In what way is self-control a fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Galatians 5:22-23 is one of the most popular passages in the Bible. It lists the "fruit of the Spirit." Two things should be mentioned. "Fruit" here does not mean apples, bananas, or mangos. In fact, despite the long list of attributes, "fruit" doesn't refer to individual items. It refers to a general outcome or result. The result of the Holy Spirit working in a person's life is love, joy, and all the rest. The second thing to note is that these are the results of the Holy Spirit. They are not the product of hard work or self-improvement. We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit, but it is still the Holy Spirit doing the work in us.
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Self-control as a fruit of the Spirit is a bit of a paradox. How can the ability to control oneself be the result of being controlled by someone else? There is a (false) theory that humans do not have free will. It starts with materialism—the belief that all that exists in the universe is matter and energy. There is no God, soul, spirit, thought, or will. Everything we do is predetermined by influences beyond our control. Some of those influences are primarily internal, linked to our being (a tall person will be less likely to wash dishes because he will have to stoop to reach the sink), and some are external (someone who uses paper plates will be less likely to wash dishes because there are no dishes to wash). Most of these influences are tiny, yet they culminate to make behavior so complex that it appears random. To the casual observer, we are acting on our own will. But, if all factors could be known, our actions are determined by the interaction of our physical selves with the outside world. Hence (according to the theory), there is no free will.
The Bible teaches that, in a certain sense, the unbeliever has no free will. There are influences beyond his control. Unbelievers are "slaves to sin" (Romans 6:16-20). Our sinful nature "predetermines" us to choose selfish, harmful behaviors, and our fallen world aids the process. Without Christ, we are not free to completely release our thoughts and actions from sinful influences and simply choose what is good.
That's where the Holy Spirit comes in. As He works in a believer's life, the fruit, or result, is that the believer is able to pull away from the determinant of the sinful nature and make a truly independent choice. That is the first step of self-control.
The freed self then has choices to make, and he finds that the range of choices has broadened. Instead of choosing one sin over another, the new man in Christ can make choices based on love for God and rooted in the wisdom of God.
A decision made in the freedom of self-control will do that it can to ensure future freedom. Whenever we follow unhealthy appetites or society's lies, we limit our options in the future. A sinful act is another step down a dead-end road; the more steps we take, the harder it gets to make an independent choice in the future.
We are best served and even freest when we use our self-control to submit to Christ. His word brings life. Christ allows us to be what we were designed to be, to display the glory we were created with. His Spirit produces self-control in us, the ability to say "no" to fleshly lusts and live in moderation and wise constraint. Indulging in sin enslaves and destroys us. Self-control frees us to live for Christ.
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