The Christmas season is here! And for many, the tagline of Christmas was first declared by an army of angels before some bewildered shepherds. This heavenly chorus said:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14).
This theme is picked up in the famous Christmas carol – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. The song’s refrain is: Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!
Peace. It’s a dream of this special time of the year. It’s something we all long for. It’s something the world desperately needs!
Last week I read this verse; it’s a blessing. I love this blessing. I encourage you to read this repeatedly. It’s found in Romans 15:13 –
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
That’s the blessing I wish for you now and every day of the year. May God’s Spirit fill you with joy and peace. And that joy and peace are available to us to the extent that we trust him. It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that hope can overflow that arises from joy and peace.
Peace is also part of the fruit of the Spirit. It’s the Spirit who produces peace in us. Don’t you want to experience God’s Spirit creating his peace in you? Join us this Sunday as we look carefully at another fruit of the Spirit – peace.
We are continuing our teaching series called Manifest. We are looking at nine qualities called the fruit of the Spirit. One of those character traits that the Spirit wants to manifest in us I’ll cover in this blog; it’s self-control. I’ve never met a person who didn’t want or need more self-control. We want to better control our words, our thoughts, or our screen time. We want to control our urge to laziness or lack of discipline. We want to control our addictions that are not limited to alcohol or drugs but include shopping, spending, gaming, or food.
The Greek word used in Galatians 5:22-23 to express this literally means “inner strength.” It’s an inner strength of character that helps us rule or control our desires. Trust, or waiting on God, renews an inner strength that allows us to control our thoughts and actions.
We live in a culture that highly values freedom. We want to be free from any constraints or limitations. We want to do what we want to do. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do. We want to be free from controls. That’s especially true here with our western independent spirit.
But taken to an extreme, an uncontrolled life without limits results in sexual freedom that leads to sexual immorality. It results in unrestrained words expressed in anger on our screens. It results in a culture that struggles with all kinds of gluttony. Gluttony is the biblical world for consumption. We are tempted to be consumers without limits. We want, buy, eat, drink and consume without limits. And, I don’t have to highlight the price we pay for our lack of self-control. The lack of self-control results in our unhealthy emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual conditions. But the bottom line is this: a life without limits or controls will never be able to reflect Jesus or even allow Jesus to have control over our lives.
Here’s a promise. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13. This is a verse to memorize! It states the plain fact that you and I will be tempted. We’ll be tempted to look at porn or hold a lingering gaze at someone who looks hot. We’ll be tempted to eat the wrong kinds and amounts of food. We’ll be tempted to take shortcuts. We’ll be tempted to just unload on someone.
But when we are tempted, God is always present. He’ll help us. He’ll provide the inner sense and strength to say no. But that’s only if we want it and are looking for a way out. Inner strength or self-control is a fruit of the Spirit! He can help us say “no” when we need to say no or “yes” when we need to say yes. Self-control looks for the way out of the temptation and then chooses to take the way out.
So how does self-control play out practically? It starts by seeking how God’s Spirit wants you to live. If we know we are going into a situation or season where we’ll likely be tempted, we seek the wisdom and help of the Spirit. We acknowledge our weaknesses and admit those things that can trigger us. We set rules in advance to guide our behavior. Often the Spirit will guide us to involve others so that we don’t face our challenge alone or in isolation. Self-control believes and looks for a way to manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Ask the Spirit to give you the gift of self-control.
My wife and I hiked and climbed Mt. Langley in California when we were in our prime. The peak is just over 14,000 feet high, almost 3 miles. At the top, we watched fighter jets flying below us! Altitude sickness is common at these heights. The air is thinner, and the oxygen is sparse. We call this rare air. Few get to experience the world at these levels.
We are in a series called Manifest, and we are talking about characteristics that are rare air in our world today. We are looking at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. These qualities are truly rare in our world. They are even rare among those who call themselves Christians. We don’t find many folks who are consistently at peace or experience joy. The social media, cable news, and talk radio worlds are devoid of kindness and gentleness. Who do you know anyone that claims to be patient? Where do you find goodness and faithfulness in abundance? And love… lots of folks talk about it and sing about it, but who practices it in the everyday moments of life? The fruit of the Spirit is rare air. Why?
I’ve been so personally challenged by the study and reflection I’ve done over the last several months as I’ve been preparing for this series. My first observation has been this: I’ve been more aware of the fruit of the Spirit and simultaneously aware of how I fail to practice these. Whether it’s with my granddaughter or other leaders in our church, I’ve seen how I’ve not been patient, kind, or gentle. How do I become love so I can give more love? How do I become joyful and peaceful regardless of the circumstances? How do I practice self-control when it comes to my worldly desires? I have to invite the Spirit to have a greater influence in my life.
My second observation has been how hard it is to see the fruit of the Spirit mature in me. I want to invite the Spirit to do his transforming work. That’s why Paul commands that we walk with the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, live by the Spirit, and keep step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 18, 25).
We all face a spiritual struggle. It’s a daily struggle for me. The Bible calls it the struggle of the flesh versus the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). The flesh is all those desires, appetites, and passions that come from self – that part of us that wants to protect, comfort, and promote ourselves. It’s the selfish part of you and me – what I think I want, need, desire, and deserve. It’s powerful. It rules much of our lives. It’s usually contrary to and in conflict with the will of God.
How do we deal with our selfish self? Paul says we have to kill it – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24-25).
The antidote to the power of our selfish flesh is the power of the Spirit of God. God can transform us. In the same passage, Paul describes what the Spirit can and wants to produce in our lives – Love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul calls these the fruit of the Spirit. They are the product of living and keeping in step with the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit are, in essence, the character of Jesus that God wants to produce in us.
That’s why we started a new teaching series last week called Manifest. If you missed the introduction to the series, you can watch it here. We call this series Manifest because the word “manifest” means to display, show and make clear. God wants to manifest the character of Jesus in us – the fruit of the Spirit.
Spiritual fruit will be manifested in us if God is living in us! The fruit is a godly character and the actions that flow from being like Jesus. I love how Jesus describes how this works in John 15:1-8. Jesus uses a metaphor and says he’s the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in him and stay connected, then we will produce fruit. But if, as branches, we are disconnected from him (the vine), then not only will we not produce fruit, but we’ll be pruned because of our lack of fruit.
Jesus makes it clear that we can’t produce anything like the fruit of the Spirit on our own. We can’t create that kind of character. Willpower isn’t enough. We need to stay connected to the Spirit of God. So, how do we do that? We do that by practicing the same things Jesus did while he was in the flesh. He regularly prayed. He relied on the truth of God’s Word. He fasted. Why? He needed to live and be led by the Spirit.