Galatians 5:19-21 Inheriting the Kingdom of God

I’m going to approach this section in light of our Christian calendar, connecting the point of Palm Sunday with the passage before us (my plan is to do the same with: Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday).

Jesus’ triumphal entry is the entry of a servant king but nevertheless a king offering his kingdom.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mat 21:9 ESV) along with the palm branches affirmed Christ as king.  Christ did not come as a political king but a spiritual one.  The king had come and Jesus’ primary concern was for his kingdom to be accepted by faith!  For the cries of the people to be genuine.

The New Testament teaches this King’s kingdom comes in three ways:

  • In the hearts of believers
  • When Christ returns in the future millennial kingdom
  • Finally, Christ creates and establishes his rule in the New Heavens and New Earth.

These verses serve to test a person’s position in relation to the kingdom.  They not only serve as a present motivation for personal holiness but more importantly these verses call believers to ask themselves whether or not they are “inheriting God’s kingdom” (v. 21).  Life patterns reflect whether someone is in the kingdom or not.

  • Verse 21 offers a sobering warning in light of two lists that stand side by side each other
  • One list is ugly and repulsive and the other is beautiful.
  • One list characterizes a life given over to the flesh
  • The other characterizes a life given to the work of the Spirit

As we covered last time the warfare Paul describes goes on in every believer.  Believers have the Holy Spirit and the flesh within.  The residual effect within a Christian’s unredeemed humanity is this unreconciled antagonism haunting believers until they are glorified.

  • God’s Word never requires a believer to live a life of sinless perfection.
  • This is actually what legalism tries to sell – that a person should push toward obeying at a level where God will accept you.
  • Our only hope is that in God’s eyes: It is not the perfection of your life that matters but the direction of your life.
  • Believers are promised a Sanctifier, who is the Holy Spirit.
  • The Lord is all you need for justification and he is all you need for sanctification.
  • False teachers held up law keeping as a cheap substitute for the Holy Spirit.
  • Instead, Paul refocuses the attention on the Holy Spirit (mentioned 7x here).

As we think through this first list which is “the works of the flesh” it is important not to disregard it – as if it is too reprehensible to apply to you!  Remember how tempting it is to trust in your own self-righteousness.  Hold this passage up as a mirror to see the sins of “flesh” that are all still alive inside.  Only then can you truly yield the Help or your Helper, the Holy Spirit.

Let’s turn to this “black catalogue.”

Whether Paul intentionally categorized these terms under four basic categories it is hard to say.

  • Sins of lust, idolatry, witchcraft, temper, and appetite.
  • Sin lists like these were common in ancient literature and common in the New Testament.
  • These lists not only came from Paul (cff. Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 12:20-21; Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:3; 2 Tim. 3:2-5) but also Peter (cf. 1 Pt. 4:3) and of course Jesus (cf. Mark 7:21-23).

These deeds listed in vv. 19-21 come down to sins of indulgence, in terms of bodily cravings, worshipping false gods, attempting to harness supernatural powers selfish ends, and self-centeredness.

  • These works of the flesh prove who is led by the Spirit of God and who is not.
  • Who possesses grace and who does not.
  • Paul is boiling the issues down to say: “No matter how religious you are; if your life is made up by these sins you are not alive to God.”
  • By the way, did you notice the source of these sins?
  • All of them come from within.
  • Jesus’ point to his disciples in Mark 7 (differentiating between religion from true repentance) said, “It is not what goes into a person’s stomach that defiles him (dietary laws) but what comes out of the heart…

ESV  Mark 7:21-23 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

We need to contend with the picture the Bible paints of who we really are as sinners – and this is a very counter-cultural thing to do!

  • There are two basic views of nature
  • Either you are basically good or you are basically evil.
  • Humanism says a person is born morally good or at least morally neutral
  • The Bible teaches the opposite.
  • The doctrine of sin is clear that man is inherently corrupt and depraved in every aspect of his being

Man’s environment is not the problem, but primarily man is who corrupts his environment.

  • No amount of social reform, changing his housing, transportation, education, job, or his medical care will solve his problem.

Every person possesses this dark DNA Paul spells out here.

  • Not everyone will manifest these behaviors to the same degree.
  • For the unbeliever, these sins are normal, continual behaviors, in their course of life
  • For a Christian, these are abnormal interruptions in the lives of those who live by the Spirit

 Prop:  The works of the flesh

1. Sins of Lust (v. 19)

Reading this list, you probably resonate with Paul, that these sins are “evident” (v. 19).

  • The “works of the flesh” are obvious. In a very real sense they need no explanation.
  • They are not ethereal meant for spiritual gurus or those with secret knowledge to figure out for you.
  • They are fundamentally concrete.
  • These sins are often public and readily observable in others.
  • In fact, in Galatians 6:1, the body is called to “restore” people “who’ve been caught in a trespass” – any sin pattern someone needs to be pulled out of – meaning when people need help this is “evident.”

This list is not exhaustive but suggestive (vv. 21, 23).

  • At the same time Paul is not giving mere generalizations. “The sins have names!”

Paul’s point is that believers need to know with clarity the difference between being in the flesh and walking by the Spirit.

Another way to interpret this is to see “the works of the flesh” as “evident” in terms of where they originate.

  • Some sins are private while other are public
  • The point isn’t necessarily what others see but instead what a person genuinely knows to be true about himself of herself.
  • Sin originates with his or her sinful nature and not with God.
    • James 1:13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God.’”
    • The origin of your sin is you not God. Your “flesh” not the “Holy Spirit.”

The first three vices or sin categories all come under the heading of sexual sin.

  • Paul uses these three same Greek terms in a different order in 2 Corinthians 12:21.
  • These words overlap and mark the common practice in the Greco-Roman world and the secular world today.
  • Sensual sins in essence bracket this vice list concluding with “orgies” or “reveling” in verse 21.
  • These are the sins of self-gratification which are the opposite of loving our neighbor in the church (cf. 5:14).

So, if these are the sins of the world, “Why is Paul addressing believers inside the church?”

  • Paul knows that believers inside the church relapse into sin.
  • The culture of the Galatians, like the Corinthians, like in the Western church of our day have a lot of believers who have come out of all kinds of these sins.
  • Debauchery with loss of all restraint and decency.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11 says, “Such were some of you.”
  • The temptation to return must be curtailed.

This first category is “sexual immorality” from the word, “porneia,” which refers to the widest possible application:

  • illicit sexual activity, indulging in but not limited to adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, prostitution, lewdness, and a lack of restraint.
  • This speaks to indulgence and sensual sins between married and unmarried people, fornication and adultery.
  • This marks the appetite of our present day culture.
  • Porneia is the broadest term including any immorality where open and shameless prostitution of the Greek and Roman world was as common it is our modern day internet pornography.

“Impurity” akatharsia is a basic synonym meaning unclean – non-cathartic (used in Eph. 5:3 and Col. 3:5).  This too is a general term used in the New Testament for malfeasance.

  • Uncleanness, is a filthiness of heart and mind that make the person defiled.
  • An unclean person sees dirt in everything:

ESV  Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.

  • The Old Testament would classify this as being ceremonially unclean but the New Testament speaks to the morality of the heart and actions.
  • These first terms are not sharply distinguished from one another as they overlap under the same sexual sins.
  • Paul uses this term nine times mostly in terms of sensual sins (Rom. 1:24; 2 Cor. 12:21; Eph. 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:7).
  • The focus is on defilement and filthiness generated by sexual sin.

The third term in this category is “sensuatlity” which is another common word for sexual sins.

  • Grouped together, these terms represent debauchery, being open to reckless contempt.

Our culture is drowning in this, throwing off all restraint, flaunting itself in the face of God.

  • As a church we cannot ignore these temptations or the state of our world.
  • We are the redeemed place, a place for holiness.

Sensual indulgence whatever it may be is sin.

  • A lustful glance, cherishing any unclean desire or an utterance of a foul expression is all categorically of the flesh and sin.
  • Jesus in his sermon on the mount, was clear that this too is adultery and fornication in the heart.
  • What is done secretly in the heart, not known by others, is fully known to God.
  • Most of secular entertainment draws the “flesh” – “sensuality” and “self-gratification” because it sells.

C.H. Spurgeon in his day labeled these unclean imaginations: “The very maggots that swarm within a corrupt soul.”

2. Sins of Idolatry (v. 20a)

“Idolatry” and “sorcery” are the next two sins group together because both are a refusal to worship one true God.  “Idolatry” is a failure to praise and thank God for his goodness:

ESV  Romans 1:21-23 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

  • Paul boils idolatry down to coveting (Col. 3:5) where desires ruling the heart take precedence over God.
  • Sorcery is the same – instead of trusting God – people manipulate circumstances to bring about ends they desire.
  • It is important to recognize that these sins are as much a work of the flesh as immorality.

If idolatry is the brazen worship of other gods then sorcery is the secret tampering with the powers of evil.

  • This kind of substitution spiritual power is real and more rampant in our culture than we realize.
    • All you have to do is measure this fascination with Spiritism by what our media regularly markets.
  • What they are marketing is the desire to manipulate circumstances by an internal power.
    • Satan’s first series of lies in the garden, “You will not die, God knows when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” (Gen. 3:4-5).
  • Idolatry means worship of other gods which is the quest to find identity and security in anything or anyone besides one true God.

Idolatry defined as worshipping man-made images is obvious, bowing in worship before an altar or a cross or an image of a saint, to a supposed holy relic or anything of that kind is nothing but sheer idolatry.

  • Multitudes are committing this sin believing they are doing God service.
  • There is a form of idolatry that is not as gross but is equally sinful.
    • Idolatry is loving ourselves or our spouse or a child or our father or mother or sister or brother more than we love the Lord.

Witchcraft like idolatry is both overt and subtle and both practices go together and are ongoing.

Paul puts the two together in the context of offending people by what they eat in 1 Cor. 10.

1 Cor. 10:20-22 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Witchcraft as sorcery is worshipping evil and there are many contemporary forms of occult worship, black magic, or Satan worship, the superstitious sins or witchcraft, tampering with powers that must be avoided.  This of course was forbidden for Israelites (cf. Deuteronomy 18:9-22).

  • Satan uses these forms as powerful tools to pull people away from Christ and I have interacted with people ensnared by these.

Still, Satan has a stronger grip on the culture then by what’s overt.

  • “Sorcery” is translated “pharmakeia” from where we get pharmacy and pharmaceutical used of medicines which are mood mind altering drugs.
  • Ancient and current witchcraft uses disassociative narcotics to entrance followers – however the mainstream drug market is something to be considered as well.
    • When a drug is abused as a form of escape or to curb behaviors to the point of addiction this is sin.
    • One of the broadest and minimally addressed areas is the use of amphetamines and speed with millennials and college students. This from the pressure to succeed.

3. Sins of Temper (v. 20b-21a)

These sin categories all have something in common – they are all driven by hate.

  • These deeds of the flesh are social sins that divide a community.
  • The word “enmity” is the same root word for “enemy” and that is what these destructive attitudes and actions create.

These are eight examples of what breakdown personal relationships.

  • The New English Bible translates as, “quarrels, a contentious temper, envy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions (or temper tantrums and canvassing for office), dissensions, party intrigues, and jealousies.”
  • This is what begins as an attitude of mind that defies and challenges others.

“Enmities” is plural, in fact six of the eight overlapping and almost indistinguishable terms are plurals denoting actions or displays of the root attitudes which are in the singular.

  • This, as with the other vices breakdown the Christian community.

Should we suspect divisiveness was a major problem in Galatian church?  What was going on?

  • Honestly, in terms of personal relationships, one can only speculate.
  • What we do know is that there was false teaching, and a breakdown with Paul’s credentials as a missionary-apostle and his gospel of grace.
  • Doctrinal breakdowns and relational breakdowns go hand in hand.
  • So, were the Galatians already hopelessly divided? No doubt some was caused by the Judaizing faction because of their deep unhappiness with Paul’s teaching and their eagerness to return to an earlier form of their self-styled “orthodoxy.”
  • The easiest way to ensure that the gospel would flounder in Galatia would be for Christians to be at odds with each other so that any meaningful relationship would be out of the question.
  • Whatever the disagreement may have been about, expressing it in these terms would be indefensible.

“Strife” focuses on contention and sowing discord, dividing people through a quarrelsome spirit.  Certain people who cherish to dislike everybody who is not of their clique.

  • A “clique” by the way is a French term referring to the latch in a door.
  • Idea of shutting others out.
  • Someone who picks fights, fosters disagreements filled with hatred and envy who cannot bear to know that others prosper more and who desire to drag them down to their level.

Christians preaching Christ has been labeled hate speech when real hate speech is not the Christ’s cross or telling people they must repent but is rather found in this list.

  • Ironically, what the world calls hate speech is the only true remedy to break down barriers of division in race and sex and social class (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-16).

“Jealousy” is the wrong kind of zeal that leads to fits of anger.

  • It is zeal and energy that comes from a hungry ego, being consumed with self-glory! A hateful resentment for what someone else has.

“Fits of anger” is rage-filled outbursts that come from having a bad temper.

  • The Greek word “Thumoi” – the word for “wrath”
  • A sudden unrestrained expressions hostility with little no provocation or justification.
    • Aristotle on Ethics compared this to dogs that “barks if there is but a knock at the door, before looking to see if it’s a friend.”
    • This is one of an endless variety of sins where people want to get ahead at other people’s expense.
    • It is an uncontrolled anger leaving people in its wake.

C.H. Spurgeon: “But I have a quick temper.”  “Are you a Christian?”  “If so, you are bound to master this evil force or it will ruin you.  If you are a saint of God to very highest degree in all but in this one point, it will pull you down.  At any moment an angry spirit might make you say and do that which would cause you lifelong sorrow.”

“rivalries” or “selfish ambitions” is namely competiveness.  A self-seeking motive that rejoices at another’s misfortunes.

Socrates: “People who are pained by a friend’s successes”

  • This is a “self-seeker” who creates divisions in the church because he or she loves contention and has a morbid sensitiveness.
  • This is someone who does not focus on the good of others but grasps for honor and praise.
  • A person who opposes all sorts of authority who desires preeminence and will not be second.
  • This is someone is content only to create his own religion and to write his own bible and to think out his own gospel.
  • This is the wolfish craving to impoverish and pull others down for the mere sake of it.
  • An acrid form of undiluted hate.
  • Desiring another’s dishonor to murder a man’s best life.

“Dissensions” and “Divisions” and “envy” should be grouped together as they are kindred.

  • The word “divisions” is the Greek word “haireseis” or heresies.
  • Theological error always divides the church though this speaks of interpersonal relationships.
  • The word “haiereses” is the noun form for “choice.”
  • This speaks to factions built by choosing to follow one particular personality over another.
  • A “party spirit.”
  • Breaking human relationships is the implacable enemy of divine grace and therefore of the gospel.
  • Animosities between individual groups continue to fester and grow long after the original cause of conflict has passed. Feuds of old-time mountain clans that last for generations or even nation to nation hostility that last for centuries are born by these sins.  Sins that establish and lead to destructive way of life.

4. Sins of Appetite (v. 21b)

The last two, “drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” conclude or bookend where Paul’s list began.

  • There is more to this than literary style.
  • The abuse of alcohol leads to sensual and sexual immoralities and this more than emphasizes sins vicious cycle.
  • A cycle from which there is no escape but the grace freely given in Christ alone.
  • “Drunkenness and carousing” has a specific reference to reveling characterized in the pagan worship ceremonies many of the Gentile converts of Galatia had once participated in.
  • Any who have come out of these environments filled with drunkenness or alcohol abuse know of the destructive behaviors and sins committed in mass.
  • Sadly, it takes little explanation for how “drunkenness” and “orgies” combine to denote pleasures degenerating into debauchery.
  • These two words designate a lifestyle unconstrained by moral norms.
  • We find similar pairings in Romans 13:13, and 1 Peter 4:3.
  • Those who give themselves over to wild parties demonstrate they are still under the control of their flesh and not Christ.
  • “Things like these” indicate this list is partial and does not represent an exhaustive list of sins.
  • Paul sums up with kind of an “et cetera.”

Before leaving this list let’s notice a couple of things.

  • Most of these sins listed relate to community strife.
  • Contrary to the popular understanding, this section is not simply about you and your relationship with the Lord.
  • Rather, the concern is for you in terms of your Christian community.
  • Participating in these sins are certainly self-destructive but the reality is that participating in these sins also affects the health of your Church.

I also want you so see that this list breaks down into two broad categories:

The sins characteristic of religious people (selfishness envy jealously and factions) and of non-religious people (immorality and drunkenness).  This list shows us that God does not make the kind of distinctions we commonly make, seeing sex and drink as more sinful than jealousy and ambition.

The tendency of non-religious people may be to label flaws of someone else’s religious sins as “worse” while religious people to see non-religious sins as beyond the pale.  Whichever camp you may be in the temptation is to see someone else’s sinful nature rather than what you battling in your own sinful nature! [Keller]

This leads to Paul’s summary and warning.  “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21).

  • This warning based on this list works cannot and should not be dismissed as inconsequential for anyone.
  • Paul warns the Galatians that if these sins represent them then the kingdom will not be theirs.
  • Anyone marked by these sins will face judgment on final day with the rest of the wicked (Gal. 6:8)!

ESV  Galatians 6:8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

  • Puritan William Perkins said of this list that “these vices are a mirror to reveal the corruption of our own hearts!”
  • What’s more alarming is Paul explaining where these sins lead or where they do not lead!
  • Because this list is so all-encompassing and the warning so severe, this passage has caused many true believers to unnecessarily doubt their salvation. “Who hasn’t done some of these things?”  “What Christian can claim to not committed a single one of these sins since being saved?”
  • No one. If entrance was based in this way no one could enter the kingdom of God. One sin would keep you out.

The key word at the end of verse 21 is “do” or “practice.”  This is a present active participle from the Greek word: prasso.  This indicates a durative ongoing action which means a continual habit pattern.

  • Unregenerate people are those who do not yet have the Spirit of God and are therefore barred from entrance of Kingdom of God until they do.
  • Actions of unbelievers are not occasional sins but people who habitually indulge in sin revealing they are yet enemies of God.
  • Unregenerate people occasionally do humanly good things and the regenerate people occasionally fall into sin.
  • But the basic character comes out – it is “evident” (cf. 5:19).
  • Evident to God and should be evident to you.



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