Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Works of the Flesh

Pieter Claesz, A Vanitas Still Life, 1645
As we have noted recently, Scripture condemns homosexual behavior as sin.  To put this in its broader context we may want to look at one of the other passages of Scripture that mentions several classes of people who will not “inherit the kingdom of God,” Galatians 5:16-24.
            This passage does not mention homosexuals specifically.  But it does mention a wide variety of sins, some of which are sexual in nature.  What makes the passage especially interesting is that it probes the inner psychology of sin.
            In this passage the apostle Paul is primarily addressing Christian believers, urging them to live the Christian life.  At the heart of his discussion is a contrast between “the works of the flesh” (vv. 19-21) and “the fruit of the Spirit” (vv. 22,23).
            When Paul uses the word “flesh” here it is apparent that he is not talking about just physical appetites.  Some of the things he describes do involve a craving for sex or alcohol, but others do not.  Contentions, jealousies, dissensions and heresies are also on the list.  Rather, Paul is using the term “flesh” in a specialized sense to refer to man’s sinful , fallen nature – our inner propensity to do evil.  The New International Version translates the phrase “the acts of the sinful nature.”  Paul explains that “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another; so that you do not do the things that you wish” (v. 17; NKJV).  In other words, there exist in the heart of a believer two opposing principles.  One is the “flesh,” the human nature with which we are born, and the other is the Holy Spirit, Who takes up His residence in the heart of the believer at the point of conversion.  The two opposing forces are constantly at work in the heart of the believer, pulling him into opposite directions.
            Paul then goes on to enumerate these “works of the flesh.”  The first four, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lewdness (v. 19) clearly involve sex.  (The word translated “lewdness” might better be rendered “licentiousness,” “wantonness,” or “excess.”)  What this suggests is that there is a difference between love and lust, and that lust is morally wrong.  The difference is that with love we genuinely care about the other person and want to please him/her, whereas in lust we are primarily thinking of our own physical pleasure.  When we exploit others for our own selfish desires, or are unfaithful to our spouses, or make our bodies available for commercial gain, we are desecrating something that God created for a pure and noble purpose.  It is not that sex itself is bad; it is the underlying motive that is evil.  Sex should be an expression of genuine love and devotion to a member of the opposite sex, a most intimate of all relationships not to be shared with anyone else.  And if the love and devotion are genuine, they will express themselves in a lifetime  commitment in the bond of matrimony.  And make no mistake about it, marriage really is a “bond” – a binding obligation that requires that requires self-sacrifice for the sake of the other.  If we are not willing to make the commitment, we are simply being self-centered louts.
            Idolatry and sorcery (v. 20) mainly involve pagan practices more common in the ancient world than in modern Western society, although we are seeing a revival of it in Wicca.  Why does magic have a fascination for people?  Isn’t it because it is a way of controlling others for our own advantage?  And it involves misplacing our loyalty on something other than the God Who created us.
            Then we come to “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions,” and “heresies” (v. 20).  These, sadly, reflect problems that often occur in churches.  We trust that most respectable Christians will not be found in either the brothel or the saloon.  But unfortunately all too many of them are involved in church fights.  Why?   Because the same fallen human nature that leads the lecher to his porn and the drunkard to his bottle is also at work in the Christian as well.  It is simply that the professing Christian has more refined tastes.  He professes to be fighting for a worthy cause, a worthy purpose.  He is doing it for the benefit of others.  Or is he?  What is often at work is a determination to have his own way, to win the esteem of others, even if it means disrupting the peace and unity of the fellowship.  At the bottom of it is pure self-centeredness.
            These behaviors, these “works,” are bad enough in themselves.  But what makes them especially pernicious is that they spring from a heart bent on evil and unwilling to submit to God’s law.  It is the rotten fruit of a diseased tree.
            These things are so contrary to the character of God that He frankly cannot tolerate them.  This is why the text states, “I tell you beforehand, just as I told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21).  Or as Paul put it in Ephesians 5, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6).
            It is not just homosexuals who are under God’s judgment.  All of human society is essentially corrupt because we all have the same principle of evil working within us.  The world is filled with violence, exploitation and fraud.  And it will all come to an end when Christ returns to judge the earth.  The message Jesus proclaimed was not, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  It was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).


  1. Idolatry and sorcery mainly involve pagan practices more common in the ancient world than in modern Western society, although we are seeing a revival of it in Wicca.

    No we're not.
    There no such thing as sorcery. It's just people being silly.
    Idolatry is also very silly.
    Worship of a rock or statue is just as pointless as worship of something that isn't really there.
    The effect is, oddly enough, exactly the same.

    Why does magic have a fascination for people? Isn’t it because it is a way of controlling others for our own advantage?

    Let's not cast stones, shall we?
    You believe in a magical being. He flies. He's invisible. He can read your mind. He can do magic tricks at weddings. He can raise the dead. If you pray to him, you can change stuff.
    People will get well. (maybe)
    Bad things will stop happening. (maybe)
    By saying the right incantation at the right time in the right mood and really, really really , REALLY wanting it and if your magical friend thinks its ok then....TA DA(!!!) it will happen.
    Of course, if it doesn't happen then that means that somewhere along the line you made a mistake.
    Or the time wasn't right.
    Or your magical friend didn't want it.
    Or any one of a zillion different escape hatches as to why the incantations didn't work.
    Maybe your eyes weren't closed enough...or your head not bowed enough or your knees not bent enough etc, etc, etc.

  2. I remember visiting the Salem witch museum years ago. The official museum display went out of its way to day that the whole episode was a delusion and that people were sadly mistaken to think that there actually witches back then. But then on a bulletin board there was posted a notice for a meeting of witches! Perhaps it was a delusion back then but not today!
    There is virtually no warrant in Scripture for using supernatural powers to seek revenge or intimidate someone else. Most of the miracles Jesus performed involved healing others. This demonstrated 1) the God is the Creator and Lord of the universe and control nature, and 2) He is a benevolent Deity Who seeks to redeem us.
    As for the Salem witch trials it is interesting to note that the clergy generally opposed the trials and that the judges themselves eventually came to see that it was a mistake. Judge Samuel Sewell was led to publicly confess his sin in a church service. When was the last time you saw a public figure do that?

    1. But then on a bulletin board there was posted a notice for a meeting of witches! Perhaps it was a delusion back then but not today!


      No, Bob. It's people being silly.

      There is virtually no warrant in Scripture for using supernatural powers...

      There are no supernatural powers.
      Wands do not work.
      All the black cats in the world will give you nothing but hairballs.
      A black Mass will result in no unearthly power at all.
      Can't communicate with the dead. They're dead.
      No spirits to move tables. Brooms will not one day replace commercial airplanes. Can't turn lead into gold. You can't practice witchcraft because there is no actual "crafting" going on. It's just theatre and people being very self-indulgent. A curse "works" just as well as a blessing which should tell you how worthless they both are.
      You can't actually sell your soul to the Devil.
      There's no soul and there's no Devil. Makes it difficult.
      Nor can you have sex with the Devil.
      Unless the Devil "possess" the body of your coven leader for that one "special" ritual.
      (But I think we can both see though the ruse there, right?)