How can Paul include self control (Gal 5:23) as expressive of freedom and the Spirit? Isn't self control the opposite of freedom?How can Paul include self control (Gal 5:23) as expressive of...
How can Paul include self control (Gal 5:23) as expressive of freedom and the Spirit? Isn't self control the opposite of freedom?
Good question. In the New Testament book of Galatians, Chapter Five, Paul begins by stating:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1-6, NIV)
In this passage, I believe that Paul is speaking of the freedom from the old laws—which he considers slavery. Self-control may well refer to the Galatians' temptation to fall back to the old ways and follow the old laws. But Paul reminds the people that being circumcised is a mistake: only because it follows the old laws, and he explains that Christ sees no value in being circumcised or not: these are laws of the flesh, and Christ is speaking of changing their lives spiritually with the help of the Holy Spirit. Self-control in following the teachings of Christ will free the people of Galatia from the laws of the flesh so that they may more easily follow the teachings of Christ that prepare them not for life on earth (the life of the flesh), but new life in Heaven.
Is it not freeing to believe that one need only follow Christ's teachings than 613 commandments that control how one wakes, dresses or conducts business? Following the teachings of Christ is supposed to take the place of the old laws. Paul reminds the Galatians:
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (verse 6, NIV)
Paul indicates self control as one of the "fruits of the spirit." in Galatians 5:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
He does not mean loss of freedom; rather he means freedom from debauchery, immorality, etc. A possible analogy might be a person who suffers from addiction. When that person masters that addiction and is no longer bound by it, he has exercised a certain among of self control and is therefore "free" from it. So self control can be a form of freedom in itself. Paul does not mean that one has a list of "don'ts" that he must follow; rather that one is freed from the impulses that led one to commit these improper acts. So self control does not to Paul mean the opposite of freedom, but rather the very essence of freedom.
Part of the key to understanding why "self-control" is added as part of being "called for freedom" is to consider the nature of the things that are antithetical to being "called to freedom." These are:
the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, 21 envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like
When self-control is considered in light of these antithetical characteristics, it is clearer that self-control--which is missing in cases of fornication, sorcery, etc--is a precursor to personal freedom and is a fruit of the Spirit--who gives freedom from the law--within those who are converted to the way of Christ (of course, the term "Christian" was not in use during the period being discussed).
In most religions the act of self control refers more to a control of the impulses that may lead us to conduct ourselves improperly, or outside of the boundaries of what our own soul dictates to be proper. It has less to do with restraint and more to do with self-discovery to the extent as to how we can lead our lives freely without becoming enslaved by our own demons. When we practice self control we are exploring our limits and actually we expand them by focusing on what really matters, or what should matter to us as persons. When we practice it, we respect ourselves and grow within. That is how self-control helps us to become free.
The idea that self-control was a form of freedom was an old one by the time of Paul. Ancient Greek philosophers had held that giving in to one's impulses is a form of slavery. If all you ever do is to follow your instincts -- to eat whenever you want to, to engage in sexual activity whenever and with whoever you want -- in what way are you free? You are controlled by your animal impulses and you, therefore, have no freedom.
It is only when we exercise self-control that we truly are free because it is then that we are choosing what we do.
When I choose to live my life in the pattern set out by the life of Jesus, to the best of my ability and with God's help, I am making a free choice. No one is forcing me to adopt this way of living. It is my personal desire to exercise all the qualities that Jesus recommends as being blessed by God - the "fruits of the spirit" as listed in Galatians and in post #2. When I try to exercise self-control, I am freely striving to follow the pathway I have chosen for myself.
Let us remember that Paul and other thinkers and philosophers like him saw that man was actually reduced to a form of slavery in terms of how we can be slaves to our desires and appetites. The various physical and sexual appetites that we are subject to often reduce us to being mastered by those appetites. Paul therefore saw self-control as a way of reversing this domination, and allowing us to become masters over our appetites and not enslaved to them.
Even the ancient Greeks knew that one must control the body if the spirit and mind are to grow. Carnal desires and their satisfaction reduce man to the level of an animal. Self-control allows the spirit and mind to flourish and grow.