The Need for Self-Control


For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh:
and these are contrary the one to the other:
so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.—Galatians 5:17

Donald Holliday

“And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when ..I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him” (Malachi 3:17).

“My Jewels” (Hebrew: segullah, treasured possession). Six times in Scripture the word gives a most precious glimpse of the Lord’s relationship with his people Israel.

It is Peter who shares with us the joyous realization that the church is also so described. If the earthly is glorious, more glorious still the heavenly; the sons of God from ignorance and night transformed; from weakness and corruption each will rise, reflecting evermore the glory of the One Who dwells in Light: “My Jewels” (see Matthew 13:43).

When Peter heard the Master’s call, and in that holy face beheld expressed such flawless purity of mind, his uncouth lips, through consciousness of shameful life, brought forth the plea, “You know not what I am. Depart from me” (Luke 5:8). So vast a gap that Peter knew not how to bridge it exists between such holy life and that of carnal man (Romans 8:7).

Many saints long since have known and understood the feelings of beggars on the dunghill when confronted with that challenge, “Come up higher. With princes sit ye down.” From the miry pit the Lord delights to find and lift to his own glory throne the miracles of his grace. In lowest parts of earth the work takes place, with pressures from without and fears within, where holiness is struggling over sin to realize the victory of his love (1 Samuel 2:8).

Once dead in sin, prone to the whims and lusts of fallen flesh, each saint-to-be must personally experience the greatness of the power that raised the Savior from the grave.

Under enormous pressures is a diamond formed. From conflict great, and battle-bruised, do the victors rise. And herein lies the story of each jewel brought forth.

What Manner of Man Am I?

It is no easy process to assess with true objectiveness our inmost heart. Too harsh a judgment leaves us feeling low and makes us prey to Satan’s jibes: “The good you seek you never will obtain.” Yet denying our faults no purpose serves, for we must recognize the enemy within, acknowledge where our weakness lies, and know our faults.

“Search me, O God” (Psalm 139:23). Not to dishearten do we plead with One Who Knows, for when we dare to let the Word of truth probe deep and thus discover motives and the intents of our thoughts, it is because we trust the Father’s blest design to chasten that we may be made partakers of his holiness.

In Eden was the human creature formed to share so much of the Creator’s mind. The family on earth was yet to bond with family in heaven. And God alone, before the work began, knew all that the task would cost, the sighs, the groans, the countless tears, through misdirection of those senses set in man essential to the divine purpose. The ways that may seem right to man and every whim he seeks to feed lead but to disappointing ends.

In Adam was released the fire of passion, zeal, and strong desire. One day will see the harnessing of these in full devotion to his Maker’s ways. Then will the deep desire of nations and of every living thing be satisfied.

What is Lust?

Lust is misplaced desire based on uneducated appetite. Today’s child demands a diet of sugared things, or salted to extreme, and will refuse to eat unless such whims are satisfied. So man is prone to instincts and desires inhibited alone by social standards set by his fellows. Where standards fail, as in our present age, indulgence takes its course without restraint toward a dark abyss.

The greatest blessing God bequeathed—that sweet companion for man—so soon displayed the weakness in that human pair. She saw the fruit and lusting for it failed to sense the trap the serpent laid. When Adam knew what she had done, he followed too, though not deceived, except perhaps by the thought of the loss of Eve (Genesis 3:6; 1 Timothy 2:14).

Thus bestial lust began, and there too did the struggle start between the appetite for sensual things and for things of God.

Are Saints Immune?

Desire for things that gratify the flesh: how hard it is so often to discern between the multitude of human wants and human needs. So many temporal blessings now surround us in easy reach. And in the world we breathe each day polluted air, a fog of impure thought, while, subtler still, the serpent would entice from seeking only what will please our Head.

How searching is the account of David’s life as we perceive the lessons there for saints. His life was a battle from the start, and even brief respite brought a snare. So graphically in that life the Lord illustrates the fight between the right way of life and all its foes.

We glimpse this in the Psalms. They consist not of “arm-chair” poetry, composed in the warmth and comfort of the home. David was on the run. Three thousand men were on his heels with one intent: to take his life. “My soul is in the midst of lions … They breath fire … Their teeth are sharp” (Psalm 57:4). Thus were the spears and arrows of an entire army searching for one man. Yet in the midst of such a scene his cry ascends: “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed” (v. 7). Not in David’s own strength lay the trust that fostered a sense of immunity from every threat. He knew the Lord was on his side and greater far than all that were against him (Psalm 27:1-3).

Our foes are mainly those within. Perhaps, like David, we have moments too when sense of triumph fills the heart with gratitude to one above, who worketh all things to his blessed design. Do we now cry, “O God, my heart is fixed”? The battle is not over yet (1 Kings 20:11).

Edom, the old Edom, or old Adam, the fleshly mind, is ever here, and ever alien to the ways of God. Never can it be left unwatched. How readily will it take advantage of any opportunity for self-gratification, even while in the elation of spiritual satisfaction.

We have the account in down-to-earth terms in 2 Samuel. At first the battles go so well. One foe after another is defeated. Then in chapter 11, David takes a little time off from the fight. He goes up onto the rooftop, enjoying, as it were, a spiritual “high.” Then it happens! Off-guard, his natural eye sees something demanding gratification, and “Edom” has taken the land. Once again the old Adam is in control.

Oh, how deceitful is the heart! With Bathsheba in his arms David had become blind to all else. What a strong citadel guards from all interference the natural will. The cities of Edom, how impregnable they seemed. The strong fortress of Petra is built into rock, deep hidden and protected by an almost impassable approach down a precipitous narrow gorge. It was hewn out of the over-hanging crags of the steep mountainside. To subdue that city seemed impossible. Indeed, it was a proverb, a byword among men, the strength of Edom: “Who will bring me into the strong city? who will lead me into Edom?” (Psalm 60:9). It is as though those words resounded in his mind as Paul wrote, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24, margin).

Salvation lies alone in the one whose favor now seems forfeited by our carnality. Yet suffering the consequences of his fall, David acknowledges, as do we, the disciplining of the Lord that stirs within new depths of that desire for peace with God: “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts … Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me” (Psalm 51:6,11). The chastening broke David’s heart, yet it was the correction of a son whom the Father loved. And at that time the son of David—Jesus Christ—would pay the price of sin in death. Later the son of David would make atonement and gain the heavenly throne.

The Spirit Lusteth

“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17).

What is this lusting of the spirit that must triumph over the lusting of the flesh? While lust is a word now chiefly used with evil import, its basic thought was of strong desire and intense longing. It was in this purest sense that the new mind is infused, and here the conflict forms (Genesis 25:22-26).

Within Rebekah’s womb there fought two boys. Alarmed and puzzled she besought the Lord, and he portrayed two manner of people that would emerge. Yet at the end the elder was to serve the younger. Thus was Esau (Edom) born from the same womb as Jacob. Of Jacob it was written, “He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God” (Hosea 12:3). Was this in the mind of Paul when he spoke of the conflict deep within each saint? Do we take our old “Adam” by the heel, with firm resolve?

The battle is not yet over. It took five hundred years for Edom to at last submit, and that in David’s reign. What hope have we in this brief life to conquer all of “Edom’s” ways, the carnal lusts? In Romans 7 Paul described the conflict that ensued once he perceived the perfect ways of God. Alone in battle Paul was helpless, the good he would he could not do. Did he then find a conquering “David” too?

In Romans 8, a new hope springs from God’s own spirit shared with man, a new life full of power is there released. Without that power of God Paul knew he could never rise beyond his fallen state: “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:25).

In Christ’s own triumph over sin and death we even now may joy, as taking his achievement as our own. With what fresh hope we now renew the struggle there within. With the captain of salvation at our side together we will now the victory win (Hebrews 2:10).

The battle sets in full array. On one side countless alien hosts defy the Savior’s work. Great obstacles arise between us and the goal. And Edom’s forces muster to deter the march of glory in the King’s Highway. And do we cry, “Where are those chariots of the Lord?” Yes, they are there, nor will all enemies combined divert us from the shining way while the light of his own presence is our stay (Numbers 20:17-21; Matthew 28:20;  2 Timothy 4:16-18).

With youthful zeal young “Timothys” may flee from youthful lusts. To run through hosts, and jump the walls, may challenge aging frames. But spiritual strength renewed is there for young and old, and we shall not grow weary if the way we tread, yes, every step, we share with the ones we love (Psalm 18:17,29-39; Isaiah 40:28-31; 26:4, margin).

Then sweet release from this frail flesh, the body humbling to those high desires that form our goal. Then shall we see what he has wrought, and realize the need we had to fight the lusts of flesh, our many faults, and every weakness known. For there beside our Captain do we gain in battle those rich spoils he waits to share with those whose strength lies ever in their Rock (Philippians 3:21; Isaiah 53:12).

The Merging of Desire

“They may be one” (John 17:22). What speechless joy the Master’s words bring to us. Jesus also has intense desire, and the same Hebrew word describing ‘lust’ is used of him in Psalm 45:11. So shall the king for thine own beauty yearn with deep desire, the beauty of a heart made truly his, where out-poured adoration bathe his brow, and tears of gratitude his feet (John 14:23; Song of Solomon 5:1).

And is there even more? Has our dear Father such longing too? What untold depths of yearning does this same word speak in melody divine: “For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it” (Psalm 132:13,14). Here glimpsed is glory that exceeds by far each transient joy this life could ever know. Against its brightness things of earth grow dim, nor can we cling or yearn for anything below. The spirit’s ‘lusts’ are as a holy fire, consuming all unworthy of the place wherein he dwells who is our heart’s desire (Psalm 84:1,2). With conscience free may we indulge these holy lusts: “Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:4,5).

And what of all mankind? “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures” (Psalm 36:7,8). There from life’s fountain man will draw and find complete fulfillment evermore (Revelation 22:1-5).

“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).