There are two possible ways of life exposed in the last portion of Galatians 5. The first is lived according to the works of the flesh (with evil actions manifested in verses 19-21). The other produces the fruit of the Spirit (producing the beautiful Christian characteristics described in verses 22-23).
As descendants of Adam we inherit the carnal nature, but as children of God we are given a new life (and nature) that is subject to the Holy Spirit.
It is the innate nature of the flesh that urges us to give in to wrongdoing. On the contrary, it is the Spirit that lives within that produces good fruit.
The Christian conflict is described in Galatians 5: 16-18. “This, then, I say: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Because the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to each other ”.
Works of the flesh versus works of the spirit
The carnal nature (the sinful nature we were born with) controlled us before we were saved. When we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and fulfilled the conditions of salvation, the Holy Spirit imparted a new nature to us (the nature of God), and now we have two natures.
The old nature has not been eliminated or changed. Both natures (old and new) dwell side by side within us, so we must deliberately walk in the Spirit (verse 16) so as not to “satisfy the lusts of the flesh.” The word “walk” in the original Greek is in the present tense and speaks of a regular and continuous action.
The word “walk” (verse 16a) means “go step by step,” but here it is used figuratively, that is, to conduct ourselves from day to day in accordance with the directives of the Holy Spirit. The two natures are contrary . They oppose each other and work against each other (verse 17).
This is the reason for the internal conflict that every Christian experiences. We all feel an internal civil war. All people experience a measure of inner moral conflict, but Christians find inner conflict even more fierce than it was in our unconverted days.
Satan works hard because he doesn’t want to lose our loyalty to him. However, as we learn to walk in the Spirit, the flesh becomes more and more subdued.
We have been given the Holy Spirit so that we can gain victory over the bondage of sin. Paul describes the fight more fully in Romans 7: 7-25 , and speaks of the victory in Romans 8: 5-9 .
Only when born of the Spirit and surrendered to the leading of the Spirit will the individual be victorious over the pull of the carnal nature (verse 18).
A holy life is never achieved by our own efforts or through our own strength. It occurs when we yield to the direction of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
What are the works of the flesh?
The works of the flesh are described in Galatians 5: 19-21:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, filth, lust, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, emulations, anger, strife, rebellions, heresies, envy, murder, drunkenness, revelations, among others ”.
Sins of the flesh
Paul gives us a list of the works of the flesh. No one can be better on the outside than on the inside. You may be able to hide your bad desires for a time, but they will eventually become apparent or obvious (verse 19).
We also note that Paul’s list of carnal works is not complete.
The list is quite long, but it ends with the words “and the like” (verse 21a).
The list of works of the flesh includes acts of impurity, idolatry, hostility, and intemperance, but there are others of this nature. We explicitly see each of these:
1. Sins of impurity
Sins of impurity include adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lewdness. These are works of the flesh. There is no room for concessions. Immorality will have no place in the Christian life .
Every conceivable form of immorality was practiced openly in New Testament times — by rulers, philosophers, poets, priests, and many ordinary people — without any sense of shame or remorse. It was the accepted way of life in the ancient world.
The adultery speaks of unlawful sexual intercourse by married. Leviticus 18:20 spells it clearly: “You shall not carnally lie with your neighbor’s wife, defiling yourself with her.” Hebrews 13: 4b declares that God will judge “fornicators and adulterers.”
There are various forms of adultery. These include physical adultery (described in Leviticus 18:20 ), mental adultery (which involves fantasizing or saturating the mind with illicit thoughts), and legalized adultery (which includes remarriage of someone who is divorced, when the original partner is still living).
Then there is a plan that can be called communal adultery (where men and women live in a communal arrangement that allows the freedom for anyone to sleep with anyone else).
When God established the home, He designed a man to live with a woman and the two to be one flesh. The sin of adultery is not a trivial matter.
The Fornication speaks of illicit sexual relations between unmarried. A recent study by indicates that ten percent of all girls in certain countries have had sexual intercourse by the age of 13.
Couples who live together as husband and wife, before marriage, live in fornication. As a result of rampant sexual impurity, hundreds of young teenagers are infected with venereal diseases every day.
Impurity describes those who do not necessarily commit outward acts of immorality, but whose thoughts and desires are impure .
Impurity is encouraged by reading pornographic literature, insisting on obscene images, and telling obscene and suggestive stories. It is further compounded by today’s emphasis on using less and less and exposing more and more.
Lust speaks of uncontrolled lust . People may be guilty of impurities, but when they become lewd, they become so immoral that they shock public decency with their conduct. Whoever becomes lewd has gone so far into impurity that he no longer cares what God or what man thinks about his actions.
These have been sins of impurity. Satan is a vicious liar. Over the years, he has tried to arouse the wrong sexual desires by implying that secret, adulterous love is more exciting than true conjugal love.
The moral depravity that plagues the world is cause for concern. Sexual misconduct deeply saddens the Holy Spirit ( 1 Corinthians 6: 18-20 ).
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2. Sins of idolatry
The works of the flesh include a second category that we have labeled as sins of idolatry. These include a misnamed “idolatry” and another called “witchcraft” [sorcery].
Idolatry is the act of giving something other than the true and living God the main place in our affections. Most people in our society do not worship gods of wood and stone, but it is easy for us to put our affection on gods of chrome, steel, and glass.
Some worship the gods of pleasure, fashion, and material things.
The shopping malls are the cathedrals where the crowds are worshiping as of late. Crowds plan for the future like the man in the parable Jesus told in Luke 12: 16-21.
They prospered financially more and more each year. Their barns were full. He was a good man; he was a prominent farmer; but he was preoccupied with material things.
While he was still in the midst of his plans for the future, a Breath of eternity spoke to him and said: “Fool, tonight your soul will be asked ; So whose things will you have provided? ( Luke 12:20 ).
Witchcraft is translated from the Greek word pharmakeia, which refers to “drug use.” Today, the word “witchcraft” (or “sorcery”) refers to those who claim to have superhuman powers, abilities to cast spells, use magic, and gain secret knowledge from evil spirits.
These practices were widespread in pagan cultures, but Israel was forbidden to allow sorcerers, spiritists, mediums, necromancers, and the like among themselves. In ancient times, drugs were used for a variety of purposes, but especially for abortion.
Currently, many universities offer courses on witchcraft. Superstition is closely related to witchcraft.
Some carry a rabbit’s foot, hang a horseshoe over the barn door, cross their fingers when making a decision, or spit when a black cat crosses their path.
Believers who have to rely on luck instead of consulting God in prayer are guilty of worrying about the things of the flesh. The popular Harry Potter books emphasize witchcraft.
A letter recorded in the August 19, 2000 issue of a magazine for the content of the Potter books emphasizes this. The writer says: “Witchcraft was part of my life before Christ entered it.” [Witchcraft] is not a laughing matter, nor is it child’s play. We should not dabble in occult practices, including divination .
3. Sins of hostility
There is a third category in the list of works of the flesh; “sins of hostility”. Many of the sins of hostility are closely related, so there will only be a brief description of each expression of animosity.
Hate is a strong dislike (a feeling of ill will) towards another person.
The apostle John declares, ” Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer , and you know that no murderer has permanent eternal life in him” ( 1 John 3:15 ).
For some, hatred is a way of life. These people are essentially murderers, although they may never have committed the overt act of murder.
We must always be careful to use the word “hate” only to hate the wrong cause (such as intolerance and injustice), not to hate individual people.
There are too many church members that it’s just not easy to get along with. Many are terribly touchy and easily offended. Some are stubborn, and they always want to be contrary. May the Lord deliver us all from these carnal and wicked characteristics!
Rivalry is a term that speaks of those who want to outperform others. The Greek word, zelos, can denote both good and bad qualities. It is sometimes used to describe zeal and enthusiasm in accomplishing a noble task, but here it speaks primarily of a grudging resentment that envies the good fortune of others.
The bad temper speaks of violent forms of anger. Represents storms of uncontrolled temper. It symbolizes the person who loses control when the car does not start, the fish does not bite, the calf does not drink or the meals are not ready on time.
The husband who leaves the room and bangs on the door behind him because something is wrong for him is displaying such outbursts of temper. Such conduct indicates that he is still under the clutches of lower nature.
Conflict is translated from a Greek word that means “search for a position”. It describes those who would like to be elevated to a place of responsibility in the church, not so much for the service they can render, but for the prestige it could bring.
The woman described as “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” ( Matthew 20:20 ) manifested this spirit when she asked that her sons be granted a place on both sides of the Lord in His kingdom. Some will even manipulate events for their own personal gain.
There may be times when separation from an apostate group has a place, but in most cases, the primary duty of every Christian is to faithfully witness where they are. The most deplorable divisions are those that result from personality conflicts within the church.
When there are seditions, the unity and fellowship of the local body of Christ is fractured and the witness of the congregation in the community is spoiled. The tendency to division (evident in many congregations) is the result of choosing to walk the path of envy and quarreling, rather than the royal path of love, forgiveness, and magnanimity.
Heresies are ideas (schools of thought) that are contrary to the accepted fundamental historical doctrines of the Christian faith. It seems that some theologians are always trying to dream of something new.
All Christians, listening to the teaching and the preaching, should learn a lesson from the Bereans , who “searched the Scriptures every day [to find out] if these things were so” ( Acts 17:11 ).
Envy speaks of a resentful desire for the possessions or advantages of another. The word translated “envy” is a totally bad concept and has no chance for good. The word emulations or rivalries may resent the good fortune of others, but envy is so resentful that it can conspire to destroy the other person.
The murders are a reminder that extinguishing a human life involves more than sticking a knife in it. It is possible to cast murderous glances and utter words meant to kill.
Many husbands have led their wife to premature death because of her lack of love, her mean and ungrateful spirit, and her unfaithfulness.
Evils labeled hatred, anger, strife, envy, and sedition are considered sins of hostility. The ultimate corrective for strife, hatred, and violence is respect for human beings and genuine love for fellow Christians.
4. Sins of intemperance
The last category on the list of the works of the flesh is what we choose to call sins of intemperance . The two terms in this category have obvious meanings.
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Drunkenness is a condition caused by the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The reference is to be intoxicated with strong drinks. There are more than ten million confirmed alcoholics throughout the world.
Nearly four in five high school seniors have drunk alcohol in any given month. Drunkenness is not a disease; it is, instead, a devastating sin.
When Judgment Day rolls around, the lame excuse that alcoholism is a disease won’t convince anyone.
The drunkard appears in Scripture along with thieves, extortioners, and sodomites, as those who will not inherit the kingdom of God ( 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 ). Drunkenness has killed more people than all the wars in history combined. During the Vietnam War, 50,000 American soldiers died.
During that same period, five times that number (250,000 people) died from car accidents caused by drunk drivers. Drinking alcohol has drained more blood, destroyed more homes, and brought more misery than any other scourge that has cursed the human race.
Drunkenness is a shameful and degrading work of the flesh , and obviously has no place in the life of a Christian.
Delight is a term associated with revelry and debauchery. The Greek word also indicates “wild parties” and “walks”. Rejoice refers to disorderly revelry, including typical wild party celebrations.
The term speaks of engaging in loose, loud, frivolous, and boisterous behavior. The practice of serenading a newly married couple, as carried out in some communities (known locally as “rattlesnake” or “shivaree”), is closely related to what the Greek word komoi describes.
Celebrations are common (in the world around us) when weddings, anniversaries, and holidays take place. The Bible says that our conduct as believers, by contrast, should represent a quiet spirit, which is very precious in the eyes of God ( 1 Peter 3: 4b ).
Other works of the flesh
Pablo concludes the list with the words “and the like.” This is an indication that the list is not exhaustive. There are many other works of the flesh, similar to those in verses 19-21a, that are as dire as the sins listed in the text.
God would surely include such evils as lying, slandering, flattering, murmuring, complaining, greed, smoking, impatience, rebellion, and injustice. Those who continue to practice such sins are not being led by the Spirit of God and are being warned that they will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Difference between freedom and debauchery
There is a difference between falling into sin (carelessly) and living in sin (as an established life choice). The true children of God hate these evils and flee from them, and if they fall into temptation, they are not at peace until they have confessed their sin and cried out to God for mercy.
The way to gain increasing victory over the works of the flesh is found in verses 16 and 18 of Galatians 5, where we are exhorted to “walk in the Spirit” and be “led by the Spirit.” Being “led” by the Spirit means more than being led by Him; It means being controlled and being carried away by your decisions.
The works of the flesh are infinite; this world is full of vanities that are offered to keep us away from the presence of God, to distract us from the true purpose that is eternal life. The enemy wants us to get lost with him and not inherit the kingdom of heaven, so he will offer us pleasures that are attractive but fleeting.
On the other hand, there is a difference between liberty and debauchery: There are many Christians who rely on the “free will of God” to claim that they can do whatever they want. And in fact, they are right, but it must be remembered that in this case, everything is allowed but not everything is good for us . Each one will have their reward at the end.