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The Works of the Flesh
Galatians Five – Part One

December 2015

As with any Bible study it is proper biblical protocol to look at the desired text within the context it is written. We must find out the reason that the text was written and how it goes along with the scripture text around it, before any proper interpretation can be obtained. Therefore let us first look at Galatians Chapter five as a whole.

In Galatians five the apostle exhorts his readers to stand fast in Christian liberty, and warns against the abuse of said liberty. He directs us to shun various vices, and encourages us to the exercise of several graces and the observance of several duties; and then he concludes with a caution against vain glory, provoking anyone to wrath, and envy: in other words “keep near the cross.” Paul here speaks of it as a divine laboratory where the flesh is killed daily until it is finally put to death. Paul goes on to say the flesh was nailed to the cross in God’s sight in the same way as Christ was. That being the case, how can redeemed ones take up the flesh-life again? We have been crucified with Christ, so that we ought to find ourselves dead to our former selves and circumstances, and made alive to the new “divine” self in Christ.

     As you may already know “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2nd Corinthians 5:17). The new created man, is now changed in his character, his thinking and conduct. These words mean more than an outward reformation, they primarily refer to the man who formerly saw no beauty in the Savior that he should desire him and now loves him above all things.  The man who ignored all aspects of the Savior’s sacrifice, His works or His sayings now holds to them with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. Now the revelation of their importance, once thought worthless, now holds the most vital truth man has ever known, the truth that holds eternity with our Savior in its values.

 In Galatians five the apostle pictures two antagonistic forces which are in a continual conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. He also shows us that we are not to stand unde­cided between these two opposing powers, but turn ourselves over completely to the Spirit. If we allow ourselves to be car­ried away by His divine power, we shall become fruit-bearing branches (verse 22).

In the latter part of this chapter the apostle comes to exhort these Christians to serious practical godliness, as the best cure against the snares of the false teachers. Two things he presses upon them:

1. That they should not strive against one another, but love one another.
He tells them (Galatians 5:13) that they had been called unto liberty, and he would have them to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free; but yet he would have them be very careful that they did not use this liberty as an occasion to the flesh - that they should not take occasion to indulge themselves in any corrupt affections and practices, and particularly such as might create distance and disaffection, and be the ground of quarrels and contentions among them: but, on the contrary, he would have them by love to serve one another, to maintain that mutual love and affection which, would expose them to all the benefits of respect and kindness toward each other which the Christian religion obliges them to. To this end the apostle tries to persuade believers.

There are two considerations which he sets before them for this purpose:

  1. That all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Galatians 5:14). Love is the sum of the whole law; our love to God comprises the duties of not striving with one another, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. The apostle takes notice of the latter here, because he is speaking of their behavior towards one another; and, when he makes use of this as an argument to persuade them to mutual love, he suggests that both acts would be good evidence of their sincerity in religion and also the most likely means of rooting out those dissensions and divisions that were among them.
  2. The sad and dangerous tendency of a contrary behavior (Galatians 5:15). But, says he, if instead of serving one another in love, and therein fulfilling the law of God, you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another. If, instead of acting like men and Christians, they would behave themselves more like brute beasts, in tearing and rending one another, they could expect nothing as the consequence of it, but that they would be consumed one of another; and therefore they had the greatest reason not to indulge themselves in such quarrels and animosities. Note the mutual strife among brethren, if persisted in, they are likely to ruin each other; those that devour one another are in a fair way to be consumed one of another.

Christian churches cannot be ruined but by their own hands! But if Christians, who should be of help to one another and a joy one to another, be as brute beasts, biting and devouring each other, what can be expected but that the God of love should deny his grace to them, and the Spirit of love should depart from them, and that the evil spirit, who seeks the destruction of them all, should prevail?

2. That they should all strive against sin (Galatians 5:17). Oh, how glorious it would be for the church if Christians would let all their quarrels be swept away in the current of love, even the quarrel against sin. If instead of biting and devouring one another on account of their different opinions, they would all set themselves against sin in themselves and the places where they live. This is what we should be chiefly concerned to fight against and that above everything else we should make our business to oppose and suppress, and to excite Christians to do, and to assist them in so doing.

How is this possible? The inclinations and desires of the flesh are contrary to those of the Spirit. They draw us away in an opposite direction, and while the Spirit of God would lead us one way, our carnal nature would lead us another, and thus produce the painful controversy which exists in our minds. Even Paul had this dilemma in his own life and ministry, and it was such a burden that he cried out to God for help. Notice Romans 7:14-25 especially verse 24.  For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. (15) For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. (16) If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. (17) Now than it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (18) For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (19) For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (20) Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (21) I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. (22) For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: (23) But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (24) O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (25) I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin  Notice the terminology used in verse 23

  1. warring against;
  2. bringing into captivity;

these are terms of extreme conflict that reveals the absolute need for an intense and wholehearted, spiritual fight.

As noted earlier take special note of verse 24 Paul cries out to God with a desperate question justifiable of a man in such a horrible state O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Then deeply moved by the Holy Spirit the magnificent solution comes in joy filled praise (7:25-8:2); I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Paul in Galatians 5:16-18 explains further on how to win this war against the sin of the flesh which leads to death. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Galatians 5:19-23 confirms the previous truth by showing the contrary actions between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” He lists for us some, but not all of the works of the flesh. "Flesh" is the Greek word sarxwhich literally means “from the meat of the skin”; or as the symbol of what is external. By inference it means man’s corrupt nature; and by the works of it, not only external acts of sin, but inward lusts; for both are mentioned among its works, such as "hatred", "wrath", "envy,” etc. are both external and internal acts because they spring from our corrupt human nature.

These are said to be "manifest"; not that they are all manifest, or always publicly done, for they are works of darkness, and often done in secret. Though they are always manifest to God the searcher of hearts, and will be brought to light in the Day of Judgment; but they are known to be sins in some measure by the light of nature, and especially by the law of God. They are contrary to the Spirit, both to the Spirit of God, and to the principle of grace He forms in the heart; and those who live in the commission of them are not led by Him, nor are under the influence of His grace. It is by these works (please notice the plural) that the inward battle of Spirit vs. flesh and flesh vs. Spirit are discovered, and are made manifest plainly and undeniably. Works are mentioned in the plural because they are distinct from, and often inconsistent with, each other. But "the fruit of the Spirit" is mentioned in the singular, Galatians 5:22, as being all consistent and connected together. Paul enumerates those "works of the flesh" to which the Galatians specifically and all mankind generally are most inclined; and those parts of "the fruit of the Spirit" in which we stand in the greatest need.

By the use of the word “manifest” we have a clearly defined standard by which to decide whether you are led by the Spirit or by the flesh. Each exhibits its peculiar works or fruit. The word “Manifest” is the Greek word “phaneros. It comes from the word phainō” for “shining”, to shine a light on, that is, to make apparent, or publicly or externally known.
     A partial list of these manifested “works of the flesh” is given in verse 19-21. Let us take a closer look at what each one, in order to clear up any misunderstanding of what each one is, in order for us to prevent ourselves from doing these evil works of the flesh. The first one mentioned is:

    1. Adultery (moicheuō). The word means sexual intercourse with an unmarried partner. The word is translated in the Hebrew as a (male) paramour; or a traitor. A paramour is a “concubine,” (masculine or feminine): The term is applied in Ezekiel 23:20 to the male lover. Please notice God’s feelings about this sin. It is quite evident in the context of Ezekiel 23:17-21. “Then the Babylonians came to her, into the bed of love, And they defiled her with their immorality; So she was defiled by them, and alienated herself from them. (18) She revealed her harlotry and uncovered her nakedness. Then I alienated Myself from her, As I had alienated Myself from her sister. (19) "Yet she multiplied her harlotry In calling to remembrance the days of her youth, When she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt. (20) For she lusted for her paramours, Whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys, And whose issue is like the issue of horses. (21) Thus you called to remembrance the lewdness of your youth, When the Egyptians pressed your bosom Because of your youthful breasts”

2. Fornication (porneia). We get our English word “Pornography” from this word. It means harlotry which includes adultery and incest. Or to act the harlot, that is, (literally) to indulge in unlawful lust (of either sex), or to practice idolatry. Anyone who has been saved for any length of time knows how God feels toward idolatry or unlawful lusts, so there is no need to explain the consequences of such acts.

3. Uncleanness (akatharsia). Uncleanness is impurity (ceremonially, physically and morally). In modern terms it means foul, lewd, course, vulgar or more specifically demonic. In other words, thoughts and actions which bring no glory to God or others, simply put it is any action or thought that brings honor to the devil.

4. Lasciviousness (aselgeia). A lascivious person is one filled with filthy desires, looseness; irregular indulgence of animal desires; wantonness; lustfulness. Lasciviousness is an unnatural tendency to have ones lust excited which in turn promotes irregular, unnatural and dangerous indulgences. It can best be described as an individual who does whatever evil he wishes today for tomorrow he dies disregarding any and all consequences.

5. Idolatry (eidōlolatreia). Idolatry is literally image worship. Worship means to adore; to pay divine honors; to reverence with supreme respect and veneration, to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission; as a lover to a Supreme Being. It is reverence and homage paid to this being in religious exercises, consisting of confession, prayer, thanksgiving and the like.

6. Witchcraft (pharmakeia). We get our English word Pharmacy from this word. This word is translated medication “pharmacy,” magic, sorcery, witchcraft. It is the illicit use of potions or drugs to receive an unnatural and ungodly spiritual manifestation or knowledge. This unnatural and ungodly spiritual manifestation or knowledge can be used for any reason good or bad.

7. Hatred (echthō). Simply put – to hate; or be hateful (passively hateful, or actively hostile); it usually is used as a noun, as in an adversary. It is used for defining or naming Satan: it also means an enemy, or foe. This Greek word is mostly inward and passive, not outward and aggressive Refer Matthew 5:22~.

8. Variance (eris). Variance is any alteration or change of condition or a difference that produces dispute or controversy; disagreement; dissension; or discord. Refer Matthew 5:22~.

9. Emulations (zēlos). We get our English word “Zeal” form this word. It is a primary verb which means to be hot (boil, of liquids; or glow, of solids), that is, (figuratively) to be fervent. It is an attraction to quarrel, that is, contention, debate, strife, or variance.

10. Wrath (thumos). This word means “passion” (as if breathing hard): - fierceness, indignation, by extension it means to have no control over your passions which causes one to slaughter for any purpose. The Greek word has two different implications, one is evil, the other good. The evil direction comes from animal sentient principles only; thoughts and actions coming from the irrational and immoral soul. The other is distinguished by that which is mere vitality or zeal, neither being sin.

11. Strife (eritheia). From a prolonged form of “eris” (refer # 5). This means to stimulate especially to anger or to provoke to wrath.

12. Seditions (dichostasia). This is a stand or position that causes disunion, or dissension: - division, a controversy. It is a position or opinion that when pushed causes dissension, insurrection, or an uproar.

13. Heresies (hairesis). “Heresy” is the Greek word itself. It means to take for oneself, that is, to prefer one’s own. It is a choice that causes disunion or a separation with the norm, often leading to error. It is accurately described as a sect or faction.

14. Envyings (phthonos). Probably akin to the base form “phthiō” which means to pine or waste; to have ill will in order to detract. It can be translated jealousy, spite, envies, which by implication means to shrivel or wither, or to spoil, to corrupt self, or to defile or destroy others as well.

15. Murders (phonos). From the obsolete primary Greek term “phenō” which means to slay; murder: or to be slain, or slaughtered.

16. Drunkenness (methē). It simply means an intoxicant, that is, (by implication) intoxication – drunkenness, intoxicated; inebriated; overwhelmed or overpowered by liquor; stupefied or inflamed by the action of spirit on the stomach and brain.

17. Revellings (kōmos). The word means to let loose morally and physically - rioting. The word can and is also translated as orgies, wild partying. The implied idea is ugly and immoral altering of normal and moral practices, usually in regards to and including others.

Now that we have an idea of what each works of the flesh is, we must look at what God’s reaction to these activities will bring. The rest of verse 21 reads like this; and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Paul by the use of contrasting lists the “Works (plural) of the flesh” to the “Fruit (singular) of the Spirit” demonstrates quite dramatically just where each list of actions are birthed.  The vices listed above are the “works” (notice this is plural not work) result from the operation of our sinful human nature.  They have nothing to do with God.  On the other hand the Word “fruit” is singular, not fruits, but ONE fruit, the “Fruit of the Spirit,” and can  only be produced by the Holy Spirit.  It cannot and does not come from man because in man they are not present. The singular usage is because each of the nine listed fruit or God like characteristics stem from a singular seed, the incorruptible seed of internal grace given by the Holy Spirit, which contains all the other listed fruit. Fruit that can be seen as a result of continuous contact with its life giving root, Jesus Christ who is real, solid, and can be experienced.

It is also not without design, that the apostle uses the word “Spirit” or pneuma(the Greek word used in referring to the Holy Spirit), re-emphasizing and showing once again that these God like characteristics flow only from the Spirit of God which dwells within all believers.  

These God like characteristics are only produced by a foreign influence - the agency of the Holy Spirit. Hence, Paul does not trace them to our own hearts, even when renewed. He says that they are to be regarded as the result of the Spirit’s operations on the soul. The actions which are produced via the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit” are each according to the nature of the tree, as the tree is according to the nature of the seed from which it sprung. A bad seed can only produce a bad tree, yielding all manner of bad work, a good seed can only produce a good fruits of a most excellent kind. The tree of whose seed is from sinful flesh, with all its bad works, we have already seen; the tree stemming from God’s Holy Spirit, with its good fruits, we shall examine in detail next month.

We at True Light Ministries Int. would like to thank Pastor Vincent Maswari of the Bible Fellowship Church in East Africa for his inquiry. We pray that this study was a blessing to him and a blessing to all our faithful readers. Please remember to keep Pastor Maswari and his people up in your prayers. Thank You.

If any of our readers have any questions regarding God’s Holy Word please feel free to write us and request an answer. That helps us fulfill the calling that God has placed upon our lives and the ministry He through His abundant and boundless grace has provided for us.
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