In Step with the Spirit
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
The call of the Scriptures to self-control is clear. Unless you’re just not looking, there’s really no way to miss or mistake this obvious expectation for our lives in Christ.
In the Scriptures, self-control is urged upon us as a mark of wisdom. (Proverbs 16:32; cf. 25:28) As I mentioned the other day, it is the capstone of the Spirit’s fruit in our lives. (Galatians 5:22-23) As such, it is to be expected of and obvious in the lives of those whom the Lord calls to lead His Church. (I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8) But not only are pastoral leaders expected to evidence self-control; no, it is also to be expected, it seems, of all disciples. (Titus 2:2, 5, 6, 12) Interestingly enough, self-control was even a significant subject in the testimony of the Apostle Paul as he shared the Gospel with the Caesarean governor, Felix, and his wife, Drusilla. (Acts 24:25)
There are, though, a couple of misconceptions that Christians often have concerning self-control. First, there’s the misconception that God’s desire is ultimately for the self to be the one actually in control of itself. But this is not so for followers of Jesus. For us, a truly self-controlled life is a life controlled by the Spirit of Jesus, which is to say not finally controlled by us at all.Second, there’s the misconception that self-control is actually about the self— that it’s only really about me making sure that I don’t overindulge myself, that I practice a bit of self-restraint, that I keep my composure, that I take care of myself and keep myself out of too much trouble.
The problem with this line of thinking is not so much that it’s just plain wrong but that it doesn’t go far enough. You see, if the Spirit is truly in control of our lives, then our lives aren’t being lived for our sakes but for the sake of others. This is seen perhaps most clearly in the direction and shape Paul expects of our lives as detailed in chapter 2 of his epistle to the Philippians. There, he envisions lives that are modeled after and lived in harmony with the self-giving life and death of Christ Jesus. Indeed, the sake of “the other” is expected to be the normal motivating principle within the local church (vv. 1-5, 12-14). Why? For the sake of the world, ultimately (vv. 15-16)! To be sure, according to the Apostle, the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and exalted Christ is the archetype of self-giving (vv. 6-11), but Timothy and Epaphroditus serve also as a couple of pretty good examples for the Philippians (vv. 19-30), as does Paul himself (vv. 17-18).
The Spirit always leads us outside of ourselves and into the lives of others. Notice, as I alluded the other day, that this is precisely the opposite of what we found (and experienced!) in the fall of Adam. He and his wife, Eve, took for themselves and thereby became self-serving, self-defending, and self-motivated. (Genesis 3:6-13) They took the fruit, noticed their nakedness, and hid themselves, but God came for them and called to them. To protect themselves, they hid, they cowered, and they shifted blame, but God in Christ has come to redeemed us, taking our blame into Himself and lifting us out of our brokenness.
His Spirit calls us out of hiding, out of the darkness— out of ourselves. And He calls us into the lives of others as He welcomes us into the light. As He gives us life in Christ, may we walk in step with Him, relinquishing control of ourselves to His gracious hand, following in trust as He leads us.