In 2022, MissionFiT will help athletes explore the spiritual aspects of their lives by encouraging individual study and in-class group discussion beginning with the “Fruits of the Spirit”. So, the first “fruit” to consider is
Self-control is pretty important in every day life. For instance, fire is necessary. Fire under control has many uses in our homes and factories. Fire can cook, heat, even help build (think of a blacksmith’s forge). But when it gets out of control it becomes a terrible, destructive enemy. As a result, proper control is essential as we use of fire for it is a great source of energy.
Spiritual self-control may be more important. Humans are full of mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual energy. Each must be properly used and controlled in order to be beneficial. It is no wonder, then, that this energy must be brought under the Holy Spirit’s control. The person who allows the Holy Spirit to conform him into the image of Jesus will develop self-control in every area of his life.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22–23).
It is God’s plan that, beginning with salvation, the believer will be led to a self-controlled life. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11–12). Self-control as the fruit of the Spirit is the self-denial of evil desires or pleasures. Self-control stands in contrast with the last two “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:21)—drunkenness and orgies—which refer to excessive indulgence in an activity.
A Little Lesson in Greek
The original word translated “self-control” is enkrateia, which appears in its noun form in only three passages: Galatians 5:22, Acts 24:25, and 2 Peter 1:6. In Galatians 5:22 it is used to name the last of the nine fold fruit of the Spirit. In Acts 24:25 Paul uses the term as he talks to Felix about “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” In 2 Peter 1:5–6 the word is in the list of graces: “add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control.”
The basic idea of enkrateia is that of strength, power, or mastery over self. It is self-rule. This is what we should do: rule ourselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Self-control as the fruit of the Spirit is self-discipline.
The verb form related to self-control is enkrateuomai. In 1 Corinthians 9:25 the word describes the strict training and discipline of athletes who are striving to win the prize. The analogies of the athlete and the soldier are often present in Paul’s writings. They both evidently speak of self-discipline, which is essential in sports and military activities. Paul encourages the Corinthians to “run in such a way as to get the prize” (v. 24). He goes on to say…
“I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (vs. 26–27).
Paul is not speaking here of inflicting his body with lashes from a rod; he is speaking of keeping his body in subjection, controlling desires that are not pleasing to God.
The athlete who works hard to train his body only when his coach is watching will never win the prize. The driver who obeys the traffic signal only when a policeman is nearby is not practicing self-control. When a worker slows down on the job when the foreman is absent, he demonstrates a lack of self-discipline. All of these demonstrate an outward appearance of conforming to the expectations of another without any real change taking place on the inside. Remember Colossians 3:22-25?
The Secret to Spiritual Self-Control
In Ephesians 5:18 the apostle Paul makes a contrast between getting drunk on wine and being filled with the Holy Spirit:
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Lack of self-control leads to excesses, to an emphasis on satisfying the sinful desires of the flesh. The best antidote is to be filled with the Spirit. The person who is filled with the Spirit is under the Spirit’s control, and he has help in gaining mastery over his weakness. The apostle Paul explains how this works:
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace, because the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. (Romans 8:5–9)
Can you see a similarity between Paul’s explanation and the words of Jesus in John 3:6, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit?” Without the help of the Holy Spirit our natural tendencies are to give in to our sinful desires. But when we are born of the Spirit, the new nature within us causes us to want what the Spirit wants for us. Even so, the apostle stresses our need to continuously be filled with the Spirit so that we put to death daily sinful desires and thus fulfill the Spirit’s desires.
- Which aspect(s) of health is the hardest for you to exert self control? Physical, Mental, Emotional, Social or Spiritual? Why?
- What affects your level of self control the most?
- Our fleshly desires, Scripture tells us, are continually at odds with God’s Spirit and always want to be in charge. Self-control is literally releasing our grip on the fleshly desires. We choose instead the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is power focused in the right place.
Are my fleshly desires controlling my life, or am I allowing the Spirit to direct me to the things that please God and serve others?
- What’s one thing you could do to work towards more self control in your hardest area?