The Fruit of the Spirit (Part 9)

The Fruit of the Spirit (Part 9)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:23-25).

During his term as President, Lyndon Johnson grew somewhat overweight. One day his wife challenged him with this blunt assertion: “You can’t run the country if you can’t run yourself.” Respecting Mrs. Johnson’s wise observation, the president quickly lost 23 pounds.

The word translated “self-control” is enkrateia, from the root kratos meaning strength. Enkrateia may contain the idea of strength over the self, or willpower. In the Greek New Testament, enkrateia is found in six verses (Acts 24:25, Galatians 5:23, 2 Peter 1:6, in Titus 1:8 as an adjective, and in 1 Corinthians 7:9 and 9:25 as a verb).

Self-control is obviously an important virtue. Paul made it one of the first things he talked about when spreading the gospel. In Acts 24:24–25, he was speaking to Felix and Drusilla about “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.” Felix got frightened by this talk—the idea that he was responsible for his actions—and dismissed Paul, never converting to Christ.
Maybe the best passage describing it is 1 Corinthians 9:24–27,

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.

In the Games, if an athlete expects to compete, he must exercise self-control in all things—diet, exercise, practice. He can’t make excuses if he expects to win—he must exercise self-control and overcome tiredness, soreness, distraction, disinterest.

Now this is just an illustration. The context for the exercise of this willpower is the spiritual realm. It just may be that physical obesity and gluttony are a symptom of a lack of self-control (Proverbs 23:20-21), but Paul places much more emphasis on sin than chocolate chip cookies (1 Timothy 4:8).

Paul applies this to the spiritual realm of temptation and sin, and of diligent service to God. Paul subjects his body to his will, and his will to Christ. He controls the desires and appetites of the flesh to the glory of God. He deprives himself of certain things, so that he may walk more closely with God.

When we feel “enticed by our own lust” (James 1:13-15) we must apply self-control at the moment of temptation. We must develop the ability to say, “no,” to the voice that is saying, “I want.” We must not allow ourselves to play the helpless victim to our surroundings.


If there is something in our path that needs to be overcome, some temptation that needs to be resisted, we have the power to overcome it, and that power is called self-control. Victory needs to become important enough. A man’s conquest of himself dwarfs the ascent of Everest,” said Eli Schiefer. Let me say a few words about two areas in which self-control is especially needed.

Avoiding Addictions. Some things are best avoided because they cause a person to become addicted to them. God says in 2 Peter 2:19, “by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” If you can’t govern your medicines, tobacco, caffeine, TV, video games, or a hobby, you need to beware. You are becoming obsessed, even addicted. Paul grits his teeth and says in 1 Cor. 6:12, “I will not be mastered by anything.” If you suspect something is gaining control over you and your time, exercise self-control. Lloyd Cory said, “the chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”

Control of the Tongue. The tongue is the last part of the body that is brought into control. James 3:2 begins, “we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” It takes a lot of Christian maturity to be able to restrain your lips, whether we are talking about angry outbursts, coarse jesting, gossip and slander, or profanity.

A reporter once asked basketball coach John Wooden about foul language on the court. He said, “I never preach religion to my players, but I won’t tolerate profanity. This isn’t for moral reasons. Profanity to me indicates the loss of control; and self-control is absolutely necessary to winning basketball games.” Interesting perspective!

Obtaining control of the tongue is important. James 1:26 says, “if anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” You are not the Christian you think you are unless you give diligence to watching your speech. Proverbs 25:28 says, “like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.” Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”

Self-control is the key to defeating nearly every sin. Can’t stay in your budget? Self-control. Talk too much? Self-control. Alcohol, drugs? Self-control. Temper? Self-control. Need to pray more, or read the Bible? Self-control.

Learn the expectations of God’s word and the consequences of sin. Love Jesus Christ and love your brother. When the body is slow to comply, use self-control!