But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control–Galatians 5:22-23
Lately, I have been thinking about Paul’s last descriptor of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives, self-control. I don’t really like that one. Maybe it is because it sometimes seems out of place with regard to the rest of the descriptors. More than likely, however, it is the character trait that seems most underdeveloped in my life. Perhaps those who know me well would suggest that all of them are equally underdeveloped. Part of the reason I don’t like the notion of self-control, at least as I have historically understood it is that, more than the other descriptors, I have come to believe that self-control is entirely dependent upon me. The way I have interpreted Paul’s words is that self-control is developed through sheer force of will. At face value, “self” means me and “control” means the ability to follow through on my intention. More crudely, I have interpreted this as “Jason, get your @#@!! together!” Maybe you have had the same struggle.
But I have found myself asking, what if I am starting from the wrong premise? What if self-control is not about trying to force my will into compliance? What if God is not waiting for me to stop sinning? What if instead, Paul was saying that my true identity in the Spirit already encompasses all of these things? In fact, in the context of the whole letter, I believe that is exactly what Paul was saying. Paul reminds us that we were already set free and we were called to lives of freedom. When you are gritting your teeth and trying to will yourself to behave, do you feel free? I know that I don’t.
What would change if instead of looking at Paul’s descriptors of a fruitful life as a list of dos and don’ts, we began to understand that those traits are already present and growing in us? How would we live differently if we began to think about being self-controlled as living from our true selves, from our core identity as God’s beloved children? I know that for me, when the message that I am already fully loved by God penetrates my heart, I am more able to relax into my true self. And from that place, those things like patience, love, and gentleness begin to emerge, not only toward others, but toward myself as well.