Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit – Part 1

Posted on August 19, 2010

One of the evidences Christians have in their tool box for assurance of salvation is whether the fruit of the Spirit is manifest in them. This fruit includes 9 characteristics:  love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Contrarily, the works of the flesh are evident in the unregenerate, unsaved person, which are:  sexual immorality, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, contentions, drunkenness, and revelries.  When we walk in the Spirit as Paul tells us in Galatians 5, we will not satisfy the lust of the sinful nature.

Sadly enough, there are many professing Christians who habitually practice these worldly lusts, and the Word of God says they will not inherit His kingdom – not because they lost their salvation, but they were never truly saved to begin with. Jesus Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith, and we will be sanctified as we grow in His grace. The born again believer who falls to the temptations of sin will be convicted unto repentance and confession to the Lord. Having no sensitivity or acknowledgment of sin in one’s life is evidence they are not a child of God. Galatians 5:16-18,

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Matthew Henry expounds:

If it be our care to act under the guidance and power of the blessed Spirit, though we may not be freed from the stirrings and oppositions of the corrupt nature which remains in us, it shall not have dominion over us. Believers are engaged in a conflict, in which they earnestly desire that grace may obtain full and speedy victory. And those who desire thus to give themselves up to be led by the Holy Spirit, are not under the law as a covenant of works, nor exposed to its awful curse. Their hatred of sin, and desires after holiness, show that they have a part in the salvation of the gospel.

Now we see the works of darkness in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness,  idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders,drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Matthew Henry continues:

The works of the flesh are many and manifest. And these sins will shut men out of heaven. Yet what numbers, calling themselves Christians, live in these, and say they hope for heaven!

In his New Testament commentary, John MacArthur elaborates on the word practice:

Here is the key word in Paul’s warning. The sense of this Greek verb describes continual, habitual action. Although believers undoubtedly can commit these sins, those people whose basic character is summed up in the uninterrupted and unrepentant practice of them cannot belong to God. [Regarding not inheriting the kingdom of God] – the unregenerate are barred from entering the spiritual kingdom of redeemed people over whom Christ now rules, and they will be excluded from His millennial kingdom and the eternal state of blessing that follows it.

Christ and the works of the flesh cannot be manifest at the same time. Either the flesh controls us, or Jesus controls us – for no man can serve two masters. If you are a born again believer, you used to be of darkness,  satisfying your lusts, and indeed served another master other than Christ. But now that you have been made alive in Christ, the works of the flesh will no longer be manifest (obvious, evident). You are now children of light, walking in the light, and not in the darkness. Christ is now manifest in your life, you have died to yourself, and have become a new creation. Your heart and mind are set on things above, and your mind will become less conformed to the world and more conformed to Christ as your mind is renewed by the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God is within you.

MacArthur also defines these lusts that are evident in the heart by habitual practice:

Fornication: The Greek word is porneia, from which the English word pornography comes. It refers to all illicit sexual activity, including (but not limited to) adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, and prostitution.

Lewdness: The word originally referred to any excessive behavior or lack of restraint, but eventually became associated with sexual excess and indulgence.

Sorcery:  The Greek word pharmakeia, from which the English word pharmacy comes, originally referred to medicines in general, but eventually only to mood-altering and mind-altering drugs, as well as the occult, witchcraft, and magic. Many pagan religious practices required the use of these drugs to aid in communication with deities.

Contentions and Heresies:  Many of these sins manifested in the area of human relationships have to do with some form of anger. Hatred results in “contentions” (strife). Jealousies (hateful resentment) result in “outbursts of wrath” (sudden, unrestrained expressions of hostility).

Drunkenness and Revelries:  Probably a specific reference to the orgies that characterized pagan, idolatrous worship. Generally, it refers to all rowdy, boisterous, and crude behavior.

As mentioned, those who habitually practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Continuous, unrepentant practice of these sins would indicate that one has not been regenerated as these lusts are contrary to the Spirit within the believer.

In Part 2, I will present the fruit of the spirit and how these Godly attitudes characterize the lives of only those who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. While the works of the flesh are manifest in those who do not know Christ in their hearts, the fruit of the Spirit is the manifestation of God in the heart of every born again believer.