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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, March 28 2024

Self-control — a fruit of the Spirit

Proverbs 25:28 tells us: “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control,” and Paul lists self-control as one of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.

A Christian is urged to flee temptation. We are told to flee: "Flee" from a "stranger" (a teacher of lies), "flee sexual immorality" (as Joseph had to literally flee, Genesis 39:12), "flee from idolatry," flee "all kinds of evil," "flee also youthful lusts" (John 10:5; 1 Corinthians 6:18 and 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:10-11; 2 Timothy 2:22).

We must rule over our appetites rather than letting our appetites rule us. Overindulgence can lead to intoxication and/or addiction, and resisting sexual temptations is a subject addressed many times in the Bible. Jesus said, "The spirit [one's attitude] indeed is willing but the flesh [human willpower] is weak" (Matthew 26:41). Sexual sins are especially damaging—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually (1 Corinthians 6:13-20).

The normal human mind by itself is not capable of being in complete subjection to the law of God. Paul plainly said that "the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God's law, for it is unable to do so" (Romans 8:7). To have truly effective control over our lives, we need God's power, as the gift of the Holy Spirit, to be in control.

Just before Jesus' ascension to heaven, He said to His disciples, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8). Just 10 days later when 120 of Christ's disciples were together observing the annual festival of Pentecost, suddenly "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" and God's power was spectacularly demonstrated (Acts 2:1-4). Peter then explained to the crowd what a person must do to receive God's Spirit: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

The Holy Spirit enables spiritual understanding to truly comprehend the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 2:9-14), and once we have spiritual "knowledge," we must add "self-control" (2 Peter 1:5-8). The Holy Spirit helps us to control our human nature, in addition to transforming our thinking and perspective. Three common emotions that can tempt us to lose our self-control are want, anger and fear.

Want

Paul wrote that his "selfish desires" trapped him from doing what he knew was the right thing. "In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate…I know that my selfish desires won’t let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot. Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong" (Romans 7:15-19).

Everyone has wants and needs, but nothing should come between us and our relationship with God. When we find ourselves tempted to lose control on a spur-of-the-moment desire, we should ask whether our actions will produce treasures on earth, or store "treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:19-21).

Anger

Moses learned this lesson the hard way in Numbers 20:1-13. God had instructed Moses and Aaron to speak to a rock in order to grant Israel water. Instead, Moses furiously smacked the rock with his rod, and took credit for the miracle God was performing through him, in front of the Israelite assembly. He allowed his anger to take control and disobeyed a direct command from God and, as a result, was not permitted to enter into the Promised Land.

Anger can lead to impulsive sin. Our challenge is to maintain control when angry and ask God for guidance in making the right decision.

Fear

Jesus Christ was walking with Peter and the other disciples when He was suddenly arrested (John 18:1-11). Not fully understanding the events taking place Peter attacked one of the men with a sword, perhaps out of fear or anger. Then later, he was confronted about being a follower of Jesus Christ and hotly denied it three times: "He began to curse and swear, 'I do not know this Man of whom you speak!'" (Mark 14:71). Peter's fear of being found a follower of Christ was very real, as he feared facing arrest, torture, and even death.

The knowledge that God is aware of our situation and in ultimate control, helps us better manage our fear and anger. God is much more powerful than anything we fear, and will deliver us if we seek Him, praying for God to guide us with His Spirit, which brings power and not fear (2 Timothy 1:7).

In I Corinthians the Apostle Paul compared life to a race: "...in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize…. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize….So I run…with purpose in every step…I discipline my body like an athlete….Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Mastering self-control is a difficult, life-long battle. The Apostle Paul worked at it for his entire life, and in the end, he was able to say the following about his walk with God: "I have fought well. I have finished the race, and I have been faithful" (2 Timothy 4:7).