“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh”(See Galatians5:16-26, RSV).
The key phrase in Paul’s letter to the Galatian church is “walk in the Spirit” (5:16). Have you ever known a Christian who was a legalist? One who wants to keep all the “rules?” One who wants to impose all the “rules” upon others? Such a person finally ends-up with a life that is more obligation than fellowship. Sometimes, as Christians, we must remind ourselves that we are serving a Savior and not serving a sentence! Paul writes to church members to encourage them to give-up legalism. Their fear is that if they “let go” of the law they will become libertines. Paul says, “Not if we walk in the Spirit!”
The passage in Galatians 5 draws a sharp contrast between walking in the flesh (legalism or license) and walking in the Spirit – being directed by the Spirit of God and allowing him to produce his fruit in us and exercise his gifts through us. So, what happens when Christians fail to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit? Before addressing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul gives us the “bad news” (5:19-21). Life apart from the Spirit allows nature to take its course. A garden uncultivated becomes barren or full of weeds. With this in mind, Paul insists that we see clearly what he calls “the works of the flesh” – the best and worst we can do apart from Christ. These “works of the flesh” are identified in three categories: sexual perversions, spiritual perversions, and social perversions.
The specific sexual perversions mentioned in Galatians 5 are adultery (not in the most ancient manuscripts, but intimated by the context), fornication (from a Greek word which gives us the word pornography), and lasciviousness (moral impurity). The spiritual perversions mentioned are idolatry (materialism) and sorcery (from the Greek word for pharmacy, and suggesting the idea of drug abuse). The social perversions are many, reminding us that the breakdown in human relationships is a mirror of the breakdown in our relationship with God. This is the longest of the three categories – and we must remember that Paul is warning church members of the danger of wrong relationships. He mentions hatred (hostility), strife (rivalry), jealousy, wrath (boiling rage), factions (choosing sides), seditions (divisions), heresies (party strife), envying, murders (not in the oldest manuscripts, but again suggested by the context), drunkenness, and revelings (orgies).
When Paul speaks of the “works of the flesh” he uses the plural and adds,“and like things.”It isan incomplete list! When we look at the church, family, society, or individual and see these things we know we have seen clear evidence of not “walking in the Spirit.”
Paul’s insights help us to diagnose where we are spiritually. Is there too much painful evidence that our garden is going to seed?
Are we guilty of corrupting every aspect of life by ignoring or resisting the work of God’s Spirit?
We need to quickly go on to Paul’s second list (in verses 22-26) – the alternative to walking in the flesh . . . .
Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.