Galatians 


Study 38: Gal.5:16-21 

The works of the flesh




Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do [=practise] such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Gal.5:19-21

1. Works or fruit?


Having established that we either walk in the Spirit or flesh, we now see the outcome of both paths. We will either exhibit the works of the flesh,  or display the fruit of the Spirit. It is interesting that Paul uses these words for the result of whichever course is taken.

The word fulfil in v16 means to bring to a completion, it indicates the final end of the action in question. So here in this horrid list, of the works of the flesh, we see the ultimate result of the lusts of the flesh. Laying down external rules to live thereby may seem laudable to some, but what is the final destiny of such actions? Oswald Chambers said that if you want to know if a course of action was correct, just press that course to its logical conclusion and that will tell you. Here Paul lays before us the conclusion to the works  of the flesh.

It is noteworthy that Paul uses the word 'works'  for the flesh, and 'fruit' for walking in the Spirit. The  words used are most apt: work means in the Greek 'employment', and this list gives us what the natural man ultimately engages in when independent from God; when walking in the flesh there is an inevitability that one will arrive at the destination where the works of thee flesh will be exhibited.

Fruit on the other hand is the natural result of a life. Those who walk in the Spirit do so because of the life that God implanted in them, and consequently the result will be the fruit of that life as listed here in Galatians.

The question is: what do our individual lives manifest, the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit? Are we trying to live the Christian life by works of the flesh, if so then at some stage there will an arrival at a place where the works of the flesh will be manifested.

This list of the works of the flesh is both long and depressing. It is not the purpose of this study to examine each one in detail, nor dwell on them unnecessarily since we are exhorted to think on those things which are pure and lovely Phil.4:8.  We shall briefly list and comment on the list, and then offer  examples from scripture .

2. The works of the flesh


The first part of the list points out the sexual  sins. The Bible teaching on this issue can be summed up as: any sexual activity outside of the marriage bond of one man and one woman is sin. Adultery is unfaithfulness to one's spouse, but  Jesus showed us that it wasn't just the physical act but also the heart behind the action, even if no physical contact is made Mtt.5:27-28. But let us also remember that Jesus offers forgiveness here too, with the command not to sin again. Jn.8:10-11. Fornication is usually regarded as a sin by a person in an unmarried state. Uncleanness is connected to keeping keeping things in order (Mtt.23:27), and is thought to refer to unnatural lusts. I Thess.2:3 seems to suggest that such sins and evil doctrine are often connected.  Finally,  lasciviousness is to do with those things that lead to any sexual sin, or attends them. For example: thoughts, gestures, filthy words etc. 



The best religion, the most fervent devotion without Christ is plain idolatry.

--Martin Luther

Covetousness is idolatry Col.3:5, the idolatry seen in Rom.1:22-25 leads to immorality. It is clear that one step can lead very easily, and quickly to another, as our example of Saul below will show. The word for witchcraft also can be translated as 'sorcery', and it's from the Greek word used that we get our word 'pharmacy'. The background word being that for drugs, which  were used in witchcraft and other occult arts.

 The third part of our list  we see  some of the wrong attitudes to others that can be exhibited. Hatred [=enmity to others] the opposite of agape love. The scripture links this to murder, which is later mentioned. Hatred is the inward disposition, murder the outward expression I Jn.3:15Variance means to cut apart, to cause contention; emulations being jealousy, and wrath is hot anger. James tells us that man's wrath does not work the righteousness of God. Jms.1:20

The word translated strife in the KJV here means rivalries (YLT) Seditions mean standing out and is  dissension and division.  Heresies are essentially a self chosen opinion  that is substituted for submission to the truth. Often these opinions are  a result of personal preferences, and lead to sects ( This is a secondary meaning of the Greek word for heresy) We shall examine an example  of James and John below.

Envyings, this being a feeling of displeasure on hearing the advantage of others. Drunkenness, being intoxicated, with the implication that it is habitual Lk.21:34; Rom.13:13. Revellings this is the consequence of drunkenness. The such like simply telling us that these are but some of the works of the flesh, there are others; the point being that by walking in the flesh a person will end up  occupied by the works of the flesh.

It is interesting to note that Peter, in his first epistle, talks of  these works of the flesh as being working out the will of the Gentiles! Also that our testimony of being in Christ is that we do not run with them in the same excess. I Pet.4:1-6


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3.  Saul an example 

And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering. And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him. And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering. And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.

I Sam.13:8-14

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
I Sam. 15:23

So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it;

I Chr.10:13

Originally the nation of Israel was a Theocracy, and in the immediate days before Saul was made king, Samuel, the last of the Judges, was the man who was God's voice to  the nation.  However the people soon became restless, especially when Samuel's sons went astray, and demanded a king like the other nations; they had rejected the rule of God from their lives and walked in the flesh. Saul was the people's ( the flesh's ) choice. I Sam.8:7. At first Saul's reign  seemed to go well, but then we have the downward steps as highlighted in the scriptures above; all the steps are a result of Saul walking in the flesh.

Firstly,  whilst waiting for Samuel Saul grew impatient and offered sacrifices to the Lord. Now this was not permitted by any but by the appointed priests of Israel. (Another king, Uzziah, made a similar mistake many years later, and was struck with leprosy  II Chr. 26:16-20) As a result God said that his kingdom would not continue.

Secondly, we have the the incident when Saul fought the Amalekites. Now Saul was commanded to destroy everyone and everything. But his obedience was incomplete, for he saved alive the king, and some sheep and oxen. Saul's excuse  was pathetic and plainly of the flesh: he, who should have been king, and therefore in charge,  said he feared the people and obeyed their voice I Sa.15:24. (note we obey whom we fear!) He feared the flesh and so obeyed the flesh ( was this because he was chosen by them in the first place?). The result? God now rejected him as king. His sin was said to be on par with witchcraft and idolatry.

Finally, Saul consulted the witch of Endor; he was at war with the  Philistines, he greatly feared and the Lord did not answer him I Sam.28:4-6. Thus this man, the king of Israel, sought out  a witch. The result? A severe rebuke and warning, that Saul, having disobeyed  God,  would die in battle.

Considering these steps we can follow the downward spiral: an initial choice of the flesh, sacrificing because he thought it good; partial obedience  to the Lord by not destroying all the Amalekites, because he feared the people; and finally disobedience, which is likened to witchcraft, led to actual witchcraft. The consequences also were a progressive downward spiral: first just the kingdom stripped from his prosperity, then Saul removed as king,  and finally his life taken, ending up in a suicide's grave.

Saul's tragic life is a good example of walking in the flesh. One step led to another, then another and so on. We have missed out the story with David, but the same idea is seen. The flesh ( seen in Saul) persecuting the spirit ( as seen in David). The reader is left to consider this more for himself.
 

4. James and John


And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.


Mk.10:35-45


One very illustrative incident in the gospels is that of James and John. On at least two occasions we see the Lord rebuking them for exhibiting the  ways of the flesh and not the  Spirit. One such time was when they would have called fire down from heaven. Lk.9:53-56. The second time is when they desired to be on the right hand and left hand of Jesus.

On this occasion this personal preference ( see heresy above) led to displeasure amongst the others and if left unchecked would have brought a division in the apostolic band. Jesus' reply was very enlightening.

Firstly He stated he didn't have the authority to bestow such honour. But, more importantly, He said that He had a baptism to be baptised with and that they too would be likewise baptised. What was He talking about? The answer is simple. His death and resurrection. Jesus was going to the  cross to be baptised into our death in order to put away sin and  the old nature amongst other things. Three days lay He was to be raised to life.

This unique act of God at Calvary was in order to bring us into newness of life. On new birth we are baptised into Christ I Cor.12:13. And this baptism is a baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection, see Rom.6. Consequently we are brought to the  death of the old man, and the flesh so that we can live and walk in the Spirit.

James and John could have acted in no other way as they did before Pentecost, for they were in the flesh. Since their new birth they acted differently: they walked in the Spirit, all notions of living in the desires of their own hearts had gone. Instead of calling fire down from heaven on their enemies James suffered as a martyr Acts 12:1. John became known as the apostle of love, one who thought of others and not of seeking self promotion. What a change their baptism made, and they never walked in their fleshly ways again.

5. Summary

We have briefly outlined the list of the works of the flesh, and then using one example from the OT, have seen the way in which king Saul went down to a miserable end because of his continued walking in the flesh. On the other hand in the NT example, whilst we see James and John follow their natural fleshly ways, we are given the way in which God was to bring people out of the lusts of the flesh. That way is the way of cross.

If we are born anew then we are crucified with Christ, and have His Spirit within us, let us therefore walk in the way of that life, and not after the flesh.