Fruits of the Spirit, or Works of the Flesh?

Our spiritual condition cannot be hidden for long. If we follow the Spirit of God, it will be evident; if we obey the sinful nature inside of us, it too will be evident.

Today we’ll follow up on the last entry on Galatians 5 and answer some questions: What does our life look like when we ignore the Holy Spirit? What does our life look like when we follow Him?

“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 5:19-21, KJV).

Let’s talk about what these things mean. (As the meanings of English words can change over time, and I am very new to the study of New Testament Greek, I referred to Adam Clarke’s 1810/1825 commentary and critical notes on the Bible to better understand the precise meanings of these words.) By things like these, it becomes obvious that the sin nature is hard at work:

  • Adultery: illicit relationships between two people, one of whom is married.
  • Fornication: illicit relationships between two people, regardless of marital status.
  • Uncleanness: any sort of sexual practice that is impure or unnatural by Biblical definition—including such practices as same-sex relationships, illicit contact with animals, etc.
  • Lasciviousness: a general attitude of embracing filthiness, such as pornography, innuendo, sexual humor, etc.
  • Idolatry: the worship of idols—idols being anything we elevate to a higher priority than God.
  • Witchcraft: the use of spells, enchantments, or potions to alter one’s mental or spiritual states, removing them from reality and attempting to place them under some power other than God; the Greek word for witchcraft, pharmakeia, seems to blend the practices we know today as sorcery and drug addiction.
  • Hatred: the opposite and lack of godly love and kindness.
  • Variance: outward actions based on one’s inner hatred.
  • Emulations: ungodly ambition—the desire to further ourselves or bad causes at the expense of others.
  • Wrath: out of control anger.
  • Strife: the quality of being combative or argumentative.
  • Seditions: unnecessary division or factionalism.
  • Heresies: corrupt teachings.
  • Envyings: jealousy.
  • Murders: the willful destruction or desire for the destruction of human life.
  • Drunkenness: indulging in wine and strong drink to excess, along with all of the improper behaviors connected to intoxication.
  • Revellings: wild and out of control partying.
  • And such like: this list does not contain all sins to be avoided, but a representative sample.

Often we quickly pass by that last phrase, “and such like.” But it is vitally important. It is a giant flashing neon sign saying, “and that’s not all!” We can’t look at this list as exhaustive; we can’t simply avoid the items on this list and conclude ourselves sinless. This list gives us a very general example of some of the things that could be present in the life of someone who walks according to the flesh. When we resist the Spirit of God, wickedness reigns in our hearts and will begin to show itself in our actions.

Just as we should not conclude that this list contains the only sins we need to worry about, so we should not conclude that avoiding sin is our only job. We should actively seek to live according to the direction of the Holy Spirit of God. If we do so, we will see entirely different things in our lives:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, KJV).

When the Spirit of God is at work within us, we will begin to exhibit characteristics that we otherwise could not. That is why it is evidence of God’s work in us, because no man can consistently live such a life on his own. We’re not told, “Do the things on this list!” Instead, we’re told, “Follow God, and He’ll make you the person on this list.”

  • Love: unconditional love, the kind God shows to us, even when—especially when—the other does not deserve it; a love that does not seek its own benefit, but that is born of a desire to please God and let Him love through us.
  • Joy: the unconquerable joy that comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven, our soul is at peace with God, and our eternity is secure; it is different from happiness—our happiness is dependent upon our circumstances, but our circumstances are irrelevant to our joy.
  • Peace: the calm manner, quiet spirit, and orderly life that arises from complete trust in God’s provision and care, even when our world is chaotic and anything but peaceful.
  • Longsuffering: patience with people and circumstance—it requires an act of God to make us patient people!
  • Gentleness: kindness; harmlessness.
  • Goodness: a desire to follow God and do the right thing.
  • Faith: the willingness to trust God without wavering.
  • Meekness: longsuffering is the ability to patiently endure; meekness is the willingness to patiently endure—those who are willing, even glad, to suffer abuse and indignity for the cause of Christ, with no thought of revenge, are meek.
  • Temperance: self-control; moderation in all things.

The last line of this passage is, “against such there is no law.” Many early Christians were concerned about whether or not they needed to live under the Old Testament law (“grace vs. the law” is a major theme of Galatians). But Paul maintains that we are not under the law, but grace. And in this phrase he tells us, that if we’re following the Spirit of God and living this kind of life we won’t be living in violation of the law anyway. Paul’s exhortation in this passage is to follow wholeheartedly the Holy Spirit and trust God’s grace to carry us when we fail to measure up.