I don’t think it’s any coincidence that self-control is the last fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:23, for the simple fact that in order to bear good fruit, we need to be rooted, grounded, and growing in good things—in “good spirit” that helps produce those fruits. And in order to pursue godly things, we have to have the self-control to deny ourselves the things that produce bad fruit in our lives.
It’s almost cyclical, in a way. Self-control is a fruit of the spirit that empowers us to have better control so we produce better fruit! Think about it like this: if you decide to eat healthy, it doesn’t just happen overnight. Especially if you’re used to eating a lot of junk, you have to first practice self-control before you see results—you have to say no to unhealthy foods and deny the things your body tells you that you absolutely need right now. But if you give it enough time, eventually the cravings lessen. This makes it easier to say no to them. Thus the self-control you exert at the beginning empowers the self-control you need to continue down the road you started on.
But a lot of times, our self-control isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. It needs support from Someone much stronger than us! Thankfully, God is willing to help us in times when we’re tempted to do things that are harmful to us or detrimental to our growth. He is able and willing to answer prayers for help with controlling ourselves; and this helps us perpetuate the cycle of denying ourselves and dying to our sinful nature so we can better live lives that please and glorify the Lord.
What is Self-Control?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines self-control as “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.” Having control over one’s instinctive nature is one of the fundamental necessities to living a godly life.
When we confess Jesus as our Lord and his blood covers our sins, we receive holy spirit, which helps transform us into the image of God, who is the Holy Spirit. The Bible calls this new image or new nature the “new man,” and the nature of sinfulness devoid of Christ as the “old man.”
The struggle we face is that while the Holy Spirit helps us and spurs us on to love and good works, the sinful nature that was our former condition does not go down without a fight, so we often face temptations to backslide into harmful practices and bad habits, poor ways of thinking and behavior, etc. This is where we need self-control—to say yes to the good and no to the bad that are at war within us.
What Does the Bible Say About Self-Control?
1 Peter 1:5-6 – Now for this very reason, make every effort to add to your trust, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness…
2 Timothy 1:7 – For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and self-control.
Titus 1:8 – [The overseer must be] given to hospitality, liking what is good, sensible, righteous, pure, self-controlled…
How Can I Become More Self-Controlled?
There are two aspects to self-control. Thankfully, the working of God’s holy spirit in us does help us in this area! While we will always have that struggle between our old and new natures within us, the “helper” Jesus sent to us through the gift of holy spirit gives us a kind of spiritual “boost” where we feel the pressure in our spirits to want to do, and to do, what pleases God. While we still have the free will to choose out—to choose to do what pleases our old nature instead—we have that extra push from the holy spirit working in us that guides our footsteps toward the will of God.
There’s also the aspect of the free will choice to be self-controlled. This comes across in numerous ways, including:
- Being choosy about the company we keep.
- Being disciplined about what we seek for entertainment.
- Avoiding things that we know trigger our impulses to sin.
- Filling our heads with godly principles rather than worldly missives.
- Making the decision to concern ourselves with God’s opinion over the world’s.
- Practicing self-denial and getting comfortable with not having the things we want, the way we want them, especially if our desires are contradictory to God’s commandments.
Self-control, like anything, becomes a habit the more we choose to do it. The more we choose to say “yes” to the things of God and “no” to shoveling stuff into the bottomless hole of our sin nature, the easier it becomes to keep saying “yes.” Over time, we discipline and train ourselves to be self-controlled in every aspect of our lives.
This is the ultimate sacrifice we can give in return to the one who sacrificed his life for us; it’s how we live as sacrifices, holy before God: by denying and dying to ourselves and our own wants so we can live for Him. That may seem overwhelming, but just remember: it starts with saying yes to the things of God just once.
And then once more.
And then once more.
Take a good, hard look at an aspect of your life, spiritual or otherwise, where you lack self-control. What is one thing you can do today to bring that area of your life into submission and better yourself through it?