Gospel-Powered Self Control
Galatians 5:16 says this: “Walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh.” We are going to have fleshly desires in life. Even as followers of Jesus, who have God the Holy Spirit living in us, we’re STILL gonna have fleshly desires. Because this letter was written to believers in Jesus, and Paul’s telling them not to carry out some of the desires that they still have. When someone becomes a Christian, the desires they had before don’t usually just miraculously go away. The life of a Jesus follower is a battle of desiring fleshly things. If you struggle with sin, know this, YOU. ARE. NORMAL. There’s not a single Christian who doesn’t. We all struggle. None of us have arrived and are where we should be.
Look at verse 17: “For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” These fleshly desires that we still have are against the Spirit. We have desires that go against God. They’re opposite of God. My wife and I were sitting on the plane flying back home a few days ago and the airline we were on decided not to instal video screens in their plane, but just let you watch videos through their app. Another way to drain the battery on all of my devices. But the problem was, she and I somehow only brought one pair of headphones. So when we watched a movie, we had to watch the same movie, and we each got one headphone. Now, the movies I desire to watch on planes are simple: action. Give me explosions, lots of stimuli, and possibly a giant ape. So I wanted to watch Kong: Skull Island. She wasn’t interested at all. She eventually dropped the ear bud and took a nap. Later, when she woke up, I wasn’t using the iPad so she grabbed it and put on some romantic comedy. The battery was dead on all of my other devices so I had nothing to do, but when she offered me an ear bud to watch this movie with her. I said no, that I’d rather stare in silence at the seat in front of me. Our desires were totally opposite. That’s how our desires are with God’s.
Look at verse 19: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things — as I warned you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” These are those fleshly things that are still gonna exist as we follow Jesus. And it says that they’re characteristic of people who are not in God’s family, not in his kingdom. They don’t fit with who we are, but we still desire to do them. Now, maybe you look at some or all of those things and say, “Come on, man. This things aren’t that bad! It’s not like it says mass-murderer or unibomber or rail supporter. No one in this list is arguing that Leborn is greater than MJ. It’s not that bad! This is just a list of stuff that normal people do. To err is human right? These things aren’t that big of a deal.”
A pastor named Thabiti Anyabwile said this: “We human people are so fallen, and we’ve been so fallen for so long, that we actually think that we are the measure of what it means to be human.” You see we’ve been living and doing these things as a people for so long, that we just think that to do these things is what it means to be human. We’ve just come to accept so many desires in our lives that go directly against who God is and what it means to be God’s kids and so we don’t battle against these things, we let them linger in our lives because it’s just part of being human. But it’s not. It’s not. This is not what we were created to do. It’s not who we were created to be. This is a list of human behavior out of control. We’ve chased these things, and they lead to more misery, bondage, depression, and death.
So in verse 22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Here’s what it looks like to really be human. This is what Adam and Eve were supposed to be. This is what Jesus was. And if you have the Spirit, God is now growing in you what you were created to be all along. You’ve been restless, discontent, searching for meaning and hope in life chasing those desires of the flesh, and if you’ve been saved by Jesus, you’re now on a journey to be what your soul longs for: an adopted child of God who’s growing more and more to look like this.
Let’s think about self control. What would this look like for us to life Spirit empowered, self-controlled lives as a church?
We need to recognize that we like to make our desires our masters. Because of our sinfulness we make turn good desires into ultimate things in life. We make them our masters. We protect them at all costs, even if that means that we bury them so no one else knows they’re there. J.R.R. Tolkein wrote a few books about Hobbits. These were happy hobbits that loved many things in life. But then one of them was introduced to this powerful ring, right? And the Hobbit made that ring his master. He called it my precious. And it consumed him, changed him, made him selfish and angry and devoid of community. And Tolkein was showing us how we tend to make our desires our masters and serve them at all costs.
We desire Intimacy, and so we make sex our master.
We desire Honor/Respect so we make others’ opinions of us our master.
We desire security, so we make work our master.
We desire Rest: selfish, so we make sleep, or vacations our master
We desire Recognition so we make social media our master.
We desire significance so we make Experiences our master.
We desire fulfillment so we make happiness our master.
So, as a church, we need self-control to keep our desires from becoming our masters. Jesus knew that we’d need it. Look at what he said in Luke 9: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.” Followers of Jesus must deny their fleshly desires. It is impossible to be a follower of Jesus without growing in self-control. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul says “Everything is permissible for me’ — but I will not be mastered by anything.” Paul saw clearly that God had given us so many thing in creation to enjoy, and that it would be good to enjoy those things, but he recognized that he could make any one of those good things his master. That recognition is key, and then check out the self control he talks about a few chapters later: So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control. He disciplines his body. He doesn’t run this race of life aimlessly. He knows the ways he might trip up and get defeated and so he goes to battle with things things. He practices self-control. Strict control, actually.
Paul understood grace, God’s sovereignty, and God’s goodness, and he disciplined his body and brought it under strict control. The fruit of self-control is not anti-Gospel. It’s an outworking of the gospel. Which is the last point:
As a church, our self-control must be Spirit-empowered. Look at Galatians 5:24: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” If you follow Jesus, the works fo the flesh that you may desire and even do have been crucified. They’ve been killed, put to death. And now, we’re called to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit. So if we’re gonna grow in self-control, it’s the Spirit who must do it in our lives. Self-control is Spirit-empowerd, grace-driven effort.
Check out 2 Peter 1: “Make every effort [that’s the Spirit-empowered, grace-driven effort] to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins.” Sheesh. That’s intense. But here’s what it’s saying. The person who isn’t growing in self-control over their desires has forgotten the cleansing from their past sins.
Growth in self control comes from remembering the cleansing we have from our past sins. It comes from remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that made it possible for us to be forgiven, for us to be God’s kids.
Maybe you’re struggling with a sin, and you love it, and can’t imagine living without doing it, your passion for it is off the charts.
Fight. Get in the fight. Immerse yourself in the story of Jesus. Learn from him. Lean on him. Start taking Spirit-empowered steps of saying no to fleshly desires and yes to godly desires. The more and more you take those steps, the easier they become. Go all in on asking people to support you and remind you of who Jesus is when you’re struggling. Or just ask someone who seems to be in the fight what they do to fight to remember what Jesus has done for them. But get in the fight.
Otherwise you’ll go nowhere.
Whatever you’re struggling with, God loves you, he’s on your side, he’s given you his spirit, and he is relentless in helping you fight sin.