Fruit of the Spirit.... Self Control

Self Control

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
Gal 5:16

The Roman philosopher Cicero once said ‘fewer are found who conquer their own lusts than overcome the armies of enemies.’ Sadly, this is so often the case even with believers, because we do not use the means God has provided. Through the final verses of Galatians Ch.5, the apostle Paul is urging his readers to live and walk in the Spirit. In contrast to the ‘works of the flesh,’ listed in verse 19, he describes the fruit of the Spirit. These are the graces which are characteristic of a person who is ‘in Christ, who walks after the Spirit,’ and the last on the list is self control, or temperance. Greed, impatience, rage, swearing, lust, excess, covetousness, anger and countless others are all sins which a believer, ‘walking in the Spirit’ may find grace to resist.

Proverbs 25:28 says ‘He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls’ Or, in another rendering: ‘A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.’ You can clearly picture the illustration used; a city in times past is surrounded by large walls to keep the inhabitants safe from attack. When the walls are broken down, the city is at risk, inhabitants can no longer defend themselves, they are at the mercy of whatever comes to them! So it is with a person who has no self control; he has no defence, he is at the mercy of whatever comes his way to do him harm. There is nothing more harmful than sin, and the desires which lead to it. Self control is about overcoming these desires, both in our actions and reactions.

The wonderful thing about self control is, that it is a gift of God’s grace. It is a fruit, not a work. In this respect, perhaps ‘self control’ is not so good a rendering as ‘temperance,’ since self control perhaps implies it is something we can do in and of ourselves. Fallen man is enslaved to sin, and cannot do right but for God’s grace. The apostle Paul said, ‘Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?’ (Rom6:16). The unregenerate person walks in ‘the lusts of the flesh,’ and does what he pleases; one only needs to look around on our society to see the culture of self-gratification that exists, and its results. As believers however we are commanded to ‘make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires’(Rom13:14). We could never do this by our own will power, but with God’s help we are enabled to do this, as he sanctifies us, and we grow in temperance. Too often we become lazy in ‘crucifying the flesh,’ and are off guard; walking in close fellowship with the Lord continually, trusting in his grace, is therefore vital.

There is of course no more perfect example of temperance and control than Christ himself. In all his circumstances on this earth, he reacted in a patient, and perfect way. Being despised and mocked by man, ‘when he was reviled, reviled not again.’ In all the suffering he went through, not for himself but for his people, he ‘when he suffered, threatened not.’ Since we face temptations and provocations around us continually to react in a sinful manner, we should commit ourselves to God, praying that we would be helped to resist the urge to sin, and live in temperance.

Self control is not a form of self help, it is rather a means of mortification, the putting to death of sin. As so often in the way of truth, there is a sacrifice to be made. No doubt sin is sometimes pleasurable for a short time in the satisfaction of an evil heart, but in the bigger picture such gratification will lead to disaster. If as believers we relinquish such things to walk in holiness, we will experience the blessing of the Lord, and everlasting joy. This is because we are ‘crucified with Christ,’ and by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us we are enabled to live more and more unto righteousness. Self control relates to numerous aspects of the Christian walk, so by way of reminding ourselves of its importance let’s remember that, ‘the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever’(1Jn 2:17).

By Philip Mackereth


  1. "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." (Prov. 16:32)

    Self-control, or temperance, is perhaps one of the hardest lessons we need to learn as Christians, but it is also a key element in the sanctification process. Look at the 'fruit of the Spirit' listed in Galatians 5- love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, and meekness. How much easier all these other elements become when we have self-control! We are more gentle if we are in control of our tempers. More long-suffering if we have self-control in the area of patience. More meek if we control our pride... indeed, if we have no self-control, then these other virtues are almost unattainable.

    How grateful we can be, then, that, as Philip said, temperance is a gift of God, and not something we must attain through our own strength. We can only truly have 'control' of our emotions, will, and actions, when we surrender that control to Christ, and have Him completely in command.

    As George Matheson said-

    "Make me a captive, Lord,
    And then I shall be free;
    Force me to render up my sword,
    And I shall conqueror be.
    I sink in life's alarms
    When by myself I stand;
    Imprison me within thine arms,
    And strong shall be my hand."

    "For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Gal. 2:8-9)

    Sorry this is so long! :-)

  2. Thank you for this Phil.

    How we all need full self-control over all of our lives. I was wondering... in what practical way can we have self-control?

    There are so many aspects of my life that are still resisting God, areas which aren't always pleasing Him. How can I cut out these bad roots?

    Please provide some application thanks.



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