Galatians 5:15-17 – But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
In verses 14-15, Paul was admonishing us to love our neighbors as ourselves as opposed to biting and devouring one another. In other words, we should not be contending with one another or pitting ourselves against each other.
It appears as though this was a problem among the Galatians. They were full of pride, anger, slander, envy and ill will towards each other. They were doing the exact opposite of loving their neighbors as themselves!
This approach to life has some serious consequences. As the Galatians oppose each other, they ‘devour’ their opponent’s mental health, physical health, character, peace and resources. Meanwhile, their opponent is doing the same thing to them; they are destroying each other.
If Christians are busy fighting each other, how can they unite together to fight against Satan? How can they focus on winning souls for Christ? How can they love and disciple new believers? The obvious answer is – they can’t! This was a very real problem for the Galatians. It is also something we need to guard against today.
If we fight against each other, we make Satan’s job easy – he can just sit back and watch us destroy ourselves. But if we are willing to overlook offences and stay unified in the Spirit, we can win the world for Christ!
Ephesians 4:2-3 – With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Maintaining Christian peace and unity takes effort. Here’s why: Each one of us has a constant struggle between our flesh and our spirit. Our flesh, the fallen, carnal part of our being, is constantly opposing all of the righteous, holy things that our Spirit longs to do. By the same token, our Spirit, which has been made new through Christ, strives to take authority over all the ugly sinful things our flesh desires to do. As long as we are in this world, we can expect to deal with this struggle.
Now that we recognize the problem, what can we do about it?
Paul gives us the answer. If we will walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify our fleshly desires.
Holy Spirit himself dwells in the hearts of all Christians. He is standing by to guide and assist us in subduing our flesh. For our part, we must set our will to act under his guidance and influence. This is not a one-time thing. We need to practice living our lives under his direction every day.
Here is a promise we can cling to: While walking by the Spirit will not completely remove the pull of our own corrupt nature, it will keep us from fulfilling the lustful desires that seek to overtake/dominate us.
So feed your Spirit, not your flesh. Read the word. Pray in the Spirit and with your understanding. Ask the Spirit to help you make important decisions in your life. Then do what he recommends!
Galatians 5:18-19 – But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.
If the Galatians will return to the true gospel message of grace in Christ and permit themselves to be influenced or governed by Holy Spirit, he will lead them into a state of freedom and holiness that they could never obtain under the law.
Believers who live according to the leading of the Spirit find the desire, will and ability to choose righteousness over the lusts of the flesh. What we cannot do in our own power, Holy Spirit makes possible through his power.
Again, if we walk according to the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of our flesh (fallen nature).
Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,
Having made the distinction between walking in the Spirit and walking according to the flesh, Paul now tells the Galatians how they can be assured which path they are on. All they need to do is examine the fruit that is being produced in their lives, because the scripture tells us that ‘by their fruits you shall know them’ (Matthew 7:16-20)
There is no need for us to define the specific terms Paul uses here in verse 19. We are all familiar with sexual sins. Sadly, they are rampant not only in our society, but in the church as well. Those who practice these sins are walking in the flesh. They are not being led by the Spirit.
If you are among the Christians who practice sexual immorality in thought, word or deed, I beg you to stop and consider what you are doing.
These types of sin do tremendous damage to you and those around you. They kill healthy relationships, wreck marriages and destroy families. They can bring physical illness and financial hardship. They certainly bring emotional damage to everyone involved. They put a wedge between you and the Lord; by entertaining these things in your life you prevent the Lord from blessing you.
In fact, the bible declares that God chastises or corrects his children. That’s what you are setting yourself up for when you live in sexual sin. But don’t take my word for it; search the scriptures. See what they reveal about the life of King David.
Even though David was a child of God, he chose to walk according to his flesh. As you well know, he fell into sexual sin with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. Then, instead of confessing his sin and repenting, he tried to cover it up. When that didn’t work he actually committed murder in an effort to hide his sin. Did God bless David for that? No, he did not! God had to bring correction/punishment to him.
2 Samuel 12:10-11 – Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house; because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them unto your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.
David’s sin had physical, emotional and financial consequences for his entire family and his kingdom too. If you are a child of God and you are choosing to live in the realm of sexual sins thinking that God is okay with that, you are wrong. God will withhold blessings from you and bring loving discipline to your situation.
You also need to ask yourself what kind of a testimony you are presenting in front of others. The prophet Nathan said that David’s behavior gave “great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Samuel 12:14).
When you claim to be a child of God but live in rebellion to his commands, what are you telling the world about your Lord? Aren’t you really saying that God doesn’t take sin seriously or that he judges unfairly? Aren’t you mocking his mandates for personal holiness? Aren’t you telling the world that they have no real need to repent? Aren’t you, like David, giving the world a reason to blaspheme the Lord?
Consider this: When Jesus confronted the woman caught in adultery, his final words to her were very specific:
John 8:11 – … Jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn you: GO AND SIN NO MORE.
Listen, I am not trying to condemn you. Believe me, I have my own sins to consider! I just want to give you a loving warning – live by the Spirit. Get rid of sexual sins in your life.
Galatians 5:20-21 – idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Again, Paul is admonishing the Galatians to examine the fruit in their lives to determine whether they are walking by the Spirit or by the flesh.
Idols/idolatry: Idolatry originally meant the worship of idols, or the worship of false gods by means of idols. Eventually, among the Old Testament Hebrews it came to mean worship of any false god by images or any other means.
Some of the most common idols were items found in nature such as trees, rivers or animals. Specific idols/false gods that fall into this category include Dagon, Beelzebub, Ashima, Nibhazz, Ashtaroth, and the golden calves at Bethel.
The worship of heavenly bodies was also a common form of idolatry. Examples would include worship of the sun (Ra), the moon (Luna or Astarte), Venus (goddess of beauty), Mars (god of war and husbandry), etc.
Worship of these idols often included such practices as giving them offerings made by fire, pouring out drink offerings to them (libations), giving them tithes or first fruits, setting tables of food before them, kissing the idols or blowing them kisses, stretching out their hands in adoration, kneeling or prostrating before the idol, dancing before or around an altar which was sometimes accompanied by cutting themselves with knives, offering their children as sacrifices, sexual orgies, etc.
Now, I know what you are probably thinking – “I haven’t bowed down before a golden calf today, so this does not apply to me.” But don’t be too hasty in your conclusions.
Ultimately, in the New Testament, idolatry came to mean not only giving a creature the honor and devotion which belongs to God alone, but giving any human desire precedence over God and his will (I Corinthians 10:13-14, I Peter 4:3).
Colossians 3:5 – Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
There are actually many modern day idols such as sports, money, entertainment, our spouse/children, hobbies or even work!
Take a moment to examine yourself and your life. Do you have hours and hours to spend making money, but no time to pray for 20 minutes a day? Are you so busy and involved with your hobbies that you can’t hear Holy Spirit nudging you towards good works? Do you ever go an entire day without praising God and reading his word? Do you walk right by hurting people because you are completely focused on your own agenda? If so, you may have an idol. If you have an idol, you are walking according to the flesh, not the Spirit.
Sorcery or witchcraft: The Greek word used here is the same word from which we get the word ‘pharmacy’. It refers to medicine, poison or magic potions. It also includes the practice of magic arts or enchantment, because the ‘potion’ was generally administered along with some kind of magical incantation which invoked assistance from evil spirits.
The main focus of sorcery is to achieve something you want. You might desire for a particular person to love you, to be healed of a disease, to obtain something you covet, or the death/destruction of an enemy.
By using sorcery, you show a willingness to get what you want by acting apart from God’s principles (true religion). You are willing to use fleshly, carnal or evil means to get what you desire; even partnering with demons.
If the Galatians are practicing sorcery, they are not walking according to the Spirit.
Again, you might be saying to yourself, “No problem here. I haven’t sacrificed a goat in the middle of a pentagram today.” But don’t be too hasty to reach this conclusion!
At its most basic level, sorcery is actually a distrust of God and adherence to a false religion. It represents our efforts to manage our own affairs, because we don’t believe that God can (or will) take care of us. Just like idolatry, sorcery is a form of elevating our desires over God’s will for us.
For example, let’s suppose there is a job opening at your work place. It would be a promotion for you; this position would give you more money, more opportunities and more authority. There is nothing wrong with your desire for that job. There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward and praying to receive it.
But if you start doing things like spreading rumors about the other applicants, or ‘calling in favors’, or threatening to quit, or plotting and scheming, etc, what are you doing? In essence, you are elevating your own desires to the forefront, even if they conflict with God’s principles or his will for you. By your machinations, you are saying that you don’t believe that God can/will grant you this promotion; you don’t trust him to give you what is best for you. You are unwilling to accept his providence in your life.
Elevating our own desires above God and his will for our life (idolatry) or using carnal powers to manage our own affairs outside of the principles of God (sorcery) are indications that we are walking according to the flesh, not the Spirit.
Enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness and orgies: What do these things have in common?
- They indicate that we are walking in the flesh.
- They are pleasing to Satan and offensive to God.
- They defile your body and darken your soul.
- They bring shame to religion and the gospel message.
- They furnish irrefutable proof of the depravity of fallen man; they are the works of human nature when left to its own devices.
- They declare, with absolute and utter certainty, that the human heart must be changed or it cannot be saved.
This was true for the Galatians and it is true for us.
Our hope of salvation lies not in our human ability, but in the shed blood of Jesus which alone can atone for our sin and make us righteous in the sight of God. Through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit of God, we can reject these fruits of sin and instead produce fruits of righteousness.
Galatians 5:22-23 – but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Interestingly, the virtues Paul enumerates here are not the result of our own hearts, even after they have been renewed. They are attributed to only one source – the operation of Holy Spirit in our lives.
We are not going to simply examine the definitions of these graces. You can look them up yourself, if you are unfamiliar with them. Instead, let us draw some general truths which we can apply to our own lives.
Growth in grace and holiness is the best security against fulfilling the desires of the flesh. As Paul indicated, if you want to avoid sin, the best way to do that is to walk daily in the Spirit.
If you desire to constantly walk in the Spirit, you should strive to avoid whatever grieves him. Instead, bend your will to his; yield to godly promptings. Lean into Holy Spirit’s guidance and teaching.
Anyone who owns a fruit tree understands that fruit is the highest form of development or achievement for that plant. All the parts of the tree (roots, leaves, branches) are engineered for a single purpose – to produce that piece of fruit. The production of fruit indicates a state of maturity.
So it is with the Christian. To have the fruit of the Spirit produced in our lives is the highest form of development we can achieve here on earth. It indicates a state of maturity in our Christian walk. It is the final result of all the circumstances that God has engineered in our lives. If our roots are truly in Christ, fruit will be produced in our lives.
Fruit does not instantly spring forth from a tree. It grows slowly over time. Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit grows in our lives little by little over time. A good indicator is to ask yourself this question: Do I have more peace (or joy, or patience, or kindness, etc) today than I did six months ago? Or a year ago? If your answer is ‘yes’, then the Spirit has been working in your life.
Not all fruit grows at the same rate of speed. Lemons may take longer than peaches, which may take longer than plums. You may find that the Spirit quickly produces faithfulness in your life, while self control may take a bit longer. This is not reason to despair. Holy Spirit will continue his work in your life until the day when God calls you home.
Galatians 5:24 – And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Those who are true disciples of Christ have crucified, subdued or to some degree mortified their fleshly corruptions/carnal lusts and sinful passions. It cannot be done once and for all, but is a daily way of life to those who are controlled by the Spirit.
Although our fallen nature will not be completely removed until the next life, it has no right to exercise dominion over those who are found in Christ.
Galatians 5:25-26 – 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.
If the Spirit of God lives in us, and we willingly partner with him, he will manifest himself through our actions, attitudes and words.
The world will know that we are Christians by the life they see us living. We will be a light to the world, drawing them to freedom in Christ.
Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
We should all be on our guard against pride and envy, which drives a wedge between brothers and dishonors the name of Christ.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Each one of us has a constant struggle between our flesh and our spirit. We can’t completely remove the influence of our fallen nature, but we can drastically lessen its effects. We do this by feeding our spirit, not our flesh. I encourage you to make time for spiritual disciplines including bible reading, prayer, intercession for the lost, witnessing and even fasting.
Let me offer you some relief:
As a Christian, you should see evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in your life. But don’t make the mistake of comparing your fruit to that of another. God has created each one of us as individuals, and Holy Spirit works with each one of us individually in the production of his fruit. You may have a very easy time cultivating bushels of gentleness, while it takes me a very long time to even produce a bloom! The key is to compare yourself to yourself – make sure that over time, you see growth in your life.
Let me offer you some strength:
Perhaps you have some things in your life that need to be pruned away, like the sexual sins we spoke about earlier. That can be very difficult to do as they involve another person. But let me assure you, if you begin to bring this issue before God, and you truly want to repent and change, God will give you the wisdom and strength to properly deal with your situation.
I suggest that after a season of prayer, you seek wise council from a pastor or elder at your church. They can give you practical direction on how to break off sinful sexual relationships with as little damage as possible to your partner and those around you.