Would you feel safe and secure living in a house without windows and doors? Proverbs 25:28 tells us that a person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out. Biblical self-control means choosing to give up trying to control things on our own, surrendering to God for help, and working alongside Him for real change. If you lack self-control, you will be controlled by your whims. If you do not choose to rely on the Holy Spirit and aim to make the right choices, you cannot become your best self.
The eleventh fruit of the Spirit we explore today is self-control. What exactly is self-control? Self-control is self-mastery regardless of the circumstances, to be in control of oneself rather than to be controlled by temptations, events, or other people, especially when under pressure or in times of crisis. It is to remain calm, cool, and collected, reasonable, and even-tempered; to be alert and conscious, to proceed with caution and prudence, and to avoid an impulse or kneejerk response; to be a moderating influence; and to have the strength and courage to reject evil and choose good.
There are two proverbs that explain the difference of not having self-control versus the value of having it. In Proverbs 25:28 we are told, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” But, in Proverbs 16:32 we learn, “It is better to be patient than powerful. It is better to win control over yourself than over whole cities.”
Like self-control, continence means having temperance and having the ability to exercise moderation in everything we do. The simplest definition of temperance is “the virtue which moderates in us the inordinate desire for sensible pleasure, keeping it within the limits assigned by reason and faith.” (Divine Intimacy).
Self-control is important because this is how with live with our bodies ordered to God. Before the Fall, all the physical senses were in complete harmony and controlled by reason. Temperance is loving my body, keeping it clean and pure, moderating taste, exercising continence in touch, and remaining chaste in all the senses. Infused with the theological virtue of hope, we see the fruit of self-control.
The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. Church tradition lists twelve: charity (love), joy, peace, patience, kindness (benignity), goodness, generosity (longanimity), gentleness (mildness), faithfulness (faith), modesty, self-control (continency), chastity. Galatians 5:22-23 Vulgate As we mature in our faith, aligning our will with God’s, all the characteristics of our spiritual fruits, including the fruit of self-control, will grow. “’We live by the Spirit’; the more we renounce ourselves, the more we ‘walk by the Spirit’” (CCC 736).
Let’s look at some of the benefits of learning, understanding, and living in the fruit of self-control:
- Self-control is a foundational virtue as it takes a great deal of self-control to exercise the other eleven virtues. We all face temptation to sin, and we often lack the self-restraint to stop when we should and we find ourselves overeating, overdrinking, overspending or overindulging.
- Different from patience, self-control allows you to keep your mind focused on God while avoiding the temptation of your desires. Many worldly temptations can be strong, but our spiritual self-control can be stronger with the help of our faith.
- Sin and addiction are slavery and steal our freedom. We are all trapped by sin and addictions, be they physical or mental: addictions to social media, gossiping, smoking, eating or sinful thought processes. Addictions are accompanied by temptations, which fill our minds for much of our waking moments and produce feelings of guilt. To take control of these limitations releases us to become all that God intended us to be.
- Scripture speaks to the many benefits of self-control:
- Self-control protects You. “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28).
- It makes you more attractive. “Likewise, also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,” (I Timothy 2:9)
- Being a Christian does not mean life is easy. While we are still in this world and in our earthly bodies we will be tempted, just as Jesus was. It’s a battle, it can be hard and frustrating, and we shouldn’t minimize the difficulty. It is hard and making the right choice when faced with temptation is much easier said than done. But remember we have power in Christ. Jesus has won the battle, removed sin’s power, and has empowered you to make the right choices. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NIV).
Doing God’s will and not your own.Titus 2:11-12
How do we cultivate the fruit of self-control? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Invite God to help. Mastery over anything is not accomplished overnight, but with careful and persistent effort. Self-control is a skill that can be taught and a muscle that can be grown, but it takes time and practice. Ask God to help you recognize areas where you need self-control.
- Develop Self-Awareness. Every evening, take a minute to scroll through your day and see where you may have fallen into temptation. Was it that extra cup of coffee or glass of wine? Did you eat more than you had planned or fail to exercise? Bought something you really didn’t need? Worked beyond what was reasonable? Worried about something that takes up more head space than necessary? Identify the chains in your life, and the times when you feel most gripped by them. Then get honest with yourself, apologize to God for not taking care of your temple and make a commitment, even if just a baby step, of what you’ll do different next time. Just do the next right thing.
- Know your own boundaries. Recognize the “pre-sin” moments and seek to do an about-turn before you get to them. As it says in 1 Peter 5: 8 “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Don’t become complacent, or just live on autopilot because we live in constant spiritual warfare. Fasting can assist with getting stronger in self-control.
- Know God. Think about how massive and powerful our God is, and how small our problems are in comparison. Nothing is impossible to Him, and He gives the same power to work in us that raised Jesus from the dead. How awesome! When we seek God’s heart, we will discover freedom which is His very nature. As we learn to be self-controlled, we can choose to seek God’s guidance. Remember, we are not alone. We can call in the Holy Spirit when we need strength to help overcome temptation. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)
- Use the weapon of Prayer. Prayer is simply maintaining a constant awareness of God’s presence and communicating with Him throughout the day. This should be a constant flow, a source of continual nourishment and refreshment. When you feel like you are struggling with self-control, pray to be rescued from temptation. After all, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)
- Keep your eyes on Jesus. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
In an impulsive world, we need help in mastering self-control. As humans, self-discipline does not come naturally to us, and we need help in learning to strengthen this foundational virtue to live in true freedom. Through prayer and choice, guided by the Holy Spirit, we can overcome ourselves. We can stand firm in our choices. We can exercise moderation in everything we do. And when we do, the Spirit of self-control smiles! We live protected, safe and secure.
Smitten with the fruit of self-control,