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See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. – Galatians 6:11-18

Natural Bridge Arkansas | October 2021

We had a rule in our home when I was young. When we would come in the front door, we had to say, “Me!” We had to announce ourselves because otherwise someone would have to jump up from their seat and attend to the customer who had come in. I grew up in a mom-and-pop motel, and the front desk was right next to our living quarters. Customers meant potential income, and when someone other than a family member would come in, our livelihood depended on attending to them. When it was one of the family members, we didn’t need to jump to attention. Sometimes it is important to know who is who.

For an entirely different reason Paul is letting people know it’s really him writing to the people in Galatia. He’s taking off the table the idea that someone is putting forth ideas claiming to be his. No, these are not someone else’s ideas. Paul himself is putting forward these teachings. And this is important because Paul is not just a church leader, but a missionary who has given his life for the sake of the gospel and the eternal salvation of the people of Galatia. 

In the early days of the Christian church, questions about what is true about God, salvation, and the Christian life were not easily satisfied. There was no Bible (other than the Old Testament) to which people could appeal. And the Old Testament had been fulfilled, and the Old Testament Law was no longer the final authority. The teachings of Jesus were. The Apostles were the final source of authority about life, faith, and salvation. And Paul – though not one of the 12 – was highly esteemed. He would become a source of inspiration and direction for the early church. 

As he is all in for Jesus and the people of Galatia. They knew that. So now as Paul speaks to them about the challenges of the circumcision party, he wants them to know it’s really him. They can listen to him. They can believe him. 

None of us today have the gravitas of Paul. But surely there are some for whom we hold sway. It may be a son who knows you love him. It might be a coworker who knows you’ve always had her back. It might be a neighbor that you’ve helped many times. But unless we’re willing to claim it’s “me” with the hopes that people will appreciate our good intent for them and our commitment to God’s truth, we’ll not have the impact we otherwise might. When you send an email or text, hopefully those who receive it will recognize your commitment to truth and love for them. 

For your personal edification and reflection on this Lord’s Day…

Psalm 21:13
Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.

Psalm 51:1-13
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.

Psalm 81:1-3
Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
Raise a song; sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our feast day.

Psalm 111:1-3
Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the LORD,
studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.

Psalm 141:1-2
O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me!
Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:1-10

Arkansas Natural Bridge Museum #2 | October 2021

There are three situations in my life that I yearn for justice. Two are financial. One is in the area of human relations. I’ll not go on a march seeking it. They are not the “No Justice No Peace” kinds of things. But I would love to have the financial scales balanced. And I pray for the human relation to be set right. Most often we think of justice as a matter of balanced scales. Good weighing equally on both sides of the equation.

But here I see three ways beyond balanced scales that justice is reflected by God’s people. Justice from the perspective of God is far more than balanced scales. In fact the notion starts with righteousness, which is a matter of faith. Genesis 15:6 is not a one-off. We are counted righteous by faith. And here we have faith expressing itself in three dimensions. 

  • Humility and willing to help others 
  • Willingness to carry our own load
  • Persevering in doing good 

All of this is sustained by those who teach about God’s justice. This also reminds me of Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Naturally, if everyone lived by these values and behaviors, all of life would be better. In fact the three areas of my life for which I wish justice would be resolved. But the results of this kind of justice are more far-reaching. These values touch far more than balancing the scales of right and wrong. 

I thank God for all those who through the years have taught me the word of God, pointing to me the essential foundation of God’s grace in Jesus, opening my eyes to the significance of God’s reign and rule in Jesus – a gracious reign and rule of faith – that shows itself in a life of humility, kindness, and true justice. We learn of this in the life of Jesus, and are recipients of his justice through faith. While we flinch and falter in our quest, he did not ever do so. And he is our justice, our righteousness, our salvation, and source of humility and lovingkindness…through faith. 

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:1-10

Arkansas Natural Bridge Museum | October 2021

Tom needed a job. But he couldn’t even get an interview. Meanwhile Mary managed to land not only an interview, but a lucrative offer with a solid company – the kind of company every college graduate yearns to work for. It wasn’t her looks. It wasn’t even her brains that got her the job. It was her connections…but her brains didn’t hurt her chances either. Tom, however, didn’t give up. Speaking to one of his friends about the situation he said, “I just don’t want to go hat-in-hand to Mary or anyone to ask for help with my job search. I want to earn this on my own.”

That’s when his friend offered a simple observation, “Isn’t that what friends are for? Wouldn’t you be willing to help Mary if your situation was changed?” The light went on and Tom called Mary. The next week he had three interviews scheduled. Friends came to his aid, and it was a good thing.

As Paul is writing to the Galatian Christians, I don’t think he had job searches in mind. But certainly the idea of “doing good to all people – especially those who are in the family of faith” would include such help. More likely it applied in Paul’s day to basic necessities of life: food, shelter, hospitality, and the warmth of human kindness. Sometimes it might have been a matter of life or death. It would also certainly include helping someone stay on the pathway of faith. 

It is very easy to opt out of helping people in need. Take your pick: too busy. Too tired. Too poor. Too inept. Not really sure what is needed. Maybe sometimes we just don’t care for that brother or sister in need. Maybe even within the family of faith there are those we’d just as soon ignore. 

But the walk of faith is fraught with distractions, temptations, challenges, and missteps. If we think we can go it alone, we’re dangerously mistaken. And if we think others don’t need our help to stay on the straight and narrow, we’re just plain wrong. 

Tom and Mary are fictitious persons. But they’s are real as the Aggie network here in Texas or the good old boys clubs in cities around the country, or the sororities and fraternities that rush the brightest and best. Those can all be good networks to have. They can also be exclusivist in nature. 

Our calling as Jesus followers is to do good to all people, and especially fellow believers. Never, however, does this call for us to close our hearts to anyone in need.   

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.– Galatians 6:1-3

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. – Romans 12:3

Birds at Sunset | South Padre Island, Texas | September 2021

Maybe you heard about the man who was growing more and more frustrated by the flight delays on day. There was a long line of people waiting to get re-ticketed, or told their fate. The man barges all the way to the front of the line, self-importance displayed in arrogant bluster, and says, “Don’t you know who I am?!?” 

The airline agent calmly takes the PA microphone off its hook and announces, “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. There is a man here who does not know who he is. Can someone please help him?” 

OK, maybe it’s a joke. But wouldn’t you like to see someone put in his place like that? Wouldn’t it be great if the bully was rendered powerless? Self-importance is such a dangerous cloak. 

I’ve watched a few episodes of Undercover Boss and have been impressed with the show’s premise. The CEO of a company goes to work as a low-level employee. He works as a pizza maker. She takes on the job of maintenance worker. They learn how life really is. They discover what it means to be one who does not have a private limo at their disposal, or a personal assistant, or even a prime parking spot. They serve along side common folk. They become not too important to help someone else.

We might think of the need to help a stranded motorist. The opportunity to pick up litter comes to mind. Any time we might need to help someone out of a bind brings with it also the chance to think, I don’t want to get my hands dirty with that issue. 

But helping people out of the mire is dirty business. Mike Rowe-averse folks need not apply. Yes it is a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it. I’m thinking of helping someone caught in the web of drug use or addictions of any kind. And in the helping may also be a temptation.

When I was in college I worked at my parent’s motel. One particularly memorable time came when “the man in room 22” (it was a small motel!) went on an alcoholic binge. He would order booze from a liquor store, have it sent by taxi to his room and drink one bottle after another. Finally we decided to intervene. I went with another friend and talked with him about the situation. We even prayed with him. A day later he had cleaned up completely and was sober and out. There was little temptation on my part to take any of his liquor. But it might open the door for some. 

Helping people can be messy. In fact Jesus got really messy when he helped us out. Obviously when he suffered and died it was a brutal mess. But even before that – early on and throughout his ministry he got messy. He consorted with tax collectors and sinners. He ate with prostitutes and people of questionable character. For that he got less respect. He was accused of improper relationships. Bad fellowship. But he changed people’s lives by becoming involved. 

We’re certainly not more important than Jesus! And we’ve been saved. Forgiven. Redeemed. Made new. 

Not everyone can go into every sinful and dark corner of the world. Women may well help other women gain their freedom from human trafficking. Men may do well to avoid those places. But wherever women or men are willing to be less important than they have a right to be, they can have a huge impact in other’s lives. 

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.– Galatians 6:1-3

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  – James 2:14-16

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:34-40

Pelican at Sunset | South Padre Island, Texas | September 2021

It was an easy carry, listening to my friend. He’s got a tale of woes and seemed really to need an ear. Maybe you’ve done that for someone. A friend loses a loved one, and you call, and share, and listen. A co-worker loses her job and you meet up for lunch and commiserate. You might even remind her of some of the garbage she had to put up with (and that you still do). A cousin needs help moving and you lend your back to the task. Your dad is in the hospital and you go relieve your mom so she can get some rest. A brother in Christ is in the hospital and you go visit him. 

These are the kinds of things we do to fulfill the law of Christ. Jesus spoke of such things in his teaching about the sheep and the goats. These are not profound sacrifices. We’re not talking about giving your car to a down-and-out dad, or paying some poor college student’s tuition. But sometimes…

I can share one time (though, sadly, there are many many I could point to) that I didn’t want to do the simplest of things. I didn’t want to visit someone in the hospital. After a long and frustrating drive, a futile trip to the wrong hospital, an additional drive through crowded city streets, and a long elevator ride to the 9th floor, I walked into her room.

Her response shamed me. “Oh Pastor Bahn! I’m so glad to see you. Thank you for coming to visit me.” 

I like to set up young men who are in pre-marital counseling with a question based on Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” I ask them, “If someone were to threaten your sweetheart you would stand in their way, wouldn’t you?” “Of course I would,” is always the answer. “Please remember that when she asks you for the smaller acts of love, like taking a walk, listening to her when she wants to talk, cleaning up after yourself, or doing your share of the housework.” 

Sometimes the littler things are more difficult to do than the big challenges. But we fulfill the law of Christ when we do the little things just as well as when we do the heroic ones. 

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:1-10

Humming Bird | Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, Texas | September 2021

They weren’t that expensive. Not really that beautiful. Not worth getting overly exercised about. But there they weren’t. An empty spot on the sidewalk where they should have been. One on each side of the doorway into the church. How galling! How rude. How completely hubristic! Stealing concrete planters from the church. Throwing aside the plants that were previously in them. I’m not sure I can fathom what possessed someone to see them, decide that they were valuable enough to steal, and then to walk up the 40 feet of the sidewalk to dump out the plants and carry the planters away. 

But I remember vividly what I did next. We replace the concrete planters with new ones. They were also stolen! So when we put out the third set, I made a label on the bottom, “Be not deceived. God cannot be mocked.” The newest planters remained. I guess the thieves didn’t really need a third pair. It’s obvious they didn’t read my label. Nonetheless, it’s true. God is not mocked. 

I’d like to think I never mock God. I’d like to believe I have a strong enough conscience that I won’t blatantly disregard God’s laws or wantonly transgress against his commands. I’d like to believe that. Most Jesus followers would wish never to mock God. Most would avoid serious transgression. Few need to be restored from an entanglement to sin that requires outside help and intervention. 

But some do. Just last week I learned of a church worker who had to resign his position because of moral failure. He apparently succumbed to temptation – not once but four times. Four times he crossed the line. Four times he went down a path that required intervention. Sadly, though helped (and the help, love, and care continues for this man – thanks be to God!), he is now set aside from his ministry. 

Whether or not our church body’s zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct is right, that is the policy. And while this is not to say he is outside the grace of God, it is a severe consequence for his actions. 

We’d like to think we’d never do such a thing. And perhaps few Jesus followers actually do cross the line. But if James 2:10 means anything, it serves as a reminder that in fact, “there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And we all need help once in a while. 

Sometimes that help takes the form of sever intervention. Hopefully more often we intervene before drastic action is needed. But the purpose in every such intervention is to restore the sister or brother to the faith and fellowship of the redeemed. And that’s the thing we must all remember: ours is a fellowship of the redeemed. We stand on level ground at the foot of the cross.

For your personal meditation and edification on this Lord’s Day

Psalm 14:1-3

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good.

The Lordlooks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,[a]
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.

Psalm 44:1-3

O God, we have heard with our ears,
    our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
    in the days of old:
you with your own hand drove out the nations,
    but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
    but them you set free;
for not by their own sword did they win the land,
    nor did their own arm save them,
but your right hand and your arm,
    and the light of your face,
    for you delighted in them.

Psalm 74:20-21

Have regard for the covenant,
    for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
21 Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
    let the poor and needy praise your name.

Psalm 104:1-4

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
    O Lordmy God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
    covering yourself with light as with a garment,
    stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
    he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
    his ministers a flaming fire.

Psalm 134

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
    and bless the Lord!

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth!

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:22-24 

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. – Galatians 5:16-18

Willet | Gulf Coast, South Padre Island, Texas | September 2021

Every hill is steeper. Every climb is longer. Such was my assessment of my first 18 months as Senior Pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas. I say this not to complain or criticize. I say it to express a challenge we all face from time to time. Things we think ought to be a snap all too often become a huge challenge. Little hills we think we can easily climb become mountains. I keep telling Diane, “It’s hard being me.” Maybe you can relate.

When it comes to self-control, or the display of any of the fruit of the Spirit, we encounter that same problem. We have a handle on a peaceful heart one moment. The next, we’re blowing our stack at some idiot in front of us on the highway! Oops. Sorry. She’s not an idiot. She’s a single mom who had to drop off the kids at school. Now she’s late and will lose her job if she doesn’t get to work on time. One minute we are filled with joy. The next moment your team fails to score a single run. The World Series is over. There is no joy in Mudville. 

Why can’t we be more steadily filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Why do we fall off the wagon into doubt, distress, and derision? The classical answer is that we have a three-fold enemy of all that God wants to accomplish in our hearts and lives. The devil, the world, and the flesh conspire against the grace, love, goodness, mercy, and ways of God. But the devil has been defeated, Jesus has overcome the world, and we are new creations in Christ. Why is there still a battle? 

The devil is defeated, but like the serpent he is, he continues to writhe. He is still somehow a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. The world is all around us. And the one who has overcome the world (John 14) prayed that the Father not take us out of the world. We’re in it. 

And in spite of our best efforts the sinful flesh clings. I’ve seen people try to explain away this reality, saying silly things like, “a converted person does not sin.” What!?! 1 John 1:8-10 lays that idea to rest. Others try to claim that we have no hope or even a need to resist the devil. But James tells us to resist the devil, and promises that he will flee from us (James 4:7).

The difficulty we have in keeping on the straight and narrow and consistently displaying the fruit of the Spirit, and being distressed about this is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our hearts and lives. If we did not have the Holy Spirit. We wouldn’t care. But we do care. And we are distressed when we discover we’ve forfeited the fruit of the Spirit in any situation. Thanks be to God that Jesus welcomes us back. And we can pray with David, “take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation,” whenever we sin. That, too, is the Spirit’s work. And it is not too difficult for God.

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:22-24 

Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. – Proverbs 25:28

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Dragonfly | Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, Texas | September 2021

And the walls come a tumblin’ down. Those words come from the song about Joshua at the battle of Jericho. Seven times the army of Israel had circled the city. Finally they blew their trumpets. All this was at the command of God. Unlikely battle tactics. An opportunity for the enemy to ridicule Joshua and his people. Fertile ground for grumbling on the part of the people Joshua was leading. Did it seem to be an exercise in futility to many? But when the trumpets blew, the walls came down. And when the walls come down there is access to the city. Victory for Israel. Destruction and defeat for Jericho. 

I believe self-control is the wall that prevents us from giving in to anger, bullying, doubt, evil, discord, depression, and hatred. Self-control stand sentinel against the loss of the fruit of the Spirit. For while it is named last, it has the honor of being the first line of defense against Satan’s schemes.

Consider Jesus as he faces the devil in the wilderness. It’s been 40 days without food. No doubt he is extremely hungry. Satan’s ploy: entice Jesus to use his powers to turn stones into bread. There’s nothing evil about feeding yourself. There’s nothing wrong with ending a fast. But the stakes are much higher. Will Jesus listen to Satan or to God? Will he use his powers for his own sake or for the sake of others? 

Jesus does not give in. He controls himself and seeks the sustenance of God’s word by which we truly live. 

Someone provokes you to anger. You can lash out at him. Yell. Plot revenge. Curse him. Perhaps even get even by returning his provocation in double proportion. Or you can exercise self-control and pray for him, rest your heart in God’s mercy and love, and seek the peace that passes understanding. 

You are tempted to pad your expense account, add hours to your billing, say you worked when you didn’t. You can do that, but you damage your soul in the process – selling your proper birthright for a pot of porridge (cf. Genesis 25:29-34). Or you can recognize the grave danger of gaining the whole world and forfeiting your soul (Matthew 16:26). Self control helps you keep your soul, your being, your essence, your youness.

Recent study of the brain helps here. Researchers have discovered that under pressure the thinking, reflecting, and creative part of the brain receives less blood supply. The lower part of the brain – that which is reactive and self-preserving – lights up with activity. Self-control, humanly-speaking is a matter of accessing the higher-thinking parts of the brain. It’s a matter of getting beyond self-preservation. 

To some extent, therefore, self-control is a human process. So how is it a fruit of the Spirit? Self-control is a result of the Holy Spirit’s presence and influence. It is also a means by which we keep from giving in to the deeds of the flesh. It’s the result and a means. 

Those apart from Christ may have great storehouses of self-control. They may train harder, focus more intently on the task ahead, or manage their anger better than others. But apart from Christ and the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit they will not know true peace. Love will never be fully experienced. Joy will be momentary. Patience will have no God-factor. Gentleness will have nothing to do with faith. 

Those who have the Holy Spirit, have Christ, and with him the truest expression of these gifts. Self-control helps us display that reality from a heart set free by the One who has ransomed our souls from the wanton abandonment of God’s ways.