Self-Control Requires Letting Go

In this life we will never reach the place where we are perfectly satisfied with ourselves. In fact, the more we grow in likeness to Jesus, the more conscious we will become of our many continuing imperfections.

In Romans 8:4, Paul introduced his readers to the idea of living by following the Spirit instead of following our sinful nature. This is a vital concept to grasp. Let’s look now at what Paul meant by following the Spirit.

Focus on what the Spirit desires

This is what it means to “follow the Spirit.” It is to be in step with the Spirit—to follow his lead and remain under his control. If you are a believer, he is already in you for the purpose of leading and lovingly controlling you. Paul wrote:

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting the sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) (8:5–9).

According to Paul, then, every person is either under the control of the Spirit or under the control of the old nature—either on the road that leads to life and peace or on the road that leads to death. Walking in step with the Spirit, therefore, means living with him as the One who is in control of our lives.

This raises a problem. Many of us who belong to Christ have a lifestyle that does not always appear to be under the control of the Holy Spirit. If we received Jesus as our Savior, our bodies became temples of the Holy Spirit (1 corinthians 6:19). We are grateful to be delivered from the tyranny of sin and death. However, we continue to have problems—with ourselves. Some of our old ways still keep us from being what we know we ought to be. So how do we live under the Spirit’s control? How do we stop doing what we don’t want to do?

Consciously yield to the Spirit

Paul addressed this issue many times. Again and again he stressed the matter of fully yielding ourselves to God. He did so when he urged us to consider ourselves as dead to our old way of life and to offer every part of our lives to God (Romans 6:11–14). He said we must remember that we are under new management—that we were once “slaves of sin” but have been set free and are now “slaves to righteous living” (6:15–23). When Paul told the Ephesians not to get drunk with wine, but to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), he echoed this same theme: Yield to the Holy Spirit; consciously and continually give him control of every area of life. As we do this, the fruit of the Spirit will become evident in us. Our lives will be marked by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).

In this life we will never reach the place where we are perfectly satisfied with ourselves. In fact, the more we grow in likeness to Jesus, the more conscious we will become of our many continuing imperfections. But our imperfect way will end in victory. Our bodies, mere “tents” that so often fail, will one day be replaced by glorified bodies completely under the Spirit’s control. Paul said:

And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you (8:10–11).

Living in step with the Spirit is walking on the path to life and peace—temporarily on earth, forever in heaven. 

Will God help us overcome the failures we experience every day?

Conscious of our weaknesses, inconsistencies, and repeated failures, we realize that we are often our own worst enemies. We want God’s will, but we are also full of selfish desires. We wonder how God will protect us from ourselves. Paul answered this question by assuring us that God will step in and take care of us. In the person of the Holy Spirit, he will help us in our prayers. And as our heavenly Father, he will intervene in the circumstances of our lives.

He will help us in our prayers

One of the areas where our weakness shows is in our prayer life. Even when we pray, we are plagued by conflicting emotions. Selfish, sometimes impure thoughts flash through our minds while we are talking to God. Sometimes we don’t know what we should ask for. Sometimes we are so sick or weary that we can’t do more than say, “Lord, please help me.”

How reassuring to know that God understands and that his Spirit makes sure our prayers are acceptable and effective. Paul wrote: “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will” (8:26-27). It is the Holy Spirit who groans within us, and these groans are apparently wordless. Through these groans, as he labors to purify us in preparation for eternity, the Holy Spirit cleanses and revises the thoughts and desires of our hearts and presents them to God. The Father, who perfectly knows our hearts, receives these revised prayers and answers them. Paul perhaps had the intercessory ministry of the Holy Spirit in mind when he penned the doxology: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). 

He will work in all our circumstances for our good

Even though we may blunder and fail, God will intervene in our circumstances to make sure his purposes for us are realized. Paul wrote:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory (Romans 8:28–30).

In these verses Paul’s thoughts take in all eternity—from the eternity before time began to the eternity after time ends.

Before God created the cosmos he planned our existence. We live as his image-bearers because he chose to make us that way. We are saved from our sins and destined for glory because God loved us from before the foundation of the world and chose us as his special people (Ephesians 1:4–5). God’s eternal will is the reason for our existence and the ground of our salvation. He is not going to let anything prevent his will from being carried out to fulfillment—not the schemes of the devil, not the strategies of God’s enemies, not even the failures of his children.

Therefore Romans 8:28 is true! God will intervene when necessary to make sure that his purposes for us are realized. In all of life’s circumstances God intends for us to become more like Christ every day in preparation for the day when we will be like him. This reality was expressed by the apostle John: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2).