Self-control. If I were to be completely honest, this is one of my least favorite words. I am drawn to a life of licentiousness, excess, abundance, greed, envy, and gluttony. I relate well to Paul’s words in Romans 7:15-20, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Every time I read this I have to stop and read it about ten times before the simplicity of this reality jumps out at me: I am a follower of Christ, who is also a sinner, and because of this dual nature, I may desire to do the right thing, but I don’t do it. I do not understand my actions sometimes. Do you ever feel this way?
Self-control is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. It is closely related to the word temperance, which means moderation; particularly, habitual moderation in regard to the indulgence of the natural appetites and passions. In the book of Titus, this word is used five times in reference to different groups of people. Elders in the church are to be self-controlled (1:8), as are older men (2:2), older and younger women (2:5), young men (2:6), and all followers of Christ (2:12). Paul is applying this idea to every single person! One of the reasons this is a theme for Paul is the church where Titus was pastoring was on the Island of Crete. They were notorious for being liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons (1:12). Since they were on an island, their main source of information about the outside world came from travelers and pirates. I think of the scene in the first Pirates of the Caribbean when they visit Tortola to find a crew. There are all sorts of nefarious people around. It is no wonder Paul had to dwell on the subject of self-control, they needed it. So do we.
If it were up to me to increase self-control in my life, I would fail every time. Fortunately, it isn’t. If I had to defeat the sin in my life, all by myself, I would also fail every time. Once again, fortunately, I don’t have to do this on my own. God knew there was no way an imperfect person could be perfect all the time, so He sent His Son, Jesus, to live the perfect life, pay the price for my sin by dying on the cross, so all I have to do is believe and I can be saved; saved from my sin and from the punishment of sin. God’s Word promises that when a person puts their faith in Jesus Christ, they are given the power of the Holy Spirit.
Self-control is one of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. As a Christ-follower continues to yield more and more of their life to God, the Spirit’s fruit become more evident in their life. This is true not only of self-control, but the other fruit as well: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.
My prayer is for each of us to experience more and more fruit in our lives, especially that of self-control.
*This was first published in The Chappell Register on September 26, 2013.