Isaiah 36:1-22; Galatians 5:19-26; Psalms 65:1-4; Proverbs 16:31-33
NT: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things — as I warned you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:19-26 CSB)
Flesh, because of Adam’s fall into sin, is corrupt. Everyone born of the “seed” of Adam is born with a corrupted and sinful flesh. When people give, as an excuse for their sinful behavior, that they were born that way – it is true. Our flesh cannot produce righteousness, holiness or everlasting life. It can only produce a corrupted product. That is what Paul meant by the works of the flesh. The word ‘works’ comes from the Greek word ergon. It has to do with acts, deeds, business, occupation, etc. Ultimately, flesh can only do what Paul has listed here. Sexual immorality (porneia) covers any illicit sexual act including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, incest, etc. Moral impurity has to do with uncleanness – crude or lustful thoughts and behaviors. Promiscuity has to do with lust, excess, licentiousness and shamelessness. Idolatry has to do with the worship of anything other than God. Sorcery not only has to do with the occult – it also has to do with the use of drugs. The other things listed by Paul are self-explanatory. Inside our flesh is the “natural” bent toward any or all of those things. According to Paul (and the whole of scripture), those who busy themselves and regularly practice those things cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
This is where the good news of the gospel comes in. In our flesh, we are bound to those things – they are part of our nature. We can’t help but do them. However, when we place faith in Jesus Christ and accept His death and resurrection as our own, we become dead to our flesh and are made into new creations with a new nature that is alive by the Spirit toward God. As we live by the Spirit instead of living according to our flesh, the Holy Spirit bears life-giving fruit in our lives. No longer is our life bound to working in sin and producing corruption. By the Spirit, our life begins to take on the nature and characteristics of the Holy God.
Notice that Paul did not say the fruits (plural and exclusive of each other) of the Spirit. He said fruit (singular and inclusive) of the Spirit. All of the words that Paul used to describe the fruit of the Spirit are all manifold expressions of one thing – the character of God that gets manifested in your life. You don’t get love and joy without self-control. In fact, Paul mentioned love first, because all the other expressions of the character of God flow out of love. If, instead of trying to will ourselves away from bad behaviors in our own strength, we submit ourselves to the working and leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the works of the flesh will grow less and less, and we will be made more and more into the holy image of God. Though our flesh may have a natural bent toward homosexuality, or being pleasured by objectifying people of the opposite sex, or addiction, or uncontrolled anger – as we live by the Spirit, all of those natural desires are displaced by the purely loving and holy character of God.
Psalms: “Praise is rightfully yours, God, in Zion; vows to you will be fulfilled. All humanity will come to you, the one who hears prayer. Iniquities overwhelm me; only you can atone for our rebellions. How happy is the one you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We will be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple.” (Psalms 65:1-4 CSB)
King David was aware of the futility in trying to will himself away from sin and earn righteousness. Interestingly, the Hebrew word translated here as iniquities is similar in meaning to the Greek word ergon, translated as ‘works’ in the Galatians passage above. Basically, David was saying the acts that I do, the words that I say, the thoughts that I think that implicate my inherent unrighteousness overwhelm and prevail against my ability to live righteously. David knew that the only way he could be rid of his iniquities was for God to atone for them. Thankfully, God hears earnest and faith-filled prayers – so David knew that he had hope in the Lord. Because of God’s mercy and faithful love, if David humbly repented and placed himself in God’s hands, God would be faithful to forgive David and allow him to come into His courts and remain in His presence.
Now, as we are in Christ by faith, God doesn’t just atone for our iniquities – He declares us righteous and gives us a new sin-free nature. We don’t have to be physically go to the courts of the tabernacle or temple and be content with being in the close vicinity of God. God makes us His temple and He fills us with the ever-abiding Holy Spirit who empowers us to maintain our sin-free state and leads us to a holy life.
Prayer: Lord, As David said in Psalm 65, my iniquities overwhelm me. As Paul described in Romans 7, it is impossible for me to separate myself from my flesh that is always warring against what is right and good. Though it is impossible for me to be holy and righteous through my own will and efforts, I thank You that You have made away for me to be holy by walking in and living by the Holy Spirit. I submit myself fully to You and Your Holy Spirit and fully welcome the development of Your fruit in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.