As we spent these past few months examining the fruits of the Spirit in the lives of believers, I have been encouraged by the continuous empowerment of the Holy Spirit in my life, as well as the life of every believer.
It is difficult for me to express the many things that the Father has taught me as I spent some time digging deeper into these seven traits that should be evident in the life of every person who claims to be a follower of Christ.
The final fruit that we will examine in this series is what Paul calls “self-control.” The word that Paul uses, “egkrateia,” was also used by Plato and is often translated as “self-mastery.” In the context that the Greek philosopher used this word it meant that one had mastered his desires especially with respect to the love of pleasure.
It would seem that Paul is using this word to challenge believers to live their lives so that they are fit to be servants of their Master and others. Thus, the Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer enables him or her to live with integrity and grace and demonstrate the power and beauty of what the Savior has accomplished.
In essence, the life of a follower of Jesus Christ should be marked by a willingness to deny our selfish desires in order that the work of our Lord will be manifest in every aspect of our lives and character.
Obviously, the apostle was not simply sharing these fruits of the Spirit in an idle and meaningless order. Self-control encompasses the previous six traits that are listed and is the necessary exhibition of a life that is fully submitted to the Lordship of Christ.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, for a person to manifest the presence of Christ in their life without self-control. Our Lord demonstrated this fruit regularly as he restrained Himself from causing physical harm to those who opposed Him.
He chose to show self-control when His disciples seemed unable or even unwilling to grasp the whole truth of His message. When others sought to take His focus off of the mission that He had been sent to fulfill, He showed unparalleled self-denial as He kept His gaze upon the cross that awaited Him.
Perhaps Paul gives us another picture of self-control when he reminds us of the single-minded focus that is necessary to run in a race (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Those who participate in such activities must practice self-control. They will be unable to compete effectively if they fail to discipline their bodies and do all that is necessary for them to run in the race.
Why do we think it is any different for those of us in the body of Christ? If we want to be followers of Christ whose lives point to the One Who has saved us, then we must be willing to submit our lives to His commands.
Our lives must be marked by our willingness to place our desires in submission to the Lord. In essence, my life should manifest complete and unhindered devotion to the One Whom I claim as Lord.
If there are things in my life that hinder my fulfillment of the mission that He has called me to accomplish, then I must by the Spirit’s power remove those things from my life. Submission to His will must be paramount in the life of the believer.
The imagery of a runner that Paul uses in the aforementioned passage speaks of consistent and at times painful discipline. When I watch an athlete running in a race, I know that there is a whole lot more involved in his or her performance than mere talent.
On numerous occasions I have seen young men and women from the cross country team at one of the local high schools out running around town. This training is essential if they want to compete at a high level.
I am sure that there are mornings when they would rather stay in bed than go out for an early morning run. Yet, their eyes remain focused upon their goal. It is that drive and discipline that enables them to bridle their talent and achieve things that many of us might think to be impossible.
Could it be that Paul is trying to encourage us to unleash the Spirit’s influence and power upon our lives by submitting our lives fully to the Father’s will? Allowing Him to mold our lives and character into the men and women of God He has created us to become will truly allow our lives to be a living testimony of the power of His love and grace.
May our self-control exalt His name. (Mike Cooper is Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of the Church Health Team.)