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Attributes of the Spirit: Self-Control

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All of us would agree that the Big Three Enemies of the Christian life are the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. All three attack us through the time-honored method of whispering in our ear, “You deserve a break from self-control today.” Indeed, all advertising is carefully designed to create in us a sense of moral permission to gratify ourselves in fleshly self-indulgence. And let’s be honest: Fleshly self-indulgence describes the culture of our day. A lifestyle where one denies him or her self nothing in the way of worldly pleasures is a lifestyle of self-destruction.

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28, NIV84).

The World, the Flesh and the Devil all encourage indulgence. At the same time, for the Christian, the Spirit of God whispers in our ear the virtue of self-control. The result is a spiritual tug-of-war that goes on in the believer’s life. It’s a battle that the Apostle Paul sympathizes with. The Apostle Paul speaks of this in the first part or our text: "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please." (Galatians 5:17, NASB95)

In his own personal life, the Apostle admits to this struggle: Romans 7:14-25.

The Apostle Paul understands that the tug of the flesh is a powerful pull. But God does not leave us without help. He has given us His Spirit and that Spirit has endowed us with certain spiritual abilities that the Bible calls the Fruit of the Spirit. One of them is self-control.

Now then ... how do we actually go about implementing this particular fruit of the Spirit? Every believer needs a seven-step plan for self-control


            1. admit you have a problem
                1. this is the very first step in developing self-control
                2. take responsibility for your lack of self-control
                  • James 1:14 "but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." NIV
            2. notice, according to the Apostle James, where the source of temptation comes from
                1. he does not say:
                    1. "The devil made me do it!"
                    2. "My lack of self-control comes from my dysfunctional parents or my dysfunctional family background."
                    3. "Because of my past experience or abuse, or a painful experience in my past, I can't control my behavior today."
            3. God is telling us that the source of our lack of self-control is because we have an evil desire
                1. therefore, we need to take responsibility for our lack of self-control
                2. we do bad things because we like to do bad things
                3. there is something within us, that we are born with, urging us to do bad things
                    1. the Bible calls it the sinful nature
                4. we need to learn to take responsibility for our behavior, or our lack of self- control.
            4. instead of admitting there is a problem, we seek to shift the blame to somebody or something else
                1. instead of admitting our problems, we want to deny we have a difficulty
                2. we say things like . . .
                    1. "What problem? There is no problem."
                    2. "It is not that big of a deal."
                    3. "I just can't get control over this thing."
                    4. "If I want to, I can stop."
                    5. “I don’t have a problem."
                    6. "Well, this is just the way I am."
                    7. "It was the way I was raised."
                    8. “I have always been this way."
                    9. "Everyone else is doing it so what is the big deal?"
                    10. “I am only human."
            5. we rationalize our problem rather than taking responsibility for our problem
                1. much of the popular secular psychology of today, tells you to go back into your past and find some reason for why you are behaving the way you are
                2. God says, very clearly, the problem is right here—inside you and me
                    1. it is in our own sinful desire
                    2. if we are going to begin to gain self-control, we must admit that there is a problem within us
                    3. it is not somebody else's problem or somebody else's fault
                    4. it is my sin-problem and I need to take responsibility for it
            6. where are you lacking self-control in your life?
                1. do you have a problem with;
                    1. alcohol? ... time management? ... drugs? ... your words? ... temper? ... gossip? ... the way you spend your money? ... lust? ... unforgiveness? ... impatience? ... greed? ... laziness? ... and so the list goes on
            7. the first thing you need to do if you have a lack of self-control in a particular area of life is to admit the area where you lack it
                1. say to yourself this evenin, "/ lack self-control in:_______________________ [you fill in this blank area]


            1. this is a very important step
            2. you need to put your past behind you if you are going develop self-control
              • Philippians 3:13-14 "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." NIV
            3. it is very important that you understand that there is a big lie, that many believer live with in terms of really wanting to change their lives
                1. the lie goes something like this ... once a failure, always a failure
                    1. I tried to change that in my life before and I couldn't, there is no way I can do it now
                    2. I tried 15 times and I could not succeed, therefore I am a failure
                    3. no matter how hard you try, you just can't change
                2. these are all lies
                    1. failure in the past does not mean that you will never be able to change in the future
                3. but, if you focus on the past, if you dwell on your past failures, then you will fail in the future as well
                  • ILLUS. It is sort of like trying to drive your car forwards while you're looking in the rearview mirror the whole time as you are driving. If you are constantly looking behind, eventually you will hit something. You need to take your eyes off the past, and focus on the future. You need to especially focus on what God says about your life and future.
                  • ILLUS. Have you ever watched a baby who is just learning to walk? It is a very dangerous time. It is amazing that kids make it through that period. They fall, they hit their head, they tumble, they roll every which way. It is a scary time for a parent watching their child try to take their first steps in life. Children fall down a lot when the begin walking. It is part of the process. But you notice that they just keep getting up and trying it again. They keep on trying. They are persistent.
            4. can you imagine a little child who is learning to walk, who after falling two or three times, says to themselves
                1. "It's just hopeless."
                2. "I've tried and I just can't do it."
                3. "I'm just a failure!"
                4. "Well, I guess some people are walkers and some people aren't."
                5. "I give up!"
            5. this is, of course, absurd
                1. babies don't think this way—they just keep trying to do it until they can
            6. in the same way we need to have the same attitude towards our attempts to exert self-control in some area of our life
                1. there are times when we will fail but this should not stop us from being persistent until we see success
            7. we need to put our past behind us
                1. it doesn't matter how many times you have failed, try again
                2. only this time, admit your need for God
                3. admit that you are the problem and begin to focus on what God can do instead of focusing on your past
                  • ILLUS. Thomas Edison, one of the great inventors of our century, failed many times in life. He once told a colleague, "Don’t call it a failure, call it an education. Now you know what doesn’t work." We need to have the same attitude as we change in our lives.


            1. it is very important to learn to take control of your feelings
            2. I believe that Christians put far too much emphases on their emotions
                1. we think everything in life has to provide an emotional euphoria or it is not worth doing
            3. our feelings can not be our guide in life
                1. we can not depend on our feelings
                2. there are times when you wake up and you don't feel like...
                    1. getting out of bed
                    2. going to work
                    3. studying for that exam
                    4. being kind or loving
                    5. forgiving
            4. the problem is that our feelings are frequently unreliable
                1. we give far too much emphasis today on our feelings to guide our lives
                2. many times our feelings say . . .
                    1. I want a second helping
                    2. I want another drink
                    3. I need a drug
                    4. I want to have an affair
                    5. I want to watch television for ten hours
                3. our feelings are not our guide for life because our feelings are unreliable
            5. you need to challenge your feelings
                1. you need to line your feelings up with what God says about you and your circumstance
                2. what does God's Word say?—Not just what I feel about this?
                3. God never called us to live by feelings
                    1. God calls us to live by faith
                    2. He calls us to live by the truth of his Word
                4. God wants us to master our feelings, moods, impulses
            6. when Christ is the master of your life, you will learn to master your feelings
              • ILLUS. I found that whenever I have tried to make a change in my life, or break a bad habit in my life, my feelings want to fight me tooth and nail every time. If I want to lose some weight, which I am in the process of doing that, the feelings come on strong saying, "I have to have that ice cream fudge sundae. I have to have it. I am going to die if I don't have it." That is what my feelings tell me. I have to fight my feelings. I have to talk back to my feelings. I will not die, I can live without that. It is okay.
                1. we need to learn that our feelings are not always right
                2. when we try to make changes in life, our feelings are going to battle us
                3. we need to stand up and resist our feelings
                4. we need to tell ourselves, "I can do it regardless of what my feelings tell me."
                  • Titus 2:11 -12 "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age," NIV


            1. if you don't believe it, you can't change
            2. what you believe about yourself controls your behavior
                1. if you believe you are stupid, no good, and that you are a failure, then that is how you are going to live your life
                    1. your behavior will follow your beliefs
                2. but if you believe that God loves and cares for you, and that He is on your side, you can change anything
                  • Philippians 4; 13 “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me." KJV
            3. if we are going to see change in our lives, we need to change the way we think, because the way we think affects the way we live
                1. listen friends, the way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act
                2. many times we set ourselves up for failure when we think in our minds . . .
                    1. "I can't do this"
                    2. "I tried it before and I failed. I'll probably fail again."
                    3. "I just don't think I can change."
            4. if we are going to change, we need to replace the way we think with God's Word
                1. what does God say about me?
                2. what does God say about this situation, of this event, or these people in my life?
                3. God gave us the power to change our habits when he gave us the power to choose our thoughts
                    1. you've have heard me use this verse many times:
                      • Romans 12:1-2 "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." KJV
            5. it is wonderful when people come to the house of the Lord, and they experience a warm feeling that God is here and God loves them
                1. that is important and that is good
            6. it is wonderful to have an emotional release with God—to come to the altar and cry and release your heart to God
            7. but if you leave this place without changing the way you think, you will still live the life you have always lived
                1. just having an emotional experience in worship does not create change in your life
                2. it begins by changing the way you think
                3. it begins when you begin to develop the mind of Christ
                4. that will change your behavior


            1. this is the fifth step in cultivating the spiritual fruit of temperance
            2. you need to make you behavior accountable to a trusted fellow believer
                1. but let's face it, this step is one of those things we don't like to do
                2. we don't want to be vulnerable with other people in the body of Christ
                3. we don't want to share too many of our struggles, weaknesses, or failures
            3. we have been raised in typical American rugged individualism that says, "I can do it in my own strength, by myself."
            4. but, God never intended for his children to be Lone Ranger Christians
                1. He created us in such a way that we need each other
                2. we need the body of Christ
                3. we need to make ourselves accountable one to another
                  • Ecclesiastes 4:12 "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." NIV
            5. we need to have people in the body of Christ who know our weaknesses, who can pray for us, encourage us, and who can ask us questions like, "How are you doing in that area?"
            6. if you are going to develop self-control you need to find someone else in the body of Christ who you can share your heart with, and who you can be vulnerable and real with


            1. avoiding temptation is common sense if you desire self-control in certain areas of life
              • ILLUS. You need to avoid the things that are tempting to you. If you're trying to loose weight and you have a weakness for ice cream, don't keep ice cream in the house. If you are tempted by alcohol, then stay away from places where they sell it. You need to avoid those areas where you are tempted in life You need to identify those areas so you can avoid them.
              • 2 Timothy 2:22 "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." NIV
            2. we need to stay away from those things we know we are tempted by in life
              • ILLUS. Some of my favorite stories are about two characters named Toad and Frog. This one deals with temptation. Toad baked some cookies. "These cookies smell very good," said Toad. He ate one and said "they taste even better.” Toad ran to Frog's house, "Frog! Frog!" cried Toad, "taste these cookies I have made!" Frog ate one of the cookies. "These are the best cookies I have eaten, " said Frog. Frog and Toad ate many cookies, one after another. "You know, Toad," said Frog with his mouth full, “I think we should stop eating. We will soon be sick." "You are right," said Toad, "Let's eat one last cookie and then we will stop." So Frog and Toad ate one last cookie. There were many cookies left in the bowl. "Frog!" said Toad, “Let’s eat one very last cookie and then we will stop." Frog and Toad ate one very last cookie. "We must stop eating!" cried Toad as he ate another. "Yes," said Frog reaching for a cookie, "We need will-power," "What is will-power?" asked Toad, "Will-power is trying hard not to do something that you really want to do." "You mean like trying not to eat all of these cookies?" asked Toad. "Right," said Frog. Frog put the cookies in a box. "There!" he said, "Now we won't eat anymore cookies." "But we can always open the box," said Toad. "That is true," said Frog. Frog tied some string around the box. "There," he said, "Now we will not be able to eat anymore cookies." "But, we can always cut the string and open the box," said Toad.'Well, that is true, "said Frog. Frog got a ladder. He put the box up on a high shelf. "There," said Frog, "Now we will not be able to eat anymore cookies." "But, we can climb the ladder, take the box down from the shelf, cut the string and open the box," said Toad. "Well, that is true," said Frog. Frog climbed the ladder, took down the box from the shelf, cut the string and opened the box. Frog took the box outside and shouted in a loud voice, "Hey, Bird, here are some cookies!" Birds came from everywhere. They picked up all the cookies in their beaks and flew away. "Now we have no more cookies to eat," said Toad sadly, "Not even one." "Yes," said Frog, "But we have lots and lots of will-power!" "You may keep it all, Frog," said Toad,"/ am going home to bake a cake."
                1. the lesson?—we need to learn to avoid temptation
            3. so far, we have talked about six important steps in the development of self-control:
                1. admit your problem
                2. put your past behind you
                3. talk back to your feelings
                4. start believing you can change
                5. make yourself accountable
                6. avoid temptation


            1. this is probably the most important step achieving lasting self-control
            2. if you want to develop self-control, you need to learn to depend on Christ's power
                1. we do not have the kind of power to resist temptation in our own strength or our own ability
                2. we need Christ's power in our life if we are going to resist temptation
                3. we need Christ's power in our life if we are going to overcome and master our feelings, desires and passions in life
                  • Galatians 5:16 "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." NIV
            3. notice the sequence of this verse
                1. notice Paul does not say that if you have the Spirit of God in your life you will not have any fleshy desires
                  • ILLUS. Every born again Christian, even Billy Graham, will have temptations and struggles with the flesh. But the promise here is that if God's Spirit is in your life you can learn to say 'no' continually to the flesh so that you can say ‘yes’ to Christ . The desires will not go away. They will be there but we have the power to say 'no' to those desires and passions and impulses in our lives.
            4. the secret to self-control is Christ control
                1. it begins when you surrender your heart and life to Christ
                2. when you surrender your life to Christ, God will transform and change you
                3. that is what God is in the business of doing
            5. that is why Jesus died on the cross
                1. that is why it is Good News
                2. it is because God wants to come into your life, to transform and change you
                3. that is why God gives His children His Holy Spirit —to conform us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ

Your Competitor An enemy I had, whose face I stoutly strove to know, For hard he dogged my steps unseen wherever I did go, My plans he balked, my aims he foiled, He blocked my onward way. When for some lofty goal I toiled, he grimly said to me, Nay. One night I seized him and held him fast, From him the veil did draw, I looked upon his face at last and lo ... myself I saw.

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