Without this fruit, our lives would be chaotic.
Self-control is a fruit or produce or result of living in the Spirit. It should be growing naturally-supernaturally out of your heart and soul and mind. Here’s what the reality behind the word means in your life.
The key verses and the nine-fold fruit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self–control (Gal. 5:22-23, NIV).
“Fruit” is singular, which means each fruit grows together and feeds from the same life source. They are united, one collective. Yet it is okay to enumerate them one at a time, so nine fruits (plural). Just don’t separate them by highlighting one and ignoring another one in your life. They all grow equally strong together, as a unit, by the indwelling and power of the Spirit.
Now let’s define the term and then see how it looks in the New Covenant Scriptures in context.
The noun egkrateia (pronounced ehn-krah-tay-ah and used only 4 times in the NT [twice in one verse]) means “self-control, continence, temperance” (Mounce, p. 1131). BDAG is the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it defines the noun thus: “restraint of one’s emotions, impulses or desires, self–control … especially with reference to matters of sex.” The stem krat– is the source of our stem, –cracy (the “k” can be swapped out for “c”), as in theocracy (ruled by God), bureaucracy (ruled by the office), or democracy (ruled by people). The prefix eg (or en) means “in oneself.” So egkrateia means “ruled in oneself.”
The basic stem also has a verb: egkrateuomai (pronounced ehn-kray-tew-oh-my and used twice). It means, “to possess the power of self-control or continence, 1 Cor. 7:9, to practice abstinence 1 Cor. 9:25” (Mounce, p. 1131). BDAG says of the verb, “to keep one’s emotions, impulses, or desires under control, control oneself, abstain.”
Let’s look at the two verses where the verb appears.
1 Cor. 7:9 uses it with the negation “not” in the context of marriage or singleness. “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9, NIV). So absence of self-control can be contrasted with burning with sexual desire. The way to channel this desire is in marriage, if self-control without it is impossible. Remember that marriage is sacred, and there is nothing wrong with expressing sexual desire within this God-ordained institution (Heb. 13:4). If God calls you to singleness of a season (or a lifetime), then he will give you the power through the Spirit to control yourself.
Then Paul uses the verb in the context of an athlete who goes through strict training (1 Cor. 9:25). The application is that your body must be brought under control, making it your slave. You are not its slave; it is your slave. If not, you will be disqualified for the prize.
Finally, the adjective of the basic word is egkratēs (pronounced ehn-kray-tayss and used only once). It means “strong, stout, possessed of mastery, master of self” (Mounce, p. 1131). BDAG says, “pertaining to having one’s emotions, impulses, or desires under control, self-controlled, disciplined.”
Paul uses it once: “Rather, he [the elder] must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Tit. 1:8, NIV). It is interesting that the other word, self-controlled, in that verse is sōphrōn (pronounced soh-frohn and used 4 times). It means “prudent, thoughtful, self-controlled, chaste, modest” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8; 2:2, 5) (Shorter Lexicon). In any case, note how the adjective (egkratēs) is connected to the idea and practice of discipline. And that word in English is related to disciple.
What the New Testament Says
Let’s return to the noun, which is found in Gal. 5:23.
In Acts 24:25 Paul spoke privately with Governor Felix and his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. Paul preached faith in Christ Jesus. Felix liked that part. Then Paul started on the subjects of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come. Felix became afraid and dismissed him. “That’s enough for now! You may leave!” (v. 5, NIV). Yes, preach faith in Christ, but don’t neglect the disciplines that flow out of faith in him, when you preach to unbelievers. Are they willing to count the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33)? They need to know what they are getting themselves into. But if you pile on too much information, they will be scared off, so wisdom is needed case by case.
Finally, Peter builds a virtue list, one virtue coming from or added on the previous one. “Make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self–control; and to self–control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7, NIV). It is not clear (to me at least) how those virtues get added to the next one, except “self-control” to “perseverance” and “mutual love” and “love.” Perseverance means to hang on to your faith, and not to give up, and that virtue can flow out of self-control.
How does this post help me grow in Christ?
Some people seem naturally disciplined. They gravitate toward disciplinary religions, like extra-devout Judaism and its rituals and laws, or Buddhism and its self-denial, or Islam, with its prayer five times a day and long fast periods. But most people ignore the discipline required in those incomplete and short-sighted religions or ways of life.
In contrast, self-control has to come from the Spirit for most of us. The Christian believer has the indwelling Spirit of God himself living in him, and he helps him to produce the fruit of self-control.
Finally, as noted in the other posts in this series, the fruit of the Spirit should flow out of you, like grapes grow from the branches that are connected to the vine (John 15:1-8). Some teachers say that fruit comes from the vine without effort, and that’s true, but Jesus also said that every branch that does not bear fruit gets pruned, so that it may bear more (and better) fruit. The Father must prune you, or else your fruit will be substandard, sour maybe. Pruning can be painful, but it has to be done. The fruit of the Spirit needs his tending and divine management. Accept it from your loving Father; he knows what you need.
If Christians do not allow the Spirit to flow out of them, then they can come across as lazy, undisciplined, crass, out-of-control, gluttonous, sexually charged, and so on. They may be saved (let’s hope), but they need more of the Spirit. If they have their prayer language, they should use it, not let it fall into disuse. If they do not have their prayer language, then they can ask God for it. It is a wonderful gift from God himself. It empowers us to live a self-controlled life. Is it fool proof? Not for fools, but it helps the non-fools.
Self-control is a wonderful fruit, so I pray that I let the Spirit grow it in me more and more. How about you?