The Works of The Flesh

Galatians 5v19-21: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

At the end of this list Paul says that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”, but his point is not that if you successfully avoid everything on this list then you will earn your place in the kingdom of God. For one thing, it’s not a complete list; “… envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these”. Even if you managed to avoid committing any of the sins mentioned here, how could you be sure you hadn’t done any of the “things like these”?

And considering what we’ve already seen about the struggle between the Spirit and the flesh, Paul’s point here is not that if you ever commit one of these sins then you rule yourself out of the kingdom of God.

But if the Spirit’s battling against the desires of the flesh in you, these works of the flesh will begin to die out. If these works of the flesh are alive and well in your life, then it looks like you don’t have the Spirit.

James said “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Jesus said “no good tree bears bad fruit” (Luke 6:43). Paul says those who carry on sinning “will not inherit the kingdom of God”. They’re all saying essentially the same thing: if you’ve been saved, it will make a difference to the way you live.

But also notice that Paul introduces this list by saying “the works of the flesh are evident”. He doesn’t really need to tell us that these things are the works of the flesh rather than the works of the Spirit. It’s obvious. Then he contrasts this list with the fruit of the Spirit in v22-23: “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law”. I’m pretty confident that the vast majority of people who look at those two lists would agree that the fruit of the Spirit is a far more attractive list of qualities than the works of the flesh. I think that’s Paul’s point. He’s not listing these sins in order to make people feel ashamed that they feel envious sometimes and try harder not to be envious; nor is he trying to get us to ask ourselves “am I patient enough? no, I need to work on that”. His point is that walking by the Spirit is clearly preferable to being controlled by the desires of the flesh. The Spirit produces peace; the flesh causes strife. The Spirit produces gentleness; the flesh causes fits of anger. Clearly you want to walk by the Spirit. But you don’t get there by putting yourself under the law; in fact, that’s counter-productive. You receive the Spirit by hearing the gospel with faith.

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