The Poisonous Acts of the Flesh (Galatians Sermon 21 of 26)
May 25, 2014 | Andy Davis
War Against the Flesh, Works of the Flesh, Sinful Nature
Pastor Andy Davis preaches on Galatians 5:19-21, and urges us to be alert to the negative impacts of the acts of the flesh in our souls.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Recently, some historians have studied the ancient world and have studied the Roman Empire in particular. Some historians have argued that lead poisoning may have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. One expert focused his work on the way that Aristocratic Romans would boil honey in lead pots to make a sweetener called defrutum and then they'd boil it down even further to something even sweeter called sapa. The Romans found that if they boil them in copper, it gave a bitter kind of taste but the lead gave a sweet kind of taste and they actually liked it. They would wait until it would all get dried and they would scrape it off and they'd sweeten things with it, this combination of lead and honey. So these sweeteners were used in many ways with meats and wines and many other foods that they ate every day. But the problem was the high temperatures that caused the lead and the honey to mix, made a poison called Lead Acetate. And this poison would accumulate slowly in their bodies and destroy them, weakening them gradually and eventually killing them.
Now the scholar that was focusing on this argued that this gradual poisoning contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Now, many have debated on whether that's true or not but, no one can debate that boiling things in lead and then drinking it is not good for us. And it got me to think about the passage that we're looking at today, "The deeds of the flesh." And I want to liken all of these sins as poison masquerading in honey, which accumulates in our souls and gradually weakens all who indulge in it. The honey taste of sin has been poisoning the human race since the garden of Eden. And it continues to spiritually poison people all over the world, and it poisons all of us who indulge in it as well. And I want to look at this list of spiritual poisons, the deeds of the flesh which the Spirit actively warns us against every moment of our lives. And I want to do so in the context of asking the question, what kind of life is it that leads to heaven?
"The honey taste of sin has been poisoning the human race since the garden of Eden. And it continues to spiritually poison people all over the world, and it poisons all of us who indulge in it as well."
I. What Kind of Life Leads to Heaven?
Now, the context of this question and of this whole passage is, the epistle of the Galatians, which we've been studying for many months now. The apostle Paul took up his pen to write to a bunch of churches that he had planted. They had had from him the pure gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. But after he left, some false teachers had come in and had begun to preach a false gospel which Paul said was no gospel at all. These false teachers taught a gospel of faith in Jesus, plus obedience to the laws of Moses, equals ultimate salvation. Now, Paul instead preached very plainly and wrote in Galatians very plainly the correction. Justification by faith in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sins. Now, the Galatians were in danger of legalism, and the idea of having begun by simply hearing this gospel with faith, by the power of the Spirit, having begun by the Spirit, they were trying to be perfected by the flesh, by efforts, by self focused efforts.
So, Paul preaches very plainly over many chapters the beautiful, simple, clear gospel of forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus alone, apart from works. And what a liberating, what a freeing message that is for the human race. We are justified by faith and not by works. But the problem is the most common accusation against this liberating gospel, the freedom of this gospel, is that salvation by grace alone leads to lawlessness. The accusation is that it leads to the idea that you can live however you want. Over and over in history, the true gospel has led to this accusation of this false understanding. The bad remedy is always the same, legalism. That if we get serious about the law, that the law contains within itself the power for its own obedience. And that we're on our own and that we are forgiven for past transgressions by present or future obedience to the law, that's the essence of legalism by the way. We have sin, the law accuses us, the only way to make it right in the legalistic way of thinking is, by present or future obedience to the same laws.
That's what legalism is, that's the wrong answer. Legalistic approaches have filled up church history, and so Paul addresses the false definition of legalism here in Galatians 5. Here's the answer instead, is the freedom of the Spirit-filled life. The power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, that's his answer. Not by combining Jesus and Moses, but by understanding the progression of salvation, from justification by faith alone apart from works. A transition then made to sanctification by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit whereby, we obey the precepts of the moral law, not for the payment of past transgressions, but because it's the most beautiful and the most fruitful possible life we could ever live. In which the Holy Spirit leads us back now to the moral law, love God with all your heart, love your neighbors as yourself and enables us to fulfill it.
Ultimately, then, a battle, a consistent battle and we'll talk about that in the immediate context here, between the flesh and the Spirit in which we struggle but we grow in godliness, becoming more and more like Jesus, ultimately ending in glorification. This glorification happens instantaneously when God, by his sovereign grace, ends the struggle forever. We are rescued from our sin and brought into heaven and there we'll live in holiness forever. That's the true salvation plan of God. Justification is the beginning of the Christian life, the total forgiveness of all of our sins is by faith alone, apart from any works of the law. But justification always leads to sanctification, and sanctification is a gradual, slow, difficult process by which the Spirit works powerfully inside us first to recognize sin, see it for what it is. Secondly, to hate it as God hates it, and thirdly to put sin to death by the power of the Spirit more and more. So that's sanctification.
So the key question that comes to us "How can I know I am justified?" That's a question of assurance. The answer's found in this chapter. The Spirit's work in the life of the true believer results in fruit that can be seen and known. The lifestyle, the regular patterns of life from the heart leading to specific patterns of action proves the reality of God's saving work in a soul. Galatians 5:16-26, the section we're in right now in Galatians, is a powerful diagnostic tool for answering the question "Am I a Christian? Have I been justified? Are my sins forgiven?" And it does at first negatively, by addressing things that must not be part of the Christian life, the acts of the flesh. And then positively, the fruit of the Spirit, the traits that must characterize the Christian, negatively and positively, that's what we're looking at.
So how can I know I'm a Christian? Do you see increasingly the sins that are listed that you heard Chris read? Do you see them increasingly weakening and dying in your life by the power of the Spirit? And positively, we'll see next week, do we see more and more of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives by the power of the Spirit? Do we see Christ-like character traits? That’s how you can know that you're a Christian. Key question number two then, which we've already asked, what kind of life leads to heaven? Justification is understandable doctrinally, we get it. We get the idea that sins can be instantaneously forgiven by simply believing in Jesus. It's hard to believe almost, sometimes it's that easy, but it's true. But how can I know it's actually happened to me. Paul's answer then is to look at the pattern of your life, the lifestyle. And the life characterized by the works of the flesh leads to destruction, it leads to hell. But the life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit is the only one that leads to heaven.
"The life characterized by the works of the flesh leads to destruction, it leads to hell. But the life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit is the only one that leads to heaven."
So in the immediate context in verse 16, Paul gives a command, "So I say walk by the Spirit," or "live by the Spirit." So it's a command to live your daily life in the power of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling Spirit. Secondly, believe this promise, if you do that, if you walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the lusts of the flesh. The promise that we have, that the Spirit, the indwelling Spirit and walking by the Spirit is powerful and effective for killing sins of the flesh. We should, thirdly, expect constant warfare. Verse 17: "For the flesh yearns or desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit yearns or desires what is contrary to the flesh. They're at odds with each other so that you do not do what you want." So we are divided beings, we're struggling, we're spiritual schizophrenics. We don't fully do anything in this life, we don't fully serve God. We don't fully serve sin ever because of this division so we expect constant warfare. We're not looking for perfectionism. We're not looking for release in this life. We know we're going to be at war, we must be at war. As a matter of fact, if we're not at war, we're dead in our transgressions and sins. We've got to be at war. We've got to be fighting by the Spirit. And so we must wage war in a new way. Verse 18 says we need to understand our new status we are not under law. We are led by the Spirit. We are in a whole new way of living now. By the power of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, we can live a holy life. So we've talked about that. Now today, we're going to be talking about the works of the flesh negatively, and then next week, God willing, the fruit of the Spirit. That's where we are in context.
II. The Works of the Flesh (verses 19-21)
So let's look now at the works of the flesh, verses 19-21. "Now the works of the flesh are evident: [Paul says] sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery or sensuality, idolatry, sorcery or witchcraft, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these or the like." Paul here gives one of many sin lists that there are in the Bible. The Bible gives sin lists, and this is one of the sin lists, not the only one. And the purpose of this sin list is a diagnostic tool for the heart. You can diagnose your heart. I like to sometimes talk about salvation in a therapeutic or healing sense. Jesus is the good physician. It's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. We are sick with sin and we need a good diagnosis. We need to be told the truth. Sin is a disease of the soul, and so the heart, controlled by the flesh is powerfully diagnosed or exposed by this list.
As we read this list, we see described in a powerful way what the life of the flesh looks like. Again, people ask what is the flesh? We went through all that in a previous sermon but I just simply say the flesh is that part of you that produces this list. Whatever part of you that makes you do these things, that's what the flesh is. Called sin nature, indwelling sin, etcetera. There are 15 sins listed here, comprehensive and thorough diagnostic tool. Now, not every sin that you could commit is listed here, not at all. There's a longer sin list at the end of Roman's chapter 1 which covers ground that isn't covered here. All right, there's no actual comprehensive sin list, all right? But this is meant to be suggestive and it's a comprehensive diagnostic tool and not every sinner commits every sin on this list or even commits most of them on a daily basis but these are actual heart states that characterize the unregenerate heart. These are actions of the heart state that characterize an unregenerate heart.
They also are patterns of habit of habitual sins that Christians have as well that we must be putting to death by the Spirit. So it's both of that. It's both got a message of warning to the unbeliever and it's got a message of warning to the believer, as well. The key issue for us as Christians are habit patterns, not the occasional foray. All right, we'll make this point more clearly at the end but every Christian occasionally displays some aspects of this list from time to time. But no Christian is continually characterized by this list. So let's look at this sin list in general. He talks first about the works of the flesh, notice he's going to contrast it, we'll talk about this more next week, with the fruit of the Spirit. It's an intentional change from works to fruit and we'll talk about that next time but this is what the works of the flesh, these are the works that the flesh produces. The unredeemed nature, the sin nature.
The works of the flesh is what the flesh desires, verse 17. What does the flesh desire? It desires to do these things. That's what it wants. It wants to do these things. The Holy Spirit hates them and wants you not do these things, so that's where the battle lines are drawn and the flesh produces these things in the lifestyle of the unredeemed person and is seeking to do them in the lifestyle of the Christian. Now Paul says, "The works of the flesh are evident" or they are obvious. You could take this in a couple of ways; one is to just say look, everyone know what they are, okay? And I think there's to some degree a truth to this where even non-Christians have somewhat of the moral law written in their created being, they have a conscience and they're aware, although not perfectly aware, that these things are wrong, okay? They're evident or obvious. Most societies have laws against many of these things or see the wickedness of them and don't argue against them, although that doesn't always stay the same.
We, Christians, we have experience with these sins in daily life and we can identify them. When we see them in practice, we know they're evil, so this isn't some shocking surprise to find out that these things are evil. We're not shocked by this, we're aware, it makes sense. We know that these things are evil, even the pagans know that they're evil. They come to us in four groupings. First, sins of sexuality: The first three, sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery. The second are sins of religion: Idolatry and sorcery or witchcraft. The third division, the largest, are sins of relationship. So enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy. And the fourth are sins of dissipated living or lack of self-control, such as drunkenness and orgies. Again, this list is not exhaustive but comprehensive. "Things like these," Paul says "and such like or things like these." So he's acknowledging right in the text, there are more besides.
But this is a very comprehensive list and it covers many aspects of human life and it is sufficient to diagnose the human heart and the spiritual condition of any person. Now, let's look at this sin list, the list of the flesh, the acts of the flesh in detail. The first three, as I've said, are sexual in nature, the deeds of the flesh are sexual. The first one is sexual immorality, the Greek word is "porneia" which will sound familiar to us from which we get the word pornography, sexual sins of any kind. The Greco Roman world was known for its sexual openness, tolerance of all manners of sexual appetites and practices. When the gospel came to a Greek or Roman town or city and people began to be converted, massive changes in the sexual area were obvious in the lives of these Christians.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, the apostle Paul writes this to the Thessalonians, he said, "It is God's will that you should be holy or sanctified, that you should avoid sexual immorality. That each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God." So it's very clear. This is a consistent teachings, not just one or two verses. Again and again this issue of sexual purity. Now, we know that sex is a great weakness for the human race, it is a major breach. If you could picture your soul like a walled fortress, this is a breach in the wall to which the enemy is focusing a ton of attention. So you know if you're standing on the walls and you see all of the soldiers, the enemy soldiers running to a particular place, they think they found a weakness, they think they found a way in and they want to destroy you by that way. Well, that's what's going on in the sexual area. Tremendous amount of satanic activity in this area so we must know that it's a weakness.
How much effort does Satan put toward sexual immorality, every single day from the moment that Adam and Eve ate the fruit and their eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked and they began sewing clothes for themselves, sex has been corrupted and is a major weakness. In Paul's era, sexual immorality was rampant, and as I've said, and Christians were specifically set apart from their pagan neighbors by their commitment to sexual holiness. They didn't visit the temple prostitutes, male and female prostitutes, they just stopped that pattern of life. They were holy with one another. The Gospel changed the way that people live sexually. Many commandments in the New Testament point to this issue.
The second word in the list, impurity, literally uncleanness. Uncleanness is just a general word seen, I think, especially in a sexual light. Impure thoughts leading to impure actions, has anything to do with anything that will make someone spiritually unclean especially in the sexual area. And then debauchery or sensuality, this would be a total lack of self-constraint resulting in behavior that violates all bounds of what's socially acceptable. In our culture, this kind of person would be called a party animal, let's say. Somebody who's just thrown off constraint, they're living for the next thrill, maybe addicted to recreational drugs and or alcohol. Also frequently has a sexual side to it, a person who moves from one sexual experience to the next, to the next with increasing addiction, increasing appetite and boldness.
Well, what about in our context, what's going on in our day? Well in our day and age, we see Satan's constant assault in the world's sexual gluttony, there are movies and TV programs, and internet pornography and articles, and all kind of things that are constantly appealing to our lust in this area. Specifically in the issue of internet pornography, it's a $13 billion industry every year in the US alone, $13 billion spent on this sin every year. Since the start of 2013, there have been 2.6 billion searches for internet pornography, one in five mobile searches are for porn, one in five, 20% of them. 60% of male church-going professing believers have viewed internet pornography in the last year, similar stats for women. In general, our society is rushing head long toward a similar sexual immorality that characterized pagan Rome, in which marriage is dishonored, homosexuality is celebrated. We see it happening before our very eyes in various areas, for example fornication. Fornication is rampant; premarital sex is the norm on college campuses.
Contrary to the river of sexual immorality is the biblical conception of marriage. The most powerful, complex image of Christ's relationship with the church is marriage. Jesus gives very clear teaching on marriage, in Matthew 19: "Haven't you read, He said, that the beginning, the Creator made them male and female, and said for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife. And they will become one flesh, so they are no longer two but one. What God has joined together, let man not separate." Now, one of the things on the homosexuality issue that I find interesting, is people saying that Jesus never addressed the topic. I can see the fact that he doesn't say the words homosexuality, but instead what he does, and that question comes up in the issue of divorce, he goes above the immediate question of divorce, as I would say, he goes above the immediate question of homosexuality. And Jesus talks about God's intention in very clear gender-based terms. "Haven't you read that at the beginning, the Creator made them male and female? And said, for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so they're no longer two but one. What God has joined together, let man not separate." So Jesus does address it very plainly. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that marriage is a profound mystery. It's a picture of Christ and the church. And so therefore, we have this spiritual consummation language at the end of the Bible. In Revelation 21, when the new Jerusalem comes down like a bride, prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband. And there's a beautiful spiritual consummation, not physical because there's no need for procreation at that point. Jesus said at the resurrection, they neither marry nor give in marriage, they're like the angels in heaven. But there is a beautiful picture of the unity between Christ and the church.
Well, that's the standard, that's what the Bible teaches on sexuality. Christians are called on therefore, to be absolutely celibate sexually, outside of covenant marriage, heterosexual marriage between one man, one woman. But they are to enjoy sexual unity within covenant marriage as a gift from God. And that's a healthy way to understand the sexual relationship. Well, these standards are clearly under open assault in our day and age, at every level. We must stand against these assaults, these are called the acts of the flesh. And we must stand, we've got to be at war by the Spirit against all the motions of the flesh.
Go back to my opening illustration, this stuff is spiritual poison, it kills the soul. I guess what troubles me, is in this day and age, we're being told that to tell the truth of someone who's drinking spiritual poison every day, and say, "Would you please," with tears coming down your face, "would you please put the poison down, I don't want you to die," is unloving. It's not unloving to tell people the truth. It's not unloving to tell them that they're killing their souls. That's not unloving. Jesus said it's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. "I've not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
And so we need to tell the truth to our generation that this stuff is poison. Put it down. We need to be at war first within ourselves, we need to be at war against fornication by the Spirit. Christians need to be sexually pure before marriage. We must avoid any hint of sexual immorality. Just because so many other college students and young people are "hooking up," as the term goes, doesn't change God's standard at all. We need to be at war against pornography by the Spirit, as we've already mentioned, Christians need to hate this sin as the spiritual poison it is, it destroy souls. We need to war against adultery by the Spirit. How many marriages are destroyed because husband or wife are led into other relationships? How much anguish? How many tears are wept because of this sin?
How many pastoral ministries have been ruined because pastors have gotten into this sin? How many divorces have sprung from this adultery? How many children's lives have been ruined by it? This too is spiritual poison. And we must war against homosexuality by the Spirit in the same way. This is an obvious target for Satan's agenda in our day and age. We are being systematically trained to think differently about this sin. Resist it! We need to tell people who are poisoning themselves the truth and it is not unloving to do it. I would commend to you this therapeutic model of speech that I've given to you. I think it will stand up better than other patterns will. You say all of us are drinking poison. Jesus remedies us. You're drinking poison, I don't want you to die. I don't know how you accuse a person like that especially if they've got genuine humility and they're pointing to Christ with tears coming down their face of anything less than love, but they'll try.
The warning is very clear at the end of our passage. Those who live like this, "I warned you, that they will not inherit the kingdom of God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is clear about it as well, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who practice homosexuality nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor revilers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you." What a blessed word that word “were” is. God is able to transform every sinner on that list to make it a past tense. Praise God! We're being told that that actually can't happen in the area of homosexuality but the word stands it is absolutely possible Christ has transforming power. Listen to the rest of the verse. "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God." So that's the hope we point toward in all of these sexual sins. We must speak the truth in love. We must not be bullied into false doctrine or false ministry. The gospel is the only remedy for these sexual sins.
"The gospel is the only remedy for these sexual sins."
Let's tell people the truth, so they can be saved from sin and find the light in God's standards living holy and upright lives. Let's courageously resist the temptation to cave in on this. And let's courageously resist the temptation to cave in in whatever ways you are caving in sexually, and not assume it's just out there. All the deeds of the flesh are poison, all of them. The Holy Spirit hates them all because he loves us. And we must fight these sins, each of them for our spiritual lives depend on us putting them to death. Remember what John Owen said which I quoted last week, "The vigor, power, and comfort of our spiritual life depend on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh." So turn those words around. You will be, not vigorous, not powerful and not comforted in your Christian life if you don't put sins to death. You'll be weak, emaciated and have no assurance. You must mortify, said Owen. You must make it your daily work, you must be constantly at it while you live. Cease not a day from this work. Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.
If we sin secretly in these areas, we are constantly testing God, challenging him to act as avenger against us. I believe it is a responsibility of each person to assess themselves sexually. And if your right eye is causing you to sin then you gouge it out and you throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. And if your right hand is causing you to sin then it's your job to cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. If the church does it for you, we have become legalistic. It's the churches job to speak these truths to you and you put them into practice. We can't go rummaging through the closets of people's lives, that's your job. Rummage through your own closets. But know this, God sees everything. He knows what you're doing, don't tempt him to act as avenger against his holy law. Be holy because he is holy. It says in Hebrews 13:4, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." And it says earlier in that same book "our God is a consuming fire." So flea sexual sin by the Spirit and fight sexual sin by the Spirit.
The next sins listed are sins of religion, idolatry obviously associated with pagan religions, the worship of anything apart from the true and living God. It goes from false religion like Hinduism and Buddhism all the way to materialism and greed which is idolatry. Now the basic definition on idolatry is in Romans 1:25, "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the creator who's forever praised. Amen." So when some created thing takes God's place in your affections, some created thing supplants God as the uppermost goal of your life, that's idolatry.
Tim Keller calls idols "God's substitutes" or "rival gods." It's what your thoughts go effortlessly to when nothing else is demanding your attention. Career advancement, a dream home, a relationship with a particular person. One or two day dreams does not constitute idolatry. But ask this, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart? What do you spend your money on? What gets your emotions roiling and boiling and churning? Idols tend to be at the root of all these things.
Now, a formalized system of false religion is the work of the flesh. So that's false religion but so also are these things called "heart idols." He also mentioned this word "sorcery" or "witchcraft." The Greek word is "pharmakeia," from which we get pharmacy or pharmaceutical, but it goes back in that day and age to the use of poisons and chemicals for making secret brews and all that, but it extends to the secret arts, witchcraft, etcetera. I used to pastor in Topsail, Massachusetts near Salem, and Salem has something like 3,000 registered witches. As a matter of fact, there was this one witch Laurie Cabot who has designated the official witch of the state of Massachusetts. I don't know why we needed an official witch. But if we needed one, Laurie Cabot was it. And her house was a shrine of the black arts, people would go all year round to see the things in her home. We have more and more interest in the supernatural and witchcraft in our age, it's probably going to get worse. Also possible application here is recreational drug use with the word "pharmakeia." So people that are living for or addicted to recreational drugs, it's an act of the flesh.
Now, the next eight sins on the list are all sins of relationship, sins of relationship. He begins with hatred, a state of hostility between people, deep seated resentments, bitterness, deep desire for revenge or retaliation. It could go as deep as racism or the kind of hatred that Nazis had for Jews, in the 1930s, or that perhaps Jews had for Germans or Nazis after World War II. Things like that. Serbs might have for Croats and Croats for Serbs, etcetera. Deep-seated things or it could go just to neighbors who, because of a bunch of things that have happened, just hate each other. He mentioned discord which is strife or quarreling, bickering, arguing, just not getting along, just not getting along. Just want you to know, praise God, they get along in heaven. Amen. They just do, they like each other and they just get along in heaven. There's no discord in heaven. I can't wait to be there but I need to get cured first. Amen. Maybe you might need to as well.
So in a marriage we're talking about husbands and wives unable to get along or get through a day without arguing, spending their time bickering. It could be in the church, people arguing or bickering in the halls or at church conferences or after church conferences or before church conferences. It could be in the workplace, it could be in government, military, just wherever people get together, you have discord. By the way, isn't it interesting how in the same sin list, you can have sins that you wouldn't think of participating in, sorcery, almost side by side with those that you probably participate in every day, discord. But God hates them all, he hates them all. They're all acts of the flesh.
He talks about jealousy, which is a passionate commitment to self; coveting, yearning for what someone else has. Secretly jealous if someone else is honored or promoted or praised or received some kind of earthly benefit. Fits of rage or anger, sinful anger. Obviously, somebody who can't control their temper, shouting, yelling, face getting all red, veins bulging. James calls anger "moral filth" like radioactive waste. This human anger is usually wicked and sinful. Would you say in any year, okay, let's say you get angry 100 times in a year, what percentage of those are righteous indignation because the glory of God has been impugned? Come on, be honest. I wouldn't put it at 99 out of 100, I have to go out to 1000 and then I might get a few righteous indignations in there.
Usually, my anger is selfish. Somebody has crossed me in some way, somebody's inconvenienced me in some way, somebody hasn't honored me in some way, probably the same is true of you. Fits of rage are acts of the flesh. Selfish ambition is just that careerism and yearning to get to be top dog, to be in charge so that you're honored and worshipped in some kind of way. Dissensions, we just talked about pretty much it's hard to see a distinction between them. Strife, arguments, discord, people not getting along. Think of how many times you and your spouse have argued, all of them acts of the flesh. Or you and your roommate or you and your brother or sister. You and a neighbor, you and a co-worker.
Think of all the dissensions that poison church life. Think of all the disagreements that make church life unpleasant. Think of how the sin of dissensions ruins joyful family life and church life all over the world. And then factions, the idea of party Spirit. "I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas." Factions like gang warfare, the crips and the bloods or the blues and the reds, things like that. Factions or party Spirit, those are acts of the flesh. And then envy, again, I don't see a lot of difference between that and jealousy except maybe you're focused on a specific privilege or possession, something, a covetous heart.
All of these things come from the acts of the flesh. Envy is the opposite of contentment. Contentment, it says in Psalms 16, "the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance." I'm happy with my wife, happy with my kids, happy with my job, I'm content with my possessions, I don't need anything else, I have the Lord, he is my heavenly Father, I've forgiveness of sins I don't need anything else. And so I'm content with the boundary lines, they've fallen for me in pleasant places, Psalm 16. Envy has David up on the roof looking at another man's wife and lusting after her, and wanting her, and taking her. Or it has wicked king Ahab looking at some guy's vineyard and killing him so he can get it. All of these things are acts of the flesh.
And then the last two have to do with just a loss, total loss of self-control, drunkenness and orgies. If you put them together you could picture the kind of wild parties in which people are losing all self-control getting drunk and doing wicked things.
III. The Terrifying Warning (verse 21)
All right, so that's the sin list. Paul then gives in verse 21 a terrifying warning. "I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." How can we hear that? How do you hear that warning, that those who live like this? Well, to inherit the kingdom of God, that's the goal of our salvation. Right? So it means to live eternally with God in his heaven. People dominated by the flesh will not go to heaven, that's what Paul is saying, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Same thing he said in 1 Corinthians 6:9, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God, do not be deceived."
So living like this means the heart is unregenerate, this is the broad road that leads to destruction. Now, Christians can and do stray into sin from time to time, or else how could we understand Romans 7, Paul saying in verses 15 and following, "I do not understand what I do, for what I want to do I do not but what I hate I do." What could that be other than the acts of the flesh? "What I hate I do, and if I do what I do not want to do I agree that the law is good as it is, it is no longer I who do it but it is sin living in me that does it." So sin living in me, that's the flesh, produces these things. Paul, at the end of that section says, "What a wretched man I am, who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord," Jesus will rescue us from this. Either at the second coming when in a flash, in a twinkling of the eye at the last trumpet we will be changed forever or at your death. And you will leave it behind and you will never sin again. But in the mean time we grievously sin in these areas.
Now, unregenerate people have the mind of the flesh, they live for these things, they plan for these things, they love these things, they go after these things. Spirit-filled Christians hate them but can't seem to stop doing them. There's an intrinsic difference. Christians hunger and thirst for righteousness as the beatitudes say, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness," but we just can't seem to pull it off daily. We yearn for it but we don't do it. Non-Christians just have the mind of the flesh, it does not submit to God's law nor can they do so. Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God. There's just two different ways to think and therefore two different ways to live. So grace, gospel of sovereign grace doesn't produce this kind of life, it just doesn't. It fights this kind of life.
So if we're told all of your sins are forgiven through the grace of God, all of them, past, present and future, it does not lead to this life. If this is the life you're living you haven't been forgiven, you're not a Christian, that's what Paul is saying. That's the warning he's giving here. What does grace do? Grace covers all your sins, but grace also transforms the way you live. Titus chapter 2:11-12 it says, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, it teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age." So how should we hear these warnings?
Well, it shouldn't threaten our understanding of justification or security, it is impossible for any truly justified person to sin their way out of the family of God, it cannot happen. But to know that you're a regenerate you must be at war and you've got to see these things gradually being weakened and assaulted in your life. You need to work out your salvation with what? Fear and trembling. You know what gives you fear and trembling? Verse 21 will do it, it does it for me. "I warn you as I did before," it's a repeated warning, "those who live like this will not go to heaven." That'll give you fear and trembling. You fear the Lord, you fear the outcome, and you put sin to death, that's what you do, it's the kind of life that leads to heaven. Why? Because it's God who is working in you probably right now to will and to do according to his good pleasure.
Christians heed these kind of warnings. Nominal Christians blow them off. Genuine Christians take sermons like this and say, "I must be holy, I yearn to be holy." Nominal Christians just blow them off they don't care. And they either do it through legalism in one sense you could say oh they take it seriously and then they go by legalistic means, we covered that before. But the nominal Christians, they just say, "It doesn't matter, I pray the prayer, sign the card, once saved always saved, doesn't really matter how I live." But we must by the Spirit be putting to death the misdeeds of the body. So looking backward at your sins, run to the cross, run to Jesus. What can wash away those sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Don't run to your legalistic efforts, run to the cross looking here back, run to the cross and find forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. Here forward run to the Spirit for help in obeying God's laws. That's the Christian life, that's the Christian life. And so by the Spirit you can put to death every sin on this list.
IV. Deep Humility
Now, this list should make you deeply humble. I would hope it's humbled you. It should humble you deeply. Note how many sins we would never commit are side by side with sins we may commit regularly, consistently. It's not to say that dissensions and sorcery are equally evil in God's sight. I'm not saying that. But what I am saying is all sin is repugnant to God and we should never feel morally superior to anyone for any reason ever, period. That's kind of a sweeping statement, isn't it? Yes, it is. I'll say it again. You should never, you forgiven Christian should never feel morally superior to anyone who suffers with any sin ever, period, the rest of your life. Those days are gone. That's the essence of legalism, is to feel morally superior to others. Instead you have been saved by grace out of this list. You should be humble. Deeply humble.
So what application? Well, come to Christ. Come to Christ. There's no warfare possible for you if you're not a Christian. It's not possible. All you can do is amend your ways but you can't truly fight by the Spirit. The Spirit isn't given to any but the Christians. So come to Christ. Jesus Christ shed his blood on the cross for sinners like you and me. Come to Christ and find forgiveness. If you're already a Christian, then understand the Spirit's role in this warfare, actively rely on Him, pray to him a lot. Say, "God send your Spirit. I need your help, I'm being tempted right now. Help me now, help me, help me, help me, help me." Pray without ceasing. That's how you fight. That's how by the Spirit you put to death, a constant dependence on the Spirit.
Thirdly, never ever surrender in any areas. You never wave the white flag in any area, ever. You're like Winston Churchill in 1940 looking at Nazi Germany. It's like at what point will you surrender? Never. We'll be down to the last British boy or girl in some alley somewhere, we'll still be fighting the Nazis. We're never going to give in. We don't want to be enslaved by them. So no, we will go down to the last one. Well, that's even more so should be our attitude against sin. I'm never going to give up on any of these things. I may stumble many ways. James says we all stumble in many ways. But I'm never going to give up on any of these areas. So the Spirit won't let me. Why? Because it's poison. Is the Spirit ever going to tell you, "You go ahead and drink as much poison as you want, I'll bring you to Heaven one day"? He's not going to tell you that, ever. He is going to fight every way that you're drinking poison.
Analyze your own patterns and confess your sins. Look at characteristic patterns, seek forgiveness. Everyone struggles in some ways sexually. Seek God's holiness and purity. If you're involved in some sexual sin perhaps internet pornography, perhaps same sex attraction resulting in thoughts or actions that are sinful, perhaps a sinful relationship? Repent immediately. If you're in a dating relationship and you've sinned together sexually, do not lower the standards to suit your lust or the prevailing culture. Read the scripture and know that God hates fornication. Seek God's forgiveness and receive it by the blood of Christ. Seek his forgiveness. Don't try to do good works to prove yourself to God.
Seek just humble yourself and ask forgiveness and He'll forgive you. Look at the relational sins. Married people. Is your marriage characterized by conflict? By sinful anger and discord? Then I'm asking you to repent. The two of you, get down on your knees and hold hands and say, "We have argued too much. Let's make a pact, you and I, to fight the arguing. To love one another as we loved each other when we first got married." Kneel together and pray for that. Church members, is there anyone here that you need to forgive? Anyone here you're feeling morally superior to because they've sinned against you? Give it up. Forgive. Love. No hatred, no discord.
What about pride? What about jealousy? Is this happening to you? Are you jealous of anyone? Are you proud of your position? Anything? Fight against these things. These are the works of the flesh. Flee to the cross of Christ. You don't have to be perfect, you can't be perfect. But if you walk in the light, you confess the ways you have been dark, God will cleanse you. And so he says in 1 John 1:8-10, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives."