“Self-control” (egkrateia egkrateia) is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. The mastering self-control comes from the Holy Spirit. Self-control presupposes taking up one’s cross and crucifying self in order to be resurrected with Christ into the new life. The fruit of the Spirit is the harvest of the cross and empty tomb and self-control is a sign of the “much fruit” that Christ desires and expects in the believer.
Verily, verily, I say to you, if the grain of the wheat, having fallen to the earth, may not die, itself remaineth alone; and if it may die, it doth bear much fruit (John 12:24 YLT).
I am the vine, ye the branches; he who is remaining in me, and I in him, this one doth bear much fruit, because apart from me ye are not able to do anything (John 15:5 YLT).
In this was my Father glorified, that ye may bear much fruit, and ye shall become my disciples (John 15:8 YLT).
Self-control is not severe discipline—“grin and bear it.” Instead, it is the believer’s whole heart, body, soul, and strength resurrected to new life in Christ through the Spirit. It is living under the power and authority of the Spirit of Christ. Of ourselves, we are not capable of self-improvement that leads to godliness; we must yield ourselves to the Spirit of God’s leading to produce self-control in our life.
In His incarnation, Jesus was the epitome of self-control. He was never tempted or tricked into doing or saying anything that was not consistent with His Father’s will and His own divine nature. Believers, like Jesus, should exercise self-control in all things.
Everyone is a curious mixture of weaknesses and strengths, having inherited a distinct temperament—predominantly sanguine, choleric, melancholy or phlegmatic. If any of the following weaknesses dominate the believer, he or she lacks the fruit of self-control.
As Christians, we are not to live under the tyranny of our temperaments. We live by faith in Christ’s capacity to control our temperaments. A believer full of the Spirit is not a slave to his inherited weaknesses; instead, all nine-encompassing traits or strengths of the fruit of the Spirit give a new freedom of love, joy, peace, purpose, self-control and dignity. The Spirit strengthens the positive traits and negates the negative traits of our temperament when we are Spirit-controlled. An excellent book on temperaments and the Spirit is Spirit-Controlled Temperament by Tim LaHaye.
Many believers know what they ought to do in matters pertaining to bodily pleasures, desires, and appetites, but too frequently, they do not add self-control to that knowledge. Flagrant lack of self-control is carnality. Too often we contend for own rights, pushing and shoving, instead of controlling ourselves, looking to the interest of others first. Instead, we are to:
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord (Romans 12:10-11 NIV).
Fervor (zew zeo) denotes boiling or bubbling over. To have spiritual fervor in the Spirit is to have zeal for what is good. It is taking one’s mind away from the pursuit of pleasure and self-interests, to pursue what is good for others—the very core of God’s love.
These changes do not come overnight. The fruit of the Spirit is growth that progresses from love to self-control. Love, joy and peace are inward traits; patience is the bridge between the inward and the outward traits linked with kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness that we manifest toward others; and self-control is the upward trait of godliness.
Therefore, “against such things there is no law.” When the nine traits of the fruit of the Spirit are present in our life, we fulfill the Law of God and are in a state of freedom or liberty.
But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts—this person will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).
The fruit of the Spirit covers our complete responsibility to the Law of God:
1. Duty towards self—personal fruit of love, joy and peace
2. Duty toward others—outreaching fruit of patience, kindness and goodness
3. Duty toward God—upward reaching fruit of faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
“Against such things there is no law” concludes this section of Galatians on freedom in Christ and life in the Spirit.
I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (Galatians 5:18).
People want change to come quickly—especially when it is change in someone else. However, Paul says believers are people in process—to walk and to be led by the Spirit. Believers “have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator” (Colossians 3:10). Notice the tense—“being renewed!” Therefore, cooperate with the Spirit; decide to walk by the Spirit, to be led by Him, and not by self-effort. Every step of the way you must walk after the Spirit; the way you walk is one-step at a time, and then the cluster of the fruit of the Spirit will appear in your life.
Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit (Galatians 6:7-8).
There is a way of sowing to the Spirit not mentioned thus far. If you want the fruit of the Spirit, you must be involved in a church. There are many pictures of the church in Scripture. One of the best known and loved is of a body with Christ as its head. We are part of a fellowship where Christ is connecting all the members together, coordinating us, deeply involving us in the life of a believing fellowship under His control. Therefore, believers are urged to keep the unity of the Spirit, which results from His fruit.
I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us (Ephesians 4:3).
Christianity is not lived in isolation—“Just me and the Lord.” Christianity is lived within a community of believers that submits to the Lordship of Christ and is prepared to submit to one another. It is at this very point many churches get into trouble. The fruit of the Spirit in the lives of believers results in the unity of believers.