The Fruit of License - Part 5 (series: Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
The Spirit, then, has awesome power. The Law cannot condemn the believer who is led by the Spirit though he commits real sin. For Christ in whom we believe is our righteousness. He is without sin, and the Law cannot accuse Him. As long as we cling to Him we are led by the Spirit and are free from the Law. Even as he teaches good works, the Apostle does not lose sight of the doctrine of justification but shows at every turn that it is impossible for us to be justified by works.
The words, "If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law," are chockfull of comfort. It happens, sometimes, that anger, hatred, impatience, carnal desire, fear, sorrow, or some other lust of the flesh so overwhelms a man that he cannot shake them off, though he should try so very hard. What should he do? Should he suffer from depression? God forbid. Let him say to himself: "My flesh seems to be on a warpath against the Spirit again. Go to it, flesh, and rage all you want to. But you are not going to have your way. I follow the leading of the Spirit."
When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word, I could not have helped myself against the flesh.
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, 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.
Paul does not enumerate all the works of the flesh, but only certain ones. First, he mentions various kinds of carnal lusts, such as adultery, fornication, wantonness, etc. But carnal lust is not the only work of the flesh, and so he counts among the works of the flesh also idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, and the like. These terms are so familiar that they do not require explanations.
The best religion, the most fervent devotion without Christ is plain idolatry. It has been considered a holy act when the monks in their cells meditate upon God and His works, and in a religious frenzy kneel down to pray and to weep for joy. Yet Paul calls it simply idolatry. Every religion which worships God in ignorance or neglect of His Word and will is idolatry.
They may think about God, Christ, and heavenly things, but they do it after their own fashion and not after the Word of God. They have an idea that their clothing, their mode of living, and their conduct are holy and pleasing to Christ. They not only expect to pacify Christ by the strictness of their life but also expect to be rewarded by Him for their good deeds. Hence their best "spiritual" thoughts are wicked thoughts. Any worship of God, any religion without Christ is idolatry. In Christ alone is God well pleased.
I have said before that the works of the flesh are apparent. But idolatry puts on such a good front and acts so spiritual that the sham of it is recognized only by true believers.
This sin was very common before the light of the Gospel appeared. I have read that there were many witches and sorcerers around who "bewitched" cattle, and people, particularly children, and did a lot of harm. But now that the Gospel is here you do not hear so much about it because the Gospel drives the devil away. Now he bewitches people in a worse way with spiritual sorcery.
Witchcraft is a brand of idolatry. In the same way as witches used to bewitch cattle and men, idolaters, that is, all the self-righteous, go around to bewitch God and to make Him out as one who justifies men not by grace through faith in Christ but by
the works of men's own choosing. They bewitch and deceive themselves. If they continue in their wicked thoughts of God they will die in their idolatry.
Under sects, Paul writes down “heresies.” Heresies have always been found in the church. What unity of faith can exist among all the different monks and the different orders? None whatever. There is no unity of spirit, no agreement of minds, but great dissension is present in the papacy. There is no conformity in doctrine, faith, and life. On the other hand, among evangelical Christians, the Word, faith, religion, sacraments, service, Christ, God, heart, and mind are common to all. This unity is not disturbed by outward differences of station or of occupation.
This afternoon I had an encounter with the sect (or “cult”) of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I refused their literature and, I am sorry to say, I dismissed them rather rudely. What struck me is that they were not interested in my spiritual condition, only in getting me to accept their literature and listen to them expound upon certain Old Testament Scriptures. My confession of faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior was not enough for them, because they seemed to want something more from me; but I am not sure what it was.
Paul does not say that eating and drinking are works of the flesh, but overindulgence in eating and drinking are, which is a common vice nowadays, and it is a work of the flesh. Those who are given to excess need to know that they are not spiritual but carnal. A sentence is pronounced upon them that they shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Paul desires that Christians avoid drunkenness and gluttony, that they live moderate and sober lives, in order that the body does not grow soft and sensual.
THE FOLLOWING IS A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE WORKS OF THE FLESH LISTED BY THE APOSTLE:
Adultery, or defiling our neighbor’s bed.
Fornication, or the unlawful mixture of single persons one with another.
Uncleanness, under which is comprehended all sorts of filthiness, and filthy lusts, whether natural or unnatural.
Lasciviousness, by which is meant all wanton behavior, either in speech or action, tending to excite filthy desires, either in themselves or others.
Idolatry, whereby God is represented to human eyes by pictures and images, and so brought down to the level of human senses; idolatry, as such, is properly called here a work of the flesh.
Again, witchcraft, a devilish art, whereby some men and women, having made a compact with the devil, either expressly or implicitly, are enabled, with God's permission, and by the assistance of Satan, to produce effects out of the ordinary course and order of nature, and these, for the most part, are more harmful to others, than beneficial to themselves.
Hatred, or a secret animosity in our hearts against our neighbor, either for real or concocted injuries.
Variance, or outward conflict by words or action, arising from the aforementioned hatred in the heart.
Emulations, or an inward grief and displeasure at some good in others, or done by others, which eclipses and dominates us.
Wrath, or violent anger, and extreme rage, depriving a man for the time of his reason and transforming him into a beast.
Strife, or a controversial spirit, a continual proneness to quarrelling and resisting.
Seditions, or splitting societies into factions, and dividing communities into parties; which, when it occurs in the state, is called sedition; when in the church, it goes by the name of a split.
Heresies, or dangerous errors in the fundamental points of religion; not arising purely from mistakes of judgment, but from the espousing of false doctrines out of disgust or pride, or from worldly principles, to avoid persecution or trouble; these may well be considered carnal lusts, and called works of the flesh, although they may be mental errors.
Envyings, an irksome lust, which makes another's good our grief; our eyes smart at the sight of what another enjoys, though we never have less because another has more.
Murders, that is, the executing of private revenge, by shedding of blood, and taking away our neighbor’s life unjustly.
Drunkenness, revellings, the one is overindulgence in drinking, the other an excess in eating; both are sinful abuse by the creatures of God and is included here as a work of the flesh.