Controlling Yourself — Can I Really?

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Do you have trouble controlling yourself? Is it even possible to control yourself? How can we control ourselves? I understand wanting to control other people. We all have a desire at some level to control those problem people at work, home, or church. Who would you control if you had that ability?

People have difficulty with self-control for all kinds of things in life. A bag of peanut M&M’s, a shopping spree, a gun show, golf, an obsession for physical fitness, or an incredible dinner can dominate your thinking and time. There are all kinds of things in this world that demand our time, efforts, and our love.

When you read Galatians 5:22-23, it is understandable that the fruit of the Spirit is love, not human love–God’s love. It is not human joy. It is God’s joy. It is peace, not like the world gives; it is God’s peace. It is longsuffering–not your ability to withstand an attack in your own strength, but the power of God residing in you to take you through a difficult time. The fruit of the Spirit is kindness, not your ability to act kind to someone you do not like but it is the Spirit of Christ living in you Who produces a kindness that is real and genuine. The fruit of the Spirit is goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness; all of these are the work of the Spirit. Then, there is the phrase–self control. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control.

Does Controlling Self Fit with The Fruit of the Spirit?

At first glance, the phrase does not seem to fit here like the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. If it is the fruit of Christ’s Spirit then why does the passage say self control? Does that mean that now it is your responsibility as a believer by your own strength to control yourself? That does not seem to be any different than anyone’s ability to be a disciplined person. After all, people who do not believe in God can manage themselves quite well. Is that the kind of self control described in this passage? Unquestionably, this self control in the Scriptures is different from human management skills.

The world has all kinds of ideas about controlling self and maybe you do too. Maybe the way that you control yourself is not under the power of Christ’s Spirit, but you depend on your own ability to manipulate the circumstances of your life. One writer said, “Those who flee temptation generally leave a forwarding address.” That’s true. Most people don’t want to get away from everything. They want to control themselves to a point, but they still want to keep in touch with their old lifestyle. If you can put distance between you and your weakness, you can avoid the temptation and thereby control yourself. One author said, “Opportunity may knock only once but temptation leans on the doorbell.” Since temptation is so persistent, then there are places you should not go and people you should not socialize with when you are tempted to sin. You can avoid people, places, and certain pleasures.

Overcome Self

While leading a conference in Seattle, I observed a baptism before a worship service. The pastor brought this man into the baptistry and asked him for his testimony. The man said he had been addicted to cocaine and alcohol for twenty-six years. He continued by stating, “Two weeks ago I gave my life to Christ and I’ve not been the same since then. I’m so excited about what God’s done in my life–He has set me free. He has given me a new Spirit. He has given me a new way to live.”

Months later, the pastor shared with me that this man was going back to his support group and was sharing with them how Jesus had changed his life. He told them that the same Jesus that set him free, could set them free.

The same Jesus who can set a man free from cocaine and alcohol can give you control to walk in the Spirit instead of your flesh. The same Lord, the same Spirit, who set that man free can give you everything you need in life. God’s, “…divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” (2 Pet. 1:3). You do not have to struggle in your strength to find a way to live the Christian life. Jesus came to give us His power instead of us depending on our strength.

Many do not believe God can set a person free who has been addicted on drugs and alcohol. The God I serve has the power that pertains to anything in life and His power can overcome any difficulty in life. He can control you to the point that you have the strength, not of yourself, but the strength of His Spirit living in you.

There was a man in Luke chapter eight who seemed to have impossible problems. This man had been possessed by demons for years. He wore no clothes and lived in the graveyard. Today, he would be classified as mentally ill and insane. Yet, when he saw Jesus,

…he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!” Luke 8:28

Listen to what Jesus did next,

For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness. Luke 8:29

Not long after Jesus removed the evil spirit, the Scripture states,

Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Luke 8:35

What a powerful movement of God’s Spirit on a person! This man was absolutely out of control. He could not contain himself. Chains could not contain him. He had no concept of reality. He was out of control until he met Jesus.

Christ cast the demons out. When this man met Jesus, his whole mind-set was changed. He had a new control over his life. It was not a self under the control of a human being. It was self under the control of the Spirit. That is the idea in Galatians 5:23. It is not your ability to control yourself by your human means but it is your self being put under the control of the Holy Spirit.

Two Key Thoughts

When you examine these two words, self and control, there are two key thoughts. One, the word self really means to be clean and pure. That is, to make ceremonially clean, or morally to purify yourself. The word control means to have a super human capacity, that is, not one that is learned but one that is given. Purity of self comes from all of these other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.

A person experiencing self control is purified and under the superhuman control of the Spirit. Self control is Christ living in you! You are crucified to self and thank God you now live by His power!

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

*Article adapted from the book, “The Christian Life: A Human Impossibility”