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Today we dive into part 5 of our Evidence of Spiritual Life series. Of course, as I’m made it a point to mention at the beginning of every show in this series, if you already know you have spiritual life, then this series can function as a road map for your spiritual maturity.
And boy-oh-boy is today’s topic one massive milestone in that maturity.
But first, if you are a parent or someone who works with or ministers to children, you should check out the Truth.Love.Parent. podcast. We have over 500 episodes spanning tons of topics that are super practical and relevant to any and all family situations.
And speaking of families, please pray for me as I speak at two different conferences in the next week. The first will be a family conference in Indiana, and the second is a parenting conference in Michigan.
I love doing conferences, I love interacting with people face to face and opening God’s Word in a room full of people.
If you would be interested in having me do a full conference or perhaps a workshop, class, or session, please visit AMBrewster.com. I speak, preach, and teach on a wide range of topics including family, marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, and so much more.
In fact, you should visit EvermindMinistries.com to get to know our whole family of ministries and see how we can help keep God’s truth at the center of your daily life.
And—of course—you’ll be able to find today’s episode notes, transcript, and additional life resources on our blog on the Year Long Celebration of God website.
And now let’s talk about the next evidence of spiritual life and the next destination on our journey to Christ-likeness . . . self-control.
1. The Curious Concept that is Self-Control
Let’s start by reading II Peter 1:5 and 6: “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control.”
Unlike the words “faith” and “knowledge,” the Greek word translated “self-control” in verse 6 is not used that often in Scripture. In fact, it only shows up two other times.
Acts 24:25 reads, “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.’” It seems that righteousness, self-control, and judgement were really frightening to Felix, and we’ll soon find out why.
And then the word also appears in another list in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Both of these passages are instructive, but the Bible has so much more to say about this concept than is summed up in this one Greek word. So, for starters we’re going to consider the English words used to translate the Greek word, the Greek word itself, and two important issues that must be understood when studying this word.
A. The English Words
When the Bible was originally translated into English, the word found in II Peter was “temperancy” or “temperance.” Temperance refers to moderation which refers to being neither over- nor under-indulgent.
However, 100 years after the King James Version was first printed, the English word “self-control” was coined. And the original idea of self-control referred to the “restraint of one’s desires.” This word quickly became the favored translation for the Greek text.
Now, let’s consider . . .
B. The Greek Word
Unfortunately, neither of these English terms truly do the Greek justice. The original word penned by the Apostle Peter referred to having mastery over something. But there are two key issues that must be addressed when handling this word: (1) who decides what passions need to be mastered, and (2) who or what is having the mastery over who or what?
“Self-control” seems to be a nice English interpretation since the assumption is that the individual is controlling their sinful desires, but the Scriptures provide a much deeper understanding of this spiritual discipline.
In Ephesians 5:18 we read, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” The lesson is clear—don’t allow alcohol to control you, instead be so completely filled with the Holy Spirit that He controls all you do.
We have to grapple with the reality that Christians do not exercise the self-control of the world; Christians are commanded to submit to the control of the Holy Spirit. Our self-control is less about controlling ourselves and more about submitting ourselves to another’s control.
In addition, God alone gets to decided what passions are to be moderated, and God alone has the power necessary to truly reign-in sinful impulses, immoderate behavior, and inappropriate thoughts. Therefore, Christians are to bend their self-control to the over-mastering hand of God.
So, though it’s not technically inaccurate to use words like temperance or self-control, Christians must be careful to understand that they will never be able to control their flesh outside of the power of God. Furthermore, He will only enable us to fulfill that which He expects.
Now, before considering the broader teaching of Scripture concerning being controlled by the Spirit, we need to take a closer look at the 4 times our Greek word for “self-control” is used in the New Testament.
II Peter 1:5-7, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.”
According to this list we see that Spirit-filled self-control is a product of faith in God, a life lived for God, and increased knowledge of God. And this biblical self-control results in perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love. It’s not rooted in what we think is best or what we’re trying to accomplish for our lives; it’s rooted completely in God and His expectations as revealed in His knowledge.
In the same way, the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23 reveals that self-control is a result of living by the Spirit and walking by the Spirit, and it coexists with the other characteristics of God.
This is why—I believe—in Acts 24:25 Felix is so afraid. As Paul spoke of righteousness, Felix realized his life didn’t match up to the righteousness of God. As Paul spoke of self-control, Felix realized he didn’t have the power in himself to master the passions that God said were sinful. And as Paul spoke of the judgement that falls on unrighteousness, Felix had only one of two choices: (1) Submit to God, achieve His righteousness by His Spirit-control, and avoid His judgement, or (2) Escape the convicting conversation so he could distract himself and not have to think about it anymore.
The following verses describe his choice, “Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.’ 26 At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him. But after two years had passed . . . .”
It appears that Felix did have self-control. He managed to continue engaging in conversation with Paul in the hope that Paul would pay him off. But after two years—knowing Paul was innocent of the charges brought against him—Felix never let him go, never submitted to God, never got his money, and was eventually replaced by another man.
So, there’s a really important question you need to ask yourself. Does the idea of biblical self-control frighten you? Does the idea of submitting all of your beliefs, thoughts, desires, choices, feelings, words, and actions to God’s control scare you?
If so, you probably do not have spiritual life.
Now, that’s not to say that the idea isn’t daunting to born again believers, but there’s a difference between experiencing the sober impact of God’s expectations and our submission versus fear or animosity toward the idea.
So, if it does frighten you, or if you hate the idea all-together, ask yourself why. And if the idea seems palatable and right, ask yourself why it doesn’t frighten you.
2. The Goal of Self-Control
Biblically speaking, controlling your spirit (and thereby your behaviors) is a matter of life and death! Proverbs 25:28 says, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is one who has no control over his spirit,” and Proverbs 16:32 reads, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”
The word translated “rules” refers to having dominion over something, ruling over like a king, and governing it. But this is easier said than done. James 3 describes the tongue as “a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” And it goes on to say that “no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”
If we are incapable of controlling something as small as our tongues, how can we ever hope to control every other sinful desire and action in our lives?
By the way, if you lack control in your communication, that can be a huge indicator as to whether or not you have spiritual life. And I’m not talking about simply lying or being unkind or swearing or the like. I’m talking about whether the majority of your communication conforms to the truth of God.
A person who says they love God, are born again, read their Bibles and pray every day, go to church at least twice a week, and yet who—in their daily lives—are indistinguishable from unbelievers in how they communicate about their lives, their choices, and the circumstances in which they find themselves can’t possibly love God and His Word as much as they let on.
But again, this is an impossible task in our own power. Thankfully, God’s people have access to God’s power.
I Corinthians 6:19 asks believers an important question, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
According to verse 20, submitting to the rule of God in our lives results in God being glorified in our bodies.
Having access to the Holy Spirit absolutely changes everything! Only by His power can we hope to glorify God. Listen carefully while I read an extend portion from Romans 8:1-17, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”
I love how submitting to Spirit-control is described here. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free.
Continuing on . . . “3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
What does it mean to walk according to the Spirit?
The Greek word translated “walk” refers to how we behave, conduct ourselves, lead our lives, and occupy ourselves. Vines Expository Dictionary says this word is used figuratively to signify “the whole round of the activities of the individual life, whether of the unregenerate or of the believer.”
The word translated “according” can be translated “after the manner” or “in accordance with,” or “after the manner of.”
Therefore, to walk according to the Spirit is to conduct our lives in accordance with the Spirit—His expectations and empowerment.
Continuing on again . . . “5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
On our last show we learned about the importance of thinking truth—the knowledge of God. We will never be able to grow in our Spirit-filled self-control if we don’t set our mind on the things of the Spirit.
To set our minds on the things of the Spirit requires an intentionality and a premeditated purpose of making the truth of God the object of our thoughts.
The example I used earlier of the individual who claims to love God but who does’t communicate in line with God’s revealed Word does so because what comes from our lips started first in our hearts.
We need to continually set our minds on the things of the Spirit if we ever hope for our communication to run in line with the Spirit.
And then verse 9 says, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
Biblical self-control has absolutely nothing to do with my being able to make myself do anything. Listen, Aaron Brewster can make himself do tons of things that are relatively impressive by human standards, but they don’t glorify God.
In order to walk by the Spirit and set my mind on the things of the Spirit, I am going to need divine enablement. And praise God that the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in His people.
This is why Spirit-control is an evidence and a requirement of spiritual life. “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
This is why verse 12 says, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
Verses 12-14 reveal that children of God will be led by the Spirit, and being led by the Spirit means that we must actively be putting to death the deeds of the body. In fact, we are under divine obligation to be putting to death the deeds of the body.
And what are some “deeds of the body” that Spirit-filled self-control will put to death in your life?
That’s a really good question you need to ask of yourself. If the deeds of the body, like the ones listed in Galatians 5 and so many other places in the Bible are a regular part of your daily existence, it’s safe to say that they’re not being put to death.
And then the passage ends this way: “15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
Allowing the Holy Spirit to control us frees us, but trying to control ourselves is enslaving. II Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Fear, anxiety, and timidity don’t come from God. Instead, He gives us power and love and discipline.
And Hebrews 2:14-15 reads, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
If the idea of Spirit-filled self-control scares you the way it scared Felix, it’s probably because the idea of submitting yourself completely to the will of God is distasteful to you. And I would add that not wanting to let go of the reigns of your life is in fact evidence of the reality that you do not have spiritual life.
It’s also an evidence of the fact that you’re delusional enough to believe you ever had the reigns in the first place.
But if you recognize the fact that there is no person in the entire cosmos more trustworthy and magnificent than God, and you are willing (though maybe hesitant) to submit yourself to His will, then that is an exciting stage of spiritual maturity.
Now, before I finish today, I want to make it clear that the idea of Spirit-control is not that you become a marionette, nor does it carry the connotation of being possessed by an evil spirit, nor is it a let-go-and-let-God type of thing.
If you are born again, you already have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you. Submitting to the Spirit, allowing Him to control your life, and experiencing His empowerment is nothing more nor less than choosing to believe what you encounter in the Scriptures and striving to the best of your ability to obey.
We don’t need to be in a trance, and God isn’t going to force us to do anything as we’re fighting against Him. I think a silly, earthly example is an assistant to a multi-millionaire. Her boss has some associates who are flying into town, and he tells her to use the company credit line to set them up in the finest hotels with the finest cars at their disposal and to get them tickets to the hottest venue in town.
Now, if she chooses to disobey her orders, the hotels and cars and shows will not be booked, and there will be consequences. But even if she wanted to do as she were told, those are not things the assistant could afford on her own. The only way she can do it is through the financial enabling of the company.
Like I said, it’s silly, but I use that example because at no point was she being manacled and micromanaged by the boss. She had freedom and power to do exactly what he told her to do, and she didn’t need to break out her own credit card to accomplish it.
In a similar, yet infinitely more amazing way, God commands us to obey, and as we put our hand to the plow, God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets so that other followers of Christ can learn about the freedom of Spirit-control, and be sure to reach out to us at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com if you need some personalized help growing in this spiritual discipline.
And then join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing what it means to persevere.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
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AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.