The Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians most eloquently exposes works of the flesh for what they really are. After the salutation where he emphasizes his calling by God, he tells them he was amazed at how quickly they were being influenced away from the Gospel of Christ toward "another gospel." He warned of those who would agitate them and pervert [Greek: corrupt]1 the true Gospel.2 He goes on to say that the Gospel he preached did not come through the teaching of man, but through the revelation of Jesus Christ.3 No man could take the credit for having taught Paul. It was the Lord who revealed Himself and the truth of the Gospel to Paul.
God had separated Paul from all others to unveil the mystery of Christ to him. When he returned, he did not immediately confer with flesh and blood.4 That which God had given him was a sacred trust. He knew better than to allow the flesh-minded, legalistic, opinions of others to influence his calling. He knew that the things of the Spirit must be spiritually discerned, and "flesh and blood" would never have understood.
Paul's conversion was amazing--a miraculous work attributable solely to God. The former "Saul" was a true Pharisee, believing that salvation came through circumcision and adherence to every other minute detail of the Law of Moses. What a marvellous wonder that one such as Saul could be changed from a Pharisee, to a true believer in Jesus Christ and His Gospel! This transformation was evident to those of the church, and some were heard saying, "He who used to persecute us is now proclaiming the very faith he once reviled and which he set out to ruin and tried with all his might to destroy." (Galatians 1:23 Amplified).
Jesus captured the heart of Paul and transformed him into a passionate minister to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul's heart had changed so drastically that he willingly gave his all to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. He suffered many things, including imprisonment,5 but his faith in Jesus never wavered. His deep love for God, the One who had opened his eyes to behold Messiah, compelled him to go forward at any cost.
Spirit versus flesh
Paul fully understood the difference between a life lived in the flesh and a life lived by the Spirit. He said in Galatians 2:20 that he had been crucified with Christ, and now it was Christ Who lived through him. Even though Paul lived in the flesh, he lived it with faith in the Son of God. He added, "I do not make void the grace of God; for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nought." (Verse 21). Paul's life was a wonderful testimony to the transforming power of God.
The division of chapters 2 and 3 interrupts the message where Paul called the Galatians "foolish," and asked them who had "fascinated them by false representations [bewitched]"6 that they should not obey the truth, even after seeing their Lord revealed as crucified. They wanted to revert to obedience to the Law, not realizing they could be perfected only by the Holy Spirit--not by works of the Law. Paul said, "This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:2-3 NKJV). They could not seem to grasp the reality that they would grieve the Holy Spirit by turning from Him to their own works.
Even some Gentiles had the idea they should be under Moses' Law. So Paul explained to them how relying on the works of the Law meant certain failure and would put them under a curse, as the Old Covenant shows. In God's eyes, the Law justifies no man because the righteous man shall live by faith. The Law is NOT of faith because Abraham had received the promise four hundred and thirty years before the Law was given. Jesus redeemed the Jews from the curse of the Law so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Him. They would receive the promise of the Spirit only through faith--not by placing themselves under Moses' Law with its fleshly works.7
Because the Law was to bring Israel to Christ, it was necessary that it be removed when Jesus died. The Law had served its purpose and was fulfilled in Jesus. Allow me to repeat Paul's words: "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:2b-3 NKJV).
Having full knowledge of the ineffectiveness of the Law for righteousness, Paul had to plead with even the Gentiles and explain to them the folly of becoming entangled in a yoke of bondage. If any Gentile believes he must abide by even one part of the Law, he becomes obligated to keep the whole Law. And in so doing he is turning away from Christ of his own volition.8 As Paul said, "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love." (Galatians 5:4-6 NKJV). They had been freed from the flesh through Jesus. And now, in Christ Jesus, the only thing that counted was "faith working through love." Paul called them "my little children," saying how he was travailing until Christ would be formed in them. Then he pleaded with them, "Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?"9
Paul told them they were called to freedom; in that freedom, they should serve one another in love, instead of exhibiting works of the flesh in unkindness. He then warns them not to bite and devour one another, lest they destroy each other, for if they walk by the Spirit they will not give in to the lust of the flesh. The "lust of the flesh" is the tendency to operate in the natural. But if they were led by the Spirit, their obedience would not be according to the Law, since obedience to Jesus' one commandment--to love--was according to freedom as led by the Spirit.10 As Paul said in Romans 8:2, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." (NKJV).
Paul went on to tell the Galatians how works of the flesh will manifest. He was essentially saying, "Look, if you think you can walk by your flesh, and it is no big deal whether you love your neighbor or not, let me tell you of other ways in which the flesh manifests: . . . fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like . . . they which practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.'"11 Paul was exposing flesh for what it is. He was not listing a bunch of "thou shalt nots," as the Law does. Rather, he was explaining that the practice of such things is the evidence of unregenerate flesh. And this unregenerate flesh is the reason they will not inherit the kingdom of God. They must be regenerated (born again) by the Holy Spirit.
The tongue is the most unruly part of our flesh. It is the member we use if we "bite and devour" one another, as Paul spoke of in Galatians 5. The bible has a lot to say on the subject of this one small member.
Solomon said, "A man's belly shall be filled with the fruit of his mouth; with the increase of his lips shall he be satisfied. Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof." (Proverbs 18:20-21). Wisdom tells us that if we love to talk, we will reap the consequences of what comes out of our mouths. If we speak words out of a fleshly heart, we will reap destruction. But if we live by the Spirit in daily surrender, our words will be sweet; we will speak life to others, and we will reap Life everlasting as Paul said in Galatians 6:8. Solomon also said, "Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles." (Proverbs 21:23 NKJV).
It is so easy for us to react from our flesh when provoked. But we can never truly justify the damage our tongue may do to others, and we most certainly can never take back those words once they leave our lips. James [Greek: Jacob] said, "If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless." (James 1:26 NAS). Stated simply, we are hypocrites if we call ourselves Christians yet fail to control our tongues. We could even ask ourselves these questions: "Is my righteous indignation sometimes merely my flesh speaking?" and "Is God pleased with how I've spoken to others?"
James [Greek: Jacob] likened the tongue to a ship's rudder, saying it can do a lot of damage even though it is a small member. And like a small fire can quickly become a very large, destructive one, so too can the tongue cause much damage. 'Jacob' goes on to say that man is able to tame all kinds of creatures but is unable to tame the tongue--that member described as a restless evil and "full of deadly poison." (See James 2:1-8).
In Matthew 12:34-37, Jesus spoke of trees being known by their fruit. He followed this by asking how evil people can speak good things, when "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." On the Day of Judgment, we will account for every useless, idle word we have spoken. By these accounts, we will either be justified or condemned. This sobering topic ought to drive us to our knees in surrender to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to purge us of this deadly evil.
The flesh-driven church has unwittingly moved God's people from a place of rest in Him, to a performance-based Christianity. Many have come to believe that their deeds make a difference to God, one way or the other--to do good is to please God, and to do evil is sin. The knowledge of good and evil is so deeply rooted within man it is not recognized as the source of ALL fleshly manifestations. If our "goodness" flows from the Holy Spirit within, it is "fruit"--not dead works done by our flesh. We are told how the blood of Christ cleanses our "conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (Hebrews 9:14). And as Paul told the Ephesians, we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works according to His plan for us.12 Yes, there are outward, visible deeds, but they spring from the new heredity in one who is truly born from above.
Isaiah spoke some sobering words which must be included here: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20). How many of us believe we can please God through deeds of our flesh, neglecting surrender to the Spirit's work in us?
Workers of iniquity
In the seventh chapter of Matthew, we find an abundance of Jesus' wonderful teaching. He speaks of the narrow way to Life, trees yielding good fruit, "wolves in sheep's clothing", etc. Then Jesus tells of the many who will plead with Him over the things they did in His Name. Even if they call Him "Lord," He said that only those who do the will of the Father may enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In the end, everyone else who ignored the will of the Father will hear these dreadful words: "I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:23b). What is the Father's will? If it is the one commandment Jesus gave, then "Love!" is the answer. It would make sense for Jesus to say, "I never KNEW you," in view of these words in 1 John 4:8: "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love."
Jesus sometimes repeated words or phrases written by David, so it is essential to look for those meanings in the Hebrew dictionary of Old Testament words. For example, David referred to "workers of iniquity" in the Psalms.13 The word "iniquity" means "to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to naught."14 On the Day of Judgment, Jesus will be saying to those who "work iniquity" that they had "exerted themselves in vain--they have come to naught." They should have been seeking to love Him, and to know Him. They should have been feeding the hungry souls and leading the thirsty to the Water of Life. Isaiah the prophet said, "For the vile person will speak villany [Hebrew: 'foolishness']15, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise profaneness [Hebrew: 'wickedness']16, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail." (Isaiah 32:6).
Fruit of the Spirit
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul said, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance: against ['according to'] such there is no law [Greek: 'regulation']."17 (Galatians 5:22-23). If we are Christ's, we have crucified the flesh and all it represents. So if we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit and allow His fruit to manifest in our lives.
The emphasis in the fifth and sixth chapters of Galatians is on the relationships we have with one another. This can also be seen in Romans 13:8-10, where Paul said, "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (NKJV).
The well-known passage in Galatians on sowing and reaping is also about walking in love. But we must not be deceived--God will not allow Himself to be mocked. We will eventually reap whatever we sow. If we sow to our own flesh, we will reap corruption [Greek: decay, ruin]18--but if we sow to the Spirit, we will reap eternal life.19 A man who sows to "his own" flesh is selfish, but a man who sows to the Spirit is "self-less" and has died to the flesh. "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith." (Galatians 6:9-10).
Jesus' one commandment to "love" is not a mere suggestion. According to the Greek language, "commandment" is an "authoritative prescription."20 This 'prescription' requires the power of the Holy Spirit because the flesh is weak, making it impossible to love as Jesus taught. But if a believer sincerely walks by the Spirit, maintaining a close intimate relationship with Jesus, love WILL manifest in his life. The "afterglow" of that intimacy with the Bridegroom will cause love to flow out to others. There will be no thought of turning away one who is in need. The lover of the Bridegroom will be fully aware of the still small voice prompting him to go here or go there, or to give when the fatherless, the widowed, and strangers are brought across his path.
The consequences are dire if we fail to love as Jesus asks us to love. We will be as the goats in His parable about the separation of sheep from the goats, when all nations will be brought before the Lord, with the sheep on His right hand and the goats at His left. The sheep are the righteous who are told to come and inherit the Kingdom prepared for them. Represented as the King in the parable, Jesus tells the sheep how He was hungry and thirsty, and they provided food and drink. He was a "stranger" and the sheep gave Him lodging; He was "naked", and they clothed Him; He was "sick and in prison", and they ministered to His needs.21 When they asked the King how they had done all these things for Him, He said, "Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40b EMTV). The goats, on the other hand, were told, "Begone from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!" (Matthew 25:41b Amplified). They had not given the King food or drink, nor taken Him in, nor clothed and ministered to Him. When they asked Him what He meant, He replied, "Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, neither did you do it to Me." (Matthew 25:45b EMTV).
Jesus' final words should cause us to examine our lives to see how we have treated "the least," Jesus' own people, the Jews: "And these [goats] shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:46).
1. Greek #3344
2. Galatians 1:6-7
3. Galatians 1:11-12
4. Galatians 1:15-16
5. 2 Corinthians 11:23
6. Greek #940
7. Galatians 3:10-14
8. Galatians 5:1-3
9. Galatians 4:19 & 21
10. Galatians 5:13-18
11. Galatians 5:19-21
12. Ephesians 2:10
13. Psalm 14:4
14. Hebrew #205
15. Hebrew #5039
16. Hebrew #2612
17. Greek #3551
18. Greek #5356
19. Galatians 6:7-8
20. Greek #1785
21. Matthew 25:32-36