Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control through the Love of Christ

June 10, 2024 Jennifer Gross

My preschool-aged daughter sat on the ground, wailing. We had been at the playground for hours, but now it was time to go. Her little friends had left with no drama other than some whining, but my kid’s piercing shrieks drew appalled stares from other parents and their better-behaved children.

My face flushed with embarrassment. I took some deep breaths and calmly said, “I know you don’t want to go, but it’s time. Let’s go. Time to get in the car. Come on.” Over and over, I said some variation of these phrases as I picked her up—still screaming—and carried her to the car. She kept screaming as I buckled her into her car seat, closed the door, and started driving home. I distracted myself with as much humor as I could muster, thinking a lung capacity like hers might mean a future career as an opera singer.

Strength and Love

Mothering a child who had frequent meltdowns tested my self-control in ways I never anticipated. My daughter’s overwhelming emotions often threatened to overwhelm me too. But I knew that meeting her anger and fear with my own would not help her. Loving my anxious, volatile child meant modeling the self-control that I wanted her to learn.

Self-control, the last of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul names in Galatians 5:22–23, undergirds and strengthens all the others.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Exerting control over our negative impulses, feelings, and temptations makes it possible to relate to others with patience, kindness, gentleness, and love.

Loving others requires us to do what’s best for them, over and above our own desires and preferences. Self-control keeps us faithful to our spouses rather than pursuing every wayward spark of attraction. Self-control gets up in the middle of the night to comfort a nightmare-plagued child. Self-control forgives a friend, even if her thoughtless words still rankle. Self-control bites its tongue, takes cleansing breaths, and refuses to be goaded into jealousy, lust, angry outbursts, malice, or any number of sinful attitudes and actions. Self-control allows us to love others as God loves us.

It Takes Practice

Self-control and self-discipline are two sides of the same coin. Self-control restrains our negative impulses. Self-discipline takes positive action. Both include mastering our own feelings and actions for the good of others.

Romans 12: 1–2 gives us a positive description of self-discipline:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

God wants both our bodies and minds to be devoted to His will. Praying and reading Scripture regularly, participating in Communion and the life of the local church, and taking care of our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being are all part of a self-disciplined life.

Classic spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, solitude, fasting, Sabbath, Bible memorization and meditation, serving, and tithing—when practiced regularly—can orient our lives around God’s love and grace rather than our own ambitions and desires. These positive habits keep us open to the Holy Spirit’s transforming work and train us in the sacrificial living that Jesus perfectly embodied.

Not My Will

Before Jesus went to the cross, He faced down His own strong emotions in a picture of self-control. At Gethsemane, Jesus said His soul was “sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). Luke says Jesus was “in agony” and describes the intensity of Jesus’s feelings as causing His sweat to become “like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). All three Synoptic Gospels recount Jesus’ prayer in similar words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

Jesus did not desire to suffer and die, but there was any other way to secure our salvation. Before Jesus was crucified for us, He crucified His own natural desire to avoid a humiliating, painful death. He exerted His perfect self-control to pray “not My will, but Yours, be done,” (Luke 22:42). When the soldiers came, Jesus surrendered to them and to the Father’s will.

Jesus made the choice to lay down His life for us (John 10:18) and held to that choice even when confronted with sorrow, fear, and agony. Likewise, the Holy Spirit empowers us to make the choice to love in the face of our own and others’ sorrow, fear, anger, and agony.

The fruit of the Spirit starts in love and ends in self-control, which itself is only made possible by looking beyond ourselves to the great love of Jesus, who suffered, died, and was raised to life for our sake. Self-control turns away from darkness and looks to the light of Jesus for the strength to love well.

Scripture: ESV®.


203995-2Each session in Golden Fruit focuses on one characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit and considers how the life and story of one of nine biblical women conveys that characteristic. Start studying self-control and more by clicking below.

Grow in the Holy Spirit


Read More in the Fruit of the Spirit Series

Gentleness Bends

Faithfulness Perseveres in Love

Goodness Grows

Kindness Gets Its Hands Dirty

Patience Trusts

Peace Lets Go

Joy Overflows

Love Comes First

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