Monday, October 24, 2016

The fruit of self-control

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Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law."

Whenever it comes to spiritual matters pertaining to the Christian life, we need to have minds open to God and the ability to know when to sometimes keep our mouths shut. There are those other occasions of course when we need to reign in our fear of rejection and tell others about what Jesus has done for us and what He can do for them. Self-control is a virtue that is absent in our culture and sadly, sometimes among Christian people. Whenever we speak of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, the term "discipleship" is used by the New Testament (see Luke 9:23-24; 14:27-33). 

Contained within that word "discipleship" is the idea of "discipline". Jesus taught His disciples the need to "deny oneself daily" and "to take up one's cross daily" as requisite to following Him. Whenever we consider the ninth virtue mention by Paul concerning the so-called "fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22-23, we discover the ultimate goal of His instruction: to communicate discipleship or followership of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit. Elsewhere in the New Testament we find this quality of self-control being extolled as central to what it means to be a Christian. Today we want to understand two reasons why self-control is a needed virtue in today's Christian.

1. Necessary for a solid testimony of the Christian life. 
In Acts 24:22-27, we pick up an episode where the Apostle Paul began sharing His Christian faith with a secular public official by the name of Felix. Their conversations would last over a period of two years. What is interesting is what Paul emphasizes in his opening address to Felix:

"Since Felix was accurately informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from serving him.
24 After some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and listened to him on the subject of faith in Christ Jesus. 25 Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I find time I’ll call for you.” 26 At the same time he was also hoping that money would be given to him by Paul. For this reason he sent for him quite often and conversed with him.

27 After two years had passed, Felix received a successor, Porcius Festus, and because he wished to do a favor for the Jews, Felix left Paul in prison."

If the reader will take note of the words I underlined in verse 25, they have to do with the beginning, middle and end of the Christian life here and into eternity. One begins in righteousness, which is to say, the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to that person at saving faith and they in turn living out the Christian life in practical righteousness. The end of course is referred to by Paul with the term "judgment". Thankfully, in that resurrection, the Christian has no fear of condemnation. But as one can see, the middle word that Paul uses to summarizes the entirety of Christian living here and now is the word "self-control". Being able to fight the world, the flesh and the devil is the fight of faith prescribed for all Christians. Such "self-control" is necessary for a solid Christian testimony of the Christian life. But notice what else self-control is important for...

2. Necessary for spiritual growth in the Christian life.
The Apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:5-8 "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, 6 knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, 7 godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." 

The Apostle Peter lays out what we could say is his version of the fruits of the Spirit here in 2 Peter 1. Eight virtues are listed in all, with self-control being among them. Notice the benefit that comes in excelling in these virtues in verse 8: "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." We are commanded to grow deeper and higher in our Christian walk (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18). Such a virtue as self-control enables us to "fight the good fight of faith" and to not give-in to every whim and wave of doctrine (see 2 Romans 13:14; Timothy 4:7-8; James 1:3-7). 

Illustrating how both of these thoughts can go together
Perhaps as a way of tying both of these thoughts together: namely, solid testimony of the Christian life and spiritual growth within such, we only need to turn to Paul's analogy if the athlete in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 "Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified."  Just as a runner or any athlete practices self-control to ensure a solid life in athletics as well as to increase one's progress in their athletic ability, Christians need this Spirit-wrought virtue of self-control to run the race of faith for Jesus (see Hebrews 12:1-3).  

Closing thoughts
So in today's post we looked at why the fruit of self-control is necessary for the Christian in today's world. We noted to necessary reasons:

1. Self-control is necessary for a solid testimony of the Christian life

2. Self-control is necessary for spiritual growth in the Christian life

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