Self-Control – Vegetable of the Spirit? No.
The fruits of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5. They all seem sweet-tasting – except for one. The first three, ‘love’, ‘joy’, ‘peace’ all sound like what you want to experience, but the last one, ‘self-control’, does not. Self-control seems more like ‘the vegetable of the spirit’. Perhaps the turnip.
But in the long run, self-control is the most refreshing fruit. Self-control ‘re-freshens’ your person. It gives you back to you.
The common reaction to ‘self-control’ is that you ‘have’ to do things you don’t want to do. This feels offensive to us. No one likes to be told what to do. But the truth is, self-control means that you ‘get to do’ what you most want to do. Self-control means that you control you. Isn’t that what you want?
When I was 16, the state of North Carolina granted me a Driver’s License. This endowed me the privilege to drive where I chose. There were rules, of course (stay between the lines, certain speeds), but even the rules were designed to allow safe access. It was immense freedom. My world expanded with possibilities of employment, entertainment and relationships.
Similarly, God has granted us a Chooser’s License. Choice means that we can take ourselves anywhere there is a real option. There are rules, of course (I can’t be in two places at once, I can’t spend money twice, etc.) This is immense freedom. I choose the direction of my life – behavior, attitude, words and commitments. I choose who I want to become.
Now, I get it, life doesn’t feel like immense freedom. We often feel that the judgments and attitudes of others dictate our options. We feel genetics determine who we are. We feel our circumstances name us – our bank account, our family dynamics, etc. But one core ability that remains in your control – you decide how you will respond. You decide your response to your micro-managing boss, you decide your response to your familial big nose, your genetic hypertension or inherited addiction tendencies. You decide how your response to your cash flow or relational circumstance. No one can take the ‘ability to respond’ away from you. You are and forever will be – ‘response-able’.
Responsible. Another negative sounding word. But would you really want it any other way? Would you want a life where you weren’t ‘able-to-respond’? Responsibility is the ability to be free. After the gift of life (breath, a pulse), our Chooser’s License is our most precious gift. The true situation isn’t that we are cursed with ‘having’ to control ourselves; the true situation is that we are blessed. We ‘get’ to control ourselves. We are endowed with the artistic license of co-authoring our own story. Your ability to choose is like wielding a magic pencil to fill in the blanks of your future.
Self-control means that you don’t have to be in bondage to your history, you don’t have to keep making the same mistakes over and again. Self-control means that you aren’t a slave to what others want you to do or what your fears say you must do. Self-control means that you command yourself. It is the sweet promise of getting your life back.
Think about yourself sitting there reading this post. Think about the 360 degrees of your right-now-choices: You could jump up on your restaurant chair shouting, ‘Carpe Diem!’ You could simply pause and savor the happy fact of your breathing. You could begin to forgive someone – today. You could release a resentment – this moment. You could plan a renewing activity for yourself. You could email someone you love with an appreciative comment.
Self-control, when embraced, gives ‘you’ back to you. Self-control isn’t the bondage of doing what you are supposed to do; it is dizzying freedom to be who you want to be. Self-control is the wild blessing to co-author your life with God.
Self-control is not a turnip. But it might be the sweet turn you are longing for.
Try it out now. Use your chooser and ‘write-in’ what you want to be in one of the following blanks:
During the next 20 minutes, I will receive: ____________________.
Beginning now, I will forgive: ________________________.
Today, I will say let go of: _____________________.
Today, I will say ‘YES’ to: _____________________
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.