Many would agree that our society is plagued by a lack of self-control. One only has to tune into the local news to hear about the latest shooting, stabbing, or abuse victim. Often, once the perpetrator has been brought to justice we hear how they somehow had "just lost control". Situations like these are often exacerbated by the use of drugs or alcohol which unlock the chains that are keeping a person's demons from taking over and reeking havoc. However, lack of self-control is as old as sin itself and was even Solomon's partner in his undoing as a godly king (Ecclesiastes 2:1). There's a particular reason that self-control is the last fruit of the Spirit listed by Paul the Apostle in the fifth chapter of Galatians. Without self-control the other fruit are constrained, so to speak, especially if the deeds of the flesh are allowed to usurp the Divine Nature. We should think of self-control as the "watchman" that ensures the old selfish sin nature stays dead (Romans 6:6; 6:11) and buried so that the Holy Spirit has free reign in our hearts to cultivate the other eight fruits, uninhibited. Self-control exists always in this lifetime to arbitrate between the life that we once lived as a sinner and that which the Lord desires we grow in as a believer.
Of all the fruit of the Spirit, self-control is the determining fruit that actually allows us to see the Lord in this life and the life to come. For without sanctification, or the manifestation of His fruits of the Spirit "no man will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). In the book of Acts, Paul spoke to Felix regarding the Roman governor's eternal security. Acts 24:25 states: But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you." In this scripture, self-control is sandwiched between righteousness and judgment and for good reason. It is one thing to know the righteousness of God in Christ and it is another to live it out daily through constant acts of self-control. Paul stated in I Corinthians 15:31 ... I die daily. The apostle knew the importance of buffeting his outward man so that the inner man might be manifest. By living a self-controlled life, Paul knew that he was allowing the righteousness of the Lord to reign supreme thereby preparing himself for judgment not only in this life but in the one to come. Living the crucified life with the Lord Jesus means judging oneself in this lifetime and not waiting for the awful and terrible day of the Lord's judgments on the last day. By allowing the resurrected Lord to take the reins of our hearts, is to allow Him the rightful control and to focus us on finishing our respective races.
It is no secret that Paul must have been a lover of sports. In several passages he uses sports metaphor to convey a particular message. In I Corinthians 9:25 the apostle by the Holy Spirit states: Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. In the previous verse, Paul uses the example of a runner while making the point as to "run in such a way as to win". It is one thing to say that we desire to live a crucified life to our passions and desires and it's another to live out this discipline day after day. Ancient Grecian as well as today's athletes must lay aside their former lives of selfishness and wanton living and buffet their bodies with a new set of habits that will allow them to reach their goal. There is no substitution for a daily, rigorous routine that is marked by training meant to establish regular habits in accordance with their goal. In the same way, God requires of each of us who call Him Lord to daily turn over our will and life to Him -- that we would allow Him to coach and mentor us to that place of victory. Roger Bannister, the British running sensation of the 1950s was the first to break the four-minute mile. In Helsinki at the 1952 Olympic games, Bannister finished a disappointing fourth in the1500m. After the devastation of his failure, Bannister spent two months deciding whether to give up running. He finally decided on his new goal: To be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. The following is a brief excerpt from a June 2002 interview with Bannister regarding how he developed consistent habits tempered through self-control which inevitably allowed him to reach his goal:
In those days, I didn't train very much. We didn't really know how to train in modern terms. There was this thing called "burning yourself out." I didn't want to burn myself out at 18, and I had a notion that if I looked after myself, trained carefully, I would go on improving, not by training two to three hours a day, but by training three quarters of an hour a day. It seemed to me logical that you could go on improving, and you didn't have to spend all day running.This young athlete intuitively knew that overtraining could be as counterproductive as undertraining. So, he controlled his impulse to do neither but instead to discipline himself for a tempered approach. It took Bannister two years and several failures, but he finally hit pay dirt on May 6, 1954 at Oxford University. The audience waited with bated breath as Norris McWhirter finally announced Bannister's time of 3:59:4. The crowd erupted in joy!
There is a certain elation that we all experience as we develop new habits and we finally reach a point in our lives where these new character traits testify of the fruit of self-control as the Holy Spirit intended. In the beginning, it is hard and laborious. We may struggle but if we are patient we will reap the peaceful fruit of righteousness by allowing the fruit of self-control to be manifested. Just because self-control is the last of the nine fruits, it does not diminish its importance. Instead, it is the fruit that will ultimately allow righteousness to manifest through the other eight fruits. While the our planet continues to teeter on the brink of insanity, and as humans struggle to keep "under control" in an increasingly uncontrollable world it is comforting to know that our God has given us all the ability to live controlled by His Spirit. We only have to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and the fruits of His Life as freely given through a self-controlled man or woman given wholly to God.
Your Barefoot Servant,