Happy new year, one and all. I pray you find traces of God's Spirit at work in every aspect of your life this year!
So ... it's January 4. Which means we should all be on day four of our diets, gym commitments, budgets, and cheerful attitudes. Yes, we are an army of "resolutionaries" -- at least for one whole week in January.
But not me, not this year. I definitely need all that I've listed above, but shortly before the new year, I was pondering my new year's resolutions and felt the distinct interruption of the Holy Spirit. You know how that goes. You are busy thinking thoughts about yourself, your goals, your accolades, or even your fears, anxieties, and hurts, when all of a sudden you are aware of a complete thought descending on your soul that is not about you. It is usually a gentle correction, at least in my experience, but it is with utter authority.
In this case, as I pondered self-control and how to grow in it, the impression I had was this: "You won't grow in self-control unless you grow in the knowledge of My holiness." Bam! There was the root of my failure in self-control, totally exposed. My definition of self-control had been something accomplished by my own effort -- here's where we get real -- and done for my own glory. Oh, I wouldn't have actually voiced that to you if you asked, but that was my functional theology.
The New Testament clearly presents self-control as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, meaning it must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Not by self. It is the opposite of fear, according to 1 Timothy 6:7, "for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." Fear incites us to hoard, reject, lash out, and distrust others. But with the Spirit of God, we have power to love others and control ourselves. And with that empowered self-control, we find freedom:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:13-23)
Walking is a biblical euphemism for the daily actions and utterances of our lives. It's the one-step-at-a-time revelation of what we believe and trust. Therefore, I simply need to resolve to walk by the Spirit, right? I will make fabulous lists of what that looks like, be accountable to my prayer partners for my choices, and read lots and lots of books on self-control. But in the heat of the moment, unless I am aware of the holiness of God, I won't see self-control as all that serious. "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."
The flesh and the Spirit are at war, in conflict with one another. Simply put, my flesh doesn't take the holiness of God very seriously or it would surrender and stop picking a fight it can't possibly win.
Therefore, my only New Year's resolution is to immerse myself in this topic with the heartfelt prayer that this is one resolution worth keeping after January.