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  • Writer's picturePastor Jay Zahn

Fruitful Living ~ Self-Control

Call to Worship: Living it up. Excess. Wanton abandon. These are the things that capture

headlines and get made into movies. While such things seems like the spice of life, they’re

often the ingredients that wreak havoc and destroy lives. Self-control may not be flashy but it

is valuable. So valuable, in fact, that King Solomon says in the book of Proverbs that it is more important and more powerful than a king who can conquer many cities. Self-control is the focus of today’s service. More precisely, today’s worship directs us to the Holy Spirit who gives us what we need to live self-controlled lives.

Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Self-Control ~ August 18, 2019

Anyone here struggle with losing weight? For several years I’ve been making attempts to get

back to the weight I was at when I graduated from college. That was over 20 years ago and

well over 20 pounds ago. The struggle to lose weight can be caused by different things,

sometimes by things beyond one’s control. My struggle, though, is pretty straight-forward: I

want to weigh less, but I’m also finding that I want to eat what I like to eat. Unfortunately

what I like to eat is the single-greatest factor that has led to my need to lose weight in the first place! In an effort to increase my resolve, this past April, I signed up for a different kind of weight loss motivational program called HealthyWage. You bet on yourself and your ability to achieve a weight loss goal. I pay in a monthly amount and if I lose the weight that I’m betting I can, I’ll get my money back plus some prize money. If I don’t make it, I’m out the money I’ve been paying in. I’m about 4 ½ months in to the “bet” with 1 ½ months to go, and I still have along way to go on the scale!

The heart of this issue for me is deficient self-control. Self-control is the discipline of delaying

impulse or gratification for a greater purpose or cause. When we exercise self-control, we are saying “no” for the sake of a bigger and better “yes.” We are trading something in the here and now for something greater in the future.

By that definition, it seems like self-control shouldn’t be so hard. Saying “no” now in order to

obtain something better in the future seems like it should be something everyone would want

to do and gladly make the effort to do. I want to share a short of kids and marshmallows,

though, that documents the challenges of exercising self-control in real life:

While that video is entertaining, failures in self-control are actually very devastating. The loss

runs deeper than just the better outcome we’ve missed out in the future. The deeper damage

is the way we often treat ourselves in the aftermath of such failures. Disappoint in ourselves

can be debilitating. A feeling of self-loathing threatens to take over so that not only have we

experienced failure, we actually see ourselves as failures. And with each failure, we start

believing more and more that the possibility of accomplishing what we’ve set out to do isn’t

even possible.

These fallouts of failures in self-control reveal that self-control is a deeply spiritual issue. When we fail at self-control it hurts us all the way down to our souls. Realizing that, though, also reveals a key truth into what it takes to live a life of self-control. Are you ready for it? Here it is: To control your “self” you need to be under the Holy Spirit’s control! This is why self-control is included among the fruit of the Spirit, because to control your “self” you need to be under the Holy Spirit’s control!

But how can the ability to control oneself be the result of being controlled by someone else?

Let’s unpack that what this means. It means recognizing and admitting another truth about

ourselves. And what is that truth? The truth is that our desire and ability to control ourselves is summed up by 3 “f” words: fallen, feeble, and finite. We saw all three in the kids with the

marshmallows. To get more marshmallow, all these kids had to do was wait. As easy as that

seems, it also shows how the fallen nature wants what it wants and it wants it now! Even

though the reward for waiting would double what they were originally given, for some that

wasn’t enough to restrain them from digging in to what was in front of them. It reveals how

our natural self is feeble, caving to short-term pleasure even when it will cost us long-term

gain. Though the time of waiting was relatively short, it was still a wait. And with each passing second you could see and sense how willpower got weaker and weaker. That’s because even at our best our self-control is finite. The more energy expended to restrain ourselves the less energy that remains to keep our “self” under control. Fallen, feeble, and finite explain why it is such a universal human struggle to exercise self-control.

Though we don’t have what it takes to truly control ourselves from birth, the Holy Spirit

supplies us with the resources we need. Those resources come from Christ himself, and his

willpower. Jesus is the only whose self-control glorified God perfectly. Even in the face of

blatant temptation by the devil, who offered Jesus instant gratification, easy success, and

instant popularity by showing off great feats of faith (Luke 4:1-13), Jesus said “no” to every

temptation from Satan throughout his life.

Jesus exercised complete self-control so that he could free us from all the ways our own

failure to be self-controlled should have destroyed us permanently. Not only does he say “no”

to every one of Satan’s temptations, but he also says “yes” to His Father’s will in every

situation. That was true even when it meant he would suffer tremendously in the short-term

for doing so. For example, Christ refrained from calling for legions of angels to save Him from torture and death (Matthew 26:53-54). He resisted the call of the crowd at his crucifixion who promised to believe in him if he would just come down from the cross. Through it all, he

restrained himself from asserting his own will over against his Heavenly Father’s (Matthew

26:39), focusing his heart on eternal rewards, not just temporal relief. When it comes to selfcontrol, Jesus succeeded where we have failed. And he did it, not to shame us, but to save us.

This is what this means for you and me: When the Bible teaches that self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit, it is teaching us that Holy Spirit connects us to Christ and his willpower, producing self-control in us. That means, dear Christian, that you have the power of Christ himself available to you to resist temptation! Which is why it’s also important for us to see that though self-control is a gift we receive, it is a gift we are called to actively make use of. That’s what it means to be under the control of the Holy Spirit. It means our heart is directed by him, our will in sync with his.

What does that look like? It means what the Spirit directs us to do, we do and do willingly.

What the Spirit of God says are bad choices, it means we turn away from those choices and

gladly do so. With the many earthly blessings God gives us, the Spirit empowers us to practice moderation by drawing on Christ’s power to restrain our inborn desire to overdo or

overindulge on those things that are otherwise good. Yes, to control ourselves means being

under the control of the Holy Spirit and that means not only possessing the grace of selfcontrol but also embracing it, making use of it, growing in our ability and expertise in actually exercising this gift of God. When it comes to self-control, we are not the source, but we are intimately involved.

So how do we do this in practical terms? I’m not a perfect expert in this arena (something the

number on my bathroom scale daily reminds me!). Though, in the process, I’m learning some important things about what this means (as well as what it does not). To exercise self-control isn’t so much an effort in trying harder (which appeals to ego and self-sufficiency) as it is a daily call to confess the ways in which I’ve tried to do this on my own and fallen short while also finding comfort in the pardon for my failures in Christ’s forgiveness. This is huge because it diverts me from turning my energy against myself in a downward and destructive cycle of self-loathing that only results in further defeat. No, the pardon of Christ teaches me to say “no” to further destructive self-talk and to say “yes” to the fresh start that forgiveness

provides! That’s true not just at the start of a new year or even the start of a new day. Each

moment is a new one, graciously given by God’s Spirit to exercise the power of Christ given to me. Rather than dying in my own defeat, the Holy Spirit raises me up to live out the new life Christ gives me and the willpower he supplies to me. Also in this I need help, help that

frequently comes through transparent accountability with and gospel encouragement from my brothers and sisters in Christ. And I reinforce the exercise of self-control in my life as I develop specific strategies and develop good goals that bears out the Spirit’s presence and power at work in my heart.

I’d like you to think about all of this in a very personal and practical way. To help with that, I’d

like to wrap up this message with some questions for you to consider:

Where, in your own life, do you see the need for greater self-control?

What does this lead you to confess?

What kind of help do you need in order to more fully exercise the gift of self-control in this

area of your life?

What plans and practices will help reinforce the exercise of this gift in your life?

What fellow Christian will you share all of this with and ask them to help you by keeping you

accountable and providing you with ongoing Gospel encouragement?

To practice self-control we need to be under the Spirit’s control. Because we are people who

are under the Spirit’s control we also want to help and encourage each other grow in

exercising this precious gift the Spirit gives to each of us, the power of self-control. Amen

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