The Christian is to walk and live by the Spirit and not according to the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18 and Romans 8:5-14). But for everyone who has decided to follow Jesus there is the discovery of how difficult discipleship is.
One of the things that makes it difficult in our modern day is the lack of clarity about what is a work of the flesh (sin) is and what is not. In our day the world has disoriented the majority by calling good evil and evil good—“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). So, it is useful now and again for Christians to go to the lists of sins and righteousness in the Bible to be reminded of what really is good and bad. Moreover, it is crucial to define what these things actually are, because the world has often redefined their meanings to obscure what God has commanded. So, the for the next few weeks I’d like to take a look at the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit as they are found in Galatians 5:19-23 in this space in our bulletin for your reflection and encouragement.
Paul begins with the works of the flesh and his first three have to do with primarily with sexual sin: sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality.
Sexual immorality — The word in the Greek text is “porneia”. The word came from the word for prostitute, and is where we get the word “pornography”. But the word is broader in its New Testament (NT) use. It is often translated “fornication”, a word that incorporates everything from pre-marital sex (promiscuous, one-night-stands, or someone I’m really in love with), to adultery, to homosexuality, to prostitution, to pedophilia, to bestiality, to necrophilia, and any other sexual act outside the heterosexual marriage relationship. I do not list these things for the sake of being gross or for titillation. Believe it or not, the world has found ways to justify most of these sins to itself. The disciple of the Lord needs to know where the lines are.
Impurity — The word here is “akatharsia” and it essentially refers to whatever might defile a person. In the Old Testament it could refer to everything from eating unclean meat to touching a dead body. But since Jesus (Mark 7:14-23) and His new covenant made the Mosaic idea of ritual impurity obsolete, the meaning of impurity shifted its weight toward the deeds we do which defile us. In 1 Cor. 6:18-20 Paul points out that sexual sin defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit, our bodies. And indeed, it is most often associated in the NT with sexual sin (e.g., Rev. 17:4). But in other contexts it is also used as an opposite of “holy” (e.g., 1 Thess. 4:7), describing a mind or heart that is filled with unclean thoughts, desires, and passions. Ever met one of those sorts of people, with whom nothing is so wholesome that can’t be made into some dirty joke? Christians must take care to keep their hearts pure.
Sensuality — The Greek word here is “aselgeia”; English Bible translations have used “lasciviousness”, “licentiousness”, “indecency”, and “sensuality” to try to get across its meaning. But J.B. Lightfoot has given a more meaningful definition: “‘aselgeia’ indicates a love of sin so reckless and so audacious that a man has ceased to care what God or man things of his actions.” It is, in other words, a heart that is lost to shame; and it would seem to be the main goal of many modern sinners (Romans 1:32). “Come out of the closet!”, “Normalize!”, and “Don’t judge me!” seem to be the (im)moral themes of the day. But Christians understand the rightful and useful places of conscience, self-respect, and even shame in the battle of the flesh against the Spirit.
Paul said about these things, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident…” (Gal. 5:19). A recent president was criticized for failing to call radical Islamic terrorists what they are, “radical Islamic terrorists”; because to fail to truly identify the enemy is make yourself vulnerable to his attacks. Let’s call sin, sin. These things are works of the flesh; let us walk by the Spirit.