Peter writes about self-control (temperance) that is to be evident in the life of someone who gives all diligence to add virtue to his faith, and grows to love. (2 Peter 1:6-7) And when Paul describes what the fruit of the Spirit is, he mentions self-control as a part of this fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Is self-control just suppressing the vices and tendencies in our nature that we know to be sin? It is obvious that the self-control that is meant here is not something that a person either can or shall achieve on his own. Neither is it something on the level of abstaining from outward things.
This self-control which Peter describes leads us into the fear of God, into a life before God’s face. Already in the old covenant we have been given wise counsel concerning a life of confidence in God. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding … Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil …” Proverbs 3:5-7. Now the Spirit wants to lead us on the way that Jesus has opened, a way of complete freedom from sin, to do God’s will instead of our own will. Then it becomes natural that we no longer rely on our own ideas and insight.
Jesus Himself had the ear of a disciple that was awakened every morning by God Himself. On that basis He testified as follows, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do …” John 5:19. Then the Spirit has truly worked “self-control” so that it is godly fear that decides our thoughts, words, and deeds. This kind of self-control closes the door to that which comes from the flesh and to that which comes from the soul – both our own and the others’. It doesn’t just put an end to bad deeds, but also our own deeds that quite often are actually well-intentioned.
There were many circumstances in which Paul, on the basis of human wisdom and discernment, could easily have said something and intervened. It is fascinating to read his testimony concerning his life of self-control, spiritual poverty, and godly fear. The fact that someone becomes richer and richer in God, at the same time becoming poorer in himself, and that such a person can at the same time, in spite of everything, act with firmness and power, that is a life that no natural person can comprehend or understand.
Johan O. Smith once wrote, “In order for Christ to rule as Head one must know nothing, understand nothing, and judge nothing until the One to whom all judgment has been given makes His will known. We become insignificant and must bear the cross of insignificance. For those who think they know something, this is indeed a hard cross to bear! Thus soulishness is put out of action, and poverty of spirit takes its place. Christ is then the Head, with my ‘clever brain’ serving merely as a receiver for Jesus Christ, the High Priest. We know nothing, possess nothing, and can undertake nothing. My works disappear, and God’s works come to light.”
Can the self-control that leads us into the life of God be described more clearly than this? It leads us into a life in which we constantly, here and now before God’s face, hear His Word and discover the works that He gives to us.
Let this occupy your mind and my mind, especially in connection with our everyday life.
This article was first published in Norwegian in BCC’s periodical “Skjulte Skatter” (“Hidden Treasures”) in October 2015, with the title “Temperance – Godly fear.”
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