David B Curtis - Berean Bible Church

Pastor David B. Curtis

HOME | STUDY INDEX

The Deeds of the Flesh

Galatians 5:19-21

Delivered 06/12/2005

We are studying Galatians 5, which deals with the subject of the spiritual life. I want you to understand the critical importance of this subject since the greatest conflict in the life of every Christian is their struggle in the spiritual walk. The most influential men of modern and ancient times have found their greatest challenge to be their spiritual life.

To understand this section, we must understand what it means to "Walk in the flesh and to walk in the Spirit."

What is the flesh?

Paul uses the word "flesh" to mean: "something that is totally human, with no special grace attached." In Paul's use of the term "flesh" in Galatians, he does not simply mean: "possessed of a physical body"; rather, he means: "limited to only a physical body and the physical strength it contains."

So the flesh is what you do in your own power, in your own strength, what you can do yourself - which is legalism. Legalism is anything that I think I can do in order to make myself more righteous before God. It is human achievement; it's a form of self-righteousness.

How do we walk in the flesh?

To walk after the flesh is to seek life in terms of what man can accomplish of himself. You can do all kinds of religious things in the flesh. The flesh can preach a sermon. The flesh can sing on the praise team. The flesh can give a devotion at the Lord's Supper. The flesh can lead people to Christ. Did you know that? The flesh can go out and be very zealous in its witnessing and amass a terribly impressive list of people won to Christ. The flesh can do these things, but it is absolutely nauseating in the eyes of God. It is merely religious activity. There is nothing wrong with what is being done, but what is terribly wrong is the power being relied upon to do it. That is legality.

Do we spontaneously and naturally and consistently humble ourselves and serve others in meekness and kindness? Do right attitudes and actions come out of us as naturally as light and heat come out of the sun? We know they don't. Walking in the flesh takes no effort on our part - it comes quite naturally. What takes constant diligence is to walk by the Spirit.

How do we walk by the Spirit?

We walk by faith. And we do this by meditating on His promises day and night and resting in them. We should be trusting in Him all the time. The more we think about our dependence on Him, the more consistent we will be in trusting in Him and in walking by the Spirit.

To walk by the Spirit implies that we are maintaining an ongoing communion with God. We are exercising those spiritual disciplines that keep our hearts focused upon the Lord, that turns our feet away from sin, that warms our love for Christ.

Walking by the Spirit involves patterning your life after Christ. All you need to do is open your Bible and study for the rest of your life about His work and His person. Your whole life should be centered on Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit's work to point to Christ. Therefore, if you are walking by the Spirit, you are automatically focusing on Christ.

Galatians 5:17 (NASB) For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

This should make it clear that no one escapes the conflict. No one can avoid the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. No one gets a Christian life free from outward pressure and inward turmoil. We walk the hard road, fighting every day to stay on the right path.

To live by the flesh is depending upon the resources and abilities of the physical body or humanness. To live by the Spirit is depending upon the resources and abilities of the Spirit whom God gives by grace through faith. In both cases, the fundamental issue is "depending." The critical difference is the object of the dependence.

Is there any objective basis for evaluating when we are walking by the Spirit and when we are walking by the flesh? Paul obviously thinks so. He now defines their specific characteristics in a list of the deeds of the flesh(vv. 19-21) and a list of the fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23).

In our time together this morning we're going to look at Paul's list of the manifestations of the flesh. This is what the flesh produces, this is what you get when you walk in the flesh. As we look at these ugly deeds of the flesh, please keep in mind what Paul said in verse 16, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." If you don't want to see these deeds of the flesh manifest in your life, then you must learn to walk by the Spirit.

Galatians 5:19-21 (NASB) Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul says, "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are" and then he lists them. What is he doing here? He is saying if the flesh is defined as our humanity, as life without the power of the Spirit of God, then let us just look at humanity apart from God and ask ourselves: Where does humanity go if God isn't in the picture? As people are just left to do it themselves, where do they go? Do they become more righteous? Do they become more moral? Or do they just drift away from God into sin? Paul is saying the answer to that question is pretty obvious: just look around.

We could do the same thing today. We could say, "You know what the flesh produces, just look around." Look at every environment where God has been pulled out of that environment and ask yourself: Is that environment becoming more righteous or less? Is it becoming more moral or less?

If you want to categorize these sins, the first three would be sexual: immorality, impurity, sensuality. We are often appalled at the sexual immorality of our day, but we should remember that the times Paul wrote in were as bad, if not worse. There is ample evidence to show that the sexual life of the Greco-Roman world at the time of the New Testament was sheer chaos. Such evidence has come not from Christian writers, but from pagans who were disgusted with the unspeakable sexual immorality.

Demosthenes writes, "We keep mistresses for pleasure, concubines for the day-to-day needs of the body, but we have wives in order to produce children legitimately and to have a trustworthy guardian of our homes" (Against Neaera, quoted, Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 573 B).

Seneca writes:

"It is hardly possible to mention a great Greek figure who had not his hetaira, his mistress, and often these mistresses were the most beautiful and the most cultured women of their day. Alexander the Great had his Thais, Aristotle had his Herpyllia, Plato his Archeaenassa, Pericles his Aspasia, Sophocles his Archippe.

Still worse was the unnatural vice which was rampant. It began in the imperial household. Caligula notoriously lived in habitual incest with his sister Drusilla, and the lust of Nero did not even spare his mother Agrippina (Suetonius, Caligula 34; Nero 28).

The sin of homosexuality was even more prevalent in Paul's day than it is today. From the highest to the lowest society was riddled with homosexuality. This was a vice which Rome learned from Greece. In one of his dialogues, Lucian makes Lycinus relate: "It were better not to need marriage, but to follow Plato and Socrates and to be content with the love of boys" (Lucian, The Lapiths 39). Plato's Symposium ranks as one of the great works of literature. Its subject is love, but it is homosexual love. Phaedrus begins the subject. "I know not," he says, "any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous lover, or to the lover than a beloved boy" (Plato, Symposium 178 D).

Gibbon writes: "Of the first fifteen Emperors, Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct. Julius Caesar was notoriously the lover of King Nicomedes of Bithynia. 'The queen's rival,' they called him and his passion was the subject of the ribald songs the soldiers sang. Nero 'married' a castrated youth called Sporus and went in marriage procession with him throughout the streets of Rome, and he himself was 'married' to a freedman called Doryphorus."

A study of the fall of the Roman Empire suggests that any society that tolerates the unchecked promotion of such perversions will inevitably fall apart from the rottenness within.

Foremost among the acts of the flesh is immorality, this is from the Greek word porneia, which is often translated as fornication. Word studies find that porneia in Old Testament times had strong associations with harlotry. The term is rooted in a word meaning: "to sell" and referred originally to prostitutes and prostitution. Over time, it came to mean the one who visits a prostitute and then began to be applied to adultery.

In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Kittel tells us that the rabbis believed "unnatural forms of intercourse" would also be porneia.

That said, it is apparent that in Jesus' day sexual activity with a person one is not married to would meet the definition of porneia. A man and woman who are physically intimate with one another and are having or simulating sexual relations would easily fit the definition and standard use of porneia in Jesus' time. To be physically intimate with someone not your mate, making physical contact with another person in a sexual way, is porneia.

Many people simplistically distinguish the biblical concepts of "adultery" as "sex by a married person with someone other than the spouse," and "fornication" as "sex between two unmarried people." "Fornication," i.e. the Greek "porneia," actually describes a much larger class of activities, however, than "intercourse between unmarried people." It is, in fact, the root that we get our word "porno" from, and it covers about the same broad class of behaviors as "porno" does to us today.

What does the Scripture say about pornea? As a whole, the New Testament uses porneia, most often translated: "fornication," in at least four ways:

  • Voluntary sexual intercourse of an unmarried person with someone of the opposite sex (1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Thess. 4:3).
  • A synonym for adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:9), which is sexual relations with someone other than one's spouse.
  • Harlotry and prostitution (Rev. 2:14,20).
  • Various forms of sexual sin such as homosexuality and beastiality.

Porneia is a broad term used to cover any form of sexual sin. Let's look at some of the Bible's exhortations against this sexual sin:

Ephesians 5:5 (NASB) For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NASB) For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;

Clearly, God's will for believers is sexual purity. He says in:

1 Thessalonians 4:6 (NASB) and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.

The word "avenger" is the Greek word ekdikos, which means: "one who carries out a legal sentence." This word is only used one other time in Romans 13:4 where it refers to the magistrate as the bearer of the sword of justice, that is, as inflicting capital punishment. So, talking to believers, God warns that He is the one who carries out a legal sentence against those who commit porneia.

The second word is "impurity." This comes from the Greek word akatharsia from which the word catharsis or "cleansing" comes. The alpha privitive (a) makes it a negative, meaning: "filthiness," or "uncleanness." It is a more general term than immorality, going beyond the act to the evil thoughts and intentions of the mind. It could refer to what we would call perverted forms of sex - homosexuality, child abuse, and various strange and kinky sexual practices. They would all be covered by this one word "impurity." This word was used in other ancient writings to refer to pus that oozed from an unclean wound. This is what the flesh produces.

Sensuality - the Greek word aselgeia originally referred to any excess or lack of restraint, but came to be primarily associated with sexual excess. It is not a stretch of the imagination to understand the kind of unbridled unrestraint that is associated with the word. All we have to do is take a look at our society today with its fixation on sex at every turn, and you can easily understand the meaning and implications of the word. The same Greek word appears in:

Ephesians 4:19 (NASB) and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

It speaks of someone who flaunts their immorality, throwing off all restraint and having no sense of shame, propriety, or embarrassment. William Barclay wrote of this word sensuality: "The great characteristic of aselgeia is this, the bad man usually tries to hide his sin; but the man who has aselgeia in his soul does not care how much he shocks public opinion so long as he can gratify his desires."

One of the big problems we have in our culture today is pornography, and specifically, internet pornography - it's a monster that's loose among us. Far too many people are thinking, "If I just turn off my computer, I've solved the problem." But you haven't touched the problem. The only way you are ever going to get beyond that is if you are walking by the Spirit. That's the only way you will ever win that battle.

The next category of sins might be called religious: idolatry and sorcery.

Idolatry - If I choose to live in the flesh (in other words, if I say "I'm gonna' do this myself") then I've taken God out of the picture, and I become my own god. That's idolatry. It's a broad term that refers to anything good that becomes more important than God. It could refer to an inordinate love of money or possessions or of your career or even of another person who becomes more important than God to you.

Whenever it is based on self effort, religion can be just as much a work of the flesh as sex. There are basically two systems of religion: One is based on human achievement and the other is based on divine grace. If a person isn't depending on divine grace, which is unique to Christianity, he is ultimately depending on what he himself can accomplish to merit salvation. In many cases, a religious system of works is more insidious than sexual perversions.

Where do we see idolatry in our own day? Certainly it is found in the many expressions of the New Age Movement through the vain superstitions and practices of that mystical and false religion. Unfortunately, such idolatry is not limited to the cults or false religions. It sometimes enters into Christian churches when men seek to worship God in ways He has not directed or prescribed, when symbols, icons, or objects are utilized as a substitute for worshiping God in spirit and truth.

Sorcery - is from the Greek word pharmakeia from which the English word "pharmaceutical" comes. And the word "pharmaceutical" has to do with drugs and various potions. In the ancient world, the taking of drugs (especially hallucinogens) was always associated with the occult. The word "sorceries" could also be translated "enchantment with drugs." It has extra significance today in light of the current widespread use of mind-destroying drugs. This drug use is not only in rebellion against the laws of the land, but is often connected with spiritual activity of one kind or another. It has become a substitute religion for many people.
When Paul recounted the deeds of the flesh: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idiolatry, and sorcery, I honestly believe that the Galatians were saying. "Preach it brother, preach it! Wow, look at him, coming down on sin!" It must have really tickled the ears of the Galatians because Judaism despised immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, and sorcery. Those were the "filthy five."

They agreed with Paul that the "filthy five" shouldn't be practiced. What they weren't ready to hear was the rest of the list: "enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. Paul grouped them together as from the same source. Paul categorizes the Galatians "socially acceptable" sins with those that they would abhor committing. He wants to impress upon the Galatians that they are acting in the flesh.

Enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these are each "people" sins. They are sins that primarily express themselves in how we treat others. God cares about our sexual and moral purity, and He cares about the purity of our religion and worship. But He also passionately cares about how we treat one another. The fact that Paul uses more words to describe these interpersonal sins shows how important our treatment of each other is to God.

All of these "natural" feelings and actions flow from us like water from a spring, and all of them will destroy our relationships with others. Underlying each of these deadly acts is a preoccupation with self. I will care for others as long as I get what I want. I will be kind, act civil, and have a winsome attitude about me as long as I am happy and nobody disturbs my happiness or the happiness of those I love. Oh, but be the one who rocks the boat and disturbs these folks happiness, and you would be better off attacking a momma bear with cubs!

As we look at these sins, ask yourself how often they show up in your life. Whenever you see these sins in your life, you can know that you are not walking by the Spirit.

Enmities is from the Greek word echthra, which is hatred - an attitude of heart, and it somehow expresses itself in actions such as contentions, outbursts of wrath, or many other works of the flesh. But hatred is the inner motivation for the ill treatment of others. Just as love is the inner motivation for the kind and good treatment of others, hatred is an inner motivation. Laws can be passed to punish the evil men do against each other; but no law can answer the problem of hatred, which motivates those acts.

Strife is the Greek word eris, which conveys the idea of quarreling. We can see much of this taking place in the congregations today. They quarrel over this and quarrel over that, making issues of things that should not be issues.

Jealousies uses a Greek word (zelos) that is sometimes used in a positive sense - as for being zealous for something good. But here, clearly, the connotation is wrong. Jealousy refers to "someone who wants what other people have." It was this spirit which characterized Joseph's brothers so that they sold him into slavery. Timothy George expressed its meaning well when he wrote: "At the root of all sentiments of jealousy is the basic posture of ingratitude to God, a failure to accept one's life as a gift from God. To envy what someone else has is to fling one's own gifts before God in unthankful rebellion and spite."

Outbursts of anger translates a Greek word (thumos), which speaks of a sudden flash of anger, not a settled state of anger. It means to lose your temper, being unable to control your anger. When you are driving, are you driving in the flesh or by the Spirit?

Disputes is the Greek word eritheia, and the word has an interesting history. It started out as a perfectly respectable word meaning: "to work for pay." Over time, it began to mean the kind of work that is done for money and for no other reason. Then it was used to describe politicians who campaign for election, not for what service they can give to the government and the people, but only for their own glory and benefit. It ended up meaning: "selfish ambition", the ambition which has no conception of service, and whose only aims are profit and power. It is the heart of a person whose first question is always, "What's in it for me?"

Dissensions uses the Greek word dichostasia, and it literally means "standing apart." Romans 16:17 and 1 Corinthians 3:3 translate this word as divisions.

Factions translates a Greek word hairesis, which originally simply meant: "to choose." Over time, it came to mean someone who divisively expressed their "choices" or opinions. We think today of heresies in terms of wrong ideas and teachings; but the emphasis in the word is actually the wrongful dividing over opinions. Heresies can be thought of as hardened dissensions. There is all the difference in the world between believing that we are right and believing that everyone is wrong.

Envy is the Greek word phthonos. One doesn't so much want what someone else has (as in jealousies), but one is bitter just because someone else has something and we don't. The ancient Stoics called this "grief as someone else's good," and the ancient philosopher Euripides said it was: "the greatest of all diseases among men." This is what the flesh produces.

Drunkenness and carousing can be thought of as social sins, sins that are often committed in the company of other people. Drunkenness is clearly described as one of the works of the flesh. While Christians may differ as to whether a Christian can drink alcohol, the Scriptures precisely forbid drunkenness.

Ephesians 5:18 (NASB) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,

Here Paul describes drunkenness as dissipation, which means: "wastefulness." Getting drunk is a waste; for certain, the Holy Spirit never led anyone into drunkenness! We are to be controlled by the Spirit, not by alcohol.

Our culture addresses drunkenness as an addiction which is the result of the disease of alcoholism. Now, no one in their right mind can make the case that alcohol can't be addictive in many people any more than certain types of drugs can be addictive. But that doesn't automatically make it a disease. God's Word calls it a sin, not a disease.

Carousing is the Greek word komos, which doesn't mean simply having a party or a good time. It means unrestrained partying. Barclay says, "It describes the kind of revelry which lowers a man's self and is a nuisance to others."

Now you may be thinking, "Well I certainly don't get drunk, so I don't walk in the flesh." Well before you get too proud, is your life free from all of these sins? Are you free from anger and selfish ambition? And just in case you are, Paul also says, "And things like these" - this demonstrates that Paul understands that his list is not exhaustive. These are not the only works of the flesh. This is a partial list. I'm sure you could think of others.

Notice, carefully, what Paul says at the end of verse 21, "of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." The word "practice" is from the Greek word Prassw, which is the verb for habitual practice, not poiew for occasional doing.

Commenting on this verse, one man writes, "But if you could identify with any of these sins on an ongoing basis, then you should ask yourself, 'Am I really a child of God?' This is so because God concludes this passage with this dire warning: "They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

Can any of you identify with any of these sins on an ongoing basis? Immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing. I'd be willing to bet that all of us could. Does this mean that none of us are saved?

Think with me here for a moment, could Paul have said, If you practice such things you will not inherit the kingdom of God. He could have, so why didn't he? I don't see this as a warning or a threat, but as Paul saying, This is how the unbelievers act, don't act like them.

Notice what he said in:

Galatians 5:2 (NASB) Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.

This is a warning: If you do this, than this will happen.

Galatians 5:15 (NASB) But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.

Here he says, "If YOU bite and devour one another, take care lest YOU be consumed by one another." This is also a warning. But in verse 21 he says, "THOSE who practice such things" referring to the non-believers who are not part of the kingdom of God.

Romans 8:13 (NASB) for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 11:22 (NASB) Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.
Romans 13:4 (NASB) for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.

These are all warnings of consequences that will happen to those who Paul is writing to. In our text there is no warning. Paul is telling the Galatians to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh, and then he gives a list of manifestations of the flesh and Spirit so we can know without a doubt if we are in the flesh or Spirit.

Galatians 5:19-21 (NASB) Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Is there any exhortation or imperatives in these verses? What is Paul telling the Galatians to do in these verses? Nothing. He is simply showing them what the flesh produces and stating the end result of living in the flesh - not inheriting the kingdom of God.

The word "forewarn," used twice in verse 21, is the Greek word prolego, which means: "to say beforehand." This same word is used in:

1 Thessalonians 3:4 (NASB) For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.

There is no indication of warning here and neither is there in our text. Paul can't warn believers of the loss of the kingdom. A believer cannot loose his salvation. The life he received as a gift of God was ETERNAL life.

When Paul says, "those who practice such things," he is referring to those apart from Christ. He is distinguishing the believers of the church with those who practice these things as a way of life.

Every single person who does not have God as part of his or her life goes down this path. That doesn't mean people are involved with all of these things; but there are some of these that are always a significant part of their lives. The point Paul is making is: left to itself, that's where humanity goes. That's where we go by nature when we take God out of the picture.

So what is he saying? He is saying that if you look at the track record of the flesh, apart from the Spirit of God, it is a track record of failure in the arena of righteousness. Then why would you take that same flesh and use that as a means to make yourself righteous? He says it will never work. The flesh has a long track record of failure.

The legalist believes: Even though this is a man-eating tiger, I'm gonna' turn it into a lap cat. But that will never happen; that strategy is totally flawed. Therefore, there is a need for the Spirit of God to do what the flesh could never do. Again, flesh is defined as my own human merit. It can be defined as my religious rituals, my religious performance, my attempts to merit righteousness apart from God. But that isn't going to work, because, by and large, the flesh doesn't move toward God; it drifts away from God.

There is only one way to overcome the flesh, only one way to live a life different from the works of the flesh that Paul has described here, and that is by walking by the Spirit. Which means that we spend time in the Word of God so that we may know God's will; and we look to the Spirit in dependence to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves:

Galatians 5:16 (NASB) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

Media #320b

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
2000 Centerville Turnpike
Chesapeake, VA 23322