What does it mean to master yourself? I’ve read books on self-help and 12-step programs, and none of them really say anything concrete. Because I have a fascination with Japanese culture, I’ve also read a book called the Code of the Samurai, which is a modern-day translation of the Bushido Shoshinshu, a guidebook per se for samurai to study. And while many religions promote self-mastery, none of them really explain how or why.
Some say meditation is how to achieve it. Others say service to others is how to do achieve it. Some even promote self-mutilation to a point. But if you read the Bible, you’ll discover that true self mastery doesn’t come from something that you do; it comes from the inside.
Today’s verses Galatians 5:22-23.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Throughout May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, and today’s focus is on self-control. In other translations, it’s called temperance. To be honest, I always thought this word meant that a sign of the Holy Spirit in your life meant that you didn’t drink alcohol. But that’s not what the word itself (ἐγκράτεια) actually means. In this context, the word means “true mastery from within” and can only be achieved by the Holy Spirit. And that tells me that we can work all we want to establish good habits, and we should. But when it comes down to mastering ourselves, it takes a power stronger than we are to do it.
Have you ever started to do something you know you shouldn’t do and heard that nagging little voice at the back of your head? It’s the voice that tells you to stop what you’re doing because you’ll be sorry. It’s a still, small, quiet thing, and it’s easy to ignore, at least until you do the thing you’re not supposed to do and the consequences catch up to you. Then, you remember the voice. That’s the way it works with me. I don’t remember that I could have said no until I’m past the point of no return.
I think listening to the Holy Spirit takes practice, like building good habits. None of us are born with good habits. Discipline doesn’t just happen overnight. You have to work to achieve it. Painters don’t wake up creating masterpieces. Musicians aren’t born. And writing a novel doesn’t just happen. Just like building a car or losing weight, achieving anything of significance takes design and planning and dedicated effort and focus.
But listening to the Holy Spirit takes something else: Trust.
You have to trust that when He tells you not to do something, it’s for your own good. You have to trust that the things you think will make you happy actually will just make your life complicated. You have to trust Him.
Once you have the Holy Spirit in your life, God begins to change you from the inside out. Suddenly, the things that seemed so important yesterday don’t matter as much today. The pleasures and successes of today don’t seem to be as vital as storing up treasures in heaven. And when you come face to face with temptation, there’s something inside you that gives you the courage and the strength to fight. That’s not an accident. That’s the Holy Spirit. That’s the Fruit of the Spirit showing up in your life as a result of you choosing to accept Christ.
And while it’s a good idea to build healthy habits, sometimes you just have to rely on God to help you through those moments that you’re too weak to handle on your own. You can’t master yourself without God’s help, not truly. True mastery means that every aspect of who you are–every aspect–is under control. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who have every aspect of their lives under control.
Health gurus are in great physical shape, but their emotional, mental, or spiritual life is a mess. Spiritual people sometimes aren’t healthy. Yes, I’m generalizing, but you get my point.
I truly believe that part of Spirit-led self-control is balance. It’s not overly focusing on one area of your life. It’s letting God into all of them. It’s doing what Jesus would do in every situation, not just the ones you want to get His advice on. I’m talking every situation, ranging from “Would Jesus help that little old lady carry her groceries?” to “Would Jesus eat a second bowl of ice cream?” Maybe that’s sacrilegious, but who are we to say that the details of our lives don’t matter to God? It’s often the details that trip me up, so if I want God in any part of my life, it’s in the details.
So if you want to achieve true mastery of yourself, stop reading the 12-step books or following the latest fad diets or whatever your particular issue is. The best way to get control of yourself is to get to know Jesus better. Let Him become your best friend. Study how He lived, pattern your life after His, and have conversations with Him about everything. Maybe you think that sounds funny, but I guarantee you aren’t talking to yourself. If you know HIm, He’s listening. And He always answers. Maybe not in the way you expect, but He never fails.