Dealing with Sin and Self-control
So far we’ve discussed a couple of ways to deal with sin. First, we can allow the Holy Spirit to change our desires, those things that lead us to temptation in the first place. Second, we dealt with the idea of limiting our opportunities for temptation. If we find ourselves in situations or places prone to lead us down inappropriate paths, we should avoid them.
Both of these are doable, but both take something many of us lack: self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 lays out fairly specifically for us what the life of a believer wholly walking with the Lord looks like when the fruit of the Spirit is evident in their lives. It reads:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.”
Immediately I feel simultaneously comforted and convicted. Comforted because I know self-control is a product of the Spirit and not my own fleshly power. This reassures me because I know the weakness of my own flesh, but I also know the power of the Holy Spirit. Suddenly I am encouraged. Not because somehow I think perfection is in my reach, but because the means to the driving force behind limiting sin in my life is already present with me; the Holy Spirit. I can do this! (there I go again … ) I mean, He can do this through me! That’s better.
More than begrudging submission
Self-control is more than simple begrudging submission and putting the flesh under control. It certainly is the latter, but far more than the former. True Spirit-driven self-control comes out of what theologians would call mortification. We subdue our own desires in order not to sin. We take thoughts captive, we repent of known sin, we tell ourselves No when we want to say Yes. The great news, I know I’m repeating but it’s that important, is that the Spirit is the One from whom the power flows to actually have this self-control. That is great news!
How can this be? Acts 2:38 tells us everyone who has received Jesus for the forgiveness of sins has received the Holy Spirit. Acts 5:32 reminds us that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God. This, my friend, is truly among the most fantastic news we have ever received. The only power in the universe able to fully subdue the flesh, sin, and temptation has been freely given to us as followers of Jesus.
That explains why the Word doesn’t balk when we are given instructions to be holy as He is holy. The Word knows our flesh can’t do it, but the Spirit can. The Word knows we have the ability through Him and holds the banner high for us to follow.
I can certainly say there are times when I feel weak; times when I know my flesh is failing. In these times I am thankful for Ephesians 3:16 as it assures me I’m not alone in the fight. It says:
“That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being.”
The strength and power that comes to my inner being, that deep part of me that only God sees, isn’t strengthened because I’m good. It isn’t strengthened because of anything I have or have not done, but because of the riches of His glory! It is all about Him and His desire to make me holy before Him. That is the source of all the power we need to change our desires, limit our opportunities, and find the self-control not to sin.
Even as I write these words I know perfection is out of my reach here on earth in this present age. I know there will be failures when I don't allow the Spirit to have control over my life. This saddens me, but these are the times I must lean on the love and tenderness of a kind and gentle Father. It is then I must find the courage of Psalm 51 to confess, repent, and repeat. Next time we will dig a bit further into the role of repentance in the life cycle of sin.