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Galatians 5:19-21: The Works of the Flesh

Paul has been encouraging believers to “walk in (by) the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is an important message for Paul, he mentions the Holy Spirit 8 times in this chapter (NKJV). We concluded in the last message that every believer has the Holy Spirit living in them. And that those who are led by the Spirit are the children of God (Romans 8:14). We are taught by the Spirit, comforted by the Spirit, anointed, regenerated, sanctified, filled and sealed by the Spirit.

Verse 19a: “Now the works of the flesh are evident…” “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear…” (Verse 19 NLT)

Paul here deals with the sins of the flesh, however, it seems to be hardly necessary to point out these sins, since they are “evident.” They are in plain view and obvious to everyone. The Greek word for “evident” is phaneros, which means, manifest, visible, conspicuous, visible, apparent or manifest (as opposed to that which is hidden). It stresses what is visible to the sight so that anyone may see.

“When Paul says that the acts of the flesh are obvious, he does not mean that they are all committed publicly where they may be seen. Some are, some are not. Instead, he means that it is obvious to all that such acts originate with the sinful nature, and not with the nature given believers by God.” –Boice

The works of the flesh are evident in our lives if we are not walking in the Holy Spirit, allowing ourselves to be led by God’s Spirit that lives in every believer.

“Paul is teaching us here that the works of the flesh are plainly visible so that fleshly behavior (often referred to as carnal behavior) is readily apparent to all observers. In other words, to use a Biblical analogy, ‘a tree is known by its fruit,’ (Luke 6:43-45) in this case carnal people are known by their works”–Precept Austin (edited slightly).

Now the Apostle lists “the works of the flesh?”

Verse 19b-21a: “…which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like…”

“Adultery,” is voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse. It is number 7 in the list of the 10 Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14).

This was a serious offense in the Old Testament, “If there is a man who commits adultery with another man's wife, one who commits adultery with his friend's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

Proverbs 6:32, “But the man who commits adultery is an utter fool, for he destroys his own soul.”

This Sin always causes grief and pain! The lights at the front door are bright and cheerful, they flash, “Come on in, this is fun! This will make you feel good! Live it up! A little bit can't hurt you. You only go around once in life, grab all the gusto you can!” But the tunnel at the end is dark and bleak, and you will find there, broken homes, shattered lives, anxiety, depression, guilt, rejection, grief and pain. This Sin causes pain to those closest to us, our wife, husband, mom, dad, children, pastor and friends. The entertainment industry pictures adultery as just a natural event in life, but, adultery is not funny! I've seen this sin tear up too many homes, leaving children grieving over the loss.

“Fornication:” The Greek word translated as fornication, or sexual immorality, is porneia, from which we get our word “pornography.” It incudes any sexual sin committed by unmarried people, illicit sexual intercourse in general, distinguished from adultery. Porneia originally referred to any excessive behavior or lack of restraint, but eventually became associated with sexual excess and indulgence, of every kind of extramarital, unlawful, or unnatural sexual intercourse. Biblically, fornication has a little wider definition. It can refer to prostitution or promiscuous behavior or indulging in unlawful lust by either sex.

1 Corinthians 7:2, “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.”

1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.”

“Uncleanness,” is also translated “impurity” it is the Greek word, akatharsia, meaning moral defilement whether in the form of lust or shameless living. It is a state of moral impurity related to thought, action or speech. Akatharsia describes a filthiness of heart and mind that makes the person defiled. The unclean person sees dirt in everything.

Colossians 3:5 NLT, “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”

“Lewdness,” in Greek is aselgeia, meaning, absence of restraint, indecency, wantonness, outrageous conduct shocking to public decency, to be lustful and excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.

2 Corinthians 12:21 NLT, “Yes, I am afraid that when I come again, God will humble me in your presence. And I will be grieved because many of you have not given up your old sins. You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.”

“Idolatry,” in Greek is, eidololatreia, meaning, “an admiration or reverence for something other than God. Idolatry more specifically is the worship of something created which is in direct opposition to the worship of the Creator Himself. Originally, a physical idol helped visualize the god it represented but later people worshipped the physical object itself.” –Precept Austin

“Idolatry may be classified as follows: (1) the worship of inanimate objects, such as stones, trees, rivers, etc.; (2) of animals; (3) of the higher powers of nature, such as the sun, moon, stars; and the forces of nature, as air, fire, etc.; (4) hero-worship or of deceased ancestors; (5) idealism, or the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, such as justice.

Another classification is suggestive: (1) the worship of Jehovah under image or symbol; (2) the worship of other gods under image or symbol; (3) the worship of the image or symbol itself. Each of these forms of idolatry had its peculiar immoral tendency.” –The New Unger's Bible Dictionary

Greed or covetousness is synonymous with idolatry because it places selfish desire above obedience to God.

Idolatry could also include extreme admiration of Movie and television stars, sports stars and celebrities in general!

Romans 1:21-23, “…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

“Sorcery,” in Greek is pharmakeia, from which we get our word pharmacy. It means one who prepares or uses magical remedies; from pharmakon, a drug or spell-giving potion. It was used to describe the use of magic which often involved the taking of drugs.

“Ancient sorcerers and oracles commonly used mind-altering drugs to induce their visions and healings. The use of hallucinatory drugs has become commonplace today and will become almost universal in the time of the last 7 years of this present age…” –preceptaustin

Revelation 18:23, “For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived.”

Revelation 9:21, “And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

“Hatred,” in Greek is, echthra which describes an extreme negative attitude that is the opposite of love and friendship. Echthra, means antagonistic, expressing enmity which may be open or concealed, expressing deep-rooted hatred or irreconcilable hostility.

Proverbs 10:12, Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.”

Proverbs 10:18 NLT, “Hiding hatred makes you a liar; slandering others makes you a fool.”

“Contentions,” in Greek is eris meaning, wrangling, quarrels, strife, unbridled and unholy competition. “It is essentially the sin which places self in the foreground and is the entire negation of Christian love…” –Barclay. It is a characteristic of the unsaved.

“It refers to persistent contention, bickering, petty disagreement, and enmity. It reflects a spirit of antagonistic competitiveness that fights to have its own way, regardless of cost to itself or of harm to others. It is produced by a deep desire to prevail over others, to gain the highest prestige, prominence, and recognition possible. Strife is characterized by self-indulgence and egoism. It has no place even for simple tolerance, much less for humility or love.” –preceptaustin

Romans 13:13,14, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

“Jealousies,” is zelos in Greek, meaning to be hot, to boil. It is generally a good word which describes eagerness, earnestness, enthusiastic devotion, single-minded allegiance, fervency, eager desire or ardent interest in pursuit of something, but it can take on a negative connotation when it describes a reaction which borders on extreme or fanatical. We get our English word zeal or zealous from this word, meaning filled with intense enthusiasm.

“In itself it means only warmth, ardor, zeal, but for a bad cause or from a bad motive, jealousy, envy, rivalry results.”


“The display of fervent devotion or jealousy on behalf of valued possessions (including persons) perceived to be under threat from rival claimants.” –Eerdman’s

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” – Shakespeare, Othello

1 Corinthians 3:3 NASB, “for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”

“Outbursts of wrath,” “wrath” is the word thumos in Greek, Eadie says, “thumos is…explosions of rage that proceed from a vindictive heart and an ungovernable temper, a violent motion or passion of the mind.” Thumos describes a passionate, tumultuous spirit; a mighty emotion which seizes and moves the whole inner man.

I have heard people say, “I blow up, then it’s over.” That’s thumos, explosive anger! It is the kind of anger which Basil described as “the intoxication of the soul, that sweeps a man into doing things for which afterwards he is bitterly sorry.”

“The Greeks likened thumos to a fire amongst straw, which quickly blazed and just as quickly burned itself out.”–Barclay

2 Corinthians 12:20 NASB, “For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances…”

“Selfish ambitions,” refers to self seeking, strife, contentiousness, extreme selfishness, rivalry and those who seek only their own. It is the desire to be number one no matter the cost! The Greek word is eritheia which means, personal gratification and self-fulfillment at any cost, which are the ultimate goals of all fleshly endeavors. It usually conveys the idea of building oneself up by tearing someone else down.

This word eritheia “evolved into a description of one who was out for an office as a means of magnifying self and came to be connected with politics (wonder why?!) and to mean canvassing for political or public office…Crooked politicians, who serve in office only for what they can get out of it, are a good example of this…The idea is that this person is like a mercenary, who does his work simply for money, without regard for the issues or any harm he may be doing. Everything he does is for the purpose of serving and pleasing SELF. Certainly this fits the Bible’s emphasis that the basic problem of unregenerate man is his being totally wrapped up in SELF and having no place in his life for God.” –preceptaustin

Philippians 2:3 NLT, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”

James 3:14 NASB, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”

“Dissensions,” in Greek is dichostasia meaning, literally a standing apart which is a picture of dissension, discord, disunity, contention, division into opposing groups. The idea of dissension is disagreement which leads to discord. Dissension is strife that arises from a difference of opinion and stresses a division into factions (especially factions in the early church).

Romans 16:17 NLT, “And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them.”

“Heresies:” The Greek word for Heresy is hairesis and is based primarily on teaching something in opposition or that which contradicts the truth of the Word of God.

“an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects… such erroneous opinions are frequently the outcome of personal preference or the prospect of advantage.” –Vine

Titus 3:10,11 NLT, “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.”

2 Peter 2:1, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

“Envy,” in Greek phthonos describes the pain felt at the sight of someone else’s success or happiness. To envy is to feel a grudging discontent aroused by the possessions, achievements, or qualities of another along with the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another.

“Jealousy and envy are close in meaning, but nevertheless are expressive of distinct attitudes, for jealousy makes us fear to lose what we possess, while envy creates sorrow that others have what we do not have. In other words, we are jealous of our own possessions, but we are envious of another man’s possessions. Jealousy fears to lose what it has, while envy is pained at seeing another have it!” –preceptaustin

Dwight L. Moody once told the fable of an eagle who was envious of another that could fly better than he could. One day the bird saw a sportsman with a bow and arrow and said to him, “I wish you would bring down that eagle up there.” The man said he would if he had some feathers for his arrow. So the jealous eagle pulled one out of his wing. The arrow was shot, but it didn’t quite reach the rival bird because he was flying too high. The first eagle pulled out another feather, then another—until he had lost so many that he himself couldn’t fly. The archer took advantage of the situation, turned around, and killed the helpless bird. Moody made this application: if you are envious of others, the one you will hurt the most by your actions will be yourself.

“Murders,” First note that most translators omit this word because there is considerable doubt as to whether should have been included in the text. Two of the oldest manuscripts and several other good authorities omit the word. Nearly all commentators agree that this word is not in the original text.

However, we cannot disagree that murder is a sin of the flesh, so I include this brief note: The word “murders” means homicide, the Bible distinguishes between killing someone and murdering him. Murder is the premeditated taking the life of a human being illegally. The Commandment in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 could read, “You shall not commit murder.” The Law demanded death for those who committed this crime. That is capital punishment for cold-blooded, premeditated murder.

“Drunkenness,” methe is the Greek word most often was used of intentional and habitual intoxication.

The Corinthians disrupted the Lord's Supper; some were hungry while the wealthy were drunk. Unlike the feasts of Dionysus, the Lord's Supper is no place for intoxication. Intoxication is the direct opposite of spiritual drink. “For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:21 NLT).

Ephesians 5:18 admonishes us, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.

1 Peter 4:3 NLT, “You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols..”

“Revelries,” in Greek is komos. This word “describes the kind of revelry which lowers a man’s self and is a nuisance to others…” –Barclay

It originally referred to a band of friends who accompanied a victor in a battle or a sporting event, singing praises to the victor. But the word degenerated until it came to mean carousing or a noisy, a riotous procession of half drunken revelers who paraded through the streets at night with torches and music in honor of Bacchus or some other deity.

Verse 21b: “…and the like…” This phrase implies that the list is not complete. “The list is always too long to be completed. We are obliged to sum up with a kind of et cetera.” –Spurgeon

Verse 21c: “…of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Paul is certainly not referring to losing your salvation. We know from the scripture that we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). And we believe it when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life” (John 5:24 NLT). And He also said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

And Paul reiterates this:

Romans 8:1 NLT, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 1:21,22, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”

Romans 8:38,39 NLT, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord

The difficulty lies in the word “practice.” This word in Greek is prasso and it means to be occupied with, to accomplish or to practice. The idea is to perform repeatedly or habitually and thus describes repetition or continuous action. “Paul is not talking about an act of sin, but habit of sin.” –Weirsbe

“The tense is present, indicating a habitual continuation in fleshly sins, rather than an isolated lapse. Paul’s point is that continual trafficking in sin is evidence of the lack of a spiritual life, whereas occasional lapses into sin are a sign of carnality in the saved.” Swindoll

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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