The final piece of fruit in the series on the Fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of Self-Control. For an introduction to the series see, By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them. For an overview of the entire series, click on the Top Posts page.
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
The final piece of fruit is that of self-control. To understand the issues being addressed with this fruit we must delve briefly into a bit of theology. Scripture often makes a distinction between the flesh and the spirit, or the sinful nature and the new nature made possible through our relationship with God. The flesh is not evil – that would fall into gnostic thinking – yet it is clear that the flesh, absent the work of God’s Spirit, is driven by cravings, compulsions, and temptations that can lead us into destructive habits. The flesh needs to be controlled by a strong mind, discipline, and a spirit connected to God.
It should not be difficult to be convinced of this battle within us. We experience the flesh in action whenever we have that craving for another piece of chocolate or choose the couch over the treadmill. We can either be controlled by every whim and yearning of our body, or we can bring our body under submission through discipline and exercise.
This discipline to resist capitulation at every desire of the body is what Scripture calls self-control. Classically, it is often used specifically in reference to sexual desires. Perhaps it is this sense in which we see a stark contrast to the life God desires for us and the desires our culture promote to us. We live in a world where we are encouraged to indulge every passion we feel or experience. To give into our appetites and indulge our passions is to be human, or so we are told. But God has a different message: The ability to control our appetites, curb our passions, and express them in healthy ways is what makes us human. Otherwise, we are just another biological animal.
The tension we feel when it comes to self-control can be seen in the Apostle Paul’s words at the beginning of this piece of fruit. We often know what the better, healthier choices are in life and we have a desire to make those choices. We want to change. We really don’t want to continue down a given path. But it is a battle to make those choices and keep our desires in check. Self-control is choosing the better way over the immediate route our body is telling us it wants and wants now!
Elsewhere in Scripture we are told that our bodies are temples of God’s Spirit. It is our job to make them suitable dwelling places for the Spirit. Temples were holy places that needed to be purified and cleansed on an ongoing basis to make them acceptable to the deity that lived there. Anything less was unacceptable. When we are able to curb our appetites, control our emotions, and resist unhealthy desires, we exercise self-control and create an environment in which God’s Spirit can move freely.
Self-control encompasses many areas of our life. With this last piece of fruit, how suitable is your temple as a dwelling place for God’s Spirit?
- Are my energies being wisely directed? Am I less distracted in my pursuit of God?
- What specific area do you have the most trouble telling your body “No”?
- What disciplines could help direct your passions and energies in a better way? What activities could replace some habits you would like to change?