But the fruit of the Spirit is …. self-control. Galations 5:22-23.
It’s not particularly necessary to define “self-control.” Of all the virtues we’ve studied to date, it is, perhaps, the most self-explanatory. In Greek it’s the word, “egkratia” which means – self-control (it is also translated as temperance, but that word would need some defining in this day and age!).
Control of one’s self. Self-control. I have so many words that I’ve been trying to say about all of this. I’ve typed and erased for several nights in a row. So, I’m ditching those words for this: this week, let’s choose something good and do it, repeatedly.
Here’s the thing: God has been teaching me in deeper, more thorough ways, how the mind, body and soul are all connected. Train yourself to be godly. (1 Tim. 4:7). Boom. The mandate is laid out there in black and white.
I can’t tell you in the next 4 days all the ways…Not that I “know” all the ways. Really, I think God wants us to live the rest of our lives here on earth learning all ways in which we can train ourselves to be godly. I’m going to spare us the long dissertation on the classical spiritual disciplines and just say that, the first Christians followed Jesus’ practices of Bible study and memorization, prayer, solitude, silence, fasting, simplicity, celebration, giving and confession (there were others, I’m sure). For a more in-depth look at these classical tools to use as “training” in godliness, I recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of the Disciplines or for a less in-depth but more accessible look, the IF:Gathering has a recent Bible study on the disciplines. In essence, what the classical spiritual disciplines do is offer us a way to do something to work with the work God is working in us. To participate in our sanctification.
Briefly, the theological (psychological and philosophical) underpinnings of these disciplines is that, before we are transformed into a new creation by acceptance of Jesus’ substitutionary death for us, we have repeatedly done sinful things which have, in turn become habit and that habit has, in turn, become character. While our true nature after conversion is that of Christ, our thoughts and actions continue along the same path that we have carved out and, through the help of the Spirit and our own work, we can form new habit and character. (For an in-depth look at the theological, philosophical and psychological underpinnings as I’ve boiled them down, Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines is helpful –also, I’m not sure I completely understand or buy into everything he concludes there, but it’s very interesting).
Boiled down for our purposes here, what I think God is prompting for this week’s study on self-control is to focus on one area of our life and diligently bring it before Him. It can be an area where sin has been sticking to your soul. It can be an area where you have felt God prompting a step in faith.
This is where it gets tricky. Foster says, in effect, we should approach the disciplines with an experimental attitude. The disciplines are not the point – the point is to deepen our walk with God, heighten our sensitivity to the Spirit, abide more fully. To do anything else is empty, poisonous, legalistic ritual.
Self-control as a fruit of the Spirit is not legalism. It is the freedom to love and live in the fullness of life that Christ’s sacrifice grants.
So, I encourage you to take at least five minutes to sit before God with the question of where He is focusing you this week. Where does He desire for you to work? And then, ask Him how He desires for you to work it out – train in godliness in this area this week. This is where it gets tricky that I haven’t gone into a minor (or major!) discussion on each of the classical disciplines and the really neat spiritual disciplines I’ve run across over the last year.
So, let me say that basically anything good or abstaining from something that’s not actually bad can be a spiritual discipline. I suggest that, it is helpful to have a connection between the things the Lord has prompted you about. For example: • Maybe the area is pride – perhaps you could abstain from blow drying and curling your hair or wearing make-up, or perhaps you could pray as you go through the habit of getting yourself ready for the day, remembering Colossions 3:12-14, making the act a clothing of yourself in God’s compassion, patience, love and kindness to be worn in your spirit. • Maybe the area is anxiety – if so, perhaps you could spend just 5 minutes a day silent before the Lord, quieting your soul before Him, allowing His presence to bathe you; or maybe you could spend 5 minutes a day memorizing a scripture like Psalm 139:14, Zeph. 3:17, Matthew 7:7-11… • Maybe the area is prayer – perhaps you can take a 10 minute walk/run by yourself everyday and dedicate the time to praying, or even pray for your family when you do the dishes or your laundry – asking the Lord to give them spiritual nourishment or clothe them in the armor of God. • Perhaps God is prompting you to step out of your comfort zone with the people He has brought into your life and He wants you to send a quick note or text message to someone every day or attempt to arrange a time to invite someone to spend time with you every day.
I suggest that, if your “discipline” is something that will require your family to change their routine a little bit, that you tell them a bit about what you are doing so that they can encourage, not accidentally hinder your efforts.
No matter how small or seemingly silly the thing you are prompted to do, God will accept it as a fragrant offering if done with the heart to know Him better. He will also use it to help define your character, making your family resemblance to Jesus stronger.
Now, sit with God and ask Him where He wants you to intentionally work in your life this week and how He wants you to do it.
Feel free to tell me (or a trusted friend) what the thing you are to do is — now, do it!