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January 23, 2005
When the Flesh Runs the Show
The apostle challenges believers of long ago with the question: Do you really want to live in the flesh? Consider the returns, even for this life, and look in vain for a good reason to give in to the old man.
Were coming to a really interesting passage, particularly because in these few verses in Galatians 5 we have a shopping list of sins the works of the flesh. Well read Galatians 16 to 23 to set the context.
The apostle is dealing with these Galatians and trying to convince them that it isnt a good idea for them to trust in their own work in order to be right with God. As we come to these verses, its as though he is saying, Are you sure you want to go this way, Galatians? Have you counted the cost? Are you sure you want to entrust your relationship with God to yourself? Your works? Your capabilities? The merits of your flesh?
Beyond that, he contrasts the work of the flesh on one hand and the destination of that work and on the other with the fruit of the Spirit.
There are some passages in Proverbs that come to mind, the question being, Are you sure you want to go there? In Proverbs 7 there is an interesting scenario that is described for us.
The text goes on to describe this young man. Hes standing on the street corner; its obviously at night. Hes not the sharpest tool in the box at least from the standpoint of wisdom and morals. Here comes this wanton woman. She has everything set up. She is a seductress and is going to appeal to his flesh and make a pretty good pitch , a pretty convincing spiel. Come home with me, she says.
21With her many persuasions she
As were watching this young guy follow this wanton woman, its like he suddenly morphs into an ox in a yoke being led to the slaughter. Are you sure you want to go there? Be sure of your destination if you really want to go there.
23Until an arrow pierces through his liver;
Are you sure you want to go there?
Thats where the apostle is with those who will listen. Do you really want to trust yourself? Do you know where that goes? The text will tell us.
One other passage in Proverbs.
of folly is boisterous,
If you go through that door, do you know where it leads? Is that where you want to go?
As we claim Christ, as we claim to be Christians, we better understand how the flesh works and where it leads. These three verses (19-21) talk about the works of the flesh for our enlightenment.
The works of the flesh are obvious (5:19a)
The New American Standard says the works are evident. Probably a better word is obvious. You cant miss them. Theyre emblazoned for all to see. There are 15 naughty things coming up, 15 areas to avoid. Some have looked at them and said these are systematically arranged and so in order to apply uniquely to the situation in southern Galatia. After all, the first five have to do with their religion, the next have to do with their social position and then the third have to do with their social custom. I dont think so. I think what Paul has done is to pick some pretty prominent problems people certainly faced in that day and our day too. He even ends it by saying this isnt a full list.
While we may loosely group them, please understand that these works of the flesh are for all to see in that day and in our own. They are common to the human experience and they are quite obvious.
They are not necessarily hidden by religion. These are not the sins or crimes or vices or mistakes or shortcomings of the pagan world or the irreligious. Religion sometimes is used as a cloak for covering up whats going on in the inside. It doesnt work very well.
The apostle Paul, in Romans 1, talks about all these terrible things in the last few verses, a bigger list than the Galatians 5 list. Then in chapter 2, we can just hear the Jews saying, Thats not us. He cant be talking about me. By the way, dont you dare do that today. These verses are not for me to think, Who does this apply to here? No, these are verses for me and verses for you.
Thats a religious person thats
being described here, someone who obviously ascribes to a code of some sort of religion.
Paul knows. Hes of them. Thats his background. He came right out of that religion. He knows whats going on behind the scene. Dont let religion be a cloak for the works of the flesh. Its easy enough to do. When we subscribe to a religion that gives us a lot of rules, a lot of times that actually works in reverse. In our fallen minds and in our self-centered natural way many times we will say, Ive kept these rules so therefore anything that isnt within their parameters must be ok.
Oftentimes, those who are the strictest with themselves in one dimension of life let it all out on the other. Thats the works of the flesh. Thats what the flesh will accomplish for us. It will set up parameters for us. Anything beyond those we feel ok in our own minds making our behavior, that which is obvious, the works of the flesh, even clearer to see.
Thats what the Pharisees did. You can read about them in the 23rd chapter of Matthew where on the outside theyre going around supposedly doing all kinds of righteous and wonderful and good things. But Jesus castigates them severely in Matthew 23 for excluding people from the kingdom along their way. They had all these rules but the rules are actually working to the detriment of the people and to their own souls.
By way of example, lets turn to Mark 7. Jesus is talking to the Pharisees:
8"Neglecting the commandment of
God, you hold to the tradition of men."
What does he mean? God is real clear about certain things.
They set up their own rules and figured as long as they operate within those boundaries
anything else is fine.
Father and mother are pretty important to God. But you say anything of mine you might have been helped by is given to God, special and dedicated. I am no longer permitted to do anything for my father or mother. Thats invalidating the Word of God by your tradition. Youve made yourselves rules and your own rules that make you feel better about yourself or that give you an avenue to gratify yourself are actually giving an avenue to violate the work of God. Youve participated then in the works of the flesh and youre wrong.
Religion, just being religious, isnt necessarily the fix. The fix is change from inside. The Spirit of God controlling our life is what makes the difference. The works of the flesh are obvious. Before we move on from that particular point, lets remember that the book of Galatians was written to people claiming to be Christians, yet they were confused between trusting totally in Jesus with trusting totally in Jesus and adding something to it. Paul said you dont need to add anything to it! They wanted to have their rules. Hes saying thats a dangerous, dangerous path to follow. Are you sure you want to go there?
The works of the flesh are eternally fatal (5:21b)
Before we get to the list I want this to be something of an explanation of where this is going, because that list is 15 problems. We need to have them in context before we get to them. The end of verse 21 says I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
This is a warning so lets not dismiss it as anything less than that. Its a warning that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. That is serious, serious language and it isnt mine, I read it right out of the Bible.
Lets explain two points to that. In the first place, the word practice, (New American Standard Bible) or those who live like this, (NIV) shall not inherit the kingdom of God. There is what grammarians call a linear force to that verb. This is your lifestyle. It suggests an unchecked, unremorseful, cut-loose, this is me. This is who I am. Those practicing living this way. The verb has a sense of ongoing.
That means that isolated incidents, while they are sin, dont necessarily indicate eternal fatality. But if in fact this is my lifestyle, I have every reason to be concerned spiritually speaking. Thats what the text is saying those who are practicing such things.
Secondly, shall not inherit. That isnt a prophecy; its a promise. And it couldnt be said more clearly. We may think, the Bible is so harsh. Harsh? If youre going to live eternally with a holy God there will be prerequisites. Its just how it is. It would be unloving to lie at this point because this is important.
Were talking eternally fatal. Lets go to the heavenly realm. (Revelation 21). This is what heaven looks like. This is the best description we have of that eternally glorious place. Revelation 21 talks about the pearly gates and the lambs, the temple, no need of light, nations shall walk by its light, the gates will never be closed, and the glory and honor of the nations will live. Its a glorious place. Look at verse 27:
Do you get the point? The picture is that certain people wont be there. You can count on not being there if your life is characterized by the work of the flesh. To say anything less than that would be unloving. Thats why Jesus died. Do you see it? You dont get to heaven by your merits. You get to heaven by putting your trust in Him. Every heinous sin mentioned in the Bible, whether its in Galatians 5 or anywhere else, every crime, sin, shortcoming, everything in the Bible, everything in life, all of it, is under the blood, if only we put all our trust in Him to save us.
This doesnt negate the cross. It highlights the cross and how badly we need to put all our trust in Him. The issues are eternal and theyre serious and thats why He died. Dont forget that.
The works of the flesh are harmful (5:19b-21a)
Lets move to the list in Galatians 5. I really thought there was a way this could be handled creatively, kind of in an uplifting fashion, but I dont know what that way is, so what were going to do is just wade through it.
I have these in four groups. They roughly fit this: the first three have to do with physical sensuality; that is, the misuse of Gods temple physically our bodies. The next two have to do with pagan religious practices, having to do with sorcery and adultery. Then there are eight having to do with people getting along with one another. Then finally there are two that I entitle reckless living, drunkenness and carousing and so forth.
The first well talk about is physical sensuality or a misuse of Gods temple.
Immorality. The NIV focuses on sexual immorality. It has to do with human sexual immorality. Its also translated in the Bible as fornication, a general term that means sexual sin, sexual misbehavior outside the bounds of marriage.
This was an extremely common problem in the first century and hasnt changed much. It was such a common problem in the first century that once people became Christians and organized churches it continued to be a problem. If you dont realize that, read chapter 5 and 6 of I Corinthians. People seemed to think nothing of trafficking in fornication even as part of the church. The apostle is saying no, God has created sexuality and given it boundaries and sanctified it as a beautiful thing. Anything outside of marital bounds is fornication.
The word was specifically used in the sense of temple prostitution. Much of pagan religion had to do with fertility rites and so forth. Temples had the dubious privilege of employing prostitutes so the people could pay their religious dues in creative ways. Unsanctified sexual activity is what is meant. This will hurt you. I Corinthians chapter 3 says that fornication, this very word, is a sin against your own body as well as a sin against God. It will bear poor fruit.
Impurity. He moves from fornication to impurity. Thats the word from both NIV and NAS. Its a general term for any unsanctified sexual behavior. We really cant wiggle out here. Some will say they really dont have a problem with that, but maybe theres an issue having to do with pornography that troubles me. Pornography and pornea, the words work together, thats where the word comes from.
Any unsanctified sexual activity comes under uncleanness. In Ephesians chapter 5 the apostle uses these words in conjunction.
It isnt just an issue of a physically adulterous act. Hes saying any impurity is a work of the flesh. Hes already said earlier in Galatians 5 that the flesh is in love with the flesh. Any way of gratifying self is going to be a strong pull on the part of the flesh. It needs to be identified for what it is. It is a work of the flesh and a lifestyle thats characterized thereby is a lifestyle that is eternally fatal.
Sensuality. The third word is sensuality or debauchery. Its an interesting word, we dont hear or use it a lot. Its unrestrained wantonness. We might say the passionate pursuit of perversion. The works of the flesh are obvious. They are manifest. They are evident.
In Ephesians 4 he uses the expression again. He talks about the former way of life that many experience. In verse 18, darkened in understanding, excluded from the life of God because of ignorance and hardness of heart, and verse 19:
Greediness, wantonness. Its like an abandonment of all restraint. Its self gratification at any price and it becomes an obsession. Its obvious as a work of the flesh.
Moving from the physical misuse of Gods temple to the next two:
Idolatry. Clearly this is something that from a religious standpoint was much more common in the first century world than in our world today. Idolatry, worship of a false god or its image. In those days they actually built them out of wood or stone or metallic elements. Sometimes they made them out of wood and then covered them with precious metal foils and then bowed down to worship them. Of course the prophets and apostles were down on that.
In our day, as Im sure youre aware, were not as much into blatant worship of idols. We are into a more subtle form of idolatry, putting anything created ahead of the God, the creator. Sometimes those are things we can see, like guns and boats and animals and people. Other times there are things we cant see, like reputation or status or prestige. Anything created that comes before God falls into the realm of idolatry.
Sorcery. The next is sorcery, in the NIV, witchcraft. The word is pharmakao, which is the word from which we get pharmacology, the pharmacist, the pharmacy, having to do with drugs. The reason is so often in the early world when people were into sorcery, necromancy, these types of things, forms of witchcraft and occult practices, much of it was and is drug induced.
Theres a passage in Isaiah 47 that touches on this. It shines a little bit of light on it. In Isaiah 47 the Babylonians are being chided for their use of witchcraft, their sorceries, and how it is that they used chemicals to help enhance that experience. Beginning in verse 8 is where this discussion happens. In verse 10 its gets a little more specific.
The prophet is making the connection between their false, hollow trust in what they could conjure chemically and spiritually as opposed to what is true and what the God of history has said clearly He will do and then He does.
Do not dabble in anything of this nature. Be wary of any chemical that would alter the mind or that would cause the mind to be open. There have been many Christian people who have found themselves in the grip of spiritual evil because, perhaps with good intentions, theyve emptied their minds and have been plagued spiritually. Dont ever submit to that. Meditation for a Christian is not emptying ones mind. Meditation for a Christian is filling ones mind with Gods truth and chewing on it, not in an Eastern sense of trying to contemplate one hand clapping or some exercise that would be mind emptying.
When that happens we make ourselves vulnerable spiritually. Be wary of that. Its real. The reason that the Bible warns us away from witchcraft, astrology, sorcery, and such, is not because it doesnt work. Its because there is a spiritual underworld. It does work. It amounts to a distraction and an entrapment from what is true. Avoid it at all costs.
If were feeling pretty good about our moral and spiritual lives up to this point, stand by, because the next eight items tend to be more common to our human experience in many cases.
Enmities. Is your life is characterized by enmities? (NIV talks about hatred). Linguists many years ago said this amounts to the opposite of what we know as agape love or self-sacrificial love -- love that puts the object first. Its an antagonistic feeling between two groups of people, sometimes identified ethnically.
Remember Luke 23 where Herod was in town at Jesus trial? Because Pilate didnt really have this all figured out, he invited Herod to come and talk to Jesus. Jesus, of course, wouldnt talk to him. The text says in Luke 23:12 that after that, Pilate and Herod were pretty good buds. Up to that point, they had been enemies, at enmity with one another. Why wouldnt they be? Pilate is a Roman pagan, an interloper and an assignee from the capital city. He had no care nor concern for matters Jewish nor really for matters local. Herod, to the north, well, Pilate has his brothers spot. Theres a natural antagonism between Herod, the Jewish politician in the north, and Pilate in the south. They were natural enemies. They hated each other until they agreed to hate Jesus together.
Strife. The book of Ephesians talks about the historical natural animosity between Jew and Gentile as being an expression of this very enmity. Its interesting how with these, one leads to another because we move from enmity to strife. We move from hatred to discord. You go long enough hating somebody, eventually there will be strife. There will be a falling out. There will be discord. This is the very word used of the believers in I Corinthians 3 about the different groups in the church. I am of Paul. I am of Apollos I am of Cephas. They had discord among themselves. They had already been identified in their groups, had already concluded that our group doesnt like their group. So that enmity between groups erupted eventually into discord in Corinth.
Discord happens when enmity is unchecked. If strife and discord characterize us, we are exhibiting the works of the flesh. We are not trusting in the work of the Spirit at all.
Jealousy. Lets not confuse envy with jealousy. They are not the same thing. This is a deliberate use of the word. Its used by the Sanhedrin. In Acts 5 they were so mad at the apostles, they were filled with jealousy. So they had the apostles imprisoned. Jealousy means I want to keep whats mine. Envy means I want whats yours. Theres a difference.
The Sanhedrin had power, prestige, clout, social status. They saw the apostles as a threat to that and so were filled with jealousy, with a strong desire to keep what was theirs. In order to do that, they had them thrown in prison.
Its important to identify whats ours. Its not ours, its His. We arent owners, were managers of what God has entrusted to us. That should help with the issue of jealousy. Its an intense feeling and its a work of the flesh.
Outbursts of anger. Jealousy is followed by outbursts of anger, fits of rage. Isnt it interesting how one of these can lead to the next. Outbursts of anger or fits of rage this is what happened with Jesus when He went to Nazareth in the 4th chapter of Luke and declared himself to be Messiah. They asked Him to do a few miracles. He said I dont see why I should. As a matter of fact, God doesnt only favor Jews. It says those people of Nazareth were so filled with rage that they wanted to throw Him off a cliff.
The same thing happened in the 19th chapter of Acts, the riot of the silversmiths. They clamored for hours in the streets of Ephesus. Ephesus was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire. When the silversmiths saw their trade was being threatened by people becoming Christians, they pitched a fit. It became known as a riot. The silversmiths were just nuts over the fact that they were losing business to these Christians. They were filled with rage.
Disputes. You might say that a dispute is a mild form of being filled with rage. The NIV term is selfish ambition. Its a general term, simply playing to the flesh. The flesh is always self-seeking, always marked by selfishness.
Dissentions. Splits. It literally means taking two stands. Thats what happens when people do not get along.
Factions. That word was used of the Christians in Acts 24. Its a faction in an unpleasant way. We look down on that other group because theyre them and were us. That business of looking down on them as them means we have created a faction. Its a negative connotation.
Envying. Envy is similar to jealousy except with jealousy I want to keep whats mine. With envy, I want whats yours. Pilate knew that out of envy the Sanhedrin had delivered Him up They wished they had what Jesus had. They didnt and so they acted out of envy and delivered Him up to be crucified.
Those are conflicts with others, much more common, I would hope, to our human experience that perhaps a lot of the rest of the list, but well worth our consideration. Fixed, if we would only remember whose we are and what He has done for us. If only we know our Bibles and are committed to following them then disputes between people and particularly people in Gods family, are fixable if everybody agrees to follow Gods word.
Drunkenness and carousing. The fourth category and only these two, reckless living. Its evident in things you read in the newspaper. Drunkenness, in the NIV, its orgies, but more accurately probably, carousing. Its being out there partying it up continually as a way of life with drunkenness and carousing and carrying on.
Thats the list. And Paul says, not an exhaustive list. Any time the flesh is running the show, we can count on self-centered, self-absorbed behavior. Probably on the most serious note, its fatal. A person who lives this way, whose life is characterized thusly, can count on eternal condemnation. Its fatal. Shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Im going to close with good news from I Corinthians 6
A different list in many regards, same idea. It says dont
be deceived. Dont kid yourself or fool yourself on this point. But please read verse 11:
That is so wonderful! Otherwise, wed be left with just us. We might behave, but it still wouldnt work. We need Him to save us and thats what He does. He saves us and then, normally, bit by bit, he changes us. And such were some of you, but you were washed, sanctified, made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God.
taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®,
Jim Carlson 2004, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA