Chambersburg, PA
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

“Self-Control” Sermon Manuscript


Self-control is probably the easiest in this list of the fruit of the Spirit to define: self-control is the ability to control one’s self. It is the ability to restrain/subdue/properly direct our desires or passions.

Self-control isn’t merely knowing what you should or shouldn’t do – most of us generally speaking have a fairly good idea of what we should or shouldn’t do – yet we still don’t do what we should and we still do what we shouldn’t;

and so the problem isn’t that we don’t know what to do or not do, but that we need the strength to do what we know we should do; that we need the strength to resist what we know we should not do. We need self-control.

  1. Why do we need self-control?
  2. Where do we need self-control?
  3. How do we get self-control?

Because we have sinful desires.

In looking at the fruit of the Spirit, we have often first looked at the attribute as we see it in God, and then how we model that attribute after seeing it in him or receiving it from him – and so, we looked at God’s love and how we then are called to love in light of having received God’s love, in a manner which reflects God’s love; We looked at how God is the God who brings peace, and so how we should be people of peace who seek to make peace; we looked at how he is kind; God’s goodness; his patience, faithfulness, his gentleness; and how we then ought to be kind, good, patience, faithful, gentle.

But, we can’t quite do that with self-control – because God needs no self-control, because God has no disordered, misdirected, or sinful desires.

God does whatever he wants – and it is always good, right, true, glorious, and worthy of worship.

And, one day, for us it will be similar – everything we desire will be good and right and true – and we will need no self-control – in heaven in our glorified state, when our sinful nature is fully removed from us and sin is no longer present in us, when we are fully and perfectly renewed after the image of God – then, we can only want and desire what is good and right and glorifying to God and loving to neighbor.

But, for us, here and now and all throughout this life, it’s different.

If you ever were to take a ST class on the “doctrine of man”, you would learn 4 latin phrases which come from Augustine which summarize the four stages of human nature throughout the history of redemption:

  1. Able to sin, able not to sin
  2. Not able to not Sin
  3. Able to not Sin
  4. Not able to Sin
  1. Pre-Fall humanity was able to sin and able to not sin. (Good, with freedom to choose to obey God or disobey God).
  2. Post-Fall unredeemed humanity was not able to not sin. (please God; can do outwardly good things but not right things with right motive, manner, goal – love for God, according to his word, for his glory)
  3. Post-Fall redeemed humanity is able to not sin. (sin is still present in every part of us, but we are no longer totally unable to please God – we can in fact please him; turn from sin and do what is right, and choose obedience)
  4. Glorified humanity will be not able to sin.

In Christ, redeemed but not yet perfected; renewed but not yet glorified, we still sin; we still have the sinful nature that the new self in us, and the Spirit of God in us, is waging war against; and so we need self-control, because we have disordered, misdirected, and evil desires.

We have disordered desires. sometimes we want a good thing, but we want that good thing more than we want God himself – who is the ultimate fulfillment of all we desire; and then that good thing – when so elevated, becomes a bad thing because it replaces the best thing.

We have misdirected desires. Again, sometimes the object which we desire isn’t itself bad, but we want it in a way which God hasn’t ordained; in a way which he has forbidden according to his Word.

And, so those disordered and misdirected desires become evil desires: we desire sin – we desire what is against God, what is ungodly, what is evil.

For example: Since we’re talking about self-control, let’s pick a particularly suitable application: sex is a god-given desire; it is a good desire, created by God for good, given to us as a good gift – but reserved for the exclusive commitment of marriage between a man and woman. And, when that desire becomes disordered, then we want it above all else – even above God himself – and then we remove it from it’s proper place and seek after it in ways which he hasn’t ordained – we seek it outside of the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman – and in so desiring what is forbidden by God, we desire what is evil.

And self-control is necessary because we are at war with our own desires. We saw that right here in Galatians where the flesh – our sinful nature – is in conflict with the Spirit within us.

James 1:14-15 [14] But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. [15] Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

James 4:1-2 [1] What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? [2] You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

Ephesians 4:21-24 [21] [as] you were taught in him… [22] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Our desires are at war within us – And, so we need self-control.

A life of self-indulgence leads to a life of self-destruction. A life that is simply given over to lusts and passions is a life that will lead to self-destruction, and it is a life that will not seek God, will not reflect the character of God, and it is a life that will eventually find the judgment of God.

And so, we need self-control because we have a desire problem. And, we can’t stop desiring any more than we can stop breathing – ceasing desire is not one of the options available to us in solving our problem of desire; rather, we need self-control so that Christ and our love for Christ rules over our desires, rather than our desires ruling over us.

Without self-control we are in danger of letting our desires lead us down the road of spiritual destruction:

Proverbs 25:28 “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

A city’s walls were it’s defense, it’s protection, it’s security, without which it was left vulnerable to any danger that would seek to bring harm and steal it’s peace and prosperity.

This proverb is saying that self-control is what keeps you from danger, from being vulnerable to having your life and soul destroyed by sin; and self-control is needed because we are sinful people who live in a world filled with temptation. “Self control is the believer’s wall of defense against the sinful desires that wage war against his soul.”

Proverbs 16:32 “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.”

Think about the impressive strength it takes to take a city – the strength of self-control is more valuable than that. “The taking of a city is child’s play, compared with self-control… That is only the battle of a day. This, the weary, unceasing conflict of a life.”

1. Why do we need self-control?

2. Where do we need self-control?

We need self-control in the areas of life in which we experience temptation: self-control is the ability, the strength, to resist giving in to temptation.

Temptation itself is not sin; and self-control doesn’t mean we suddenly become people who don’t experience temptation – even strong temptation at times.

Self-control isn’t the lack of temptation, it’s the ability to resist giving into temptation – it’s not letting temptation tempt us to sin.

Temptation itself is not sin. How do we know that temptation is not sin?

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for forgiveness for our sins, and we ask for deliverance from temptation. sin requires forgiveness; temptation doesn’t; because while temptation leads us to sin, the experience of it isn’t sin.

As Hebrews 4: teaches us: “Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he was without sin.”

Jesus was tempted – and that experiencing of temptation did not make him in any way guilty or sinful or stained before God. It was no source of shame or disqualification or failure – it was simply part of the experience of being human in a fallen world.

Temptation isn’t sin. Maybe you think this is an obvious point that I shouldn’t be belaboring; but I think this is very important to understand for two reasons:

  1. Don’t feel guilty for experiencing temptation. If experiencing temptation; if being tempted to sin isn’t sin, then you don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed for it. Don’t feel guilty; rather, fight.
  2. Don’t give up. If you forget that temptation isn’t sin; if you think that you’ve sinned when you’ve only been tempted to sin, then you will feel like you’ve lost the battle before it’s begun! And, then what motivation will you have to keep fighting? Don’t give up; don’t feel guilty; but fight against the temptation; and flee from sin.

Flee –

The problem is, we tend to flirt with temptation: we push the boundary; we inch closer and closer instead of running in the other direction; but we forget that sin is there waiting seeking to devour us, and the closer we get to it, the more danger we put ourselves in.

Story of a man looking for a chaffer; interviews 3 candidates. challenged them, as a show of their skill, to show how close to the edge of a steep cliff each could drive.

1st drove within a 5 ft – pretty impressive

2nd drove within 3 ft – even better;

3rd stayed 60 ft away from the edge – not even close!

Which was hired?

The one who stayed far away from the danger.

2 Timothy 2:22 – “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness.”

1 Corinthians 10:14, right after he has said that God gives us a way out of temptation, he says, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

We’re called to flee temptation because sin is a deadly danger; yet too often we flirt with it -we think, “Oh, I can just get close to the edge and I’ll be ok;” and we only fool ourselves.

1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Temptation is common – common to all – universal: which means, You’re not alone in it;

And we all have certain things that are greater temptations for us than for others. And there are some things for some people that they will just have to stay far far away from and flee with all their strength all their lives because they are prone to be tempted in certain ways.

Everyone has a unique spiritual battle – and so we shouldn’t look down on others who are tempted in different ways than us, but we should seek to help them, support them, and not be a stumbling block towards them.

But whatever the differences from one person’s experience to the next, temptation is common to all, and so we aren’t alone in it – but we’re in good company;

1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

and it’s not impossible to endure. God gives a way out – God delivers us from temptation. He may not remove certain temptations from us – some temptations might linger throughout your entire life on this earth – but he gives us the opportunity to turn, and he gives us the strength to turn.

Perhaps you have felt tempted beyond what you can bear – but God is faithful; he provides a way out; in fact, often, the problem isn’t that God didn’t give us a way out, but that we didn’t want way out after way out, until finally it was too late.

2 specific areas of temptation:

contrast to works of flesh: drunkenness; orgies. 


Using alcohol is not a sin, but drunkenness is a sin. And so, there are many people who will choose to not use it for many reasons, among those, because of a tendency towards misuse and addiction.

Eph 5:18 – drunkenness set against being filled with Spirit. include addiction to any drug. 

Temptation like this may be with someone every day of their life; if this is your temptation, perhaps need to admit need for help & reach out for help.

sexual sin:

self-control means not that sexual desires are bad; rather it means not indulging our sexual desire whenever and in whatever way: Because God instructs us on the proper avenue for sexual desire: marriage between 1 man and 1 woman. 

Just like, in it’s proper setting, fire is good; but removed from it’s proper setting it quickly becomes harmful and deadly.

pornography – it used to be much harder to see pornography; but with the proliferation and accessibility of internet pornography – it’s harder to avoid it than to find it. And it is addictive, and it is harmful.

Pixels and photoshop don’t compare to God’s good gift; they may provide easy sex, but never fulfilling sex; and, if you give yourself to them they will steal from you the ability to find joy in God’s good gift.

When talking about lust, Jesus said that lusting in the heart is breaking the commandment against adultery. It is unfaithfulness to your spouse. And, he then said that if your eye hand causes you to sin, cut it off, for it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Of course, ultimately the problem isn’t one part of our body but our hearts – we need new hearts filled with the Spirit; but, that’s doesn’t negate other more practical applications of what Jesus is saying there:

Maybe we could paraphrase, or modernize, and say that it is better that you lose your smart phone; or home internet connection; or computer privacy; or social media app. You don’t actually need any of those things to life – they aren’t necessities and it might be worth considering if we’d have a more fulfilling life without them.

1. Why do we need self-control?

2. Where do we need self-control?

3. How do we get self-control?

3 things:

1) If problem is our disordered, misdirected, sinful desires, then we need a greater desire – a right desire – to rule our hearts.

Self-control comes from a desire to love and honor and glorify God above any thing else – he is our highest love and greatest desire; and so all our desires for other things are put in their proper place, they cease to be overinflated desires that turn things in this world from good gifts received with thanksgiving into idols – things which we look to to find our joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment in life.

Nothing in this whole creation will give you lasting joy, satisfaction, or fulfillment; nothing in this whole creation will give you deep joy, satisfaction, or fulfillment; nothing in this whole creation will give you real joy, satisfaction, or fulfillment. Only God will – and only a love for God and a seeking after God will enable you to keep other desires from becoming overinflated desires.

It will promise it; but like any addiction it will give you diminishing returns of satisfaction. Just like any addition – it will give you a burst of satisfaction at first, but that will diminish, and it will give you less and less each time, so that you have to go further and further into the sin – until you are ensnared in it.

But God gives deep satisfaction; lasting satisfaction; real satisfaction. And, finding our satisfaction in him enables us to enjoy the good gifts of this creation instead of trying to elevate them to be something they never can be.

2) Dependence.

If problem is our disordered, misdirected, sinful desires, and our weakness against them, then we need strength.

We need the Spirit of God. Nothing less than the Spirit of God can give us the strength that we need to fight the battle – the spiritual battle – the lifelong conflict between flesh and Spirit – old self and new self – sin and righteousness – you cannot fight this fight on your own, in your own strength. You do not have the strength within yourself to do it; and so we need to be turning to God in acknowledgment of our own weakness, and in dependence upon him for his strengthening. We need to pray for the Spirit’s help; we need God’s word and to reflect upon his love to strengthen us; and we need to walk with the Spirit – to cooperate with it’s working in our lives by seeking after God in obedience to him.

3) We need to fight. We need to be engaged in the battle. We need to remember that being dependent does not exclude discipline; that finding strength outside of our own strength doesn’t exclude exerting ourselves in the fight – because that’s how we make use of the strength of the Spirit of God in us.

Now, as we talk about self-control, very possibly we might be reminded of our failures – past or present: and so we need to remember the reality of forgiveness.

But, at the same time, we need to take seriously our role in turning away from sin and resisting temptation.

I think one of the most unhelpful things that I hear a lot of nowadays is the denigration of “effort”, or “discipline” or “duty”. 

When I was younger in my faith, at some point somewhere I got the idea that I shouldn’t exert effort or try to have will-power – but rather that if I just believed all the right things about Jesus and knew all the right things about myself, then sin will magically suddenly be unappealing to me and it will be easy to resist; That if I just love Jesus enough, then I won’t need to try to resist sin – that’s a lie, and a false expectation that will be deadly.

Because I’m convinced that we will not grow in resisting temptation without effort – without a degree of resolving to not sin – without being careful and circumspect about how we walk, and watching our lives closely, and striving after righteousness.

What about the kind of warfare described in Hebrews 12:4 “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” – probably talking specifically about martyrdom, but generally speaking: this describes the fight against sin as a fight to the death – and I’m often afraid that we have lost that attitude.

Now, “self-effort” will prove to be in vain – because we don’t have the strength in ourselves; but it’s the “self” part, not the “effort” part, that needs to be jettisoned.

The fruit of the Spirit is not a comprehensive list of Christian character traits; it doesn’t replace the moral law / 10 commandments; and it’s not the only virtue-list in the NT; probably some of them were chosen based on the context and Paul’s knowledge of the Galatian Church; but nevertheless it does provide us with an important picture of what life in the Spirit looks like; and, I think you – I hope you – can agree that this is a picture that requires supernatural change and strength – it can’t be accomplished by us ourselves in our own strength.

And, so meditation on the fruits of the Spirit shows us what we are to strive towards in the Christian Life – it shows us what our lives are to look like as Christians; but at the same time, it teaches us dependence; it teaches us our utter need for the Spirit of God in our lives, and our desperate need to look to the Spirit, depend upon the spirit, ask the Spirit of God for help and strengthening and increasing transformation – and for us to cooperate with the Spirit by walking in obedience and devotion to God and striving after the righteousness that the Spirit is bringing about in our lives.