Paul once wrote, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Rom. 7:19). Yes, there is a war that rages in our minds. The pages of the Bible are littered with souls who had succumbed to the sensual melody of Satan’s devices and were led back out in to the world. The only way to stay clear of the pitfalls of the flesh is evident. Paul said, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
We must ask ourselves whom we desire to follow: the Father or the world. If we choose the follow the Father, His way is distinct and produces fruit within His followers. Paul outlines the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Let us examine each.
Love. Jesus set a mark high for His followers. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you…” (John 13:34). Christ’s love cost Him everything upon the earth as He poured His life out for humanity. John 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (John 10:45). Jesus only expects us to do the same as we take up our cross and follow Him.
Joy. Joy is a seed that is planted so deeply within the Christian that it cannot be unearthed by carnal means. The joy of the Christian is not dismayed by trials but is far-sighted in its outlook. As Paul and Silas sat in stocks, their joy was not diminished as they sang praises to God. In spite of the scourging received by our Lord it is said, “…who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). This kind of joy reaches past the hardships of this world and is anchored beyond the veil where our Savior currently resides.
Peace. The apostle Paul stated, “…and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Humanity without Christ cannot fathom the peace that only He offers. Only Jesus in the heart of the believer can muster this kind of serenity amidst trials. Paul, facing chains, stated: “…But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy…” (Acts 20:23-24). Why was Paul not moved? Because he stood on the Rock that could not be moved and that Rock was Jesus. The Christian can have the same peace because of that very same Rock.
Longsuffering. When Peter asked the Lord how often he should forgive his brother, Peter replied, “Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21). He did not expect the Lord to reply, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (v. 22). “Longsuffering” means to “suffer long.” Often Christians never get to the point of longsuffering before they are ready to throw in the towel. We, too quickly, are like James and John who desired to bring fire down upon those who oppose them. (Lk. 9:54). How often have we come before God asking forgiveness from our sins? Shall we expect God’s longsuffering for us but deny it to others?
Kindness. Paul said to his fellow Christians, “And be kind to one another…” (Eph. 4:32). As a general rule, kindness begets kindness. Jesus stated the obvious: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt. 5:46). Christian kindness goes beyond the reciprocal. Jesus said to “bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Why is this? “That you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (v. 45). Why is this? Because this is the nature of the Father. “For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (Lk. 6:35).
Goodness. The rich young ruler asked the question, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). Jesus responded by saying, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (v. 17). “Good” is defined as “uprightness of heart and life”. Only God fulfills the standard of “goodness.” Only in our imitation of Him and the grace that comes through the blood of His Son will we ever hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21).
Faithfulness. Faithfulness is the ability to cling to God and His children especially through times of trial. In spite of Peter’s shortcomings, Jesus did not give up on him. When Peter inadvertently sought to upend Christ’s plan to redeem mankind (Matt. 16:22-23), Jesus did not give up on him. When Peter denied the Lord three times with an oath, Jesus again received him back. Jesus expects the same faithfulness from you and I. He tallied the blessings of faithfulness when He said, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). May we be as Mary, who in the garden clung to the resurrected Lord.
Gentleness. The King of kings and Lord of lords was described as a lamb that was led to the slaughter. “Gentleness,” translated as “meekness” in some versions, is defined as “strength under control.” Isaiah spoke of Him, saying, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench…” (Is. 42:3). He was led by wicked hands to be crucified. As the hymn states, “He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set Him free…but He died alone for you and me.”
God’s people must carry our faith in a vessel of meekness. Though Stephen preached boldly the council of God, he did not meet those who rushed upon him with cruelty. Paul, though wrongly imprisoned, said, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness…” (Eph. 4:1-2).
Self-control. Self-control is the ability to control one’s desires and passions. Such was not the mindset of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Upon seeing the fruit, they overturned the will of God to fulfill their own desire. Self-control says that I am not living for my will but for God and a cause greater than myself. Jesus, praying in the garden, saw the crucifixion which lay ahead. He manifested self-control when He said, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). Such ought to be the spirit of the Christian.
Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). He identifies a pattern of behavior that will be displayed in His followers. Yet He also identifies behavior that is found in the world: the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). Though one may rank them on varying levels of sin, Paul stated that “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21). Let us consider them.
Adultery. Galatians 5:19 begins the works of the flesh by saying, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery…” Adultery is the unfaithfulness of either spouse in a marriage bond. Marriage is a solemn bond of fidelity between a man and a woman before the eyes of God until death separates them from this earth. Marriage is a covenant relationship. When one cheats on their spouse, they are breaking their covenant bond that they have committed themselves to uphold. Adultery not only severs the bond between spouses but the guilty party also severs their own relationship with God.
Fornication. In other translations, this word may be translated “sexual immorality.” Since the only valid sexual relationship is between a man and a woman who are married, all other sexual relationships are deemed immoral in the eyes of God. How much one may love another is not the issue. What is the issue is whether one is willing to obey the Lord or not.
Uncleanness. Since “uncleanness” is inserted between fornication and lewdness, it would be hard to believe that this word is not sexual in nature. Paul uses the same word when he said, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves…” (Rom. 1:24). Besides Galatians 5:19, “uncleanness” is also found next to “fornication” on other occasions (2 Cor. 12:21; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5). There are other ways one can dishonor the body without explicitly having a sexual encounter.
Lewdness. This word is translated as “lasciviousness,” “wantonness” or “filthiness” in other versions, and is defined as “unbridled lusts.” It is the mindset of the crafty harlot (Prov. 7:6ff). These are the sensual actions that lead one up to the door of fornication or adultery.
Idolatry. Idolatry, in short, is anything we prioritize before God. Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matt. 6:33). He reiterated this priority when He spoke of the Greatest Commandment (Mk. 12:30). Adam and Eve placed the forbidden fruit before God. Cain elevated his feelings above God. Pharaoh coveted his power and position above God. Achan placed gold and silver before God. What has become our idol?
Sorcery. The primary definition of this word is “the use or the administering of drugs.” The definition also includes the idea of “magical arts.” The King James translates the word as “witchcraft.” In the first century as well as today, these ideas are intertwined. Since many have grown ignorant of God’s will, they searching for a higher power to empower them. Today sorcery, witchcraft and Wicca are having a resurgence. Such philosophies deny the one true God and will rob one of their eternal salvation.
Hatred. The church is a body that consists of members that are to be perfectly joined together (1 Cor. 1:10). Yet it is the carnal mind filled with hatred with its passions that seek to undo the unity of the Lord’s church for its own selfish desires. Whereas the body is to be knit together (Eph. 4:16), hatred seeks to rend it apart. Such will not go unpunished by our Lord.
Contentions. Contentions, otherwise, translated “strife” in the ESV and ASV, found a home among the Christians in Corinth. Paul wrote, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you” (1 Cor. 1:11). Paul feared that these contentions could lead to divisions in the body of Christ (v. 13). Anytime people have an opinion, contention has an opportunity to raise its ugly head. When one’s will supersedes the first and second commandments, cracks will begin to form in the body of Christ.
Jealousies. For the KJV reader the word is “emulations.” The Greek word is zelos and is akin to a word with which we are familiar, “zealot.” People can be zealous for a good thing; here, however, it takes on a negative connotation. Here it means “an envious and contentious rivalry.” Luke recorded that in the face of the apostles’ teachings “…the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation…” (Acts 5:17).
As Christians, we ought never to see ourselves as warring factions but a part of a body that is perfectly joined together. Considering the carnal nature of the Corinthians, Paul said that they, and we, ought to “all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor 1:10). Jealousy will destroy but love will unify (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Outbursts of wrath. Also translated “fierceness” and “indignation,” the word is defined as “anger boiling up and soon subsiding again.” This word is found in Luke 4:28. Speaking the words of Isaiah, Jesus said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Instead of receiving the Son of God with joy, his countrymen turned on Him in rage and sought to cast Him off a cliff. We would call such people “hot-headed.” Since no one likes to be burned, no one likes to be around them. Those who cannot control their emotions and think logically through a situation often embarrass themselves and undermine their work for the Lord.
Selfish ambitions. It is defined as the “desire to put one’s self forward.” Why do you do what you do? Is it out of a desire to be Christ-like? Or do you act with selfish motives? Such were the motives of the worldly mind of which Paul warned Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:6. Yet such a spirit can invade the mind of the Christian. Do we do “good” to take advantage of others? Though no one may know our true motivation, God knows (Heb. 4:12-13). We must ask ourselves if we are willing to trade short term blessings for an eternity with God. It’s not worth the trade.
Dissensions. Contrary to edifying the body of Christ, there are those who out of pride and self-service seek to destroy it. Paul accused his fellow Christians of such thinking when he said, “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3).
Some out of religious conviction will seek to divide the bride of Christ, more so out of opinion than doctrinal matters. Remember, Saul persecuted Christians thinking he was doing the Lord’s will. Some within the brotherhood who are on religious crusades ought to stop and think if they are truly doing the Lord’s will or their own before dividing the people for whom Christ died.
Heresies. In almost every instance the NKJV used the word “sect,” such as the sect of the Pharisees. It denotes an offshoot of that which is true and is akin to the idea of denominationalism today. Heresies seek to bring in new “wisdom” that ultimately corrupts the pure word of God. Peter warned of such when he said, “But there were also false prophets among the people… who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Pet 2:1). Thus, the Christian must always be alert to differentiate between truth and deception.
Envy. Envy is the ill-will one experiences when one sees the good of others and desires to have it. Though a hidden sin, envy can come out in observable ways such as in the manner of our speech or actions. Envy is a stepping stone that can lead to greater sins. The Jews envied Jesus so much for His popularity that they had Him crucified (Matt. 27:18; Mk. 15:10). Are we continually looking over the fence into another’s field? Doing so will rob us of the blessings that are on our side. The way for the Christian to combat this is by learning contentment (Phil. 4:11).
Murders. Envy can lead to murder as in the previous example. Where does murder come from? Jesus said that it comes out of the heart (Matt. 15:19). The seed of murder is ill-will which grows into actions. Jesus speaks of the growth of this seed (Matt. 5:21ff). Therefore, we must give due diligence to keep the heart free of wicked thoughts.
Drunkenness. Intoxication, whether induced by alcohol in its various forms or drugs, have been a plague upon humanity ever since the time of Noah (Gen. 9:20ff). No matter the justification for intoxication, wine has always been a mocker (Prov. 20:1). The deceptive nature of wine and its effects are found throughout the Bible but in a very poignant way in Proverb 23:29-34.
Instead of being out of one’s mind, the Scriptures admonish one to be “sober-minded.” Though the word most often refers to spiritually alertness, it is impossible to be drunk, “buzzed” or “tight” and sober at the same time. Solomon said, “And whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov 20:1).
Revelries. Akin to “drunkenness,” “revelries” most often refers to drinking parties which spiral into other immoralities. Though revelries were given in honor of Bacchus the god of wine, today they are seen in other forms such as celebrating one’s marriage or one’s sports team. It matters not the cause; such is not the walk of the Christian. The apostle Paul said, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry…” (Rom. 13:13). This is the kind of lifestyle one is to shed upon becoming a Christian.
“And the like.” Simply put, if there are any activities that resemble the works of the flesh, stay away from them. Paul concluded this list by saying, “…just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is not a joking matter and God does not lie. We cannot expect to roll in the sinful mire of this world and be accepted in the halls of a pure and holy God.
The pathways before us are set. Either we can manifest the fruit of the Spirit and live or we can indulge ourselves in the works of the flesh and perish. The choice is yours. Your eternity depends upon the choices you make.