Greetings brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. For those in Christ it is always helpful to remind ourselves that it is well with our souls to use the words of Horatio Spafford. Being loved by Christ means we can rest in Him. He cares for us. He will keep us. Even when things seem against us. He uses those things for our spiritual good. (Rom.8:28, Gen.50:20, Phil.1:12-14)
Well today we are going to look at a rather unpopular subject, unpopular in the world certainly but I would be so bold as to say it is also unpopular in the church. (Mt.24:11-12, 2 Tim.4:1-8)
And the subject at hand is the subject of sin or as Paul puts it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the desires and the deeds of the flesh. Please take your Bible out. I will read Galatians 5:17-21. Hear the Holy Word of Holy God, read.
Galatians 5:17. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Please let’s go to our Lord in prayer. How we need His assistance to believe and to obey in all things, how much more so in our worship of Him in His word. And how much more so when we take up the subject of sin, something our flesh loathes to hear condemned. Pray.
The usefulness of the law.
I mentioned at the outset that our passage speaks on the subject of sin. Perhaps it would be helpful to define our terms. Here Paul says they are desires and deeds of the flesh, those things in antagonistic opposition to the things of the Spirit. This is key.
The Holy Spirit regenerates or renews us by the effectual application of the gospel word of God in Christ to us. (Jas.1:18, Jn.3:16, Jn.171:17, Rom.10:1-17, I Pt.1:23-25) The same Spirit continues to sanctify us by teaching us to observe all that Christ commanded us in His word. So, the Bible which is the very word of God is the thing to tell us right from wrong or sin from righteousness. And the moral law of God in particular is the divine rule that defines sin and righteousness.
Paul says in the book of Romans, through the law (the moral law) comes the knowledge of sin. (Rom.3:20)
Listen to the apostle John.
I John 3:4. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (Rom.4:15, 7:7-25)
So, when Paul speaks against one particular expression of the flesh or of a sin this is not Paul’s opinion that we can feel free to question or to contradict or to criticize. And if we do so it only shows that we are sowing to the flesh. What God says is sin is sin. It does not change person to person. It does not change with the times. If men make a consensus for a sin, God is still against it. And He will one day bring all sin to the Judgment. Because God is perfectly holy therefore He opposes all sin.
And the sin of Believers is still sin. It is forgiven in Christ, but it is still sin. (Rom.8:1, WCF 6.5) It has been said that the sin of the unbeliever angers God, but the sin of Believers grieve God.
The law is of great use to us because it shows us our sin and our need of the Sin-Bearer and thus it sends us to Christ for our righteousness, for our justification. (Gal.3:21-29) And then once we are converted to Christ, He in turn sends us to the moral law to be regulated, to quote John Flavel the English Puritan. That is the usefulness of this passage for lovers of Christ. God speaks against the desires and deeds of the flesh to those that have received Christ so that we would now live worthy of Christ. (Phil.1:27, Eph.4:1) Well, that is the general thrust of this passage. (WLC 94-98)
The importance of our thoughts.
The word of God told us something last week that every true Believer in Christ knows from our own personal experience. And that is as true Christians we still have an internal struggle first and foremost with our thought life. The struggle is against sinful thoughts and for holy thoughts.
What we think about is the source of the emotions that occupy our affections and the words we speak and the actions we perform. Oh how important our thoughts are.
How fearfully and wonderfully God has made man. Man is the only creature created in the likeness of God. And that likeness as created before the Fall was not physical but rather religious or spiritual or rational as seen in the capacity to know and thus to love God. Even Immanuel Christ reflects this wonderful capacity by man to know God, to think right thoughts about God when He is referred to as the Eternal Logos, which means word or even logic. (Jn.1:1,14)
We saw the Satanic attack on the thoughts of our first mother Eve when the devil tempted and tricked her to exchange the true thoughts or true beliefs about God and His word and in their place to believe a lie. (Gen.3:1-8, Rom.1:18-32) Oh, some of us are so careful about our diets, about our bodies, about physical safety and wellbeing and we do not realize the greater battle for our greater capacity is for our minds, our thoughts. (Rom.12:1-2)
We would help ourselves religiously if we were more careful about what we read, what we listen to, what we watch, the company that we keep – all of which greatly influences what we think about, for good or for evil.
Also, we could help ourselves if we from time to time stopped and honestly evaluated what we think about, and what we think about most. Our walk with Christ is profoundly affected by what occupies our thoughts. Beloved, what do you dwell on, what do you desire? Is it Christ? Is it holiness? Is it heaven? Or is it the desires of the flesh?
God says, as a man thinks in his heart, so he is. (Prov.23:7)
The product of our thoughts.
To put this into the language of our passage, our desires will produce our deeds. So, while it is true none of us can look into another’s heart, we can in fact, see and hear the product of their heart or of their mind. So let’s say, we hear a person use angry or spiteful words, well then we know that he or she has been thinking bitter thoughts. (Mt.12:34)
In this way God does not leave us guessing as to the spiritual or religious nature of a person. Christ says you will know them by their fruits, by their love. (Mt.7:15-20)
Our words and deeds then are very important for us. In the first place they are useful to judge our spiritual condition. One, are we in or out of Christ? Do we produce any good fruits, or do we only produce bad fruits? We can also judge the quality and the quantity of the produce of our life, 30, 60, or 90 fold. (Mt.13:8, 23, Mt.25:12-46)
Then our deeds can also be helpful for other people to determine those very same things about us. And then treat us accordingly. Are we brothers in sisters in Christ? Or are we evangelistic prospects? Are we professing Believers caught up in sin that need our prayers and perhaps our words of loving Biblical correction?
The government of our thoughts.
Obviously for us as Believers, we who have the Spirit-gift of a new spiritual nature in Christ, we want to resist the old nature and cast out sinful thoughts and we want to feed the new nature and think lawful and holy thoughts. (Ezek.36:25-27, Jn.3:1-9, Titus 3:4-6)
And this is so our thought life will bring God glory. And also, so that words and deeds produced by those holy thoughts would also bring God glory. (I Cor.10:31, Mt.5:16, I Pt.1:14-15, Jn.14:15)
Like that we don’t want to give in to our fleshly desires because we don’t want to also aggravate our sin by committing the sin we are thinking about. This will bring dishonor to Christ whom we love, and also dishonor to us and others that we love. Remember the deed is worse than the desire. Both are sin. The doing is more heinous to God than the thinking. (WLC 151)
God here now lists out various deeds of the flesh and then fruits of the Spirit. The idea is that God want to discourage the one and encourage the other. The ugliness of the deeds of the flesh are meant to dissuade us as Believers from giving in to our fallen nature and thus feeding our fallen nature.
So, the deeds of the flesh and the truths associated with them, are a negative lesson for the good of our sanctification. (I Cor.10:1-13) All of this of course is meant for us to govern our deeds, but ultimately it is meant to drive us back to the government of our minds and hearts by faith in Christ. (Gal.2:20, Eph.2:1-10, 2 Cor.5:7, Heb.11:1-41)
The observability of sin.
God tells us that the works of the flesh are evident.
God acknowledges sin.
Most importantly, all sin is evident to God as sin. Man may vigorously protest but it will be to no avail. It is not possible to deceive the all knowing everywhere present God. He Who has made and governs our heart has already seen the heart sin. He wrote the Law; He sees even the smallest breach of it. And what He sees as sin “is” sin. (see WCF 2.1-2)
You see sometimes people think because they have hidden a sin from others that somehow God is likewise duped. The One that knows the very number of hairs on our head or sparrows in the sky knows every offense committed against Him. (Ps.94:9, Ps.139:1-4, I Jn.3:20, Mt.10:30, Ps.147:4, I Kg.8:39)
Oh beloved, how we need to recapture the truth of that Latin phrase Coram Deo, in the presence of God. If we would only remember that we are always in the presence of God this would cause us to put to death the desires and the deeds of the flesh by faith in Christ.
Listen to what Christ assures us.
Matthew 28:20. teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Listen to our Lord again. May we heed His Lordship. (Lk.6:44-46)
Luke 12:1. He began saying to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.
The conscience acknowledges sin.
You see God created human beings as religious creatures. One of the attributes God created Man with is a conscience. A conscience is part of that image of God in man, even fallen and greatly defaced the conscience is like an internal judge of right and wrong based on the Law of God. (Rom.2:1-15)
Watch a little child about to take a cookie they have been told not to eat. Mother leaves the room, they look to the right, they look to the left, and wham down goes the forbidden fruit. You see even in little ones their conscience is accusing them of wrongdoing.
God created man under the moral law. Even fallen man cannot get away from this reality. Even when the unbeliever voices his approval of sin, he or she still “knows” that it is wrong. (Rom.1:18-32) Sin is evident to all. Oh I understand that the conscience can be calloused and even seared so that it almost does not operate at all. At that point the person has almost de-humaned or un-humaned himself.
But for us Beloved, we are Christians, the Spirit is in us, when we sin He convicts us. Our conscience is daily informed by the Bible. God says to us, My child that is sin, it displeases Me, repent, turn from it, walk in the Light even as your Christ is the light. (I Jn.1:7)
The conduct reveals sin.
Not only does man as a culpable religious creature before God recognize disobedience to God, sin is also evident in that it eventually (in this life or in the next life) is audible and visible as we have said earlier.
Listen to James our Lord’s half-brother on this subject.
James 1:13. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
Beloved, sin grows, both in quantity and in quality. That is to say that it will start off small and then grow larger. But it will also start off in its less wicked form and it will progress to greater degrees of depravity and disobedience.
In the way perhaps a bitter thought turns into a bitter word which in turn gives way to bitter actions. And left unchecked heart-murder will bring forth actual death. The same is true for lustful thoughts. If left unmortified they become lustful desires, and then lustful habits, and then lustful actions.
I am certain many a Christian has sinfully entertained some infant sin, against the command of their Lord and Savior, all the while thinking they will not let this sin “get out of hand”, they won’t let it grow larger and darker. Oh beloved, why will the word alone not instruct us? Must we learn by the rod of our own sin? (Heb.12:1-11, Ps.119:71, Heb.5:7-9)
And as I say, there is no guess work here. This is not open for debate. Oh, people can and do labor to excuse, to cover and to hide, but still, it is right there for all to hear and to see. The deeds of the flesh are evident.
Remember God is writing this to persuade us to resist our fleshly or sinful thoughts and desires that we would not continue to feed them and thus grow them.
God is telling His beloved holy children for our good – your secret hidden sin will not be hidden for long. This is KEY: soon your sin will find you out. (Num.32:23) People will see and hear and feel your sin. They will know what is really in your heart. They will see the sin you tried to keep secret.
Oh, what a warning. How true. How many of us have heeded this too late? Only to feel the humiliating shame and pain of having our fleshly deeds evident? If love to God will not make us stop, what about love for self?
Look at some of the famous men of God that the world rejoices to see their hidden sin coming to light. Ravi Zacharias to name the most recent. But Beloved has your sin never been exposed?
Let me say something else about the sinful deeds produced by sinful desires. Remember we are trying to mortify our own flesh in the most effective way we can by God’s grace.
Constitutional proneness to sin.
All of us have particular constitutions. Perhaps we are given to melancholy or perhaps we are given to anger or to lust or another particular expression of sin. Sometimes these things are called our besetting sins, sins that we seem most drawn to. We should be on guard against these most. So beloved Believer in Christ – know yourself. Temptations vary with physical and emotional constitution.
Situational proneness to sin.
Also, there are some sinful desires and deeds that may be “season specific”, which is to say, we may be prone to these sins at particular times of our life, more so than other times. And we would need to watch and pray that we not fall into temptation at these times.
Let me give you a few of these sinful seasons. When we are alone. When we are not busy with a lawful calling, like David with Bathsheba. When we are especially sick or in pain. Our flesh may look to become bitter with God and man. When we are especially in health or wealth. Our flesh then may look to use its physical vigor to engage in sins that require physical vigor, to make an idol of fleshly pleasures.
You remember that the Bible classifies Believers in three or four classes, infants, babes or toddlers, young man, and mature fathers. This is spiritual speaking and certainly depending upon our spiritual maturity certain sins lay lurking at the door of our life. But if I may apply this to actual chronological age. Certain sins are more appealing to young children, and then young strong men and women and then older people in the final season of their life.
There is a reason the wild-wild-west was so wild with fighting, drinking, gambling, and womanizing and more fighting and more drinking. It was filled with men. And it was filled with young men. And often it was filled with young single men and men away from their families.
Perhaps with age these desires and their commensurate deeds diminish but other sins take their place, bitterness, grumbling, complaining, covetousness, greed, and gluttony – food then become the illicit paramour idol for instance. Temptations vary with age and circumstances. Watch and pray. Stay close to Christ.
Various expressions of sin.
Now let’s spend a little time walking through this list of sins that God warns us against.
Galatians 5:19. immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you,
Against the law of God.
Now there are 15 different expressions of sin. And then Paul adds, and things like these. The idea is that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all sins. Please do notice that God does lists different sins. (I Cor.6:9-11, Mk.7:21-23, I Tim.1:8-11, Rom.1:29-31, 2 Tim.3:1-5, Rev.21:8, Col.3:4-10)
Each sin is a sin, but it is a different expression of sin. When God pronounces judgment people will be condemned because they have broken God’s law, but they have broken distinct commandments of God’s law. God wants His ministers to correct and or to condemn not just sin in general but sin in their particulars so as to bring us each individually to repentance for our own sin.
I say this because our fallen flesh is so apt to excuse our sin by indicting the sins of another. Oh, their particular sin is their sin. But we also have a super abundance of our own particular lawlessness. For instance, a man may not be given to immorality, but he may be given to gluttony, or to anger or to covetousness. Remember harlots are sinners. But Pharisees are worse. (Mt.21:31) Each Believer struggles with their own sins.
But just to emphasize something that we are prone to practically miss, this list shows us that all sins are not sexual as Martin Luther notes in his commentary on this passage. More on this as we go along.
Against the love of man.
Now if you study the list you will see that they are mostly sins that are directly against the second table of the law, namely commandments five through ten.
These are sins that are against one’s neighbor. Or as Jesus says, these would be against the second greatest commandment of God that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Mt.22:35-40) All of these then are an expression of lovelessness and or hatred of our neighbor.
Sins against man.
The first three sins are sexual in nature, fornication or adultery. Marriage is abused. Marriage is perverted. Marriage is delayed or forsaken. Impurity – unnatural desires and deeds. Sensuality – indecent desires and deeds. So, there is some kind of gratifying a sexual desire in a forbidden way either virtually or actually, in the mind or in the deed. (I Cor.5:1, 6:13-18, 7:2, 2 Cor.12:21, Eph.5:3, Col.3:5)
Oh Beloved, look at our movies, our songs, our billboards, our clothes. We are Sodom and Gomorrah. We have utterly corrupted human sexuality. And we love it. And we make laws in favor of it. And we make laws that condemn those that agree with God. But God hates it.
Then we have various sins surrounding hatred of our fellow man that destroy communities. Enmities, party-spirit, sectarianism, hating Christians of another party, hating people of another community. Hatred, envy, jealousy, no contentment with our own condition, causing divisions.
Then we have sins dealing with drunkenness and carousing which is living without restraint upon our physical appetites which would include gluttony.
Against the love of God.
V.20 idolatry and sorcery or witchcraft would be breaches of commandments one through four. I will add these tends tend to also make us abuse Man.
Sin against God.
Idolatry, one this would include all worship of false gods. (I Cor.10:14, Col.3:5) I watched a video clip the other day of a man that gives away money to poor people in India. He gets his shoes shined or takes a river ferry and then he “tips” them a year’s wages or something like that. They often call him god. And he says, yes I am god and so you too are god, we are all gods. Oh beloved, we may get weepy that some poor person now has food to eat, but at that very occasion they commit the worst kind of blasphemy.
What shall we say to all of the contra-Biblical worship that is often up by so many professing Christians? I will pray to this saint or to that saint. I will use this image or that image even though God has forbidden them. But I like them. I win. (Col.2:15-23)
What about the idolatry we make of the creature? Loving people, places, and things more than God in Christ. (Eph.5:3-5) What about self-idolatry? When we love our self more than God?
The sorcery (pharmakeia), the witchcraft, the necromancy – speaking with the dead? (Acts 8:9, 13:8, 19:13,19) Oh beloved, people laugh at tarot cards. They laugh at “sister Ruby” the palm reading or the fortune teller. As a child I played with the Ouija (wee-gee) board, the spirit-board or the talking board. What about the new age spiritism that creeps into everyday life, speaking to the spirit world? Oh all of this and more is condemned by God. (I Jn.4:1, Isa.8:19, Dt.18:10-12, I Sam.28:7, Dt.26:14, Lev.19:31, Lev.20:6)
Remember God is warning us as His beloved children to refrain from these things. That means we struggle with these things.
Incur the judgment of God.
But it is one thing to struggle and to fight against as sin, but it is radically different to live in a sin, to habitually practice a sin. All true Believers sin against God and man every day in thought, word, and deed.
But the true Believer the moment we became born again by the Holy Spirit we are released from bondage to sin. We are in Christ. Christ is in us. We sin. But we can no longer be happy in sin. However, those that profess to believe in Christ as their Sin-Bearer yet the evident practice of their life reveals these things, God says to such a one – you will not enter My holy heaven!
Galatians 5:21. just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Oh Beloved, this is so sobering that it can take our breath away. Let me close with these hopeful words.
I Corinthians 6:9. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (Rev.21:3-8)
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