She seemed the same as the rest of us. She loved the Lord and lived for Him, taking every opportunity to serve that she could, but place a little bit of alcohol in her coke and something happened to her. She became a completely different person. That which she had seemed to overcome – alcoholism – took over and she could do nothing about it She was no longer able to control herself to say no and to refrain from drinking more.
For most of us this is hard to understand and yet for some we seem controlled by a little white stick called a cigarette. If we are confined to a place where we can not smoke, we crave inside waiting to get outside where we can light up. I’ve seen calm people get very upset because they could not find their cigarettes.
Or there may be those of us that cannot stop looking at pornographic pictures – just a quick look.
Or perhaps there is someone who seems to makes us change who we are. We can be kind and gentle but we are so angry with someone that feelings overtake us and we loose control – saying things or doing things we really don’t want to. We hear of killers who were the nicest people.
In all these cases there is a common problem – that of not having self- control.
Words like self-control, temperance, moderation, and self-restraint are all terms used to describe the last of the nine fruits of the Spirit. Self-control may be the last facet of God’s love in the list, but that certainly doesn’t reduce it to the least important.
The word “self-control” seems to stress self – me. And that is what the Greek word “agkretai” means. In Greek writings and philosophy it means status, power by which I can control myself, others, and all situations rather than let myself be controlled.
No doubt it is true and fair to say that it is one aspect of Christian conduct and character and conversion with which most of us have the greatest difficulty. Of all the fruits which should flourish in the garden of our lives this may well be the one which is the most “spotty, uneven, and irregular.”
In the New Testament itself we have very little material through which to work out the meaning of this word (egkrateia). It occurs in only two places:
(Acts 24:25) “As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.””
(2 Peter 1:6) “…and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness…”
Self-control; the word is egkrateia which Plato uses of self-mastery. It is the spirit which has mastered its desires and its love of pleasure.
The corresponding verb egkrateuomai occurs twice in the NT. It is used of the athlete’s discipline of his body (1 Corinthians 9:25) and of the Christian’s mastery of sex (1 Corinthians 7:9).
(1 Corinthians 7:9) “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
(1 Corinthians 9:25) “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
The corresponding adjective agkrates occurs once:
(Titus 1:8) “Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”
There is the fruit of temperance (egkrateia): to master and control the body or the flesh with all of its lusts. It means self-control, the master of desire, appetite and passion, especially sensual urges and cravings. It means to be strong and controlled and restrained. It means to stand against the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-16).
In some situations we behave in a most exemplary and commendable manner. At other times we behave worse than beasts. There are days when we seem to act in decent and dignified ways. On other occasions we can become erupting volcanoes of venom and violence.
In these situations, we are showing ourselves to “be human,” to be sure. But it can also call into question the struggle we have between consistency and credibility.
We need to stop and make another point absolutely clear: we are not talking here of the world’s concept of “being stoic.” The picture here is not the grim, rigid idea of setting the jaw, steeling the will to endure life with cold cynicism. Self-control for God’s person doesn’t imply that with severe self-discipline I can control my conduct.
Self-control for the Christian means that my “self,” my whole person, my whole being, body, soul, and spirit comes under the control of Christ. It means that I am an individual governed by God.
My entire life, every aspect of it – whether spiritual, moral, or physical – has become a subject to the sovereignty of God’s Spirit. I am a “man under authority.” The running of my affairs, my attitudes, my actions is a right which has been relinquished and turned over to God’s Spirit, living within me.
Some statements about self-control
We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God, or we can write the great American novel. But the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord, or hope to be part of the creative process, is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control. For the opposite of sin is faith, and never virtue, and we live in a world which believes that self-control can make us virtuous. But that’s not how it works. — Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 4.
A common path to sexual sin is the notion that feelings are not only all-important but also totally uncontrollable; they just happen to you. — Louis McBurney, M.D., Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 3.
Self-control is the capacity to reak a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.
The believer is to proclaim self-control to the lost.
“And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24:25).
The believer is to control his sexual desires.
“But if they cannot contain [control], let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9).
The believer is to strenuously exercise self-control, just as an athlete controls himself.
“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Cor. 9:25).
The believer is to grow in self-control.
“And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness” (2 Peter 1:6).
The aged believer is especially to be on guard to control himself.
“That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience” (Titus 2:2).
Secular Greek uses it of the virtue of an Emperor who never lets his private interests influence the government of his people. It is the virtue which makes a man so master of himself that he is fit to be the servant of others.
Without God we are out of control. In the examples at start of message people showed that our bodies are out of control.
Their belly is their God. 1Cor 6 we are told that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
We need to choose – what controls us is our god – what is your god?
In concluding our discussion we should remember that the fruit of the Spirit is the very nature of God (Galatians 2:20; Ephes. 5:18). The believer is to walk in the Spirit; that is, he is to walk in such a consciousness of God and in such open confession that he is kept constantly clean from sin. God keeps him clean and pure and acceptable as though he were perfect. As the believer so walks in such an awareness of God, he assimilates the very nature of God and the Holy Spirit’s fruit is produced. No law can stand against such things.
There are four stages of fruit-bearing given: (1) no fruit (John 15:2), (2) fruit (John 15:2), (3) more fruit (John 15:2), and (4) much fruit (John 15:5, 8).
What does it mean to say a Christian is to bear fruit? It means to bear converts (Romans 1:13), to bear righteousness (Romans 6:21-23), to bear Christian character or the fruit of the Spirit.
Note also the conditions for bearing fruit in life: cleansing (John 15:3), abiding in Christ (John 15:5), and obedience (John 15:10, 12). A true Christian is a person who really does abide in Christ (1 John 2:10). John said that to abide in Christ means eight things.
1. A person walks in open confession before God. He walks through life opening up his life to God; he confesses all known sin. He does not walk in sin, and he does not allow any sin to go unconfessed (1 John 1:6-10).
2. A person walks and fellowships with Christ. He lives and moves and has his being with Christ. He communes and lives in a consciousness of God’s presence, and from God’s presence he learns of God, and he draws the strength and authority to live victoriously day by day (1 John 2:6; 1 John 2:27; cp. Psalm 16:11; Proverbs 3:5-6).
3. A person continues in the church; he has not gone out from the church (1 John 2:19).
4. A person possesses confidence, an unashamedness in life that prepares him for eternity (1 John 2:28).
5. A person does not walk in continuous sin (1 John 3:6). He experiences constant victory over sin.
6. A person actively surrenders himself to obey God’s commandments (1 John 3:24).
7. A person experiences the indwelling presence and witness of the Spirit (1 John 4:12-13).
8. A person dwells in love and unity and fellowship with all other believers (John 17:21-23; 1 John 4:16; cp. 1 John 4:20).
When we study history and the Bible, we find that many great men and women in the past also failed in this area. Adam and Eve failed in eating the forbidden fruit. Noah failed in getting drunk and exposing his nakedness. Abraham failed in sleeping with his handmaid, Hagar. Esau failed in selling his birth right for the temporary satisfaction of his hunger. Samson failed in the indulgence of his lust. King David and King Solomon also failed in the same area. These leaders paid a heavy price for their lack of self-control. Their descendants also suffered the consequence of their sins.
There is one person in human history who has perfect self-control. This person is Jesus Christ. Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness. The devil tempted him in the area of physical need. Jesus refused to yield to him by saying: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) The devil tempted Him with pride, Jesus refused to yield to him by saying: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt. 4:7) The devil tempted him with worldly glory and riches. Jesus refused to yield to him by saying “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Matt. 4:10) Throughout His life on earth, the devil continued to tempt Him, but Jesus never lost His self-control. Neither did He yield to Satan’s temptation. Jesus not only won the victory for Himself, He won the victory for us.
Dear brothers, sisters and friends, do you have the problem of lack of self-control? I believe that most of us will have to say “I have a weakness in this area. I need help!” Jesus can help you and He wants to help you. He can help you to develop the virtue of self-control. Let us understand from the Word of God in what areas we need to have self-control and how we can develop the ability to control ourselves. We can have victory through Jesus Christ.
I. The areas God wants us to have self-control
A. God wants us to have self-control in eating and drinking
Rom. 14:17 says: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.
God has created many kinds of food for man to enjoy. Eating and drinking is not a sin in itself. In fact God wants us to eat and drink properly in order to be happy in life and have good health. The problem with men is that men enjoy the good food created by God but forget the Creator Himself. Besides, men indulge in eating and drinking to the point of hurting themselves.
Many people spend too much time in thinking, buying and preparing fine food to eat. They always look for the best restaurants to go. Paul said of these people that their god is their stomach (Phil. 3:19)
Many people in America have the problem of overeating and overweight. Many Christians also are guilty of indulgence in eating. The result is that over 25% of the Americans have too much fat in their bodies which develop into some forms of heart disease. Every year about one million Americans die of heart diseases. It is the number one killer in this country. Overweight and too much fat can also develop into other diseases such as diabetes. Indulgence in drinking caused 15 millions Americans to become alcoholics. Alcohol is responsible for about 100,000 death each year. The Word of God exhorts us to exercise self-control in eating and drinking.
B. God wants us to have self-control in sexual desire
1Ths. 4:3-5 say: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God”
God created the desire for food as well as the desire for sex in human nature. Sex is not a sin in itself. It is a gift from God to make the marriage union joyful. It is also for the purpose of the multiplication of the human race. But God has given a law concerning the use of sex. It can only be enjoyed within marriage. The breaking of this law is a serious sin before God. The Bible condemns all forms of fornication and adultery. The nations of the world don’t have the written laws of God but they have a conscience which was planted by God in their hearts. The conscience of man also tells him that fornication is a sin.
But many people in the world today ignore the conscience and God’s law. They commit all kinds of sexual sins. God in His providence, allow many kinds of terrible diseases such as gonorrhea and aids to be inflicted upon those who violate His laws. There are also other kinds of evil consequences. Many marriages and homes were broken because of marital infidelity.
There are a lot of temptation in the world today. Pornography has invaded all channels of the media. Pornography is rampant in movies, cable TV. magazines and in the internet. Premarital sex, casual sex, extra-marital sex and many forms of perverted sex are widely practiced in our campuses and society. Christians too are subject to these temptations. While many people of the world give in to all forms of sexual sins, the Word of God exhorts the believers to exercise self-control in this area and to live a holy and honorable life.
C. God wants us to have self-control in speech
Another area God wants us to have self-control is in our words. It is easy for a person to commit sin with his lip. The prophet Isaiah under the light of God confessed that he was a man of unclean lip and that he lived among a people of unclean lips. The apostle James described the evil of the tongue with these words. He said: “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. (James 3:8-9)
The evil words people speak include gossips, dirty jokes, filthy language, slanders, unfair criticism, words of rebuking, words of insult, malicious words, lying and boasting. The evil words of man cause a lot of harm in the home, in the work place and in the church. It hurts relationship. It causes a lot of hard feeling, animosity and bitter fight among people. It offends God. Jesus warned that man’s careless words will come under the judgment of God.
The apostle James says: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26). It is important for the Christians to control our tongues so that we will not sin against God and man.
D. God wants us to have self-control in anger
Another area God wants us to have self-control is anger. Jesus warned the disciples not to be angry with a brother. He said in the Sermon of the Mount: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matt. 5:21-22)
Anger is often an expression of the hatred, wickedness and pride inside a person. Angry attitude and angry words can hurt a person deeply just like a violent act can. Anger creates tension and animosity among family members, friends and colleagues. That is why the Word of God teaches us to have control over our anger.
The Bible doesn’t say that every expression of anger is sinful. Anger can be a natural response to some injustice done to us or to our loved ones. But even in a righteous anger we still need to be careful. Because we have a sin nature inside, we can express our hatred and wickedness through our angry words and attitude. That is why Eph. 4:26-27 teach: “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
God has His way to correct injustice and wrong behavior. We need to grow in knowledge and grace so that we can follow God’s way to correct injustice. Before we know how to deal with wrong behavior and injustice, let us control our anger, so that we will not sin.
E. God wants us to have self-control in greed
Another area God wants us to exercise self-control is greed. Jesus said to the people of His days: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
We are living in a very materialistic society. Most people are bent on the pursuit of money and material things. They consider life consisting in the abundance of one’s possession. They give all their heart, time and energy to make more and more money. They keep acquiring more and more property and assets. They keep buying luxurious things.
Rich men like Bill Gates and Sam Walton have become the heroes that millions of people admire. Many people take on two or three jobs in order to get rich. They have no time to think about God, morality and the destiny of their souls. They fight with everyone for selfish gain. They lose their loved ones and friends and make many enemies. Many Christians also abandon the Lord to pursue worldly gain. They do not grow in spiritual life even though they may have been Christians for many years.
1Tim. 6:10 says: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” For the pursuit of money and material things, many people lose God, lose their family, lose their character, lose their friends, lose their health and in the end they will lose their souls.” Jesus said: What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:26)
There are higher and better things in life than money. God, eternal life, the kingdom of God and righteousness are of infinite worth while money and material things are of temporal value. Paul exhorted Timothy: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1Tim. 6:11)
Besides greed, the Word of God also exhorts Christians to exercise self-control in other areas such as pride, jealousy, vanity and worldly pleasure.
II. How can we develop the virtue of self-control
A. Depending on the Holy Spirit
Gal. 5:23 says: The fruit of the Spirit is self-control. This means that the Spirit of God will help us to develop the virtue of self-control. If we depend on our own strength we will fail because we have a sin nature inside of us which is too powerful for us. The sin nature is that strong, evil bent in us which causes us to indulge in eating, drinking, sex, malicious talk, anger, greed, pride, self-seeking and vanity.
After many years of failure, I finally recognize that I don’t have the ability to control the evil desires inside of me. Now I turn to the Lord and depend on Him completely. I find victory in Jesus. Jesus has already won the victory for me and now He is living in me to help me to control my sin nature. If you are still struggling with gluttony, lust and greed, my advice to you is that don’t depend on your own strength to control them. If you do, you will certainly fail. But if you depend on the Holy Spirit moment by moment to control the evil desires of your body, you will have victory.
How does the Holy Spirit help us? He helps us by imparting in our spirit a new desire for the things of God which are holy, righteous, truthful and noble. This new desire is fighting again the old desires of our flesh. As a new Christian, we begin to experience that these two desires are constantly fighting against each other within us.
As young Christians we still fail from time to time and follow the desires of the flesh to live. But every time we indulge in the flesh and commit sin, the Holy Spirit causes our heart to feel grieved. We feel shameful and miserable about what we have done. We are convicted by the Holy Spirit of our sins. Our fellowship with the Lord is broken. Then, we have to repent and confess our sins before the Lord. It usually takes us a day or two to regain the joy of salvation and the fellowship with God again. The Word of God teaches: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Flee from all this.” (Eph. 4:30-31)
An average Christian probably will go through the cycle of sinning, repentance and restoration of fellowship hundreds of times in the first few years of his Christian life. But if a Christian is faithful in prayer, bible study, attending meetings and serving in the house of God, his spiritual life will grow strong. He will discover that the desire for holiness in him become stronger and stronger and the Holy Spirit helps him to subdue the evil desires of the flesh. That is why Paul said:” “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Gal. 5:16) Paul also said: “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Rom. 8:13)
B. Fasting and prayer
As we turn our attention to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, let us also look at the Biblical teaching and example of fasting and prayer. Fasting is an act of humiliation and repentance. God said to the people of Israel through the prophet Joel: “Even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”(Joel 2:12)
When we have sinned, it is necessary that we repent with an attitude of humiliation. Genuine repentance and the denial of our physical needs will help us not to fall in the same sin again.
Besides, the Lord Jesus Himself set a good example in fasting to resist the temptation of the devil. He said: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4). By the practice of fasting, we affirm that knowing and obeying the Word of God is more important than satisfying our physical needs.
The prophets and teachers in the Antioch church fasted and prayed in seeking God’s will. As a result of their earnest attitude, God revealed His will to them and called them to send out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries to the nations.
C. Enduring suffering in God’s will
The apostle Peter said to the believers in the first century: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do –living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. (1 Pet. 4:1-4)
The Christians in the first century suffered poverty and persecution for their faith. Peter comforted them and pointed out to them the value of suffering. Suffering in the body can help a person to get rid of the habit of sinning.
In God’s providence, some of us may be suffering from the loss of a job, poverty, failure in business, sickness, family trouble or other kind of adversity. Instead of taking it as a misfortune in life, we should submit to God’s will. God is in control of all things and He is working in all things for our good. God utilizes the difficult circumstances to remove some sins in our lives such as pride, vanity, self-will, gluttony or greed. Just as fire can purify gold, hard circumstances can purify our lives.
Suffering can help us to develop good character and make us more mature. Paul said: We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. “(Rom. 5:3-4)
D. Pursuing the Word of God
Another way to develop self-control is to spend time to feed on the Word of God. Jesus said to the Jews in His days: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)
The Bible reveals that God created man with three parts: spirit, soul and the body. The spirit is the highest part of man while the body is the lowest part. We should let the spirit lead us how to live rather than letting the body to lead us. But if our spirit is weak and the body is strong, the desires of our body will dominate our lives.
On the other hand if our spirit is strong, the spirit will take the leadership. It will lead us to live according to God’s will. How can our spirit become strong? It becomes strong through the feeding of God’s Word. Jesus Christ and His Word is the bread of life. If we study and meditate on His Word, we will become strong in the spirit. His Word satisfies our souls. His Word teaches us the truths and the noble things of God. His Word gives us strength to control ourselves and to live according to God’s will.
Many people fail in the area of lack of self-control. Dear friends, brothers and sisters do you have a problem in self-control? Can you overcome the temptation in eating and drinking, in sex, in words, in anger, in greed, in pride and vanity. If you recognize that you are vulnerable and you are in danger of falling, I have good news for you this morning.
Jesus Christ has won the victory for us. He has overcome Satan’s temptation. He never sinned in all his life. He offered His life to die for our sins on the cross. He was resurrected to give the believers eternal life. If you have failed in self-control and have committed sins. Come to Jesus and believe in Him. He will not condemn you. He will forgive you and He will give to you the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Let us all depend on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will lead us to control our sin nature. Under His guidance, let us practice fasting and prayer. let us endure suffering in His will and let us pursue the Word of God diligently. We will possess spiritual strength from God to control our evil desires. We will have strength to do God’s will and live a holy life. Yes, we can have victory in Jesus.