Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outburst of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (NASB).
At the close of World War II, two pictures appeared in a magazine showing a soldier in conflict with a tank. The first showed a huge tank bearing down on a tiny soldier, about to crush him. The picture was proportioned to show the odds involved when a foot soldier with a rifle faced a tank. The next picture showed what happened to the rocket launcher, in his hands. This time the tank appeared to be shrunken in size and the soldier at least equal in size, if not a little larger.
Without the power of God released in our lives, when in conflict with sin, we are like an infantry soldier in the presence of a tank. We cannot do a thing. But by trust in the power of the living God at work in us, we can say no and make it stick. We can turn and begin to live as God intended for us to live.
Two Texans were traveling together on a vacation, They decided to stop at one of the natural wonders of the world, the Niagara Falls. As they took the beautiful drive from Lake Eerie to the falls they were filled with admiration and awe at the size and power of the Niagara River. They were particularly impressed with the rapids just above the falls and stopped there to look. From there they could see the massive mist cloud that always hangs over the precipice.
One of the men, having already been there said, “Come and I’ll show you the greatest unused power in the world.” Taking him to the foot of the Niagara Falls, he said, “There is the greatest unused power in the world.” “Ah, no, my friend, not so!” was the response of the other. “The greatest unused power in the world is the Holy Spirit of the living God.” And when you refuse to yield your life to the Holy Spirit, you will produce the works of the flesh.
Today, we are continuing our study on “The Danger of the Fleshly-Controlled Life.”
In verses 16 and 17, God in His word has revealed to us the conflict or tension between the Spirit and the flesh. Here Paul enumerates the manifestation of the works of the flesh. In verses 22-26, we will also see the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. So, in a nutshell, these are catalog lists of vices and virtues. The “works of the flesh” are outward expressions of the lust (cravings) of the flesh. The word of God says that the “works of the flesh are evident.” That is they are open for all to see, in contrast to the hiddenness of the fruit of the Spirit (v. 16). When a person is walking in the flesh the last place in the Bible he will open is Galatians 5:19-21. The problem is that people don’t want to be confronted with their sin, but until you allow the Word of God to confront you with your sin, you will never find freedom through the power of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the Apostle Paul in presenting the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to two realizations. First, libertinism that is life without restraint has dire negative consequences. In other words, if you live a life marked by the controlled of the flesh, you would pay a huge price. Second, that serving one another through love (v. 13) and living “by the Spirit” (v. 16) have significant positive results. Beginning from verses 19-21 the word of God gives us the list of fifteen sins. These sins are divided into three categories. Verse 19 is called moral sins; verse 20a is known as religious sins—idolatry and sorcery or witchcraft; the third category is social sins (vv. 20b-21).
- MORAL SINS (V. 19).
In verses 19-21, the Word of God presents to us the outcome of the life
characterized by the flesh. In other words, when life is controlled or dominated by the flesh—sinful nature, you will produce the works of the flesh. Many times you and I have conflicts with the flesh simply because we don’t take the responsibility we should take to be in God’s Word, to follow His instruction, and to be filled with the Spirit. And even when we do hear the Spirit tug or speak to us in a certain way, we close our ears. The moment we do that the outcome of our lives would not be pretty.
The Graeco-Roman World was filled with unbridled sin. I wish I could say that our contemporary society is far better, but I cannot. Because human nature has not changed. In his list of moral sins, Paul names immorality first. The Greek word is porneia. It is from this word that we get the English equivalent “pornography.” The word has to do with unlawful and immoral sexual relationships. The best rendering is sexual immorality. The word covers a lot of ground such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, prostitution, pornography, and others. Originally the word meant “prostitution.” The word also related to the sale of slaves. In the Roman world, prostitutes were commonly purchased as slaves. Sexual promiscuity is rampant in our world today. The sad thing is that some Christians are part of it. I listened to June Hunt say in our Seminary chapel that in her “Hope for the Heart” Counseling program, she has ministered to many Christians including pastors who are addicted to pornography. The Word of God says that sex outside marriage is sinful. It doesn’t matter whether you are single or married. If you are single stay pure. If you are married stay pure with only your spouse. Maybe you have piles of pornographic magazines and videotapes, and DVDs that you watch when your children are not home, destroy all of them for the sake of purity before Christ.
The verse also talks about impurity and sensuality. The word “impurity” is from the Greek word akatharsia. In the physical sense, it means “dirt” or “dirtiness,” pus or impurities in a medical sense, unclean or uncleanness in a ritual or ceremonial sense, and lack of purity or looseness in a moral sense. In the New Testament, it has to do with sexual impurity or looseness in a moral sense. While sometimes people from the Western world characterized Africa as the “Dark Continent” some of these loose living were uncommon in Africa. When I lived in Berlin and Munich, Germany in the 80s, there were some places that I determined not to visit. These are parks or gardens, and red-light districts. It is a shame to mention what people do in such places. We face similar situations right here in the United States. Rev. Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, near Chicago has written a book on Pornography. The title of the book is Christians in a Sex Crazed Society. Let me share some of the highlights of his book with you. First, he says that pornography has changed for the worse. Christians cannot allow our children to go to the Internet without seeing pornography. One pastor discovered pornography in his secretary’s computer. Second, Hybels discovered that pornography is addictive. When you are hooked it is difficult to free yourself. Third, he saw that pornography is degrading to women. Fourth, Hybels discovered that pornography undermines marriage. Finally, he found out that pornography is devastating to children. The word impurity also means indecency. It means the absence of restraint, indecency, wantonness. The prominent idea is shameless conduct. What causes decent people to blush is no shame to the indecent.
The next word is sensuality. It is from the Greek word aselgeia, it connotes extreme “licentiousness” or “debauchery.” One English New Testament scholar, the late William Barclay defines it as, “a love of sin so reckless and so audacious that a person has ceased to care what God or man thinks of his actions.” The Apostle Paul begins the list of sins with moral sins because they were rampant in the Graeco-Roman Empire of his day. If the Apostle Paul were here today, perhaps he would weep as he wept for some of his congregations. Today women are turning to men and men becoming women in a literal sense. They have lost their innate identity. What a shame!
- RELIGIOUS SINS V. 20A
The religious sins are made up of idolatry and sorcery or witchcraft. These were sins connected with pagan religions. It is the transfer of devotion, reverence, and worship of the true and Living God to an idol. In Paul’s day, it was the “typical sin of the Gentiles.” The danger in idolatry is that there are demonic forces behind it. Therefore, to participate in a pagan sacrificial feast is to become partners with demons (1 Cor. 10:19-21). Sexual immorality and idolatry are strongly connected in the Bible. Those of us who have studied the Book of Hosea have come across these pairs of sins so many times in our study. In the broadest sense idolatry is the worship of anything which usurps the rightful place of God. The word of God says that greed is nothing less than idolatry (Col. 3:5). The goal of idolatry is self-glory but the aim of Christianity is God’s glory. Do you have any idols in your life? Is there anything in your life, which you love more than God? In the United States of America, idols are not carved in stones or graven images. They are carved in the Royal Mint, plastic metals, electronic gadgets, luxury cars, etc. Idolatry is a rebellion because it constitutes a violation of God’s command.
Sorcery or witchcraft is the next in line of religious or pagan sins. The Greek word is pharmakeia, from which we get the English word “pharmacy.” “Pharmacy” is a positive word, which means to dispense drugs for medicinal purposes. When the word is used in a negative way, it means the use of drugs to poison people and the use of drugs in sorcery or witchcraft. Many years ago in Ghana, some used poison to kill others they didn’t like. Some of these wicked persons would grow long fingernails in which they stored the poison. Then in a social gathering when people are drinking and maybe the person this evil person wanted to poison got up to use the restroom, he would put the poison in the drink. People who were careful would make sure they empty their drink before they used the restroom. The effect of the poison might not be felt instantly until the poisoned person reached home. The family might not find out the cause of the death. This is called “murder by poison.” It was also common in the Roman world when people were fighting for positions of prestige. In Africa, we call these sorcerers “witch doctors.” Some cast spell on others to destroy them. The practice of sorcery also includes the realm of magic, that is the use of drugs, chants, and ceremonies which in themselves possess power to produce desired results or changes in people, circumstances, or events both black and white magic. If you are a genuine Christian (sincere) and you break biblical norms in seeking spiritual experiences, you can be deceived by demonic spirits. Those of you who attend churches where they bless water for you to drink or bathe, and others who are given potions to smear their bodies are unconsciously courting the friendship of demons. Never accept anything which does not have any biblical precedent.
The rest of the sins are social sins. However, I will divide them into spiritual sins and the sins of intemperance.
- SPIRITUAL SINS VV. 20B-21A
I call this spiritual sins because people can conceal most of them from the knowledge of others. First on the list is enmities, hatred, or hostilities in whatever form it is expressed. In the New Testament, it is used with reference to the hostility between Herod and Pilate (Luke 23:12). The same word is used of humankind’s hostility against God (cf. Rom. 8:7; Eph. 2:14; James 4:4). They are also sins that affect many Christians. Many Christians don’t have problems with moral and religious sins but when we come to sins such as enmities, envy, jealousy, strife, factions, and covetousness that is where the struggle is. Hate at its best will distort you, at its worst, it will destroy you, but it will always immobilize you. The second of the spiritual sins is strife. The same word can mean “discord,” “quarreling,” “wrangling,” or “contention.” Persons of such a disposition do not have or enjoy peace. They have a rival spirit. Such persons are hard to get along with in a family, work, or team. They don’t create harmony in a group. The next word is jealousy. The Greek word is zelos from which we get the English zeal, zealous, or zealot. It has both positive and negative connotations. If it refers to zeal or zealot, it is a noble passion. The only way you can notice the difference is the context in which it is used. Jealousy is an unfriendly feeling excited by another’s welfare. It is the desire to have for yourself what another person possesses (Eccl. 4:4; 9:6; Rom. 13:13). Jealousy can cause people to harm others or even kill them.
Outburst of anger is from the Greek word thumoi. Like jealousy, it can be used in a good and bad sense. In a good sense, it is used in reference to God’s wrath ((Rev. 14:10) and in a bad sense it is used for Satan’s rage (Rev. 12:12). In the NT most often it usually means the human expression of anger or rage. We call it temper tantrum, persons who have short fuse. It describes a person who blows up at the least provocation. The book of Ecclesiastes 7:9) calls such a person a fool. Most of the time you cannot reason with a person who has such a disposition. Such persons allow the emotion of anger to suppress their rationality. Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations yet to come, to savor to the lust toothsome morsel both the pain you have received and the pain you are giving back; in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that you are wolfing down yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.
The next word is disputes. Disputes in a political sense means, “Canvassing for office” or “office seeking.” It came, however, to acquire the meaning of “self-seeking,” “selfish devotion to one’s interests,” or “selfish ambition.” It characterized the life of John and James, the sons of Zebedee when they went to Jesus to request that they be seated on His right and left in His kingdom (Matt. 20:20-21). Too many people conduct their lives cafeteria-style—self-service only. A little boy and his sister were riding a hobby horse together. The boy said, “If one of us would just get off this hobby horse, there would be more room for me.” For both Apostle Paul and James, selfishness is the very root-vice of all sin. Selfishness is the antithesis (opposite) of the all-inclusive virtue, love.
The next spiritual sins are “dissensions and factions.” The same word is “sedition” in a political sense. The Apostle Paul warned the Roman church to watch out for those who caused dissensions (Rom. 16:17). He cautioned them that such persons do not serve Christ, but themselves and their own appetites. Such persons cause divisions in a church, group, and organizations. Factions in classical writings means, “Taking captive, capture, or seizure.” It carries an idea of the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group. Such a feeling is unhealthy in a church or in any group setting.
Last but not the least ist of the spiritual sins is envy. Envy is closely parallel in meaning to jealousy. Envy can create malice or ill-will. This is one sin that immobilizes many Christians. Even pastors are not immune to envy. There is a fable (story, tale) that Satan’s agents were failing in their various attempts to draw into sin a holy man who lived as a hermit in the desert of northern Africa. Every attempt had met with failure, and so Satan angered with the incompetence of his subordinates, became personally involved in the case. He said, “The reason you have failed is that your methods are too crude for one such as this. Watch this.” He then approached the holy man with great care and whispered softly in his ears, “Your brother had just been made the bishop of Alexandria.” Instantly the holy man’s face showed that Satan had been successful. A great scowl formed over his mouth and his eyes tightened up. Envy said Satan, “is often our best weapon against those who seek holiness.”
- THE SIN OF INTEMPERANCE V. 21B
Drunkenness and reveling or orgies are the sins of intemperance. The Book of Proverbs says, who has problems and who has the redness of eyes (Prov. 23:29-35). Solomon is referring to drunkards. The Apostle Paul commands Christians to be filled with the Spirit. In the same verse, he contrasts the excessive use of alcohol with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Some Christians and preachers think that Paul makes a comparison. Therefore, they think that when you are filled with the Holy Spirit you are to be uncontrollable like the person who is under the influence of wine. This interpretation is far from the truth. Paul says the effect of being filled with wine is debauchery or dissipation. But the effects of being filled with the Holy Spirit is praise, loving relationships, and thankfulness to God. Drunkenness results in violence, the Spirit produces gentleness. In the pagan Graeco-Roman world, the Greeks had a god of wine. His name was Bacchus. He used to possess those who were drunk and were involved in orgies. The good news is that Christianity is what gave the Gentiles the power and help to fight off these sins in their lives.
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."
Reproduction is authorised provided the author's permission is granted.