Self-Control Doesn’t Come from Ourselves (Part 2)
A couple of months ago we recorded a series of podcasts entitled, "Key Lessons on the Road to Freedom." In part 2 of an interview from that series, Luke and Pastor Ed show us that having a strong self-will cannot produce self-control in a person's life. True self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that only comes from God. (from Podcast Episode #512 - Fight in God's Strength)
Nate: So Luke, in the first part of this discussion, Pastor Ed was talking about how when a person really begins to repent, they have access to the fruit of the spirit, which is self-control. But you know, for somebody who's never lived that way, true self-control can be kind of confusing. It can be hard to understand what role I play and what role God plays in the whole process. What does it really look like to be under the control of the Spirit? What would you say are some of the most common misconceptions about self-control?
Luke: I would say one of the biggest misconceptions that even I've struggled with in my own life is the fact that I can view self-control as being all about me. It's all about how much I can control myself. But we must remember that we're dealing with this at a spiritual level, and we have to look at how the Bible describes self-control. The Bible describes self-control as a fruit of the Spirit. It's not the fruit of the flesh, so to speak. It's not willpower. Self-control is the evidence of the Spirit of God at work inside an individual. It's doesn’t come out of our own ability.
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Galatians 5 is where we read about self-control and the fruit of the Spirit, and Paul describes ways to develop this type of fruit in your life. In verse 16 he says to walk in the Spirit. In verse 18 he says to be led by the Spirit. He concludes in verses 24 and 25 by saying that those are who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, and if we live in the Spirit, we should also walk in the Spirit. In summary, he's saying that if you let the Holy Spirit guide your life and if you live in subjection to the Spirit of God, following His guidance and direction, if you deny yourself, and if you have crucified your fleshly nature, passions, and desires, then the fruit of the Spirit will begin to grow in your life. And one of the fruits is self-control.
Ed: Yeah. So, despite the name self-control, it doesn't come from self. It comes from the Lord. You have to get it from Him. That's what I think you're saying is one of the big misconceptions is that people think we need to work this up within ourselves.
Nate: Yeah, and one of the reasons I wanted to bring this up is because I've looked online and done searches, and there are blogs and articles out there with titles like, “Five Tips to Increasing Willpower” or “Harnessing Willpower.” And that’s a very different way to look at the subject than what you both are describing.
Luke: Sure. But when you're looking at self-control in a biblical context, it's really more like self-denial. And if I live denying self and letting the Lord rule and reign in my life, then the fruit is going to be self-control. I'm no longer doing whatever I want, when I want, and how I want to do it.
Nate: So, the more I deny myself, the more room, so to speak, the Holy Spirit has to exercise His power in my life. Then the more I'm doing that, the more I'm going to experience who and what He is. And one of those aspects is self-control. So, it feels in some way like it's us, but it's not us.
Luke: It's just the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our life.
Nate: Yeah. Which actually I think feeds right into the next question that I had because I think that there are going to be some personality types with stronger will, and some people who are weaker willed. And so, I think for somebody who's listening that realizes, “Man, I don't have a strong will,” and they feel like, “How could I ever have self-control? I'm not wired that way.” For them it should be really freeing to realize that this isn't about a human will. This is about God's will.
Luke: And that's an excellent point because certainly there are different personalities and gifts that motivate people in different ways. That's undeniable. For example, some people love to be working outside getting their hands dirty while others can find fulfillment in their office job. So, there are different personalities. But you mentioned laziness. When I think of the term laziness, I think it can be defined as not completing the tasks that the Lord has assigned me to do. Whether that is mowing the lawn or balancing a budget, laziness is always taking care of my wants and my desires first and foremost. So, I believe that the real battle behind what you're describing is really a battle between loving myself and loving God and others. When we look at it that way, we realize that we're all selfish by nature.
We're all just naturally lazy in a way, regardless of our outward behavior. For example, we look at a typical, outwardly productive person and we conclude that he must have a lot of self-control. Like the young man who gets up at 4:30 every morning and goes to the gym for two hours. He has a strict diet. Never has a cheat day. He’s productive at work. He's not in any debt. You'd say, “This man must have a lot of self-control.” But if this guy will never let the needs of others mess up his strict routine, that's really not self-control. It's just a thriving self-life. And it works the other way around. If you look at the lazy 18-year-old who's sitting on his parents' couch and just playing video games all day, again, it's the same thing. It's just a thriving self-life. So, in either case, both individuals have the same root issues. Whether we look outwardly productive in our selfishness or appear lazy, we still need to deal with the selfishness that is dominating our way of life.
Nate: Wow. I’ve never really thought about it that way. That really levels the playing field. This isn't an issue of outwardly disciplined living. Let's say that both of them have genuinely repented. Our tendency would probably be to think that guy number one is going to have no issues walking with the Lord when it comes to self-control and guy number two has all the work in the world to do. But we all know that walking in the way of the Spirit doesn't come naturally to us. So, our natural strength is only going to take us so far. Then the Lord is going to bring us to a place where He's going to say your resources have taken you as far as they can and now you really have to learn how to walk in my strength and by my Spirit. Can you guys relate to that? Is there a time in your life that you can think about where you came to that place and what was that like?
Luke: I can definitely relate to really striving in my own strength and seeing little results and how discouraging that can be. That's really what got me to Pure Life. When it came to my fight against sexual sin, I tried all sorts of things and nothing ever worked. But where the Lord really met me was when He stripped that all away and showed me that I didn’t have the strength and the energy to fight this on my own. He showed me that this is something only He could do and that I had to have a hands-off approach on this and come to Him humbly asking for mercy because I needed help. I couldn't do this on my own. So, the Lord had to drain me of all of that self-will and self-sufficiency, and He's still draining me of that in many ways.
Ed: Yeah, I think that's very common and true. And when it comes to sexual sin, I believe the Lord is often using someone's sexual sin as a means to show them that very thing. There is a huge difference between white knuckling in self effort and actually living in freedom through Christ. Those are two completely different things. For me, specifically self-gratification is the thing the Lord used to help me see this more clearly and recognize my need to fight in His strength. The best I could do in my own strength was refrain from giving over to my sin for a day or two. I think one time I made it a whole week and that was like a monumental change for me. But that was the best I could do, and it was so frustrating. I was living with guilt and shame, and I was living under a dark cloud of depression. I even had suicidal thoughts because I couldn't get a handle on my addiction to self-gratification.
And so, for me, the Lord eventually did bring me to the Residential Program here at Pure Life, and that's when I experienced what it was to have His power at work in me. For me, the victory in that area began because I felt like this campus was a holy place and that somehow I would be defiling it if I gave into self-gratification here. So, there was something in me that just determined that I can't do that. I can't defile a place that God has made holy like that. And I believe at some level that the Lord saw that determination in my heart along with all the other things He was doing to establish His kingdom in me. He fulfilled that commitment for me. And before I knew it, I had gone over six months without giving over to self-gratification.
And I really was motivated then to hold on to that level of victory. I told myself that I'm not going to let go of that lightly. This is the most victory I've had in decades and I'm not going to let go of it. Of course, there were times of very strong temptations, but I found this power to resist them that I had never really had in me before. And I often remember fighting with the words of Joseph in mind, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” That was a verse the Lord used to bring me into victory many times in that area of temptation. But I do want to be honest and just acknowledge too that I was not perfect and have not been perfect. There have been times where I caved into temptation, but any time that happened, I found that there was a power in me at work to get me right back on track as well. And also, the sin of self-gratification didn't have the grip and power it once held over me.