An uncontrolled and ‘loose’ self is a deadly force, a negative one as that. It wills to ignore and defy God, and seeks to take the place of God – it takes the form of rebellion against God and independence from Him. This is in fact the ‘essence’ and ‘heart’ of sin. Idolising, exalting, and indulging oneself as one’s god is the root cause of all the shame, folly, decadence and moral blindness that characterise the fallen man in the fallen world.
When the Lord Jesus declared that the two greatest commandments are that we must love God with all our heart, and strength, and mind, and love our neighbour as we love ourselves, both of these commands actually attacked this human idolatry of self in a way that shows us how we are to overcome it. When we direct ourselves towards fulfilling these two commands, the project of gaining control of self is well under way, and the fruit of the Spirit includes the habit of behaving in this fashion (Gal. 5:23). A self that knows itself and has embraced self-denial and given itself to God’s control can become a powerful force for good.
Holiness means, among other things, forming good habits, breaking bad habits, resisting temptation to sin, and controlling ourselves when provoked (i.e. self-control). How do we form the Christlike habits which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit? By setting ourselves, deliberately, to do the Christlike thing in each situation we encounter. “Sow an act, reap a habit, sow a habit, reap a character.” It is interesting to note that Paul, in Galatians, wrote that people reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature (flesh) will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit will reap eternal life (Gal.6:7-8).
We need to continue to sow “doing good”, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
The Holy Spirit is with us to empower us, and we know that Christlike behaviour is now in the deepest sense natural to us as Christians. But still maintaining Christlikeness (including self-control) under situations which are very provoking and pressurising is truly hard and difficult.
Christian maturity, which is holiness full grown, is the promised product of endurance – both passive (patience) and active (perseverance). Note that patience is one more aspect (facet) of the fruit of the Spirit. Patience enables one to handle pain, grief, suffering and disappointment without inner collapse.
Each aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is a matter of divine command as well as a divine gift. Each is a habit of reaction that is most strikingly seen in situations where, humanly speaking, a different reaction is expected. Hence love shines brightest when exercised for Jesus’ sake toward the unlovely and seemingly unloveable; joy when sure of God’s sovereign providence, we stay calm instead of panicking or getting all frustrated; and patient endurance is most apparent when we stand steady under pain and pressure instead of running and collapsing. It takes a lot of learning and diligence, in dependence on the Spirit, to endure Christianly and to develop the fruit and the godly habit that is characteristic of all those who are Christ’s.