Self Control: Legalism or Freedom?

The study material for our small group meeting this week addressed the limited amount of regard our culture holds for the ability to control one’s own desires, actions and responses. I tend to be one who can collect pearls of wisdom from such studies. I just have trouble applying what I learn! While preparing for this particular study I began to view the author’s ideas as walking a fine line along the slippery slope of legalism. However, after careful consideration, I began to change my attitude toward the material in question.

The author pointed out several “weaknesses” he harbored to what I would consider morally good or, at the very least, neutral entities. I did not interpret these items to be elevated to the point of being an idol. On the contrary, they were almost trivial in nature. For example, let’s say you found it was extremely important that you have a Starbucks Caffe Americano to get your day going. In fact, if you don’t have your morning treat you feel less than complete.

The point of the author was there may be some benefit in exercising self control in saying “no” to our Americano every once and awhile. This is the point where your common sense is probably interjecting similarly to mine. How can a Caffe Americano be bad? Well, I don’t think that is author’s point. The heart of the issue is this; when is the last time you said no to yourself?

There is little argument our culture encourages instant gratification. Convenience has become a commodity. A product which promises convenience will outperform the sales of a similar, less convenient product. As we witnessed in the recent experience of hiring a new head coach for the Missouri men’s basketball team, even bad communication is instant! There were more tweets and retweets of outright misinformation than I thought humanly possible.

When our author calls us to “practice” self control, he is implying we would benefit from conditioning ourselves in lesser things in an effort to prepare our hearts to be disciplined in greater things. Self control is depicted in scripture as a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) along with the likes of love, joy, peace, gentleness and kindness. Isn’t it interesting that something “self” oriented is granted by the gift of the spirit living in us? In a sense, the task at hand is giving the spirit room to control the self, not training ourselves to control the self.

Legalism is defined as the judging of conduct in terms of strict adherence to precise laws. Self control, when led by the spirit, resembles more the freeing of ourselves from the chains of selfish desires and reactions of the flesh. Conditioning self control in otherwise trivial matters affords us a chance to stop and actually listen to the still small voice of the spirit within us. If we become more familiar with the sound of that voice, we may fair better in the face of greater temptation.

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