Self-control is the final fruit in Paul’s list (Galatians 5:23). It is a virtue. You have strength or power over your desires, passions, and appetites. You do not run out of control. The apostle helps us understand the concept in 1 Corinthians 9:25. “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.” Athletics requires self-control. To compete well, you must train. This training and preparation requires self-discipline. Think of gymnastics. To excel requires learning difficult skills, practicing these skills, and perfecting them for competition. The training can be agonizing. It requires deep commitment, self-discipline, and self-control.
Paul compares athletics to the spiritual realm. “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). Self-control is the exercise of an inner power of will resulting in a disciplined approach to life. Paul puts it in stark terms. “I discipline my body and make it my slave.” He does not allow sinful passions to rule him or hold him back from reaching God given objectives.
Again, self-control is inner strength of will. Paul speaks of it in relation to sexual continence. He warns married couples. “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:5). He also warns the unmarried. “If they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). Self-control is essential.
This self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. That is, it is a fruit of the Spirit changed heart. It is a fruit of the Spirit altering the attitude, disposition, and will. As a result of this change of attitude and will, Paul exhorts Christians, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts” (Romans 6:12). How do you do this? You exercise self-control. “Just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Romans 6:19). How so? You are born-again and recreated by the grace of God. Exercise self-control. From the Christian perspective, teaching abstinence to Christian young people to reduce drug abuse and sexual promiscuity is viable. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.
On the other hand, the Holy Spirit convicts those lacking self-control. Paul used this to advantage in speaking to Governor Felix who was known for his lack of self-control. His wife was his by way of seduction and adultery. When Felix gave him a hearing, Paul was direct. “As he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25). The Spirit convicted Felix. Feeling his guilt, he sent Paul away.
The lack of self-control is a common problem. If you are a believer, understand the new birth changes you at the core of your being. The Spirit changes your basic disposition. He alters your will. You actually are a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). “Sin shall not be master over you” (Romans 6:14). The fruit of the Spirit is self-control.