Freedom and self-control seem contradictory. Freedom is often seen as an opportunity for self-expression and the pursuit of the whimsical desires of the heart. The response is exactly the opposite as Paul exclaims, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1b-2a). Freedom is given to all who are saved by Jesus Christ, yet so often self-control is seen as a restriction from doing the things we really want to do.
How can someone live a self-controlled life and experience the freedom of Christ? From the few times I have canoed, there is one solid conclusion I have made: No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to stay in the same place the river keeps moving and pulls the canoe along with the current. Spirit-empowered self-control will not keep us where we are but lead us in the direction of active intentional obedience.
Once, my partner fell out of the canoe. I had to stop, turn around, and go against the current to pursue him. It was a difficult task, but my singular focus helped me overcome the force of the current to get to my destination. Self-control should be seen as the same — an opportunity to resist the current of our fleshly desires to pursue the destination of being like Christ.
Freedom is not a freedom to exercise our will and desires. Serving ourselves produces increasing bondage. Christ’s deliverance of us to freedom releases us from the bondage of sin. He wants us to be free to live in His character. He wants us to experience the freedom of self-sacrificial love. He wants us to be released to serve God. All of the elements of such a life are radically different from our desired freedom.
Christ is the answer! Isn’t that the typical Sunday school answer? Christ IS the answer, but it is the complexity of the answer that should guide us in this upriver pursuit. Each of us struggles differently in this life, but we should pursue the character of Christ through each circumstance. How does God want to change and grow you in your current struggle?
Freedom is experiencing our new ability to be holy and pursue holiness. Holiness is the best and most satisfying element of this life on Earth. Holiness frees us from the perpetual unsatisfying pursuit of sin. Holiness allows us to approach the unapproachable God and experience a magnificent relationship with Him.
Reminding yourself of the goodness of abiding in Christ is essential to self-control. Most people lose the battle of resisting sin because they feel like they are missing out by pursuing Christ. That mindset must change. It is not being restricted from the things that bring real enjoyment. Self-control is staying on the path to live out freedom in Christ, and this path has peace, joy, comfort, and other incredible blessings.
Fervency in the believer’s life is to make an effort in the power of the Holy Spirit to pursue Christ. Fervor is an intense and passionate feeling to remain steadfast toward a goal. To control your desires, thoughts, and emotions in any given situation for a specific goal is self-control. Passion and control are not diametrically opposed but accurately describe our pursuit of Christ. Both fervency and self-control are vital to our walks with Christ. Passion is the fuel to drive our pursuit, and self-control is the steering wheel to keep us on the road of righteousness.
The Holy Spirit is the source of our fervor and self-control. Prayer reminds us that we depend on this source for our fervency and self-control. Prayer is an expressed dependence for God to work on our behalf to give us the passion and control to live righteously. People often struggle to approach the growth process with this type of mentality. They look to their own strength to make it to the goal of righteousness. However, if you don’t depend on the Holy Spirit, you will become exhausted and waver in your pursuit of Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit is the necessary dependence we need to stay abiding with Christ.
Adam and Eve had immense freedom in the garden. The only restriction was to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, we read in Genesis 3 that the fruit of that tree became appealing to Eve because she wanted something that God did not want. She wanted to become independent of God. She thought that independence would bring her the ultimate freedom. However, God knew that this would only bring the bondage of sin and the pain of death.
Unfortunately, we do the same thing. We continue to relinquish the freedom to live righteously for the fruit of the fleeting and deceitful pleasures of the world that lead us to rebel and pursue independence from God. We claim that we would not have taken the forbidden fruit, yet we take the fruit from this world that seems appealing — the fruit of the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. These are the spiritual fruits that are restricted from us, but there is spiritual fruit that we get to live in that is far more profitable and exquisite. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Salvation has given us a treasure similar to that uncorrupted garden. God has transformed us to exercise holiness with complete freedom.
We look forward to our complete and untainted freedom of abiding with Christ in heaven but freedom can be experienced now by abiding in Christ. Abiding is the restful pursuit of God that we have in our own spiritual walk.
People often want freedom or blessing to do what they think will give them relief in their life, whether that is a person with a lifelong disability finding freedom by being healed or the person who is unhappy in their marriage wanting relief from a divorce. The fact is that when hardships or difficulties come, freedom looks like pursuing the desire for the destination of relief. However, these pursuits for relief will fail. Freedom does not happen in arriving at the destination of relief. We are free when we abide in Christ to the destination of our long-awaited eternity. Freedom to draw near to God is an inexpressible grace that we are allowed to live in this life.
Finding freedom starts with a love of Christ mindset. Find opportunities to worship and give thanks for who God is and what He is doing in your life. Stop seeing obedience to Christ as a constraint for you. Obedience to God’s Word is an opportunity to explore the wonderful freedom that we are given. Self-control gives us the opportunity to stay on the path Christ has forged. Entrust yourself to the Lord and walk in the green pastures that you are given.