We come now to the last characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit: self-control.  Like the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, self-control is not “natural.”  We would much perfer self-indulgence rather than self-control.    It takes little imagination for us to empathize with Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 2:10: “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.  I kept my heart from no pleasure.”  We are tempted to seek pleasure wherever we can find it.  The world in which we live would seem to celebrate the self-indulgent life.  But Jesus calls to a different life.  We are told one of the signs of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control.  We must learn say “no” to those desires and to say “yes” to a life that pleases God.

Paul addresses the topic of self-control in Titus 2:11-14:

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

In the 3 short chapters that make up Titus, Paul writes quite a bit about self-control.  He lists self-control as a qualification for being an overseer (1:8).  He says that older men are to be self-controlled (2:2).  He instructs older women to teach younger women to be self-controlled (2:5).  And finally, younger men are urged to be, you guessed it, self-controlled (2:6).  In the passage we are studying Paul addresses self-control as the mark of all the people who belong to Jesus.  We’ll study this passage under 3 headings: (1) the necessity of self-control, (2) the possibility of self-control, (3) the work of self-control.

#1 The Necessity of Self-Control

Why do we need to be self-controlled?  Our passage tells us.  Because of ungodliness and worldly passions.  We have desires which we need to renounce.  Remember that Paul is not addressing the world but rather the church.  When we come to the Lord, and he puts his Spirit within us, and we are made to be a new creation, we still must battle ungodly desires.  We are given a new heart and we have a new eternal destiny, but our corrupt desires remain.  The cross forever and completely removes the penalty of sin and the Spirit is at work in your life even now weakening the power of sin but the presence of sin remains.  And so we need self control.

Proverbs 25:28 tells us what happens when we don’t have self-control — “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”  Walls were an important defense for a city in the ancient world.  Without walls in place any intruder might enter the city and reek havoc.  A person who has no self-control has no walls.  Whatever desire enters his mind will reek havoc in his life.  We need walls!

The author of Hebrews writes of the fleeting pleasures of sin (c.f Hebrews 11:25).  One of the reasons sinful desires gain control is because we take pleasure in them.  Sin is pleasurable.  We are often fooled into believing that the path to freedom from these sinful desires is found in surrender to those desires.  We tell ourselves that if we just give in, the desire will be satisfied and we will be free. We know, however, that this is not the case.  When we give in to those desires, we have simply carved an easier path through the woods for the next time the desire comes.  The path to freedom is not found through surrender to the desire but rather surrender to Christ.

Where do you need greater self-control?





Sexual desire?



#2 Possibility of Self-Control

We’ve established the necessity of living a self-controlled life even (and especially) among those who belong to Christ.  But many wonder if it’s even possible.  Are we really able to be self-controlled?  Can we really live a righteous life on this side of heaven that pleases God?

We can err in at least two directions when it comes to pursuing a righteous life.  On the one hand there are those who believe they have been liberated by the gospel to live however they would like.  It’s for freedom that Christ has set us free!  When they read the imperatives such as we find this passage, they think to themselves: Praise God I don’t have have to follow any of these commands since Christ has set me free!  On the other hand, there are those who live a completely defeated life.  As they consider the commands of the Bible they feel powerless to fulfill them. Doesn’t the Bible say that no one is good — not even one?!  Doesn’t God see our good deeds as filthy rags?!  Why bother trying they ask themselves.  So on the one hand there are those who ask should I obey God and on the other those who ask could I obey God?  And the answer to both is a resounding yes!

Our passage tells us why — “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  The grace of God which has appeared in Christ makes righteousness possible.  First, and most importantly, because we receive the perfect divine righteousness of Christ.  It is given to us not as a result of anything we’ve done but because of our faith in Christ.  This is the righteousness of justification.  However, as this verse shows us, this grace that has appeared in Christ makes another righteousness possible — a human righteousness.  This is not the righteousness of justification.

John Piper is helpful at this point:

It is terribly confusing when people say that the only righteousness that has any value is the imputed righteousness of Christ.  I agree that justification is not grounded on any of our righteousness, but only the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. But sometimes people are careless and speak disparagingly of all human righteousness, as if there were no such thing that pleased God.  They often cite Isaiah 64:6 which says our righteousness is as filthy rags. It’s true—gloriously true—that none of God’s people, before or after the cross, would be accepted by an immaculately holy God if the perfect righteousness of Christ were not imputed to us (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).  But that does not mean that God does not produce in those “justified” people (before and after the cross) an experiential righteousness that is not “filthy rags.”  In fact, he does; and this righteousness is precious to God and is required, not as the ground of our justification (which is the righteousness of Christ only), but as an evidence of our being truly justified children of God. (John Piper, Future Grace, p.151)

Our passage gives us three reasons to believe that it is possible to life a self-controlled life.  First, we are told, verse 11, that grace has come to us which brings salvation and trains us to say “no” to the world and say “yes” to godly living.  Secondly, we are told, verse 14, that Christ gave himself for us “to redeem us from all lawlessness.”  Here is the power of godly living!  Christ gave himself up so that we might be redeemed from lawlessness!  What does that mean?  It means the cross gives us the ability to escape lawlessness.  We are able, by his grace, to live the life that God desires!  Thirdly, in the same vain we are told that Jesus died to “purify for himself a people for his own possession.”  Did you catch that?  He died to purify us!  Purity means escaping the corruption of the world and living a life set apart to God.

#3 The Work of Self-Control

Let me call your attention to a few important verbs in this passage.   We are told that the grace of God has appeared.  This is the Greek word epiphaino from which we get the English word epiphany.  This is a passage, therefore, about the epiphany of Christ and the reason you might hear this passage at Christmas time.  Grace has appeared to us in the incarnation of Christ.  Now notice what this grace, which has appeared, does.  Our second verb is bringing.  Because the grace of God which has appeared, salvation is brought to all people.  Praise God!  But Paul doesn’t stop there.  The third verb, which is also a result of the grace which has appeared, is training.  So grace has come which brings salvation and trains us.  Grace is the fuel for our training.  We are trained to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and say yes to living a self-controlled, upright and godly life.

When I first became a Christian, I was heavily influenced by the “Let go and let God” philosophy of Christian living.  No effort is required; simply let go and let God take over.  Perhaps this was appealing to me because I had finally seen the error of self-reliance.  “Let go and let God” does not square well with this passage.  We are told grace has come which trains us in righteous living. Have you ever trained for anything?  As we consider the work of self-control it will be helpful to remind ourselves of what someone does who is in training.

-1- Remember that sustained effort is required.

First and most obviously effort is required.  There is a place in the Christian life for discipline — for effort — for work!  Again we remind ourselves we are moving from not moving towards victory.  The race has already by won by Christ but continue to press on knowing the crown is already ours.

-2- Remind yourself of where you’ve been and where you are going.  

Whether you are running an actual race or running the Christian race, it is helpful to remind yourself of where you’ve been and where you are going.  Consider the progress that you have made and rejoice.  But don’t lose sight of where you are going.  Our passage addresses this forward orientation as we wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  There will be an end to our struggle.  Better days lie ahead!

-3- Pursue accountability. 

Whether you are an athlete training for a race or follower of Christ training for righteousness, you need accountability.  We need others in our life who are close enough to us to see what is actually going on.  Too many people are content to project some image of righteousness to the world.  They settle for appearances rather than substance.  What if an athlete only pretended to train?  What if they were content going through the motions so long as others thought they were working hard?  The result would be obvious on game day, wouldn’t it?  Let us not settle for appearances!  We need accountability.  We need people in our lives who will call out the sin and encourage us to walk in righteousness.

-4- Have a plan.

What athlete goes into training without a plan?  Proverbs 14:8 tells us “The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.”  We need to be wise and prudent in discerning our way.  If we are going to get serious about righteous living, we need a plan!  How will you avoid temptation when it comes?  What will you do when those unrighteous desires seek to overtake you?  How will you say yes to godly living? What will you do when you mess up?  How will you rely on Christ?

Discussion Questions

  1. What in this passage encourages you to live a self-controlled life?
  2. What do we learn in this passage about what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross?
  3. How does the grace of God motivate us to live an upright and godly life?
  4. Why is it important to be self-controlled?
  5. In what areas of your life do you need greater self-control?
  6. What do you think Paul means in verse 12 when he says God’s grace is “training us?” What does it mean to be trained?  How does God’s grace train us?
  7. What do you think is the proper place of effort in the life of a Christian?
  8. Why is accountability important?  Do you have Christian accountability in your life?  What steps can you take to make sure yourself more accountable to other Christians?
  9. What good works is God calling you to be zealous for?
  10. What is one thing you want to be sure to remember about this passage?


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