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Monday, October 15, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Self-control


Introduction
I want to thank everyone who has followed this blog series on the Fruits of the Spirit from Galatian 5:22-23.  We started all the way back at the beginning of August!  If you’ve missed any, I invite you to go back and read them.  You can also watch videos of the sermons on my church's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pg/pgumc.dalton/videos/.

Galatians is all about Christian freedom.  Christians have been set free from a vain religion where we try to impress God and earn His love by following a bunch of rules.  Jesus proved God's love by dying on the cross and won our freedom from sin and death.  We are free to love God as He loves us.  However, with great freedom, comes a great need for self-control.


Galatians 5:22-23
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Self-Control
Today, I want to talk about self-control.  Self-control is vital for free people.  The more freedom your have, the more self-control you need.  Think of a child.  They start out as a helpless infant.  Then something terrifying happens.  They become toddlers who know how to walk--sort of.  Suddenly, these immature, fragile beings are mobile and stumbling around.  Every table corner and sharp object threatens to smash their head or impale them as the bumble around their environment.  They are learning, but they are in danger because they have yet to learn to control their movements and their parents are terrified for them.  Parents, do you remember the first time your toddler learned how to open the front door?  It's horrifying because you know it's not safe for them to be outside alone.  They need an adult to keep them under control and safe.  Thankfully, as our children grow, they need less and less direct supervision because they are more mature and can control themselves.  Soon, they are adults who hopefully have enough self-control to live independently.  

This is a good analogy for the Christian life.  Before Christ, people needed rules and laws to babysit us and keep us safe and out of trouble so we didn't hurt ourselves or other.  Then Christ came to set us free.  Those who trust in Christ have the Holy Spirit living inside them to guide and direct them.  We have the freedom given to those who are spiritually mature.  However, with great freedom comes great responsibility.  We must have self-control to live safely in our freedom.

Self-control doesn’t mean controlling everything yourself.  There are some who just can’t let go.  They have to be in control of everything in their life.  Are you the kind of person who can’t sit in the passenger’s sit and let someone else drive?  When was the last time you let someone else plan a trip—figuring out how you are gonna get there, booking the hotel, deciding what to do while you’re there, etc.—without any input from you?  Self-control isn’t being a control freak.  Christian self-control is actually the opposite.  Christian life demands you to get out of the driver’s seat and let the Holy Spirit of God take the wheel.  That can be incredibly difficult for some people; and so sometimes the first act of self-control is controlling your own impulse to be “in control” of everything.

"Just Say No" In the 1980’s, Nancy Reagan said we should “just say no” to drugs.  It was a helpful public service campaign to bring awareness to America's growing drug problem, but it didn't solve the problem because, sometimes we just can’t say no.  Some teens are so influenced by peer pressure it is nearly impossible to just say no in certain circumstances.  Without God’s help, we are not free to “just say no.”  There’s a darkness within every human heart that just wants to say “yes” to all the wrong things.  And it doesn’t ever want to say “that’s enough” to good things when too much is bad for us.  The human soul always cries, “More! More! More!” even when more will completely destroy us.  “Just say no” was a good start, but people can’t just say no—not on our own.   We need God's help.  

The Christian life of freedom can be a tangled wilderness.  Freedom is awesome, but it is also messy.  We are free from the legalistic rules of religion that say, “You must do this and avoid that in order for God to love you.”  Instead, God’s grace tells us, “I love you regardless of any sin you ever commit.  You are welcome in my house!”  1 Peter 2:16 says, “You are free!”  but it also says, “don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil.”  Thankfully, God gives Christians the Holy Spirit to show us the way.  So, we must let the Holy Spirit be our careful guide as we walk this middle road through the tangled wilderness between evil self-indulgence and religious legalism.

Self-control is not just for teenagers. Adults often like to criticise teenagers for their like of self-control, but maybe we should take the log out of our own eye before we complain about the spec in the teenager's eye.  Adults need self-control even more than teenagers because we have greater freedom and usually more resources with which to indulge ourselves. With greater freedom comes a greater need for self-control.  Unfortunately, adults today seem to have so little self-control.  Cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are rampant among adults in America primarily because we lack self-control.  We eat too much food and don't exercise enough.  We also struggle to control our TV and internet consumption.  We complain news outlets and social media are too negative, yet we do not limit our consumption of them to healthy doses.  And adults struggle with alcoholism and drug abuse as much or more than teenagers.  Where is our self-control?

How to Nurture Self-control
If we are going to lead healthy, godly lives, we need more self-control.  Thankfully, this is a virtue the Holy Spirit wishes to grow in us.  We cannot grow it ourselves; we must allow the Holy Spirit to grow it.  However, just like a garden, there are some things we can do to nurture the growth of self-control.  Self-control is like pruning your garden.

We have a lovely rose bush at our house.  Now, in order to have a lot of roses, you have to do something that doesn't make sense.  You actually have to prune--cut away--a good number of the rose buds before they bloom.  That just seems crazy to me.  Why would you cut off rose buds in order to get more roses?  It's because the bush can actually produce more roses if it can concentrate its limited resources on fewer buds.  So by cutting away some of the buds, the bush focuses on the few that are left and they are larger and more beautiful.

In our spiritual life, if we try to feed our every selfish desire, we grow spiritually weak and malnourished.  However, a self-sacrificing life of self-discipline, controlled by the Holy Spirit, leads to spiritual abundance and health.  Self-control takes root and grows.

Spiritual pruning, self-control, is a daily way of life gained as we walk intimately with the Lord. In Matthew 22, someone asked Jesus, “What is the greatest command?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

This is how we live to nurture the growth of self-control.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  And love your neighbor as yourself.  

First, love the Lord with all your heart—service.  1 John 4:20 says, “…if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”  You have to love people in order to love God with all your heart.  So, find as many ways to serve as possible.  The local church is a great place to serve.  At my church, you can help serve food and cleanup during our Wednesday night suppers.  You could volunteer with our youth or children's programs.  You could work in the yard.  You can fix something that is broken.  You could be one of our Facebook live videographers.  The list of other service opportunities is long.  Serving helps you focus less on yourself; this is a great way to practice 'self' control.
Love the Lord with all your soul—piety. Piety is a fancy word that means spending time with God through spiritual practices.  As you become intimately acquainted with God, you worry less about yourself.  Self-control grows inside you more and more.  Some essential ways to practice piety are through prayer, worship, and Holy Communion.  
  • Prayer - I encourage you to pray five times a day--in the morning when you wake, at night before you sleep, and before every meal--and also say a short prayer whenever else you think about it throughout the day.  
  • Worship - We were designed to worship God and God deserves our loving thanks and praise.  I recommend you worship God with other believers every Sunday.  Try not to miss more than five Sundays per year.
  • Holy Communion - Also known as "The Lord's Supper", Holy Communion is an important way Jesus told us to remember what he did for us when he died on the cross.  Furthermore, it is a sacred way God pours grace into our life and nurtures the growth our our spirit.  I recommend you celebrate Holy Communion as often as possible, but at least once a month.
Love the Lord with all your mind—study.  Through the daily discipline of study, we can nurture more self-control within.  Read your Bible prayerfully and daily.  The Lord will strengthen you mind and your spirit.  Everyone should also study together with a small group of Christian believers.  At my church, this is primarily found in a Sunday school class, Wednesday night study, or our Thursday morning Bible study.  What study groups could you join to help nurture the fruit of the Spirit, self-control?
Conclusion
If you love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all love your mind, and if you love your neighbor as yourself, you will let the Holy Spirit control your life so that you do all that you can to express that love and avoid those things that are not loving to God, your neighbor, or yourself.  The practice of these greatest commands given to us by the Lord is a great exercise in self-control.


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