The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in the city of Galatia contains several comparisons between law and grace. The life following Jesus is different from a life trying to follow the Old Testament law. Then he explains to them the differences as it plays out in the life of a believer. Finally, in chapter five, he gives us what he calls “the fruit of the Spirit.”
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, and self-control.
These are the byproducts of someone who is living for Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Quite often these get mistaught. The preacher will talk about one of them, like the first one, love. He will say, “We need to love more. Believers need to develop love in their life. By the end of this sermon, you will be motivated to love more.”
Sorry, but that is not what Paul is saying. The point of the passage is that when we live a life by the Holy Spirit of God, we will find that we become more loving as he works in us. The closer we get to God and the more obedient we are to his word, the byproduct of our lives will be love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I could spend weeks writing about each one of these, but the one that has fascinated me the longest is the last. One byproduct of people who follow Jesus and live by his Spirit is self-control. That seems strange as the very definition of self-control is that it comes from us. It is “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations.” (Oxford Languages definition)
Paul flips the definition for Christians. Those who follow Jesus will find that the closer they get to God, the more self-control they will have. They will find within themselves the power to fight back against evil behavior, toxic emotions, and destructive behavior not through their own power but by the power given them by God. Faith will produce ability that looks like it is coming from inside of us, while God is truly the one giving us the power.
So if you want to take control of your life and no longer be held prisoner by your own words and actions, then surrender yourself entirely to God. Dig into his word, pray with passion, connect to other believers, spend time in communion with him, and seek his will with all your heart. The key to self-control is the God who is in control of the self.