Christ at the Center by Kim Reisman
Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light…Let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you. (Romans 13:12, 14, NLT)
Last month we focused on the way in which justice undergirds our faith because it is an attribute of God. This month, I want to focus on temperance. Just as biblical justice expands and deepens the classical notion of justice, so it is with the temperance of Scripture. It expands and deepens classical temperance, which the Greeks understood as “nothing overmuch.”
The virtue of temperance has gotten a bad rap over the years, but it is simply the proper ordering of what is good within our natures. Rather than attempting to eliminate our natural inclinations, temperance seeks to order them, thus producing a well-ordered soul, a well-balanced self, and a well-proportioned life.
Plato viewed temperance as a rational ordering of the soul that kept it free.The opposite of temperance then is intemperance or imbalance in which the soul is not free but in bondage to a particular aspect of its nature. This bondage can occur in two ways. Part of the self can rule the whole – we see this in situations of addiction. Or, the whole self can become fragmented, pulled apart by the excess of many things.
Temperance is valuable as we seek to connect our faith to our daily lives. We’re confronted on an almost-daily basis with choices about how we will live our lives and the role faith will play in them. As we make these decisions, temperance protects us from being dominated by only one part of our whole selves. It keeps the drive to succeed in our careers in check and thus avoids excessive conflicts at home. It guards us from believing we need to be everything for our families to find personal fulfillment. Temperance protects us from the excess of many things by enabling us to avoid filling our lives with too many competing demands that can lead to a loss of balance because we can no longer find our center.
Temperate followers of Jesus know themselves. They recognize what’s important and can set priorities and goals. When we’re temperate, we understand the idea of delayed gratification and are willing to make sacrifices for what we want. Temperate people make wise judgements about what to do and not to do as they seek to order their souls.
Biblical temperance is about finding balance within ourselves, but more importantly, it’s about being centered – centered on Christ. Again, there is a deepening of the classical notion. It’s not enough that the soul is well-ordered; it is to be well-ordered toward love – the love of God and the love of our neighbor. The well-ordered soul that results from temperance isn’t for our own benefit, even though we certainly do gain from it. It’s for the sake of God and neighbor. The Workbook on Virtues and the Fruit of the Spirit explains it this way:
In classical Greek thinking, the mind conquers all problems; thus, the root of evil is ignorance. Reason is what saves us; therefore, temperance is the rational ordering that comes through the exercise of the mind. Christian temperance is, on the surface, quite similar; but it has a completely different foundation. The biblical notion of temperance asserts that it is not ignorance but sin, that distortion of our heart, that is the root of evil. Reason alone is unable to save us. Reason can fix ignorance, but it cannot fix sin. Only Christ can fix sin. Therefore, it is not reason that produces temperance, but the Holy Spirit that indwells us when we come into relationship with Jesus Christ. Temperance, then, is the living of a Spirit-filled, Christ-centered life. (1)
This is the crucial point when it comes to following Jesus and connecting our faith to our daily lives. As Christians, we claim Christ as the center of our lives. We look to him to provide order for our souls, for “when Christ is the Lord of our lives, nothing else can be; when Christ is not the Lord of our lives, anything and everything else will be.” (2) When Christ is at the center of our lives, we’re able to live temperately, with balance and order within our souls. We’re able to organize our lives toward love of God and neighbor, making decisions that are right for us and connecting our faith in visible and tangible ways to our everyday lives.
As you pray and fast this month, reflect on the ways in which intemperance might be entering your life. Is there an area of your life that is dominating and blocking you from experiencing balance and a well-ordered soul? I pray that as you place Christ more and more at the center of your life, you would be able to live by the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit at each turn of your day.
(1) Maxie Dunnam and Kimberly Dunnam Reisman, The Workbook on Virtues and the Fruit of the Spirit, Upper Room Books, 1998, p71
(2) TheWorkbook on Virtues and the Fruit of the Spirit, p71