But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things that you want to do ... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Self-control. Why do we struggle here so much? Why is it so hard to say no to our flesh and passions? This is without a doubt something that every one of us struggles with on some level. Whether it is overeating, lack of exercise, over spending, lust, attention, running, body image, or any other craving, we all have something that we run towards to find satisfaction outside of God.
Wrestling with self-control can feel like struggling with a selfish motive and overcoming it in order to make our lives better or more productive. However, as we see in the passage above, self-control is a fruit born of the Spirit of God dwelling inside us. It’s not to be viewed as a discipline to muster up so that we can be better Christians. It is a fruit of God that comes through dependence on him and satisfaction in him. Growing in self-control is an opportunity to trust God and to surrender all of our faculties to Him again. It’s a privilege to cast our weaknesses on the Lord and watch him move, answer, and redeem even the innermost parts of our lives.
Self-control is a fruit of God that comes through dependence on him and satisfaction in him.
Often I find myself in seasons of self-indulgence and sowing to my flesh. I have stopped saying no to my flesh and have begun to slip back into a comfortable, complacent attitude. I have realized that many of these seasons are filled with an arid soul and an empty heart towards the Lord. I feel distant, I feel crushed, I feel selfish, I feel wrong, I feel dry, I feel lazy, and ultimately I feel like I am alone. Why do I feel this way? In Galatians 5:16-17 we see Christ saying through Paul that the desires of the flesh are against the desires of the Spirit. All the confusion of my internal wrestling comes to the light. I feel distant, aloof, and lonely because I am sowing to something that is directly opposed to the very thing that I love the most. I am storing up affections that are against the Lord. I am searching for satisfaction and hope in things that will always draw me away from the Most High God. I am making these things and desires functional saviors in my life. I am looking to them for satisfaction and to escape from the stresses of the world instead of running to Jesus who has promised to “put within us a well of living water that springs up into eternity” (John 4:14).
Having seen this, how do we move forward? How do we put our flesh to death and trust in God to bear the fruit of self-control in our lives? Galatians 5:24 gives much insight saying that we along with Christ have "crucified the flesh with its passion and desires.” Think about the imagery here; we have crucified, put to a gruesome death, the passions of our flesh with Christ. If we want to see this fruit born in our lives, we must look to the Cross of Jesus Christ. The beauty of this concept of self-control is that Christ has been our perfect example and as we grow or struggle in this we get the opportunity to know the fullness of Christ our Lord and Savior. We see the Cross and remember the prayer of Christ that God would take this cup from Him, and are struck with the truth of Christ’s motive in self-control. By perfectly displaying self-control he has demonstrated to us the amazing satisfaction that Jesus has in glorifying the Father. He is so satisfied in fulfilling his purpose to worship God and glorify him forever that he needs not to run to fleshly or worldly passions to fulfill him or escape from the reality of the situation he is in.
This is the call God has for us. This is where we get to identify with Christ. We discover a full satisfaction in running to Jesus as our hope and our deliverance. And as we glorify God through bearing this fruit, we rejoice in God’s granting us obedience to fulfill our purpose to worship him forever and be satisfied in Christ.