The Protective Wall of Self-Control

I’ve struggled with my weight, and have prayed to God countless times for Him to give me more self-control. I have always viewed this as some kind of “willpower,” and if I could just have more of it, I’d be skinny! Alas, that has not happened. Instead, through the grace of God, He has shown me a much deeper, richer understanding of what it means to have the ‘fruit of self-control’, and it certainly is not about willpower! 

The implications of the fruit of the Spirit of self-control are fascinating! But first, let’s recall that there are the 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit, listed one right after the other (Gal. 5:22-23.):

  1. Love
  2. Joy
  3. Peace
  4. Long-suffering
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness
  8. Gentleness
  9. Self-control

Self-control implies that we have desires we should control instead of satisfy; that there are some impulses which should either be engaged in moderately or not at all. In the Biblical context, 2 Peter 1:6 references self-control within God’s blessing, suggesting that we need to actively add things to our lives in order to grow spiritually: to faith, add knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, patience… ending with love being added to all. 

Peter mentions that if these things are in us and growing, they will be useful and productive in our knowledge. But if these things are not added to our lives, then Peter says we won’t see clearly—that we are blind and have forgotten that we’re made clean from our past sins.

In Galatians 5:1, Paul speaks of the freedom found in Christ: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Paul was addressing the newly converted Jews, who were used to the Old Testament Law and all it entailed. Paul says that now the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (v6). Further on, Paul says: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love,” (v13). Then Paul encourages us to “walk by the Spirit,” not by the Law.

Soul State

The spirit is our ‘soul-state’ – motivations that come from within. In contrast, the Law symbolizes things we do to look good, or to ‘be right’, on the outside. God is more interested in what is going on within us, because from within, all things flow outwardly.

Right before the list of the spiritual fruits, Paul tells us how to know if we’re “walking by the Spirit”—by what we don’t do: the acts of the flesh. These fleshly acts are: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions; and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Gal. 5:19-21). Directly after this, Paul goes on to speak of things we should do, showing we have ‘Spirit-led’ lives: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The last in this list is self-control. 

It is of no coincidence that self-control is the last in the list. Nothing about the Bible is ever random. Everything has a purpose to it, and through prayer and contemplation, the Spirit can reveal the deeper meaning and purpose to everything in the Word.

So, why is the fruit of self-control listed last? 

Protective Wall

In Proverbs 25:28, it says: “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” 

Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls

Back in Biblical times, cities would be fortified by men building walls around them to protect against invaders and enemies. Without walls, a city would be vulnerable to attack and possibly destroyed. If the city walls were broken through, the invading armies would defeat that city, taking it under their control, or completely ruining the city after the invaders had pillaged all the precious goods, slaves, livestock, food, etc., and then often lighting the city on fire. 

The metaphor here implies that self-control is like a city wall. Without self-control, like those ancient cities, we too can be vulnerable to attack and end up ruined; a broken spirit. So, just as ancient cities couldn’t do without intact walls, humans can’t function well without an intact spirit.

What happens when we lose self-control? We don’t have to look far in the Bible to see who ended up in ruins for lack of self-control. In Genesis 25, the story of twin brothers emerges. Esau was the first born, and thus, was due to inherit the traditional birthright. Yet Jacob was born with his hand holding Esau’s heel (some foreshadowing going on there). Later as grown men, after a long day out in the field, Esau came in exhausted and very hungry. Jacob had been cooking stew, and Esau basically sells his birthright to Jacob over bread and lentil stew… simply because he was hungry. Esau didn’t exhibit self-control but let his appetite control him. 

“Esau’s character is portrayed as that of a careless, shallow man, living from hand to mouth, and paying no regard to things of higher or spiritual significance. It is this trait which is referred to in Hebrews 12:16, “or profane person as Esau, who for one mess of meat sold his own birthright.” The privilege of the birthright was counted as sacred in the social life of the early Israelites. The birthright was Esau’s by God’s gift, not by his own merit. Hence it symbolized eternal blessing. Esau’s repudiation of the unseen and intangible, for the sake of immediate self-gratification, is the symbol of a large proportion of human sin and thoughtlessness.” 

– Cambridge Bible School & College commentary.

Christ, our model

In contrast, to look to one who exhibits self-control best is to examine the character of Jesus Christ. Consider the most challenging aspect of His earthly existence: the arrest, trial and crucifixion. During that ordeal, Jesus was the perfect example of one who showed self-control. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he laid down His life for us, not answering the mockers, not responding to the charges made against Him. He knew what must be done, and He did it with self-control. He could have called down enormous powers at any time against His enemies, but instead Jesus exercised self-control throughout His earthly ministry. 

In the End Times, Paul warns us in 2 Timothy 3:3 that people will be “without self-control.” I think we see much of that happening today. A large portion of the population seeks immediate gratification with little consideration to the “unseen and intangible” things of God. They’ve lost their anchor to the truth, and without that guidance, are being tossed about like ships on a raging sea. 

As Christians, it is important to remember that without self-control, your spirit can be vulnerable to ruin. But when we call on the name of the Lord, He will save us, as He is the “Master Builder.” He can help us repair and fortify our “city walls;” to build something spiritually that will withstand attacks. 

Jesus expects us to remain in Him and bear much fruit (John 15:4, 8). Through the Holy Spirit, as we are yielded to Him, He can certainly help us develop the fruit of self-control. We need His help to build and sustains us, just as He does with all of creation. Since God’s supreme power established the foundations of the earth (Prov. 3:19; 8:30), He can certainly help build the walls of self-control. 

It’s not about “willpower” but God’s power working through us.


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