How to Walk in the Spirit of Self-Control
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
As we close out the fruit of the Spirit, let us take a moment to consider all that we have discussed thus far.
We started talking about the works of the flesh, from adultery to revelries, things we ought to avoid (Gal. 5:19-21).
And we will naturally avoid these things if we produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Among these are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and today’s topic, self-control.
If we exercise all these things, we will naturally avoid fornication, hatred, contentions, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, envy, and drunkenness.
While love is the first mentioned, and the overarching reason why we avoid these things, self-control will help us abstain from the evil and practice the good.
Definitions – there are several Greek words to consider here.
ἐγκράτεια (noun) – self-control (the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites) [Acts 24:25; Gal. 5:23; 2 Pet. 1:6].
κράτος – force, strength; power might; mightily, with great power; a mighty deed, a work of power; dominion.
ἐγκρατής (adj.) – strong, robust; having power over, possessed of; mastering, controlling, curbing, restraining; controlling oneself, temperate, continent [Tit. 1:8].
ἐγκρατεύομαι (verb) – to be self-controlled, continent; to exhibit self-government, conduct oneself temperately [Gen. 43:31 LXX; 1 Cor. 7:9; 9:25].
So knowing self-control is how we become an athlete, it is also how we can exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, securing our place in heaven, denying ourselves (Gal. 5:24).
We deny sinful lusts and desires, we remove their power, and embrace love, joy, etc.
Preview – How does one become an athlete?
Have a Plan.
Be Persistent in Carrying it Out.
You Will Then be Perfect.
Have a Plan.
Research – in order to have a plan you must research one.
Any athlete who is worth anything probably did not come to his training regimen by trial and error.
He learned certain methods and strategies that worked for others so that he might employ them himself.
He had to research different strategies to figure out what works best.
According to the Christian graces, we are to add to our faith, virtue, to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control (2 Pet. 1:5-6).
In order to help with our self-control, the first thing we must do is get knowledge.
First learn the areas that we need to exercise self-control.
Next research different strategies to carry it out.
Perhaps they are mentioned in sermons or classes, or you can ask older, more mature Christians about their strategies and what worked for them.
In fact, athletes will typically have a coach to help him with this research—they will know the best strategies and can tailor them to the athlete in question.
One of my favorite strategies is fasting.
It doesn’t work for everybody, but if you can deprive yourself from food for a certain period of time, steeping yourself in prayer and not snap at everybody you come across, you have increased your self-control not only when it comes to food but elsewhere.
Development – after you’ve done your research, you must set it up.
Just like with a workout regimen, you have to set your goals.
“I want to be able to run so far so fast.” “I want to benchpress so much.” Or simply, “I want to lose weight.”
If you have a coach, you’ll have to share with him your goals so that he can help you develop your plan.
Once you set your goals, then you can figure out how can reach them, writing down where you would like to be by the end of the week.
This is the same for developing self-control—often once we see it on paper, it helps us to visualize it and realize just how must work we need to do.
The up-side is, the more you work on it, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come.
For instance, how many times do I want to show love this week?
In what should I expressed joy in this week?
With whom should I be more longsuffering, showing more kindness toward, more goodness, faithfulness, or gentleness?
Or the flip side: I want fewer outbursts of wrath this week, fewer instances of lewdness and lust, fewer moments of jealousy or envy.
Make these goals manageable so you can actually achieve them.
Don’t say, “I’m going to be exactly like Christ,” but “I want to be more Christ-like.”
And for many, it is a gradual process to get closer and closer to His example.
Of course, some things you should cut automatically: e.g. adultery, idolatry, murder.
But some of the others are harder to remove entirely right away.
This moves us on to persistence.
Failure (Rom. 7:15-20) – it is a reality.
You see, the problem is that it’s often hard to stick to a plan.
We have these lofty goals, and they are so hard to meet.
So we should expect failure from time to time, and not beat ourselves up over it too much.
I don’t mean to minimize sin and how terrible it is, but the allure of sin is so strong, many of us find it very difficult to escape it entirely.
And if we beat ourselves up over it too much, we might get discouraged and stop trying.
That is certainly the case when one is training to get in shape.
You might miss a goal, eat too much, skip a day of exercise, but the important thing is to get back at it!
A coach ought to whip you into shape, but many of us don’t have coaches—especially as Christians.
But that’s where we ought to confess our trespasses to each other (James 5:16).
When we fail, and we will from time to time, letting someone know about it will help us get back on track!
Keep it up! – (2 Pet. 1:6).
As we saw in the Christian Graces, as you must add to your knowledge self-control, so you must also add perseverance.
If we are to succeed in our Christian walk, we have to get back up.
When we fall off that wagon, we can’t stay on the ground.
Let’s get back into the fight!
Satan never rests, and neither should we!
In fact, he tends to attack us most when we think we are okay (1 Cor. 10:12).
That’s the same with any training regimen—after all any exercise is better than no exercise.
And that’s what a coach does, right? He encourages you to get back on track.
That’s what the person you confess your sins to ought to do as well—yes, he ought to pray for you, but he ought to encourage you as well!
You might fail from time to time—in fact, it’s a guarantee—but salvation means you won’t stay down!
You won’t let the failure discourage you from continuing to try!
At this point, you might manage your goals a bit better, lower them some so that they are more attainable before you keep going.
Make a path so that you can get back on track.
Example: Daily Bible Reading.
You Will Then Be Perfect.
Spiritually Mature (Col. 1:28; Heb. 5:13-14).
The perfection talked about here does not mean the person never sins.
It means the person is spiritually mature, skilled in the word of God, enough to be able to discern right from wrong, and typically they choose the right.
It’s hard to say where that line is, but we can tell when someone is spiritually mature vs. when they are not spiritually mature.
But even those who are “perfect” might fail.
Sometimes we still flop (Peter – Gal. 2:11ff).
In a way, we are all still in training, no matter how mature we might be.
There will never be a point when we will say, “We have arrived,” at least not on this side of eternity.
And athletes never feel that way, too, not until the race is over and they win whatever awards are their due.
We keep training, we keep working at it.
While we may be an Olympic athlete of Christianity, we might be the Simone Biles, who is just amazing, but can’t do it today.
We might be the diver, Pamela Ware, who just choked and scored a 0 on one of her dives.
We might still need that coach to help us get back up.
Hopefully, though, we will reach a point in our spiritual maturity where we can encourage ourselves to get back in the fight.
But don’t feel bad if you need a good word occasionally—after all, we get that every week in worship, don’t we?
After all, isn’t the assembly meant to be where we encourage one another to “love and good works”? (Heb. 10:24).
Self-control is difficult.
But that’s why we need to work at it like an athlete training for a race.
We need to research and develop a plan.
We need to be persistent and get up when we fall.
And only then might we be perfect, or spiritually mature.
Even then we might mess up from time to time, but let us continue to walk in the walk as He is in the light, but walking in the Spirit.
Self-control involves having “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).
Living in the Spirit means walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).
If we talk the talk, let us also walk the walk!
This requires us to listen to the Lord through the Scriptures and do as He says.
As Paul writes, “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5).
What are those rules we must adhere to?
His Word, the Scriptures, and how He says we can be saved!