We are in a super important teaching series on Sundays called Playbook. We are looking at the eight plays of Jesus, called the Beatitudes. We have to execute these plays if we want to become more like Jesus.
They are hard. Poor in spirit is the utter need and dependence on God. Mourning is deep sorrow over our sin that leads to repentance and change. Meekness is surrendering our control over to God. And we have five challenging ones to go. I can’t wait until we consider “pure in heart.”
The spiritual life is and always will be a struggle. Even as we start to put the Beatitudes into play, we discover that we have to find new and deeper ways to live them out as we mature toward being Christlike. We never “graduate” from the struggle until we graduate into heaven. Daily, we are reminded of how deep our pride and sin go. It’s normal. We all struggle. No one is exempt.
Last fall, we looked at the fruit of the Spirit. We are to rely on the Spirit to develop our character to be like Jesus. But it’s a struggle because our flesh is weak, and it’s those weaknesses where we are tempted. There is a never-ending battle between our flesh (our tendency toward sin) and the Spirit. That’s why Paul writes:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. Galatians 5:16-17
Take some time to read all of Romans chapter 7. The great Apostle Paul, who God used to write the majority of our New Testament, struggled. Look at what this great saint said about his spiritual battle:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)
Any of us could have and have voiced this. There’s not a day that passes that I don’t face how wretched, prideful, and sinful I am.
In the last six weeks, God has gently helped me realize how deep my pride still goes. There’s still so much selfishness that controls my life. I feel helpless to overcome it. I hate how it manifests itself and damages me and those I interact with. I want to change. Is there any hope for me and for you? Yes. Here’s how Paul answers that question:
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 struggle will never end, but growth toward being more like Jesus is possible by the power of God’s Spirit transforming us. Don’t give up. Stay in the battle. It’s worth it.
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.