The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control

The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control

The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control.

“The fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23).


(a.) Definition: Temperance; discreet sensibility; restraint over one’s impulses, emotions and desires (NLT); holding appetites and passions in check; directing one’s energies wisely (Peterson); the inner strength of self-discipline.

(b.) The Fruit is Love. The “fruit” of the Spirit in Galatians 5 is stated in the singular, not the plural “fruits.” This implies that the first and primary virtue noted, Love, is the unifying quality of the Holy Spirit’s work in one’s Christian character. All the remaining virtues listed are important aspects of Love. Fruit is meant to be useful. So perhaps Love is the fruit of the Spirit, and the other qualities mentioned are Love’s useful qualities, such as with fruit with its smell, flavor, texture, shape, size, nutrition, ripeness. The useful aspects of Love, of the fruit of the Spirit, include loving-joy, loving-peace, loving-patience, loving-kindness, loving-goodness, loving-faithfulness, loving-gentleness, and loving self-control.

(c.) Control Your Whole Self. Some scriptures about the importance of the virtue of self-control include:

“So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then.” (1 Peter 1:13-14, NLT).

“An evil man is held captive by his own sins; they are ropes that catch and hold him. He will die for lack of self-control; he will be lost because of his great foolishness.” (Proverbs 5:22-23, NLT).

“God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor – not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 7-8, NLT).

“Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, NLT).

“Since we are living by the Spirit, let our behavior be guided by the Spirit, following the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, various versions).

“A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out.” (Proverbs 25:28, MSG).

“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (Colossians 3:5,10, NLT).

(d.) Start With Your Speech. If you want to start working on your self-control, begin with your words, whether verbally or through social media. Self-control can often be judged by the ability to hold one’s tongue in check.

“If any one does not offend in speech, who never says the wrong things, he is a fully developed character, able to control his whole body and to curb his entire nature.” (James 3:2, AMP).

(e.) Speech and the Wisdom of Solomon. If there was one major and practical topic that Solomon loved to write about in his book Proverbs, it was the tongue: the importance of wise speech, the effects of foolish speech, the need for self-control in one’s words. Following are just a few examples of what Solomon had to say about speaking with wisdom and keeping one’s tongue under control:

“Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.” (Pr. 13:3, NLT).

“The mouth of a good person is a deep, life-giving well, but the mouth of the wicked is a dark cave of abuse.” (Pr. 10:11, MSG).

“The words of the godly encourage many, but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense.” (Pr. 10:21, NLT).

“A good person’s mouth is a clear fountain of wisdom; a foul mouth is a stagnant swamp.” (Pr. 10:31, MSG).

“Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed.” (Pr. 12:19, NLT).

“The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words.” (Pr. 15:28, NLT).

“The speech of a good person clears the air; the words of the wicked pollute it.” (Pr. 10:32, MSG).

“Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise.” (Pr. 12:18, MSG).

“Congenial conversation – what a pleasure! The right word at the right time – beautiful!” (Pr. 15:23, MSG).

“Gracious speech is like clover honey – good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.” (Pr. 16:24, MSG).

“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” (Pr. 18:21, MSG).

“Frivolous talk provokes a derisive smile; wise speech evokes nothing but respect.” (Pr. 14:3, MSG).

“The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.” (Pr. 10:19. MSG).

“A gadabout gossip can’t be trusted with a secret, but someone of integrity won’t violate a confidence.” (Pr. 11:13, MSG).


(a.) Both Hands. On the one hand this, on the other hand that. Both can be true. And this is one way to approach the topic of self-control. We do have an interesting question to address here: Who is in charge of self-control? God, or the individual person? Who is doing the actual work of self-control? God or me? Does self-control invite a “let go and let God” approach, or does the individual have a hand in this as well? On the one hand, we treat self-control like all the other fruit of the Spirit and ask God to go to work, to be the source of this virtue. We put God in charge of self-control, because divine help and power is obviously needed to produce this fruit. But, on the other hand, we can’t forget the self in self-control. We each need to exercise self-discipline. Self-restraint requires a strength of will. Each person has work to do, effort that God can’t do for us as if we were remote-control robots. Somehow each person needs to generate a certain amount of energy and control to “nail the passions and desires of our sinful nature to the cross of Jesus.” (Galatians 5:24). We need to decide with our free will to crucify our self-destructive and self-indulgent appetites, to resist our sinful impulses and rebellious desires. And with the power of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer slaves to our sinful nature, we can actually die to that and live in freedom. Through Christ, we no longer have to submit to our “passions and desires.” But that takes work on our part. But it also takes work on God’s part. So how do we characterize our working relationship with God regarding our self-control? Are we simply cooperating with God? Are we participating with Jesus in His self-control? Are we somehow sharing duties with God despite our spiritual frailty and human weaknesses? On the one hand, God is producing self-control in us. On the other hand, God is strengthening each of us to exert our own efforts towards self-control. On the one hand, God’s power. On the other hand, our will power. Teamwork.

(b.) The Mystery of Working in Tandem. In Philippians 2:12-13 are these fascinating words, “Continue to work… for it is God who works in you…”  St. Paul says it this way in the NLT: “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” The Amplified Bible expands this in a helpful way: “Carry out to the goal and fully complete your own salvation with reverence and awe and the trembling of self-distrust, serious caution, and tenderness of conscience; with watchfulness against temptation; timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ. But this work is not in your own strength, for it is God who is all the while effectually at work in you – energizing and creating in you the power and desire – both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.”