We started our series on Discipleship a few weeks back and we are looking at what the apostle Paul says to the Galatians about what it looks like to follow Jesus. We began with Paul telling us that this is a winnable war against the sins of the flesh. Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). We talked about being miserable Christians because we are trying to live in both spheres. We are trying to walk by the Spirit while at the same time gratifying the desires of the flesh. But freedom is only found by walking by the Spirit. So now the apostle Paul is going to talk about the sphere we need to not walk in.
It’s Obvious, Right?
Paul tells us that the works of the flesh are obvious. The works of the flesh are clear. Not only are the works of the flesh evident but it is evident if you are living your life by the works of the flesh. It is almost as if this should be an unnecessary discussion. The works of the flesh are obvious. You know what you must not do. It is important to understand that this is not a comprehensive do not do list. You will notice that in verse 21 Paul says, “…and these like these.” You will notice that murder and stealing are not in the list here. So this is not a list that you are to read and think that if you avoid these sins that you are good with God. That is not at all what is happening here. Paul is not giving a list of things to avoid but giving us an understanding of what living by the flesh looks like. These are the outcomes that you will see in your life if you are not walking by the Spirit but are gratifying the desires of the flesh. When we see any of these things in our lives, then it is a warning that we are not following Jesus but following the flesh.
I do not want to take the time to go through each word and define them. What I would rather do if spend our time talking about some of these works of the flesh that are on this list that we allow ourselves to participate in. There are sins that we will define as acceptable because we think we have avoided the “bigger sins.” There are many things that we may be doing that we do not realize qualify as works of the flesh.
The first three works of the flesh that Paul gives encompass all kinds of sexual and sensual impurity. If we have in our minds how much we can get away with when it comes to sexuality and sensuality, these three words wipe out any possibility. Doing whatever feels good to the flesh is what Paul is addressing. It is what the world says we ought to do. We ought to do whatever feels good. But Paul says that doing this is not walking by the Spirit but following the desires of the flesh. Essentially, all sexuality and sensuality are not wrong but are reserved for marriage. Outside of the marriage between a man and woman, these things are selfish, doing what feels good to you. Other words that can be used are lewdness and lustful pleasures. If we are watching these kinds on things in movies and television, then we are not walking by the Spirit but gratifying our desires. It is not acceptable just because you do not participate in it, but watch others participate in these things. We must not let technology pollute our minds through our devices, through our streaming services, or any other outlet that Satan feeds these sinful images through. This needs to be said to both women and men. When women are watching shows because of the men taking their shirts off and seeing glimpses of their bodies, invoking that lust within, that is sinful. We must turn these things off.
I want to talk about sorcery for a moment because it is a word we might read and think that this is certainly not a problem for us today. The word sorcery or witchcraft is a little bit misleading for how we understand these things. We think of wizard hats and witches brew. This Greek word was used either to describe a drug used for poisoning others or using drugs to manipulate one’s state of consciousness (DeSilva, Galatians, 460). This is why some translations read “drug use” rather than “sorcery” or “witchcraft.” We think we are new at what we do but the things we see in our culture went on in the first century also. In the Greco-Roman world they would use drugs to kill their unwanted, unborn children (George, Galatians, 394). They would also use drugs to attain to a higher spirituality. We do the same, using drugs to kill or using drugs to get away from our problems and finding a higher level. Drug use for altering our minds or for killing is the gratifying of the desires of the flesh.
Now I think it is important to make a disclaimer. There are many medicines and drugs that we take to correct what is wrong with our bodies. Our bodies may be lacking a chemical or not work as it should and the medicine we take is intended to correct that problem. These are not the things that Paul is speaking about. But if we use drugs or medicine with the intention to alter our state of mind, this is what Paul was describing.
It is not okay to hate people. God told Israel to not hate others in their hearts (Leviticus 19:17). Further, God repeated told us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We have to be careful with our hearts that we are not justifying our hatred of someone. One of the things that has really happen with the news, media, and social media is the attempt to spark within us a violent reaction against something or someone. We are being encouraged to hate people who disagree with us. We are supposed to hate the president, hate the country, hate other countries, and hate other people. This heart of hatred then spills over into our neighborhood. Now we hate our neighbors, hate people driving on the road, hate people at the store, and hate people in other places and circumstances in which we meet them. We need to consider if the things we are watching are stirring up hate inside of us. Beware of a heart of hate because we are not walking by the Spirit when we hold those things in us.
Can you be happy for other people or are you bothered by the joy and success of others? When something happens to someone else, do you first think about yourself and wonder why you can’t have that same joy or success? Social media encourages our jealousy and envy. Everything is about showing other people what a perfect life we have. So then we respond showing what a perfect life we have. But all of it is a lie. No one has a perfect life. The meal that they just took a picture of is the first time they have done something like that in years. We need to realize that people now no longer do something and take a picture to remember the moment. Now people want to show off so they do something to impress or cause jealousy by the picture they take. We need to consider our hearts when we want people to be jealous of us or when we feel jealous for others. We are all in different spaces and different seasons of life. At any given time one person may be up and another may be down. We know that will change later. Be happy with your life and where you are.
Fits of Anger
Similarly, getting angry at people is not walking by the Spirit. We are not justified in having outbursts of wrath. Yelling, slamming doors, making a scene, getting red in the face, raising our voice, destroying property, and sharpening our tone from our anger is sinful. We cannot allow ourselves to justify our anger based on other people’s words or actions. Anger is selfish. You are mad because you do not like what someone did. Anger does not represent Christ. Anger does not produce the righteousness of God within us.
Dissensions and Divisions
More acceptable sins include dissensions and divisions. There is a lot of dissension in our country and in our culture. It is really easy to get caught up in it. It is really easy to start taking sides. There has been a lot of divisive issues over the last two years. People are arguing over masks, lockdowns, vaccines, alternate medications, and politics. Arguments over political parties and the slander of presidents are just the norm. But what cannot happen is that Christians become embroiled in these divisions and dissensions. We must not lose sight of Jesus and the cross for the sake of arguing over things. I want us to consider that if we get so fired up about these things that there may be a heart problem. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” (Romans 12:18 NASB) Are you at peace with all people?
What To Do
But I want you to notice what Paul does not say. Paul does not say, “So just stop it.” Clearly, Paul wants us to stop doing these things because he warns that those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the message is not to just stop it, though that is true. Nor is the point that the Christian will always avoid these sins. We all stumble and fall. What Paul wants you to do today is consider your lifestyle. “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (NIV). “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (CSB; NASB; NET; NKJV).
This sort of living is to be eye opening to us. If we are practicing these things then there is a significant heart problem. The message is that you are gratifying the desires of the flesh and are not walking by the Spirit. Later Paul will say that if we sow to these things we are going to reap destruction and corruption (6:8). If any of these things are repeatedly in our lives, then we are to understand that we are not walking by the Spirit. We are not winning the war. We are giving into the desires of the flesh. Listen to how the apostle John said this.
4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:4–10 ESV)
What we practice shows where we belong. John describes the two spheres as belonging to God or belonging to the devil. Paul describes the two spheres as living by the Spirit or living by the flesh. Our sinning shows that our hearts have been captured. So where should we begin? Verse 24 gives us a good picture of our starting point.
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24 ESV)
You cannot be fruitful until you pull out the weeds. I have an interesting weed in my front yard. It is very thin and grass like but it is growing up next to a plant and is winding around it. What it is trying to do is encompass the plant. It is stealing the resources and trying to choke out the plant as it wraps itself around it. These two cannot co-exist. The weeds must be removed. You must crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. I must stop thinking that I am walking with God when I am allowing any of these sins to continue to be practiced in my life. Now hear what I said. We are allowing these sins to remain in our lives. Paul said that we have the choice to crucify these desires and passions. Paul said that those who belong to Jesus have killed the flesh. The desires and the passions of the flesh are obvious. You know what your issues are. You know where you need to fight. You know what desires need to be crucified. You know that you cannot keep living like this and remain in the kingdom of God. Today is the day to fight back. Do not put it off any longer. Today is the day to go into the garden of your heart and tear out the weeds that are growing in there. Your soul is far too valuable to let the weeds keep growing.