I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Sitting in the car listening to a tape about a magic “music machine” that sang songs about the Fruits of the Spirit. And then the song about self-control came on. “Self-control is just controlling myself. It’s listening to my heart and doing what is smart”. I am not sure it was my parent’s intent, but all of a sudden my entire theological understanding of self-control was shaped around a kids song that described situations in which the protagonist was in situations in which the would lose their temper. And yes self-control does come into play in these situations, but it is so much more than that. I think if I wanted to define self-control in terms of the Christian life, I would simply define it as discipline/controlled behavior.
For instance, my blog writing has been exhibiting an extreme lack of self-control. I say that I love writing and I love my blog, but my actions betray themselves by my three week absence. I heart it said recently that “it is easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action”. In other words discipline yourself into a love for that which you want to do. In the life of faith, there are many thing which we would love to be a part of our character i.e. the Fruits of the Spirit. It is no wonder self-control is listed last among the fruits because only through discipline through the Spirit do the other fruits become a part of our character. The apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Recently I think about all of the professional football players who are about to return to training camp late. I wonder; have they been self-controlled with their bodies and habits. If not, it will be a rough few first days. Likewise, are we being self-controlled in those things that improve our character witness for Christ. Are we exercising our bodies and minds for Christian service or are we wallowing in apathy and self-indulgent behavior? Maybe it is time for all of us to exercise a little more self-control as we are molded into the image of Christ through the discipline of His Spirit.