived so closely to Him for so long and observed intimately His behaviour in times of terrible stress. It is mentioned to show that His suffering was innocent, as that of Christians must be if their patient endurance of punishment is to be valuable in God’s sight or effective testimony before men. Similarly, the silence of the Sufferer is a pattern for copying.” (4) I assume that our Lord, Jesus Christ, never had to force himself to stop doing something, but by his innate power as the Son of God (as well as the Son of Man), simply did what was divine. We are blessed when we choose holiness and devotion to him over our worldly ways, with our thoughts, attitudes, desires, words, and actions consecrated to God. I believe this is our antidote to the burden of personal self-control as the world defines it.
The Greek word “Egkrateia [means] self-control, the ability to pursue the important over the urgent, rather than to be always impulsive or uncontrolled. The slightly surprising counterfeit is a willpower which is based on pride, the need to feel in control.” (5) Matthew writes, “And the high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But Jesus remained silent…when the chief priests and elders accused him, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’ But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.” (Matthew 26:62-63; 27:12-14; Mark 14:60-61; 15:2-5; John 19:9-11a) Rather than demonstrating self-control as we normally view it, Jesus’s behavior was consistent with his character and calling. When the Spirit indwells us, we live in unity with God, consistent with his attributes and our calling as new creatures in Christ. Knowing this takes the pressure off to live legalistically, by following arbitrary rules, even during a pandemic. Why do we wear masks and isolate ourselves? Is it because we are told to or because we love our neighbors so much that we want to protect them from unnecessary suffering? Did not God put people in charge who are currently begging us to wear them? Do we accept the responsibility to behave differently than those who are yet unregenerate and pray for them? Will you do so because you are being self-controlled for the world, or because you trust our sovereign Father? (7) “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Related Scripture: Matthew 11:29-30; Hebrews 4:16; 12:3-15.
- Oxford languages on www.google.com
- Piper, John, “The Fierce Fruit of Self-Control,” https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-fierce-fruit-of-self-control
- “God’s Communicable Attributes,” Ligonier, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/gods-communicable-attributes/
- Zondervan on 1 Peter 2:21-23
- Ryken, Phillip Graham, “Galatians-Reformed Expository Commentary,” 1 Peter 5:16-25 “Gospel Character,” P & R Publishing, 2005.
- Yes, as a 70-year-old woman who is high risk for respiratory infections I am taking a stand on this issue. Thank you for thinking of others even more vulnerable than me when you put on your mask.
December 4, 2020