Opening Prayer: Oh Lord Help Us!! It is so easy for us to get distracted from what is Your best for us. It is so easy to get drawn away by our own passions & dreams. Open our eyes, help us to see Your will, and help us to have the courage to do what You ask. Amen!
INTRODUCTION: I have a confession to make. As I sat down to work on this lesson on Thursday I found myself, several times, being distracted - by the time these first few sentences were being formed I'd already been pulled away by multiple other things... so what was going on? Honestly, I was struggling with self-control. I could blame it on the fact that I had a cold and my thinking was muddled, but that's just an excuse. I could explain that I'd been asked by a friend to create a custom charm for her to use along with her own handmade items, but that's just trying to justify myself... The real truth of the matter is that SELF was in the way!!
PRINCIPLE: The Spiritual Fruit of Self-Control comes by letting God have Control
What did I do that finally got me back on track? I confessed my own inability, and asked God for His enabling. After all I was sick & struggling, I felt a little overwhelmed, and desperately needed God's help.
I. Self-Centered or God-Centered
The Greek for what we translate as "Self-Control" is En Kratos (a single compound word in the Greek), which carries the meaning of Inner-Strength, being in control of one's life, or taking responsibility. What I found interesting is that the word "Self", with all its current connotations, isn't in the original Greek. I wonder if by calling this "Self-Control" we don't get the wrong concept, as if it is dependent upon our own strength.
I don't know about you, but without thinking hard I could list 3-4 areas of my life where I struggle with Self-Control - one that is obvious to those who have known me over the years has to do with food. I love to eat, I have a hard time loosing weight, and I hate to diet. I hate that I have this struggle, and I have given this struggle to the Lord time & again. I get angry at myself, sometimes I get angry with God for giving me a body that loves to pack on the pounds & hates to loose them, and many times because of this struggle I feel ashamed & guilty. Does God care about my physical body? Yes! But I believe He cares more about my heart, my mind, my soul... Why do I feel ashamed & guilty? Because I know it represents a personal failure on my part.
Why did I share about this? Because when it comes to my physical weight I am the one in control of many aspects - in control of what I eat, in control of exercise. But when it comes to this Spiritual Fruit of Self-Control that's a different thing, that's less about what I am able to control & more about what I hand over to God to be placed under His control. It is about Submission to God & Obedience to His ways, as we lay our lives down the Holy Spirit is able to do a work in and through us.
I don't like the translation "Self-Controlled" because it feels like it's all about me, about focusing on myself, as if by my own ability I can somehow obtain it - and I know that I cannot, that if & when I try to "pull myself up by my bootstraps" I fail miserably. In truth, focusing on myself just makes me Self-Centered, resulting in my attempts to be "Self-Controlled" being more about looking good to others (to man) rather than being of any use to God. I desire to be more God-Centered, I think that as I become more God-Centered that this Fruit of En Kratos will grow to maturity in me.
Romans 8:13: "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live."
PRINCIPLE: The Fruit of Self-Control grows out of Self-Sacrifice
God is glorified when we willingly lay down our own wants, desires, and agendas; instead becoming focused on His. What is God prompting you to let go of in order to bring Glory to Him? It may be that He is asking you to let go of what you're clinging to in order to replace it with something much better, something that advances His Kingdom. Are you missing out on God's blessings because you are clinging to something that is hindering His work in your life?
II. Where the Wind Blows
Do you ever have one of those days when it seems like everything is competing for your attention, though you know you need to remain focused? As I continued to work on this lesson it felt like there were forces at work trying to knock me off track, and this is a danger we face - especially when seeking to serve the Lord.
Ephesians 4:14 says regarding the mature in faith: "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming."
That maturing in the faith, that growing in Inner Strength, that is the Holy Spirit at work in us. This is the maturity that boasts in God rather than in self, that understands that without God we are nothing. This mature faith is the faith that moves from being tossed by the waves, to one that is moving in step with the Spirit.
John 3:8: "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
We must intentionally choose the way of the Holy Spirit, day by day, moment by moment. I want my life to be one as described by John, others may not understand where God is moving me - but it is God doing the moving.
PRINCIPLE: A Self-Controlled life is one that lives Intentionally for God
We either choose to be like the wind in that we're moved by the Spirit, or we'll end up being blown here & there by the winds of the world.
III. Finding Freedom by Choosing Bondage
It seems absurd to say we can be free by choosing to be bound, but when the bondage we choose is bondage to Christ (as Paul describes in Romans 1:1) then freedom is ours.
John 8: 34-36 tells us that by virtue of being sinners we are enslaved to sin; however, that if we are set free by the Son (Jesus) we are completely free.
Again I am speaking about choices, choices both large and small. Our first and most important choice is the choice of taking Christ as our Lord & Savior. From that point on our lives involve daily choices, choosing daily to live for Him - and we can only do this with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 7:6: "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."
You see, we are going to be in bondage to something - either to Sin or to the Spirit. When we choose sin we are in bondage to it & it is a destructive force, but we have been given the Spirit of God to help us to remain free from that bondage & instead be bound to Christ, to bear His yoke - this is constructive.
I wonder if Bob Dylan had any idea how on target he was when he sang "well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but your gonna have to serve somebody". We can choose to be enslaved to sin, living in the destruction that it brings, or we can ask God to control our lives - living in the freedom He brings.
Galatians 5:1: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
Jesus died for us to have freedom from the slavery of sin, for us to experience an abundant life now, to know that joy of living for God. This wasn't meant to be just another way for us to attempt (and fail) to follow the rules - mankind had already failed miserably at keeping the Law. This was meant to be a life lived with the help of the Holy Spirit, submitting to God & leaning on His help to live a life that is beautiful and meaningful, a life that is profitable for His Kingdom.
In Luke 9:23-24 Jesus tells us "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it."
PRINCIPLE: When God is in Control we are Truly Free
I have noticed that when I am certain I am right where God wants me, doing precisely what He wants from me, that I am light-hearted - even when the situation is dire. There is something so freeing about knowing that you're right where you should be. I have heard an expression something like this: "you can be in or out of prison and be a prisoner - or you can be in or out of prison and be free", its a matter of the heart.
CONCLUSION: I don't know about you, but my life is much better when God is in control than when I am in control!! What do I want? I want En Kratos, the Inner Strength that comes when my life is laid down so that God is in control.
Closing Prayer: Oh Lord Help Us!! As we learn more about Self-Control we are made all the more aware of how little we have, and that what we have is dependent on You. Strengthen us in our weakness, so that our lives might bring glory to You! Amen!