Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; . . . 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 such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Paul has emphatically declared that walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life, and nothing else works!
In order to drive home the assertive statement of verse 16, Paul begins to unpack in a very clear and convincing way the manifestations of giving in to the flesh as opposed to the Spirit. This list in Galatians 5:19–21 is in no way exhaustive, but the inference is that there is no end to the manifold perversions and obsessions of the flesh.
Up to this point, we have seen Paul deal with the flesh (works of sexual sins and religious sins). Now he moves on to show how the flesh manifests itself in the areas of relationships and self-indulgence. In Paul’s list, the largest number of manifestations of the flesh is seen in the conflicts within our relationships. In fact, these sins cover about half of the list and are the sins that are most apparent to us on a daily basis. So if you want to know if the flesh or the Spirit is in control, your relationships with other people may be the simplest and most obvious indicator.
This hatred speaks not just of a passive feeling, but of an active hostility to another individual, carrying with it the idea of antagonistic thoughts and feelings. In a sense, it becomes the source from which hostile acts flow—and is the antithesis of love.
Read Luke 6:27–36 and note how the followers of Jesus are described in contrast to this attitude of hatred.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
This fleshly work describes a person who is contentious, hard to get along with, and constantly at odds with someone. Have you ever met people who always seem to be fighting to have their own way, regardless of the cost to themselves or the harm to others?
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
Emulations and Envyings
Emulation is a self-serving passion for one’s own interests. Another word for emulation is jealousy. For some reason, jealousy feels threatened by the success of others and is rooted in a deep ingratitude to God for what one does have as a gift from God.
In Galatians 5:21, Paul uses a similar word to emulations to describe these relational sins: envy. Jealousy and envy are like a brother and sister, the difference between the two being the response. Envy is the active part of jealousy. A jealous person merely sees what another person has and wants it, while envy is not so much wanting what another person has as much as it is hoping the other person suffers as a result of what he has. Envy leads a person to become hostile towards his competitor with a malicious spirit, showing ill-will toward those who seem to be more prosperous.
Wrath is a very picturesque word that conveys the idea of heavy breathing (coming, obviously, from violent or heated anger that results in emotional outbursts and fits of rage). These explosions, whether through verbal or physical abuse, graphically reveal the flesh that injects chaos into many relationships.
When hatred of the heart is ignored, when variance and strife are fostered, when jealousies and envies go unrestrained, and when wrath controls someone’s emotional responses, that person may eventually take the life of another. A simple review of the last few months’ headlines reveals fallen man’s inability to deal with internal hatred and spiteful attitudes, resulting in a widespread disregard for the sanctity of life.
But the reality is that we don’t actually have to kill people to murder them. All we have to do is hope that they depart Earth or “wish that they’d never been born.” With the hateful attitude of “Get out of my life; I never want to see you again,” relational murder takes place all the time. And Jesus Christ specifically warned against this kind of murder in His Sermon on the Mount. (See Matt. 5.)
Strife, Seditions and Heresies
This trio of fleshly works actually traces out a progression. Remember, even though believers are free from the power of these fleshly works, they are still not immune to having these problems. Therefore many local churches experience conflict and problems as this progression commences. Those who have been in churches for any amount of time notice how quickly seemingly insignificant differences within the congregation bloom into major problems.
Strife was originally used to refer to a politician who, in pursuing an office, would employ the use of manipulation and bribery to achieve his end goal. The word eventually came to indicate general, selfish ambition that has no concept of service and whose only aims are profit and power.
In Romans 16:17, Paul warns about “those who caused divisions” (seditions). The Greek word for seditions is where we get our English word, dichotomy. It is disunion and division that result in opposing groups. Individual strife (selfish ambition) leads to seditions (divisions).
Heresy comes from the word “to choose” and shows the divisive tendency among believers who are walking in selfish pride. Heresies (or factions) refer to groups that are selfishly divided over differing opinions. The result is an atmosphere of contention and disunity within a church.
1 Corinthians 3:1–3
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Sins of Intemperance
Drunkenness and Revelings
Remember that this is not an exhaustive list regarding the sins of the flesh. Drunkenness and revelings are simply descriptive of a lack of self-control. These sins reveal that the flesh seeks to throw off any and all restraint. And it is this lack of restraint that reflects, in a very real way, the culture and lifestyle of the unbelieving world.
Obviously, drunkenness is prohibited in Ephesians 5:18 and strongly warned against in Proverbs 20:1 and 23:31–35. It is interesting that this issue has actually become very divisive within the body of Christ. Many believers argue for moderation as opposed to abstinence. The argument, though, is often based on a faulty understanding of Christian liberty.
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
Drunkenness implies a complete lack of self-control in response to fleshly desires. This is obviously not a lifestyle that is in step with the Spirit. Revelings, which involve wild parties that lead to wickedness and waste, usually include drunkenness and immorality. That’s just the way the world does things. And a Spirit-controlled believer will not resort to such a low standard of conduct.
The truth of the matter is that we all have different areas where our flesh manifests itself.
What are your “flesh bents”? Maybe they are not listed in this passage, but they are those sinful manifestations that, without the Spirit’s intervention, you keep going back to.
A Concluding Note
Read the final statement of Paul in Galatians 5:21: “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
It is helpful to understand that the word do means to accomplish, exercise or practice, or to be busy with or carry on. In the Greek it is a present, active participle, which conveys the idea of a continually repeated action.
The sobering truth is that those who profess Christ, yet continually practice giving in to the flesh without any sense of tension in their hearts or spirit of repentance in their lives, have every right to ask, “Do I really have the Spirit of God within me?” That is why Paul says so plainly, “They that do these things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” If the Spirit is not in a person’s life, the flesh is the only controlling influence. Therefore an individual whose flesh dominates his life has every right and reason to examine himself to see if he really is a child of God. (See 2 Cor. 13:5.)
Paul is not denying the reality of our struggle with the flesh; rather, he is establishing the dominating influence the Spirit must and will have on a believer’s life. When you have the Holy Spirit living inside you, you will experience tension because all of these sins are actually dwelling in your flesh at this moment. That means you do have the potential of committing any of these sins. But the truth of Galatians 5 is that when a believer’s life is being dominated and directed by the Spirit, these flesh-works will not come out. Instead, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he will be living in victory over them. That is why walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life, and nothing else works!
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