The Works of the Flesh and the Grace of God

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these…” (Gal. 5:19).

  • Adultery. The word for adultery is a word that was added by the translators at this place in the biblical text for better readability in the English. There is no actual word in the Greek text.  
  • Fornication. The word for fornicationisporneia (por-ni’-ah); the word “pornography” comes from this Greek word. The specific idea of harlotry is in view. A divine prohibition is given against the selling or giving of one’s mind and body to multiple partners for sexual pleasure. The word, porneia can also refer to spiritual idolatry by the seeking of other gods.
  • Uncleanness.  The word for uncleanness isakatharsia, (ak-ath-ar-see’-ah) and refers to physical or moral impurity. As dirt can make the body unclean so impure ideas and actions can make the soul unclean. Sometimes a person will say, “I feel dirty.” What they are saying is their conscience has been violated in some way. A young person who was acting in a treacherous manner once asked, “Are you trying to make me feel bad?” My response was this, “Absolutely. You need to feel the consequences of your actions for therein is your only hope for salvation.” The Bible tells us that godly sorrow worketh repentance.
  • Lasciviousness. The word for lasciviousness is aselgeia, (as-elg’-i-a) and means literally, “not continent”. The sensual passions are not content. The idea of lasciviousness is recognized by the modern term “free love” or “multiple sex partners”. While sexual vice of all kinds prevails in the world, it is to be kept out of the church and out of the lives of professing Christians.
  • Idolatry. The word for idolatry is eidololatreia (i-do-lol-at-ri’-ah) and has reference to the worship of images by way of statues or pictures. It is dangerous to invite individuals to kneel before statues and pray. While the act can be innocent enough the temptation comes to transfer life to an inanimate object and being to treat the statue as a real god or person with god like powers such as is often ascribed to Mary or a saint.  
  • Witchcraft. The word for witchcraft is farmakeia (far-mak-i’-ah).  From this word comes the word for medication or “pharmacy”.  By way of extension, farmakeia refers to magic, literally or figuratively. The sorcerers of the ancient world monopolized the word for a while in their magical arts and used drugs in connection with worship in acts of idolatry. Anton Levy established a satanic church in California and used drugs in occult religious worship ceremonies.

Revelation 18:23 And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.

Acts 19:19 Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

  • Hatred.  The word for hatred is echthra (ekh’-thrah)and refers to hostility. By implication, a reason for opposition. It is very natural for the mind to give a justified reason for hating someone. It is also damnable thinking which must be arrested. It is as simple and serious as that. It does no good for the Christian to protest that self is not capable of resisting the hatred in the heart for such a belief flies in the face of the biblical doctrine of conversion. When Christ comes into the heart of a person He destroys the principle of sin that once ruled. Romans 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  Only a lack of faith that the soul has been set free from the compelling need to hate will keep it enslaved to this dark passion of Satan. 1 John 5:4 “…and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
  • Variance.  The word for variance is eris (er’-is). This is a word of uncertain affinity but is understood to have reference to a quarrel, i.e. (by implication) wrangling. It is so easy to quarrel with others especially when a position is adopted that self will defend itself at all times. This willingness to defend self appears to be logical. “If I do not defend myself, who will.” Therefore, the soul says, “I will not let someone destroy my reputation.” “I will answer every charge made against me.” “I will invite others to tell me who is speaking and what has been said against me and I will then set the record straight.”

Eventually the passions become so strong the soul says with great emotion, “I will be damned before I sit by and allow an individual whom I have loved for a lifetime to listen to verbal filth against me lest they think I am not worthy of trus and honor.” “I…. I…. I….”  

The willingness to quarrel is a work of the flesh. The willingness to engage in verbal wrangling or wrestling is a work of the flesh that will destroy the soul. Why? Because God knows that sin is like an octopus with many tentacles. One sin touches the soul with another form of evil. Sin has many links to form a strong chain to bind the soul.

Meanwhile the promises of God are forgotten. There is the promise of Isaiah 54:17. “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.”  There is the promise of Isaiah 59:19. “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.” In the Journey into Grace God will give a person a chance NOT to quarrel and not to wrangle but to be like Christ, “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:23-24).

  • Emulations. The word for emulations is zeelos (dzay’-los) and has reference to heat, i.e. (figuratively) “zeal” in a favorable sense, ardor; in an unfavorable one, jealousy, as of a husband [figuratively, of God], or an enemy, malice. When it comes to defending self there is no greater zeal displayed for pride has been wounded. When one’s pride has been wounded the depths of hell spew forth with zeal as self is defended with justification. Like an exploding volcano the emotions erupt and a torrent of words come forth with great eloquence and logical conclusion though the presuppositional thought may not be recognized as being faulty. In other words a logical conclusion always follows a presuppositional thought but if the presuppositional thought is wrong so is the conclusion. Adoph Hitler believed in a Superior Race. He believed the Germans were a superior race to all others. Therefore, the Jews, as an inferior people could be and should be exterminated.

The presuppositional thought that self can and should with zeal at all times defend itself against the vicious attacks verbalized by others is a wrong presuppositional thought and practice according to gospel terms. Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?” (Matthew 5:43-46). In order to “love your enemies” you have to have enemies. In order to “bless them that curse you” you have to be cursed. In order to “pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” then someone has to do the persecuting.

In gospel terms when the soul accepts this abuse it “dies” and in death lives again unto a newness of life.

How does a person know when they have been “crucified with Christ”?

How does a person know when they have taken “up their Cross” and followed Christ?

The answer is this. When the heart can love, bless, and pray for the most wicked of people who are figuratively “stabbing” them, again and again and again, only then has a person taken up their cross and followed Christ.  

Why will God not let this “stabbing” stopped? Because God is just as determined to “put to death” the flesh as flesh is to resist this divine spiritual crucifixion.

God says, “Live through dying to self” while the flesh says, “I will not die. I will defend myself though I am damned for so doing.”

And so, the screaming starts. “GOD! STOP HURTING ME”. Once more it is sadly revealed it is all about “me”, “self”, “the flesh.” If self were literally dead then it would not matter for there would be no consciousness of pain. And if self were spiritual dead in Christ to the sinning of others then the attempted wounding of the soul would no longer matter and new emotions would be free to flow.

After the verbal and emotional screaming dies down God still speaks and He says, “No, I will not stop chastening you. I will not stop the pain, scream all you want. Life is about ME not you and I will kill you so that you may live.”

Saul of Tarsus did not want to die. He was proud, very proud and could defend himself with eloquence. He could out argue and out scream anyone. “In the eyes of the law I was blameless,” he could boast as a Pharisee. “But then sin revived and I died.”

“Saul, you died?”

“Yes, I did.”

“When did you die Saul?”

“I died on the road to Damascus when I met Jesus and I realized I needed a Saviour for my heart was wicked and could not longer be defended nor should it be.”

“Did people treat you better after you became a Christian?”

“No. But I treated them better. In fact, after I came to Christ, I learned to love those who hated me without a cause, bless them that persecuted me, and prayed for my brethren according to the flesh. And I suffered physically and emotionally by absorbing their vicious attacks. But I did this willingly. ”

“What did people do to you Paul, for I understand you changed your name.”

“What did people do to me? What didn’t they do to me? They beat me and stoned me. Once I was left for dead. I was beaten with rods and scourged with the cat of nine tails. I was put in prison. I was tortured. I was hungry. My friends forsook me.”

“Paul, why did you endure such hostility? Why did you not defend yourself? Why did you not go to court and sue for your rights?”

“Because I wanted to be like Christ. I kept my eye on the prize and I cried out, ‘Life! Life! Eternal life with Jesus.”

“Did people come to value you Paul and repent and see the evil lies they told against you?”

“Some did.  Most did not and so I was beheaded during the reign of Nero.”

  • Wrath. The word for wrath is thumoi (thoo-moi’). This is a word involving great passion as if breathing hard. It ultimately refers to stirring up emotions resulting in an explosion. When the soul is fully saturated with sin it explodes into an uncontrollable rage. It is true, self is incapable of stopping the emotional rage. But Christ can. As the Lord calmed the demoniac and brought him to a state of calmness Christ can calm the raging storm of the soul set lose by disobedience and self justification for every attitude and action taken. But Christ will only calm the raging storm in the soul on His terms. Christ will not stop the soul from screaming to the point of madness until there is a return to reasoning with Him on gospel terms. This means listening once more to His message as set forth in the Sermon on the Mount and then humbly praying, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Come again to my heart and make me the man, the woman, the child you want me to be. Lord, I come to you for help; come to me with grace.”
  • Strife. The word for strife is erisand means rivalry, discord. There is an old question, “What if they gave a war and no one showed up to fight.” The reason why there are wars and rumors of war is because people are willing to fight. Why are people willing to fight? Because there is a desire among nations to have something such as oil, gold, or land. On a personal level this is also true. People are willing to fight because something is desired intensely. James 4:1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts [intense desires] that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Despite the willingness of people to engage in strife, rivalry and discord the Word of God stands in judgment on the soul and calls it a work of the flesh, a damnable work of the flesh. In contrast, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). There is also peace.

The Biblical exhortation comes, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18).  The mindset which says, “I will live in peace until you attack me then I will verbally shred you to ribbons and hate you and be justified in the process” is not the biblical concept of making every effort to live in peace.

  • Seditions. The word for seditions is dichostasíai (dee-khos-tas-ee’-ah); disunion, i.e. (figuratively) dissension. The prophet asked, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). The short answer is, “No.” People must have union in order to walk together in the same direction. Unless there is union without extreme disagreement there will be little or no forward progress. The Christian is called upon to be a peacemaker not a hater and not a person characterized by strife. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
  • Heresies. The word for heresies is haireseis (hah’-ee-res-is) and refers to making a choice, i.e. (specially) a party or (abstractly) disunion. People make a choice to hate. No one can make someone hate them. Hating someone, being angry at someone, screaming and railing at someone is a choice that pleases the soul in a perverse way and gives emotional satisfaction for the moment or it would not be engaged in. Why? Because no one does anything against their will.

Whatever a person says or does at any given moment is said or done because an individual believes it is in their own best interest to vent, scream, rage, talk calmly, rationally or even just be silent.

God recognizes this freedom of the will but sovereignly rules over it by establishing a moral universe whereby there are natural consequences for the good or evil the soul decides to do.

If a person, even a professing Christian begins to act in an undignified and ungodly way by responding inappropriately to the evil of others then God has decreed a predetermined result even for that professing Christian. Only by engaging in these fleshly activities will the divine punishment be felt, perceived, and experienced. Only too late will it be realized that anger produces anger not love; rage produces more rage not righteousness; wrong rhetoric stirs up more wrong rhetoric no matter how passionate, logical, compelling and self righteous it may appear upon initial verbalizing.

Once the monologue comes to an end and the heart pats itself on the back for saying something well and spellbinding others with words, there is still the judgment upon the situation.

The question comes, “Was all that said consistent with biblical boundaries such as found in Colossians 4:6, ‘Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.’’?  If this principle is violated God will not honor the passionate rhetoric though it may contain elements of true truth. No one will be persuaded. God will only honor what He has authorized.

Here is another principle. If a person has not stood in judgment upon himself first before correcting another person God will not honor the attempt to change another person. This is taught by Jesus in Matthew 7:3. “And why beholdest thou the mote [evil] that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Those who make a choice not to pursue peace and unity will find that God will honor that choice and that freedom of the will but He will also judge in the same manner and to the same degree the heart passionately judges another. Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

  • Envyings. The word for envyings is phthonoi (ph-thon’-oi) and warns against feelings of ill-will. Once an enemy is made of another person, once the dogs of war are unleashed, once the worse emotions are allowed to be vented, once a conscious choice is made to take up verbal arms against another person, once a person decides to defend themselves at all cost against each and every false accusation, once a person invites others to become conduits of verbal filth in the name of being “open”  “honest” and “having no secrets”, then it is very natural and easy to wish someone ill will. This ill will may be to wish them dead or damned, to wish them sickness or loss of job or income, to wish them tortured with their eyes scratched out or bodily parts emasculated. God says such thinking is a work of the flesh and is damnable unless repented of.
  • Murders.  This word was added by the translators for better readability in the English. There is no actual word in the Greek text. However, in another place Jesus warns against soul murder. Matthew 5:21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca , shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
  • Drunkenness. The word for drunkenness is methe (meth’-ay); an intoxicant, i.e. (by implication) intoxication. While the Word of God does not prohibit drinking of alcoholic beverages such as wine, drunkenness is a damnable sin and must be repented of. A practicing alcoholic has no more hope of going to heaven than a practicing homosexual who dies in that state of sin.
  • Revellings. The word for revellings is prolego (prol-eg’-o) and means to say beforehand, i.e. predict, forewarn in the sense of someone saying, “I know such and such a person and I know what they will say or do. I know what they think.” Such a practice infringes upon the prerogative of God who alone knows the heart. There is a spiritual gift of discernment that is given at times as when Peter stood in judgment upon Ananias with Sapphira his wife (Acts 5:1ff). In context of Galatians 5:19 the work of the flesh is ascribed to a person who is emotionally out of control, hates, is ready and willing to fight and so ascribes to others motives they may or may not have in every given instance because of a mistaken self righteous and arrogant believe they know someone so well they can “say beforehand” exactly what the person will say or do and why. Such revellings is a damnable sin and needs to be repented of.

and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

          It must be remembered this list of the damnable works of the flesh has been given to the church for several reasons.

First, this list becomes a basis for divine evaluation of the heart. While salvation is by grace through faith alone in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the grace of God that comes to the soul is not alone, it is accompanied by good works.

Good works are considered in Scripture to be the works produced by God the Holy Spirit and stand in contrast to the works of the flesh which are produced by the energy of the world and the devil. One way a person can know if they are “born again” is if their new nature is in conflict with their “fleshly” nature. In other words, does a person want to be fundamentally different when it is realized that so much of fleshly behavior and emotions are being manifested? This list is given for divine evaluation.

Second, this list is given as a warning against false professors. There is a true conversation but there is also a false conversion experience. Paul speaks of those who make shipwreck of their faith. The Christian is commanded to keep the faith. “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; 19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: 20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:18).

When a professing Christian abandons themselves to evil by not arresting the dark passions of the soul set forth in Galatians 5, when a person refused to be crucified with Christ, when a professing Christian enlists others to be a partner in spiritually irresponsible behavior, then it is possible a false conversion has taken place. This list serves as a warning to the false convert and says, “Either change your attitude and actions or change your name.”

          Third, this list of the works of the flesh is given to church to set forth the exceeding sinfulness of sin.

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated need but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

Alexander Pope

Realizing the exceeding sinfulness of sin Charles Wesley, wrote these words in 1749.

“I want a principle within
of watchful, godly fear,
a sensibility of sin,
a pain to feel it near.

I want the first approach to feel
of pride or wrong desire,
to catch the wandering of my will,
and quench the kindling fire.

From thee that I no more may stray,
no more thy goodness grieve,
grant me the filial awe, I pray,
the tender conscience give.

Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make;
awake my soul when sin is nigh,
and keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love,
to me thy power impart;
the mountain from my soul remove,
the hardness from my heart.

O may the least omission pain
my reawakened soul,
and drive me to that blood again,
which makes the wounded whole.”


Finally, this list of the works of the flesh is given to church as a contrast with the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.”

By setting forth these thoughts Paul wanted to provoke the Ephesians to good works while sounding a gospel alarm of great concern.

Paul could render no greater act of love, in the will of God, to the church to whom the Lord has given “some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).

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