The Fruit of the Spirit: Self Control

Sharon Sampson

Have you ever heard people say, I just can’t help myself!? We live in a culture where we often blame shift – to other people, to our circumstances, or to some aspect of ourselves which we think provides an excuse for our lack of self-control. Consider the things we often hear people say when they have sinned: My spouse makes me so angry. I had a difficult past. It’s that time of the month. The list could go on. Often, we are quick to sympathize, perhaps because we want them to sympathize when we think we can’t help ourselves.

The Webster’s American Family Dictionary defines self-control as “restraint of oneself or one’s actions, feelings, etc.” This definition is an interesting contrast to the idea people are unable to control themselves. So, can we control ourselves or not? And how should we respond to ourselves and others when such restraint does not happen?


In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam commands to orient his life and family. “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). The command was clear, but Satan came along and tempted Eve. She reached out her hand and chose the forbidden fruit.

We then see the original blame shifters at work: the woman blamed the serpent, and the man blamed God. This sin thus left all mankind in a state of guilt, lacking righteousness, and corrupt in his whole nature (WSC #18). 

In our state of sin, we have no ability for self-control, and all such efforts are merely external and behavioral. When we are dead in our sins, our primary need is not for better self-control but for a new heart, a new nature. The unbeliever must repent and believe. We must always point others to Christ, not just to better behavior.


Scripture, however, calls us to this fruit. Paul spoke often about self-control, including when he stood before Felix to speak of Christ (Acts 24:24). Paul even addressed specific groups of people, calling them all to self-control: the overseers of God’s flock (1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:8); the older men (Titus 2:2); the older women (Titus 2:3), the younger men (Titus 2:6), and the young women (1 Tim. 2:9). That pretty much covers everyone!

The calling to this fruit is important and is for our good. In Proverbs we learn, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (25:28). This is a picture of no safety, no protection. We need to be self-controlled and alert, because the devil, “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We need not fear, however, since the devil flees when we submit ourselves to God (James 4:7).

We must also remember the benefits are not merely temporal, as Christians exercise self-control to obtain an imperishable crown which lasts forever (1 Cor. 9:25).


When unbelievers say they can’t control themselves, ultimately, they cannot – for they have no power to do so. But Paul reminds us that grace not only brings salvation but also trains us to live self-controlled live (2 Tim. 2:11). God has given Christians a spirit of self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). This means the ability to control oneself comes from the Spirit by which we now live and in which we now walk (Gal. 5:25).

The Apostle Peter agrees, reminding us it is God’s divine power which has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, and he calls us to make every effort to live self-controlled lives (2 Pet. 1:3-6).


Praise be to God we are not left alone in our temptations. God is faithful. He does not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to endure, and he also provides a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). With the help of the Spirit’s power working in us, the same power that raised Christ from the dead, let us reach out our hands and choose this fruit – the fruit of self-control.

Sharon L. Sampson holds an MTS with a biblical counseling concentration from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. She is a certified biblical counselor and is an active member of the Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. She has been married to her wonderful husband, Mark, since 1985, and they have one married daughter.


Sharon Sampson