by Leroy Barber
(Editor’s note: This is the 8th in a 9-part series on The Fruit of the Spirit & Evangelism, based on Galatians 5:22-23.)
I find it fascinating that in Galatians 5 Paul is talking to the church about freedom but that he ends up going through a list of what we call the “Fruit of the Spirit.” The direction for this new church, which is a Gentile church, is not to be circumcised because that would obligate one to the law. A law that could obviously not be kept.
Paul then lists the things that we naturally practice which are works of the flesh. There seems to be a call beyond these fleshly works that offers freedom through the spirit. These are an alternative to help prod us to embrace life.
I am very intrigued by the fruit of self-control. The images we see around us want us portray the lack of control as being freeing. I think of a few popular television shows where main characters lose themselves in the moment, making losing control admirable. Whether it is sexual desire or an unnecessary purchase, the message seems to suggest that the loss of control is only natural and understandable.
Have you ever wondered how this verse in Galatians 5 about self-control applies to us? It seems to indicate that if the Spirit is within us then we are able to have self-control. I have seen, as I’m sure you have as well, many Christians fall to lack of self-control. I have witnessed leaders ruining their marriages and ministries through infidelity, for example.
When we witness this lack of control, does this mean the Spirit is not present? Although the Spirit is available to us, we don’t always use this power. A battle of sorts is being waged within. Our affections and passions lose restraint and we find ourselves out of control. This may feel like “freedom” for a little while, but eventually this lack of control catches up to us, and we’re in bondage to the consequences. Losing control in real life doesn’t play out like it does on television or in the movies. People find themselves hurt and relationships are broken.
I remember when my children were younger and I was trying to teach them about self-control. The concept is difficult for adults to get let alone children to understand. Therefore, the way I explained it to them was, “If you don’t control yourself, someone else will.”
Think about it. When we lose control of ourselves, we give ourselves over to something—whether it be an object or another person, we are handing ourselves over to it. For example, by not controlling our spending, we put ourselves into the hands of credit card companies and lenders. When we fail to control our sexual urges, we fall into broken relationships and families. By allowing impulses to control us, freedom is lost and accountability becomes a burden instead of a place of growth. There is a difference in having to do something and experiencing it freely.
Scripture is clear that when we exhibit self-control, freedom is gained. We are able to have financial freedom that comes when we control our spending. We have the freedom to love and be loved when we are controlled in our marriage relationships. We can experience the freedom to serve the kingdom, freedom to free others. As I think about the world today and all the challenges to know freedom, I am certain that the ability to control ourselves as an expression of the Spirit is a beautiful gift.
Leroy Barber (@leroybarber) is global executive director of Word Made Flesh and serves on the boards of Mission Year, Simple Way, the Evangelical Environment Network, and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). He is the author of New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community andEveryday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World. His third book,Red, Yellow, Black and White: Who’s More Precious In His Sight? will be released in the fall of 2014.