The wording “the works of the flesh” should not be taken as saying that flesh itself is inherently evil. God called His creation very good (Gen. 1:26, 31). We are marvelously created (Psalm 139:14). Jesus dwelt in the same flesh that we do (John 1:1, 14; Heb. 2:14; 5:5-7; 10:20; 2 John 7).
The wording is simply a reference to man following His own will and desires apart, and even against God (cf. Jeremiah 10:23; with John 6:28-29). We dwell in fleshly bodies. These bodies have certain wants and needs. These basic desires of men are not necessarily wrong. However, there is a right way to deal with these things, and a wrong way. Satan uses our fleshly needs, wants and desires to tempt us to do wrong.
The works of the flesh are:
1. Adultery (Galatians 5:19). Definition: Vine’s says it refers to “one who has unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another.” Thayer says, “To have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife.” The I.S.B.E., “In scripture designate sexual intercourse of a man, whether married or unmarried, with a married woman.” In a personal letter to me, Professor Ed. Miller of the University of Colorado at Boulder writes, “Adultery involves sexual activity is apparent from too many passages, both Biblical, and non-Biblical alike.” In yet another personal letter to me, Professor William L. Peterson of Penn State has written, “Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his/her lawful spouse.” There is no man or woman worth this.
2. Fornication (Galatians 5:19). We should look at it this way, “All adultery is fornication, but not all fornication is adultery.” Yes, married people can commit fornication (1 Cor. 5:1). Definition: Arndt-Gingrich, “Every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.” Earl Edwards says, “It includes sexual intercourse with any person of either sex, other than one’s spouse, as well as intercourse with beasts” (17th Annual Spiritual Sword Lectureship, page 345). Vine’s says it means, “illicit sexual intercourse.” Any unauthorized sexual union would be condemned as fornication by the scriptures. There is no man or woman worth this.
3. Uncleanness (Galatians 5:19) Definition: Lenski writes, “Uncleanness is broader [than fornication] and includes not only other sexual aberrations, but also all that leads to them” (The Interpretation of Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 285). Thayer, “In a moral sense the impurity of lustful… living.” This word would include impure behavior (pornographic voyeurism and exhibitionism) which stops short of fornication. Remember the Bible says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8 cf. 5:28; Heb. 12:14). Let us think on that which is pure (Phil. 4:8).
4. Lasciviousness (Galatians 5:19) This word is rendered “sensuality” in the NASB/ESV; and “lewdness” in the NKJV. Definition: Thayer defines it to include “filthy words, indecent bodily movements, unchaste handling of males and females, etc.” Maurice Lusk III said, “The word has to do with… activities or conduct that tends to excite lustful desires (6th Annual Shenandoah Lectures, p. 457). Instead of crowding up close to it, we’d be wise to flee such lusts (2 Tim. 2:22).
5. Idolatry (Galatians 5:20) Likely, you picture this word to be used of one bowing down in some pagan temple to worship at some carved image. Indeed it does include such. However, even “covetousness” can be classified as idolatry (Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5). He should be first in our lives (Matt. 6:24; 10:37). “The businessman who ignores his wife and family, who has no time for his church or Lord because he is giving everything he has in order to make his business prosper has committed idolatry. His business has become his god, for the sake of which everything and everyone else must be sacrificed. The wife who admits that she has wrapped her whole life up in her husband and fears that she cannot go on living without him has committed idolatry. She has made him her god. No man is worthy of such worship (6th Annual South Texas Summer Lectureship, page 226).
6. Witchcraft (Galatians 5:20) The word is ‘pharmakia’ from whence we get our word ‘pharmacy’. Thayer gives the primary meaning as “The use of administration of drugs.” It seems that the word became synonymous over time with witchcraft because witches employed mind altering drugs in their work to convince their subjects of their power. God gave us minds; we should not abuse them (read Mark 12:30; 1 Peter 5:8).
7. Hatred (Galatians 5:20) The N.A.S.B. reads “enmities”. Some live with hatred for others. Some are implacable, beyond reconciliation, beyond forgiving another. Those filled with hatred will not make it to heaven (1 John 2:11; 3:15). We must learn to forgive as Christ forgives (Col. 3:12-13). We are even to learn to have agape love toward our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48).
8. Variance (Galatians 5:20) Here is how some translations have rendered this: “strife” NASB; “contentions” NKJV. Thayer indicates that the word means “contention, strife, wrangling”. Some people are contentious by nature; They love to fight and argue and quarrel. Jerry Moffitt has written, “It can be evidenced in church battles. It can be evidenced in Bible class where some lock horns, cross swords, and joust, tilt, and duel with each other at every opportunity” (9th Annual Ft. Worth Lectures, p. 105). Folks, I am not speaking of contending for the faith; But, being contentious over anything and everything. We, even in defending the truth, are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Even in correcting another, we are to be gentle (Gal. 6:1-2 NKJV). Never should we simply be trying to win an argument, or playing a power game for ego sake.
9. Emulation (Galatians 5:20) The NASB renders this “jealousy”; The NKJV reads “jealousies”. Thayer’s definition says, “to provoke to jealousy, or rivalry… to provoke to anger.” We, as God’s people, are not to be troublemakers, but peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). If we want to see God, we must pursue peace (Heb. 12:14). Paul wrote, “As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18).
10. Wrath (Galatians 5:20) The NASB reads “outburst of anger”; The NKJV reads “outbursts of wrath.” Lipscomb’s Commentary says, “erruptions of anger.” Self control is one on the list under the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:23 NKJV). We need to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Proverbs 16:32 reads, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”
11. Strife, 12. Sedition, 13. Heresies (Galatians 5;20) We’ll take these together. They are closely linked in meaning. The NASB renders these words, “disputes, dissensions, factions”. The NKJV reads “selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies”. On the word “strife”: Thayer, “electioneering or intriguing for office… a courting distinction, a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and factious spirit”; Vine’s, “self-seeking… self will-being… seeking to win followers”. On the word “sedition”: Thayer, “dissension, division; Vine’s “literally a standing apart. On the term “heresies”: Thayer “a body of men separating themselves from others and following their own tenets”; Moffitt, “A full fledged party in or out of the congregation (9th Annual Ft. Worth Lectures, p. 106). We must remember this: We are to be making disciples of Christ, not self. Paul understood this point and wrote, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).
14. Envying (Galatians 5:21) Definition: “The feeling of displeasure of witnessing of hearing the advantage or prosperity of others” (Vine’s). Envy is a terrible thing; It can cause people to do shameful, cruel things (See Proverbs 27:4; Mark 15:10). Such should not describe us. Let us “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15).
15. Murder (Galatians 5:21) We will define this as the unauthorized (by God), intentional taking of human life. Someone says, “But I am not capable of such.” The truth is human beings are capable of many things when they walk by the flesh instead of as the Spirit of God directs. Hatred, and envy unchecked by the word of God can lead to such things (1 John 3:12; Mark 15:10).
16. Drunkenness (Galatians 5:21) There are two words translated “drunk” in the New Testament. One is an inceptive verb. The other refers to the state of drunkenness (obvious by behavior). Vine’s indicates that this noun is akin with the second mentioned verb (though this would not mean consumption in any amount non-medicinally is approved – But such is beyond our study at this point). Robert C. Bux M.D., Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Bexar County has written, “There are subtle physiological effects after one alcohol equivalent drink” [(Note: One alcohol equivalent = one 12 ounce beer, four or five ounces of wine, or one mixed bar drink.) This quote is found in the 18th Annual Denton Lectures, p. 440-441 from a personal letter to Lynn Parker]. Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” We are warned, “Look not thou upon wine when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder” (Prov. 23:31-32). Alcohol will cause people to undress and behave dishonorably (Hab. 2:15; Gen. 19:30-36; Prov. 23:31-33).
17. Revellings (Galatians 5;21) The NASB reads, “carousing”; The NKJV reads “revelries”. Lindell and Scott defines the original word to mean a jovial festivity with music and dancing, a revel, carousal, merry-making. In modern language we are speaking of “partying”. Garth Brooks’ song “Friends in low places” is a fitting description, “Where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away”. Romans 13:13 says, “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting [revelling, ASV] and drunkenness.”
18. And the such like (Gal. 5:21) That is: This is not an all-inclusive list, and makes clear that it is not. There are many, other things fleshly men do when not led by the Spirit.
These sins listed fall in the following categories: (1) Sexual sin – Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness; (2) Allowing wrong things to guide, direct, or control one’s life – idolatry, witchcraft; (3) A lack of peace – hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders; (4) Partying – drunkenness and revelling.