Building Character: Self-Control


In Galatians 5 the Apostle Paul lists for us the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. When I make individual spiritual plans with people, I often ask which of these virtues are you struggling to live out? The number one answer is self-control, that is certainly my struggle as well. The word means to have dominion over one’s impulses, cravings or desires. One of my favorite definitions of self-discipline is “choosing to do what is right when you feel like doing what is wrong” (Character Still Counts, James Merritt, 180). In my opinion self-control is last on the list of the fruit of the Spirit because it can grow slowly and is often the height of spiritual maturity.

In contrast, when a person does not walk in self-control, frequently their lives end in some form of ruin. The Bible is full of examples, from Esau to Samson. When a person does not control their words, they consistently wound others. When a person does not control their sexual desires, they usually destroy their marriage. When they do not get a handle on their desire for “more,” they can end up a workaholic or a broken gambler. God wants us to flourish and thrive. If we wish to live the abundant life, how do we walk in the self-control that God intends for us?

First, be honest about the inner civil war that every believer faces. In Romans 7 the Apostle Paul
acknowledges his inner struggles to live a holy life. Every day we make countless decisions that determine our direction and ultimately our destiny. I appreciate a vivid description and prescription I recently read: “Two natures beat within my breast; The one is foul; the one is blest. The one I love; the one I hate. The one I feed will dominate.” (A Life Beyond Amazing, Dr. David Jeremiah, 180).

Second, focus on the benefits of self-control. Whether resisting temptation or fulfilling our calling, self-discipline makes a difference. Dr. David Jeremiah tells about when he felt like the Lord nudged him to start typing out every word of every sermon he presented. He did not enjoy that task but out of that material has come over 70 books! His impact has grown exponentially because of his faithfulness in this simple act of self-discipline. Athletes are able to resist the cheesecake and run one more mile because they long to win, to make their mark. Author Lysa Terkeurst says we need to find our “want to.”

Third, depend on the Holy Spirit. Human willpower only takes you so far. It is a limited resource, but the Holy Spirit’s power is unending. As we walk by the leading of the Holy Spirit we begin to consistently walk away from the intense gravitational pull of sin. I recently watched the movie “The Blind” which is the testimony of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. As he is explaining to his old drinking buddy how his life so radically changed for the better, he said, “I didn’t do it. God did.” Ultimately the Holy Spirit empowers us to be like Jesus Christ in character and disposition.

Fourth, get back up. We all stumble and fall. Mark Twain once said, “It’s easy to stop smoking. I’ve done it dozens of times.” Maybe last night you indulged in watching pornography. Possibly yesterday you spread just a “little bit” of gossip. When we stumble and fall, GET BACK UP! If we planted an apple seed in a warm climate, it would take years before we actually get to eat an apple. Likewise, in the tough areas of self-control, it takes time to mature and bear fruit. When you fall, be kind to yourself; dust yourself off, and try again.

Stay connected to Christ and your life WILL BEAR FRUIT, even the elusive virtue of self-control (John 15:5).

Pastor Derek Dickinson