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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

The Gospel in Galatians

The Works of the Flesh
The Works of the Flesh

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 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” (Galatians 5:17–21).

Paul mentions 17 works of the flesh, which are these:

Adultery. Adultery is defined as the violation of the marriage bed; sexual intercourse between a married man and a woman not his wife, or between a married woman and a man not her husband.

In the Old Testament, adultery was punished with the death penalty by stoning those involved in such a transgression.

Fornication. Fornication is voluntary sexual intercourse between an unmarried woman and a man, especially an unmarried man. Like adultery, it constitutes transgression of the seventh commandment (Exodus 20:14). “[The seventh] commandment forbids not only acts of impurity, but sensual thoughts and desires, or any practice that tends to excite them. Purity is demanded not only in the outward life but in the secret intents and emotions of the heart. Christ, who taught the far-reaching obligation of the law of God, declared the evil thought or look to be as truly sin as is the unlawful deed.”1

Uncleanness. This “work of the flesh” is the opposite of cleanness. It includes both moral and physical impurity. In His sermon on the mountain, Christ declared: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8. Into the city of God there will enter nothing that defiles. All who are to be dwellers there will here have become pure in heart. In one who is learning of Jesus, there will be manifest a growing distaste for careless manners, unseemly language, and coarse thought. When Christ abides in the heart, there will be purity and refinement of thought and manner.

“But the words of Jesus, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart,’ have a deeper meaning—not merely pure in the sense in which the world understands purity, free from that which is sensual, pure from lust, but true in the hidden purposes and motives of the soul, free from pride and self-seeking, humble, unselfish, childlike.”2

Lasciviousness. It is a tendency to excite lust, an intense desire for sensual pleasure.

Idolatry. Worship of idols. It can be either physical or mental idols. “By idolatry [Paul] meant not only the worship of idols, but self-serving, love of ease, the gratification of appetite and passion. A mere profession of faith in Christ, a boastful knowledge of the truth, does not make a man a Christian. A religion that seeks only to gratify the eye, the ear, and the taste, or that sanctions self-indulgence, is not the religion of Christ.”3

Witchcraft. Witchcraft is the power or practices of witches; sorcery; black magic; bewitching attraction or charm; enchantment; irresistible influence; fascination.

“The very name of witchcraft is now held in contempt. The claim that men can hold intercourse with evil spirits is regarded as a fable of the Dark Ages. But Spiritualism, which numbers its converts by hundreds of thousands, yea, by millions, which has made its way into scientific circles, which has invaded churches, and has found favor in legislative bodies, and even in the courts of kings—this mammoth deception is but a revival, in a new disguise, of the witchcraft condemned and prohibited of old.”4

Hatred. We need to make a big difference between hating sin and hating people. God hates sin, but loves sinners. Sinful human beings hate other sinners, but love sin. Christ emphasized the principle of love giving us a perfect example of loving not only friends and brothers but even His enemies and murderers. See John 15:12, 13. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).

Variance. This word is synonymous with discord, contention dissension, difference, strife, conflict.

Emulations. Emulation is the desire or ambition to equal or surpass. Emulation is an ardent desire for superiority arising from competition.

Wrath. Violent anger; vehement exasperation, indignation; fury. Here, we need to make a difference between divine wrath and sinful human wrath. God hates sin. Sinful human beings hate other sinners like himself. The apostle Paul declares: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God. For it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 RSV.

Strife. (See Variance).

Seditions. Dissension; the stirring up of discontent, resistance or rebellion; insurrection.

Heresies. A doctrine, opinion, or set of opinions or principles at variance with established or generally received views or generally received views or doctrines. A doctrine or belief that is contrary to the fundamental doctrine or creed of any particular church. Paul admonishes us: “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” (Titus 3:10, 11). In our understanding, heresies are doctrines contrary to a “thus saith the Lord.” They are teachings against the revealed Word of God.

Envyings. Invidia, hatred, ill will. A feeling of discontent and ill will because of another’s advantages, possessions, etc.; resentful dislike or another who has something desirable. Desire of some advantage or possession belonging to another.

Murders. In His sermon on the mount, Christ declared: “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: 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” (Matthew 5:21, 22). “Through Moses the Lord had said, ‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart. . . . Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:17, 18). . . .

“The spirit of hatred and revenge originated with Satan, and it led him to put to death the Son of God. Whoever cherishes malice or unkindness is cherishing the same spirit, and its fruit will be unto death. In the revengeful thought the evil deed lies enfolded, as the plant in the seed. ‘Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him’ (1 John 3:15).”5

“God will hold us accountable for even a word spoken in contempt of one soul for whom Christ laid down His life.”6

Drunkenness. Intoxication; inebriation. The quality, habit, or condition of being drunk. “The same sins that brought judgments upon the world in the days of Noah, exist in our day. Men and women now carry their eating and drinking so far that it ends in gluttony and drunkenness. . . . [Luke 17:28–30.].”7

1 Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 308.
2 Thoughts From the Mount of Blessings, pp. 24, 25.
3 The Acts of the Apostles, p. 317.
4 The Great Controversy (1888), p. 556.
5 Thoughts From the Mount of Blessings, pp. 55, 56.
6 Ibid., p. 57.
7 Cousels on Health, p. 23.