“But The Fruit Of The Spirit Is Self-Control”                                        July 23, 2006

     Ephesians 2:1-5   Titus 2:11-14   1 Peter 5:8-11

 

INTRO:  What is self-control?  How would you define it?

The ancient Greeks prized self-control over all virtues.

   Of all the schools of Greek philosophy, the one that elevated self-control

   to the highest level of importance were the Stoics.

 

Stoic taught that if a man could become master of himself—

   if by sheer will-power he could gain control over his emotions and responses,

   then he would be perfectly free—no one, no circumstance could control him.

He would be unmoved by anything that happened to him. 

 

There is a famous legend—

   about a young Greek man who embraced Stoic philosophy.

In order to prove his commitment to Stoicism—

   put a fox under his tunic, as this fox began to bite him,

   he did not move, he did not grimace.

The people around him had no idea that anything was wrong—

   they had no idea he had a fox under his tunic, until he dropped dead,

   because the fox had torn into his stomach and eaten his insides. 

 

Probably a legend, but it does illustrate the Greek understanding of self-control,

   which was simply will-power.

Reaching inside yourself and grabbing some inner strength—

   and hanging on.  It was turning yourself into a stone.

 

That idea of self-control is still around.

   Buck up.  Get over it.  Just say no. 

   As the British say:  Stiff upper lip, old man.

That is the common understanding of self-control.

   Just grabbing inner strength and hardening yourself to everything. 

 

But when the Bible calls Christians to self-control—

   When Peter says, “Be self-controlled and alert . . .”

This is not a command to simply exercise your will-power. 

 

The fruit of the Spirit which is self-control is not sheer will power.

   It’s not about reaching down into yourself and grabbing some inner strength.

   It’s not just saying no, just bucking up—not Stoicism.

 

The self-control which Christians are to cultivate is supernatural.

   It’s a work of God’s grace in you.

Did you notice how Paul put it in his words to Titus?

   “The grace of God . . . teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.”

Grace of God teaches us to be self-controlled.

   By grace we are able to say no to the enemies of self-control.

 

Tim Keller gives a great definition of the fruit of self-control:

   Self-control is the ability the Holy Spirit gives you

   to chose the important thing over the urgent thing. 

 

The urgent thing is gratifying your sinful nature.  Worldly passions.  Idolatry.

   The important thing is love God and love your neighbor. 

 

All of you have things in your lives can’t control—bad habits, thoughts, attitudes.

   Your tongue, your eyes, your credit cards, your stomach—could go on and on. 

But if you are a born again Christian, you aren’t just any person—

   You have the divine nature the Holy Spirit has planted in you.

 

And an essential part of that is self-control:

   This marvelous ability to choose the important thing over the urgent thing.

   Not by reaching down deep inside and getting your own will-power—

   but by tapping into the power of God’s grace. 

 

Look at this topically, several passages about self-control.

   Three headings:

 

1.  The need for self-control

2.  The power for self-control

3.  The context of self-control

 

 

 

 

MP#1  The need for self-control

Ephesians 2:1-5—Spiritual condition of Christians before saved, Paul included.

   Showing them the power of God—how they have been changed. 

   you were dead”  “the way you used to live”

   followed the ways of the world and ruler of kingdom of air”

Describes their behavior (and his own as well).

   “Gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.”

 

Without self-control, under the dominion of the cravings of your sinful nature.

   The lusts of the flesh. 

The sinful nature (flesh) is the entire nature of a person in opposition to God.

   The sinful nature expresses itself, lack of self-control by building idols

   that it worships instead of God. 

Calvin:  Hearts are idol-making factories.

 

Let’s back up a bit.  God created people to worship and serve Him.

   So when people worship God, doing what they were made to do.

In worshipping Him, all the deepest longings of the heart are met—

   peace, security, comfort, happiness, belonging, sense of worth

   Just look at Adam and Eve in the Garden before sin. 

Perfectly whole, perfectly self-controlled.  Desires for God.  Life orderly.

 

Sin brought alienation from God—but the drive to worship something still there.

   People are made to worship.  Have to worship something.

So the sinful nature finds idols, little gods to fill that drive to worship.

   Every person, because of upbringing, personality, etc. has different idols.

 

Some idols are more respectable than others.

   Paul’s idol before he became a Christian—being a moral, religious man. 

   Earned him great respect from the Jewish establishment.

If your idol is work or success or achievement—business, athletics.

   Serve those things as your god, and are successful, many people will respect you.

   Look what he has achieved.  Look what a self-disciplined person he is.

 

But some idols are not respectable.

   If your idol is drugs, pornography—if you serve them.

   People will look down on you.  More you serve, lower you will get.

 

What does this have to do with self-control?

World looks at a person who worships business or athletics, has achieved success.

   Wow—what a self-disciplined, self-controlled person.  Look what accomplished.

Looks at person who worships drugs, sex, food.  Person has no self-control at all.

 

Christian has a completely different view—neither are self-controlled,

   Both enslaved to their idols—business or drugs, success or escape.

   Both following the urgent cravings of their sinful nature.

 

Sometimes people will make a dramatic shift from one idol to another.

Man who has a business success idol shifts to “simple life” idol.

   But both are his god, through whom seeking blessing and meaning. 

Woman who was a drug user—such a low sense of self worth.

   Became a marathon runner—that gave her new sense of worth. 

 

Obviously it’s better to be a marathon runner than a drug addict.

   But if the switch is simply to find something else besides God, still an idol.

   All idols are spiritual dead ends.  Promising what God alone can give.

   They are simply different ways to satisfy the urgent cravings of sinful nature.

 

Jesus talks about a person who has an evil spirit that is driven out. 

   Spirit comes back, finds heart swept clean and empty, brings 7 more demons.

   Final condition of person worse than the first. 

By will-power, because miserable, might replace disreputable idol with respectable.

   But then what happens? 

   You are even more enslaved because of pride and respectability it brings.

   A man might put aside alcohol, hardened spiritually.

 

How does this apply to your growth in self-control?

   This is a crucial matter of self-understanding.

As a Christian, your sinful nature has been broken. 

   Old nature, idol-making tendency still there, but hope for regaining self-control. 

 

First step of growing in fruit of self-control is to ask:  What are my remaining idols?

   What are the urgent demands they make that conflict with God.

Especially hard to see if your idols are respectable kind.

   But have to see need for self-control first.  All need it for this fight.

Understanding of the cravings and idolatry of sinful nature doesn’t actually

   enable us to grow in self-control, just a necessary first step

This brings us to our next point . . .

MP#2  The power for self-control.

   An understanding of God’s grace.  Look at how Paul explains this to Titus:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age . . .

 

How does the grace of God teach us to say no to cravings of sinful nature,

   and to live self-controlled lives? 

Very simply, when you understand grace, it smashes your idols.

    Destroys the pull they have on you and frees you to love and serve Lord.

 

The heart of grace is the good news that you are forgiven, loved

   and accepted by God through faith in Jesus Christ.

No matter who you are or what you have done, God looks at you and says:

   You are my son, you are my daughter. 

He loves you because of your connection to His Son Jesus Christ,

   nothing can change His love and He calls you to a life of love.

 

Now what that immediately does, whether you feel this or not,

   destroys the control that your idols have over you.

Your idols say:  “Serve me and I will give you peace, acceptance, security.”

   Christian can truthfully reply:  “I already have all that in Christ!”

 

1.  Do you lack self-control in the matter of your temper? 

   Do you blow up whenever you are criticized or questioned

   even by someone who love you? 

Bible condemns fits of rage.  Opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.

 

Possible the reason you have fits of rage is that your idol is the approval of people. 

   If that is your idol, you can’t stand anything that feels like disapproval.

   So your response is an angry outburst to cut off all criticism.

 

God’s grace can teach you to say “No” to this worldly passion, if you will listen.

   You are much worse off than you have ever admitted.

 

Even when criticisms of other people hit the mark—

   point out your faults, failures, and weaknesses—that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You are a much greater failure, much more wicked sinner than ever dared to admit.

   And God sees everything.  Nothing in your life is hidden from Him.

 

But God loves and accepts you in Christ.  All Christ’s righteousness is yours.

   There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

If you learn that lesson of grace, you will start to get self control over your passions.

   Will be able to listen to criticism and say to yourself:

   I’m even worse off than this person thinks—but in Christ I’m perfect.

God has accepted me and that’s all that matters.

 

2.  Maybe you lack self-control when it comes to your money.

   Christians can lack-self control regarding money in two ways—

   either spending too much money or being too stingy with your money.

 

Money idolatry cuts both ways.  Think lack of self-control is just overspending.

   But can lack self-control by being stingy as well.

If money is your worth, probably going to be an over-spender.

   If money is your security you are going to be stingy. 

God’s grace teaches you to say “No” to these worldly passions.

 

By teaching you that your worth and happiness is in Christ. 

   Gives self-control to say:  I don’t need to buy this thing to feel good about self.

By teaching you that your security is eternally in Christ.

   Gives self-control to say:  I can give my money away without fear and anxiety.

 

Working this out in your life takes time.

   It takes identifying particular idols, how they dominate you. 

  Arguing grace with yourself.

 

Number of different words in New Testament for “self-control” different nuances. 

   This particular word has the sense of having a sound mind.

Paul means, as grace of God teaches you, grow in grace of Christ.

   Then you have to think straight.  Think about God’s grace. 

   Apply it to self.  That’s how self-control grows.

Are you letting God’s grace teach you self-control?

Are you thinking these things through?

MP#3  The context of self-control. 

The spiritual fruit of self-control grows in the context of spiritual warfare. 

   Cultivate this fruit in the arena of conflict with the devil.

Apostle Peter:

   Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking

   for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .

 

When the Holy Spirit starts to lead you into greater self-control in matters

   of godliness, the devil will do all he can to oppose you.

   Growth in the fruit self-control is hard.  It’s a fight.

If you don’t realize this, you will get frustrated and discouraged when fail.

   You will think you just don’t have enough will-power, when that is not the issue.

   Will-power is not the issue. 

 

Let me give you an example:

Suppose the Lord convicted you of your need to read the Bible to your children

   and pray with them on a more regular basis.

   You know these are your covenant responsibilities.

   Know Lord will hold you accountable.  Concerned for souls of children.

 

Decide that 3 times a week, after eat supper, get Bible, Bible story book,

   read it and pray—going to take about 10 minutes.

   Sounds simple—10 minutes after supper, read Bible, pray.

Well, just try it.  Try making a simple investment of 30 minutes a week

   in the spiritual growth of your children.

Everything urgent will come along and derail your attempts to do this regularly.

   Schedules will conflict, homework, bad moods, silly moods, busyness. 

 

Do you think this is just a coincidence? 

   Do you think the problem is just with you?  You are too lazy?

   Is it just a matter of will-power?

 

Well suppose the baseball coach called—instead of 2 games a week, will have 4.

   Somehow you would manage to change schedule, work out rides,

   deal with moods of children and you would do it—even though much bigger

   time commitment than just 30 minutes a week.

Problem not simple laziness—you aren’t lazy.  Not a matter of will power.

 

There’s a spiritual battle.  There is a devil who wants to devour you.

   Does all he can to derail your growth in godliness.

   He orchestrates all of those urgent things that press on you.

Yes, there is the problem in you of idolatry, also problem outside you, Devil.

 

Going to have to take Bible’s image of warfare to heart. 

   “He trains my hands for battle, my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”

Make use of your weapons to grow in this fruit.

 

Going to have to pray to grow in self-control.

   Ravi Zacharias said that unless he prayed before he went to bed,

   “Lord, wake me up in the morning with an eagerness to meet you in Word,”

   then he could not get up and read.  Doesn’t come naturally.

 

Going to have to make use of Scripture to spur you on.

   If trying to gain self-control over tongue, not enough to appeal to will-power.

   I’m not going to say anything mean to my wife today!  Not going to curse!

Must find scripture will strengthen you in self-control. 

   “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth,

   but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,

   that it may benefit those who listen.”

 

Or if it is money, as we discussed earlier.  Not just, I’m not going to spend today!

   “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world and we

   can take nothing out.  But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that.”

 

Must make use of the fellowship of brothers and sisters, common worship.

   Biggest problem with self-control as world usually sees it—your own will-power.

   I can do this alone.  I can beat this, I can overcome this, self-control.

But you are in a common fight.  Your morale is built by being with fellow soldiers. 

   If there is little fellowship in your life, prayer with other Christians, worship—

   going to have a hard time growing in the fruit of self-control. 

 

What are the areas in which the Holy Spirit is calling you to grow in self-control?

   You will be frustrated if you don’t understand nature of this spiritual battle.

   Bring spiritual weapons to bear—prayer, word, fellowship of saints

You are in a battle.  Remember that.  Do not be discouraged by small defeats.

   Keep your eye on the big picture, use means Christ has provided.

CONC:  Are you cultivating the fruit of self-control?

You need it or you will be pulled one way after another by your sinful nature.

   But the power is not in you—not will-power—it’s the grace of God.

   Knowing that, putting it into practice.

Doing so in the context of a spiritual battle that we all face.

 

One preacher put it this way:

 

One preacher put it this way: 

    “We fritter away our time by staring at the TV, or aimlessly surfing the web.  We let our marriages fall flat by failing to work at communication, or neglecting to do the little acts of tenderness and devotion that adds spice to our love.  We eat too much, or drink too much, and buy too much.  We say whatever we feel at the moment rather than bringing our thoughts and words under the discipline of thoughtful kindness and peaceable gentleness.  We call ourselves followers of Christ, but fail to build a relationship to him in prayer, wandering through life as though Christ’s claim of Lordship were a mere ornament. 

 

    Without the gift and practice of self-control we are at the mercy of our sinful hearts, our potent drives, our fickle feelings.  Self-control is not some sort of bad news set alongside the good news of grace.  Self-control is grace, grace kneaded into our lives.  Through his gift of self-control the Holy Spirit makes all the wonderful facets of love—joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and generosity—possible.  Self-control is the human soil where the gift of grace grows and blossoms into the full flower of love.

 

And all of you who know Christ have received that grace.

   Grow in it this week.