Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, . . .
A war is on, and a battle ensues. The flesh and the Spirit are at complete odds with each other. But in this war the believer must maintain the perspective of victory. Even though sin remains, it no longer reigns. Through the Gospel of Jesus, the power of sin has been conquered. That means that the Christian life must not be characterized by consistent defeat. However, with that in mind, we must still be cautious against replacing this wonderful hope of victory with presumption. This assurance of victory in Christ cannot translate somehow into thinking that we are invincible. We must live this life continually armed and ready to wage war against the flesh. But the strategy for victory over the flesh is not binding ourselves to the law; rather, it is walking in the Spirit.
It is at this point that Paul begins to further clarify the issues. By the Holy Spirit, we experience the liberty we have in Christ. But, as we have seen, the flesh seeks to abuse this freedom and move us toward loose living; and when Christian liberty is abused, the results are very obvious. Galatians 5:19–21 shows clearly what happens when we are not walking in the Spirit but are instead giving in to the flesh.
Before we get into the list itself, do you notice Paul’s logic in presenting this list? Notice how he is following up on his dogmatic statement of verse 16 and sort of “unpacking the suitcase.” He is convincing his readers that they cannot be walking in the Spirit and in the flesh at the same time.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, . . .
Works—business, employment; that which occupies anyone; any product accomplished by the hand, art, industry, or the mind
Manifest—visible, apparent, self-evident; to be plainly recognized or known; to bring forth into the light
Now let’s make some general observations about the list. First, Paul says these works are manifest.
Second, this list is random (even though we will eventually see the organization in this list). The truth is that these sins can come out at any time. Have you ever been in church listening to preaching or music and you begin, seemingly out of the blue, to have wrong thoughts? Have you ever left a prayer time with other believers and on the way home lost your temper? We seem—rather haphazardly—to live for God one moment and yet the next moment struggle with self-centeredness. This is the nature of the flesh.
Third, it is extremely clear that these are in contrast with the fruit of the Spirit. Paul is describing a vivid display of light and darkness, good and bad.
Finally, it is important to note that these things can appear in the life of a believer. As long as we live in the context of the flesh, we will always be struggling with the flesh. And when the flesh is at work, it’s obvious. Paul gives a very specific list of these fleshly manifestations, and at the top of the list of flesh-works are sexual sins.
The physical relationship between a man and woman is, in its rightful place, God-designed, God-honoring and God-bless. (See Heb. 13:4.) The divine way of sexual satisfaction is through the covenant of marriage. Yet the flesh manifests itself by perverting this beautiful gift and by seeking fulfillment without regard to the laws of God. Paul describes four disgusting ways in which the blessing of sex is corrupted by the flesh.
This obviously deals with the various acts of marital infidelity. Jesus says this sin is rooted in the heart.
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
The word literally meant harlotry (referring to prostitution). In time, the Greek word porneia came to refer to any type of immorality, including adultery, incest, immoral acts, homosexuality and sex before marriage. This can describe anything from a lustful look to an act of passion.
1 Corinthians 6:15–20
Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
This is a graphic term used to describe filth or rubbish, particularly things that are morally dirty or defiling in terms of sexuality. It involves thoughts, desires, words, fantasies, and actions of the heart and life.
Have you ever noticed the absolute lack of restraint and almost shameless excess of immorality in our world today? That is exactly what the word lasciviousness depicts: an uninhibited, unabashed debauchery that parades sensuality with no respect of others. It is an unbridled indulgence in sex, and it lacks a sense of decency, modesty and shame.
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD.
Truly the concept of modesty has been all but dismissed in our culture today. Sadly, even some believers balk at the idea. The way of the flesh is all about sex appeal and seductiveness. But Paul’s warning against these things elevates the fact that God has called His people to moral cleanness and sanctification. (See 1 Thess. 4:3, 7.)
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
It is interesting that Paul puts these sexual sins at the top of the list. In doing so, he clearly distinguishes a main trait of a fallen, corrupt society—the way it was then, and the way it is now.
In nothing did early Christianity so thoroughly revolutionize the ethical standards of the pagan world as in regard to sexual relationships.
These sensual sins are the way of the flesh, and their pull on the flesh is intense. Therefore, it is only the Spirit that can overpower this flesh bent and create a life that is pure and clean. When we are walking in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the sensual passions of our flesh but will avoid all situations that would excited morally corrupt desires and passions.
Idolatry is a fleshly work of offering worship to created things. Man is a being of worship, created to give himself to God and His purposes. But with the presence of sin, man’s worship is directed to things other than God. So in every society, idolatrous worship will exist to some degree or another. Of course, with the Enlightenment, man rejected the idea of the supernatural, so postmodern man turns away from the idea of the supernatural and spiritual and has become completely secular. But even without the presence of some imagined deity, he is still idolatrous. Unregenerate man always has worshipped and always will worship something other than God. that is the foundational problem of man.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolator, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
We cannot consider idolatry simply in terms of backward, third-world, pagan cultural rituals paying homage to a block of wood or a piece of stone. Idolatry is a much deeper heart issue than that. It is a clear violation of the first two commandments. (See Exod. 20:1–6.)
The word is translated sorcery in other passages. (See Rev. 9:21; 18:23; 21:8.) This concept was associated with practices like incantations and black magic. Obviously this was not some entertaining form of illusions; it was a far more serious occult practice of using supernatural powers and manipulating the spirits to achieve certain goals that one otherwise could not reach. For many, this may seem like a relatively distant word to our immediate culture. But in Paul’s day, the practice of this magic was a real issue. (See Acts 19.)
Interestingly, the Greek word for witchcraft is pharmakeia (where we get our word pharmacy or pharmaceutical), quite literally drug use. In fact, it has always referred to mind-altering drugs that were a common medium in the practice of pagan religions. These drugs made a person more susceptible to demonic influences as they altered the mental and physical state of the individual. Ancient sorcerers commonly used hallucinogenic drugs to induce their visions and healings. So drugs, witchcraft and false religion are all wrapped up together.
In reality, this placement of faith in magic and drugs replaces faith in God. That is idolatry—an absolute work of the flesh which stands in stark contrast to those things which are produced by the Spirit of God. These are things that can in no way be overcome by rigid observances of rules and regulations. Walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life, and nothing else works!
 Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 270.
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