When we read the multiple lists of sins in scripture, we seem to understand the sin being addressed. We also have some idea of what might be behind those sins. But I looked over the sins of the flesh as listen in Galatians chapter 5, I thought it might be good to examine each a little more closely (if only briefly).
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.
The first thing we must do is recognize two things about the context of this list. These things are connected to the "flesh," that is, the old nature. The old nature is irredeemable and "must" be replaced with the resurrection, spiritual new body (2 Cor 5). The terrestrial body must but on the incorruption of the celestial body (1 Cor 15).
The second thing we notice in this particular passage is the context of "inheriting the kingdom." As we have seen clearly in our study of 1 Cor 5-6 (1 Cor 6:9), this inheritance does not have to do with the free gift of life though the name of Christ, by grace, through faith (John 20:30-31; etc.). Unlike with the free gift of age-abiding life in Christ because of his works, those who seek to inherit the kingdom can forfeit that prize by their own works done in the flesh.
Galatians is an Acts Age epistle and must be understood in light of Paul's preaching of "the hope of Israel" and the coming, promised kingdom and restoration in Israel in that age. Regardless of the age, however, the works of the flesh are always the works of the flesh and they always come with a price (temporally and in the ages to come).
These are the "works" of the flesh (old nature) which are then contrasted with the "fruit" of the spirit (new nature) in the chapter. We see examples of good fruit and bad fruit in scripture, but here we see the actions growing out of the old nature contrasted with that which flows through the new nature which is given by God.
We are also quick to note that all of these sins can be forgiven. Often the temporal pain remains for our disobedience, but God is always willing to forgive and restore. No amount of guilt should keep us from seeking his abundant grace and forgiveness.
Here is the list. We will then briefly break down each in brief:
FORNICATION: Greek, porneía, We can readily see the connection to the English word "pornography." This sin involves all sexual activity outside of marriage whether married or not. It is here where we could include adultery so even if we remove adultery from our list, it does not go unaddressed. Mounce defines it this way, "sexual immorality, fornication, marital unfaithfulness, prostitution, adultery, a generic term for sexual sin of any kind.'
UNCLEANNESS: Greek, akatharsía, This is included in case any want to reserve sexual sin merely to the acts of sexual sin. Mounce gives us this definition: "impurity, a state of moral filthiness, especially in relation to sexual sin" and Thayer expands it with, in a moral sense: "the impurity of lustful, luxurious, profligate living; of impure motives." The net is expanding. The idea of "impure motives" speaks to one's intentions. In this context, it is primarily in regard to sex, but the word expands to other impure motives of the flesh.
LASCIVIOUSNESS; Greek, asélgeia, The great apostles further expands out the net. Thayer defines it this way, "unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence." The impure motives and thoughts have now become "unbridled." They are in full control of the person. We have gone from the private, secretive act of adultery to the outward display of debauchery. Mounce gives us, "debauchery, sensuality, lewdness." We have followed the pattern in the individual of the pattern of carnal society as laid out in Romans 1. Just on snippet from that trail of decay, "[they] became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened... who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." As men pursue sin in the flesh, they decay and decay into more wickedness in thought and deed. The believer has a Father who will chastise him in an attempt to gain a turn back to the new nature, but alas, as the flesh is emboldened and empowered, the decay continues.
IDOLATRY, Greek. eidōlolatreía, This speaks of the outright worshipping of false gods to the worshipping of the temporal. One one worships, he is placing faith and hope in something. Even the true believer can put his faith and hope in teachers, or in organizations, or in religious ceremonies, or in formulaic prayers and rituals, or even in one's intellect or riches. All of these fall into this category. In this age, many are not satisfied with unsearchable riches in Christ and a hope in the heavenlies that they seek religious experiences in the flesh. Some refuse to come out of systems which deny the Lord as they find a degree of temporal satisfaction in religious activity. Others will stop looking to the Lord to sustain themselves and look at their wealth and feel satisfied in themselves.
SORCERY/WITCHCRAFT, Greek, pharmakeía, This sin is fascinating. We are looking at the use of substances to satisfy the flesh. Not the obvious things such as rich foods or alcohol, but just as the Greek implies: drugs or pharmaceuticals. This sin follows Idolatry and again we have the possibility of placing hope in this world and in its cures. This does not mean that the taking of an antibiotic (for example) is a sin in itself, but in the reliance of substances (from prescription drugs to Hallucinogens) to the point of hoping and trusting in them above the Lord. This sin also includes the extended world of potions and spells and magic and incantations. Thayer sums it up in his 4th definition, "the deceptions and seductions of idolatry." In the tribulation age to come, pharmakeía will be used to seduce the nations out of Babylon.
[Babylon] thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.
HATREDS, Greek échthra, We need to recognize the the connection here. One of the effects of drug or alcohol dependence is often alienation of family and friends. There is often a destructive paranoia or anger involved. This word also includes the idea of being generally "hostility" or "antagonism" as Mounce defines it. Those who have come under sway of anything from drugs to riches some to worship and protect those gods. They become antagonistic to anyone or anything that might deprive them of their god or expose their reliance on their god.
VARIANCE, Greek éris, We see the pattern. The antagonism is now as Mounce puts it, "quarrel, strife, dissension, discord." We see the destructive side of idolatry in the flesh. One may even lash out or seek division if his religious activities are questioned. One's slavery to a religious system in the flesh could lead to hostility and eventually to quarreling and discord (separation).
EMULATIONS, Greek zēlos, We have here the idea of "heat" and "zeal." We have moved on to " indignation, jealousy" (Strong's). We must be careful here. Certain zeal is good. A man should be properly zealous and jealous for his wife, for example, just as God is zealous and jealous for our love. The use of this word in this list is wholly negative. This is the stage where our commitment to things of the old natures (religious or sacrilegious) become white hot and very destructive; destructive to our own spiritual lives (lives in the new nature) and destructive to those around us.
WRATH, Greek thymós, Now we come to a more familiar English word and we more easily see its meaning and implications. Again, we are dealing with the negative context of this level of anger. This is not indignation with sin, this is a lashing out in protection of whatever our idol may be. Mounce gives us, "wrath, fury, anger, rage, a state of intense displeasure based in some real or perceived wrong." We have the idea of even a "perceived" wrong. This sin is born within. It is born inside our flesh and grows in intensity as we give our flesh over to our idols.
STRIFE, Greek eritheía, The idea of selfish ambition. We are transitioning to communal sins. Our inward sins have controlled us, we have started to lash out and destroy relationships. We seek in strife to exalt ourselves and our fellow worshippers above the "lowly." This is very much seen in political idolatry. In fact, the only place we see this word before its appearance in the New Testament is in the writings of Aristotle. Thayer states its use to describe "self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means." Power and Influence are wrapped up in this word along with the desire, with such power, to shutdown dissent against one's gods.
SEDITIONS, Greek dichostasía, This word is simply defines by "dissentions" and "divisions." Paul uses the word in his Acts Age epistles of 1 Corinthians and Romans of those within the family of believers who bring division. Remember, our context in Galatians is believers. Paul tell us, when believers get to this stage to "mark them" and "avoid them" for they "walk as men," that is, they are walking according to the old nature. We are the point of separating from these believers.
HERESIES, Greek haíresis, We must not settle on the common usage of this word in our day. Surely there is the idea here of holding to error, but this word goes beyond that. We all hold to some degree of error. When Peter uses the word, he specifies "damnable heresies." The word is used in the Acts of the "sects" of religious orders in Israel. We have the idea of organized error. The one who is shown the truth yet clings to error for the sake of the "sect" and not because of a pursuit of truth. It is one thing to hold to an error because we may not have full understaning and refusing to consider and truth which touches on our sect. We are still seeing Idolatry. We started our list as sins of a sexual nature and have morphed over to sins of a religious nature. From that which is clearly immoral to that which covers its immorality in a false humility of outward morality.
ENVYINGS, Greek phthónos, It might seem strange for this word to appear at this point, but this is an excellent spot for it. It might help to note that the Lord himself accused the Pharisees of having him arrested and put to death partly die to "envy" (Matt 27:18). Their envy grew out of their self-righteous religious sect. Remember, it was not the harlots who burned me like Tyndale at the stake for trying to put the scriptures in the hands of the laity, it was Thomas More and the clergy. Strong uses "jealously," "spite," and "ill-will." One may act or not act out of jealousy, but one sees spite in outward acts of obvious hatred. The Pharisees' jealousy and envying of the Lord was born out of his popularity despite having no "letters." Peter was accused of this same charge. Having no degrees or accolades of men, the Lord and Peter spoke boldly of the things of God. Paul denounced his place among the Pharisees to take a place among the people of God. We should note that we see Pharisees who believe in the Acts age (Acts 15). We must be careful not to condemn all who align with a sect, they may or may not have rejected the truth. Our instructions involve reaching them with the truth, and then encouraging them to come out from among them. If they refuse the truth they will very often lash out in ill-will if we have success among their followers. If those who see the truth refuse to join us, we must offer them a road of return while being clear that we reject their idolatrous sect.
MURDERS, Greek phónos, This follows what we have seen in the Pharisees. Their envy of Christ robbing prestige and followers from their sect ended in murder. This is the culmination of the anger that occurs when you start to touch the idols of both unbelievers and believers. Remember, our context in Galatians is believers acting in the old nature. Just as Paul warns us that believers can be involved in wicked sins like joining with a harlot or even sins so awful they are "not even mentioned among the [unbelievers]," Peter warns that believers may "suffer as murderers." The flesh wars against the new nature (spirit) and it will seek control and seek to satisfy its lusts, greed, and delusions of grandeur. In its worst form it can lead to murder. Remember, the Pharisees themselves did not crucifiy the Lord, but they were complicit in his death. Many will try to distance themselves from the true intent of their hearts and try to convince themselves of their own innocence, but the Lord sees the heart. All of these sins are inward as well as outward. These are all sins of the heart and mind before they become outward sins.
DRUNKENNESS, Greek méthē. Just a quick note on the Greek. I have not done a study on the entomology of the drug "meth," but I find the similarity striking. A question arises here: why does drunkenness appear at this point in our list? The two other uses in the NT are connected to "the day." Both the Lord in Luke and Paul in Romans warn of drunkenness leading to the missing of things related to
Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake... And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
-Luke 21 [Excerpted]
REVELLINGS AND THE LIKE, Greek kōmos, For this idea, we stay with the warnings against drunkenness."
a nocturnal and riotous procession of half drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honor of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before houses of male and female friends; hence used generally of feasts and drinking parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry. [Thayer].
Mounce adds "orgy." We have thus gone from single adultery to now wanton disregard for any sexual norms. The flesh is so in control is inebriates itself and indulges itself.
Paul and the only spirit add "hómoios" (and the like) or "similar things" so as to leave no possible wiggle room. We expect these things of the world, but they should not be known among the people of God. Again, the admonition of the Lord is that if one is in any of these sins and he will not heed the loving rebuke of the Spirit, we are to have no company with him. We do not do this with the world or we'd have to leave the world, but for the sake of the wandering believer and for the sake of the testimony of his people, we separate.
I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
-1 Corinthians 5:9-11
1 Corinthians is written in the Acts Age, but this pattern applies throughout the Word of God. It has application in the current Post-Acts age. Paul speaks similar words to us in 1 Timothy.
Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear... If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
-1 Timothy 5:20; 6:3-5
Looking ahead to the time of the tribulation, we see some of these sins of the flesh manifesting themselves out in the open. The power of these sins over the mind and flesh of men is so powerful, even mass death and destruction will not sway men.
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders [phónos], nor of their sorceries [pharmakeía] , nor of their fornication [porneía], nor of their thefts [klémma].
I believe this is a good cross-section of the sins of the flesh. We again see the sort of culmination sins of murder, witchcraft (deception), and sexual immorality. To these are added the sin of "thefts."
THEFTS, Greek klémma, This is exactly as we understand it in the English, the wanton taking of another's property. In addition to all the wickedness of the heart and mind, we see greed. We recall that Judas was driven by greed.
We have not listed all the sins of the flesh revealed in the pages of the Greek texts, but just this limited sampling should remind us of the dangers of waling in the flesh. Even more dangerous is the outward appearance and cloaking of religious piety. It blinds us to exactly how far our flesh is from godliness and clouds the work of the Savior.
Our glorious and wonderful and holy Savior took all these sins of the flesh upon himself for our sakes. How horrible that must have been for Him! How great is His love for his creation! How dare we think for one moment that we could add anything to that sacrifice and conquering of sin or to think our religious acts can satisfy the righteous anger of a thrice holy God! All glory and honor to Him ALONE!
My we never confuse the obedience of service with the gift of resurrection life. We seek to walk in the new nature, not to appease an angry God in some attempt to pay for the depths of our wickedness, but rather to maintain fellowship and joy and peace in service to our Great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!