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12 Deadly Sins (and how to avoid them) Galatians 5:13-26

Christians are constantly opposed, either by the flesh or by the Spirit, in doing what they want to do. The battle for holiness is constant.

Galatians 5:13-25; 1 Peter 1 & 2; Matthew 5:27&28; Mark 7:20-22; Philippians 4:7-9; John 1:18; Matthew 6:21; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, 6:14-18; Titus 1:7; 3 John 1:9; Luke 20:46; Titus 3:9-11; Philippians 1:27 & 2:2; Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 1:12b-14

Jan 08, 2012 12:00 AM

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Let’s begin today by reading once again from Galatians chapter 5.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

We need to continue to bear in mind that this letter is written to Christians for Christians.  It is written for the Church, not for the general public, as is the case with the entire Bible.  An unbeliever, while he may be able to read this book as easily as any of us here, cannot understand its gospel message at all apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit of God that grants unbelievers the capacity to understand spiritual truth.  So the truths here are directed primarily towards those who actually possess the Spirit of God: Christians.

Secondly, what Paul says here is taught throughout the New Testament.  And it is very interesting (considering Paul’s enemies tried to pit Peter and Paul against one another) to see that Peter teaches the very same things in his letters to Jewish believers that Paul teaches to Gentile believers.  Even a casual look at Peter’s writings reveals that he and Paul were very much like-minded, which shouldn’t surprise us at all.

Peter begins his first letter by addressing it, “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1Peter 1:1 ESV).  Peter wrote to Jewish believers amongst the Gentiles in Galatia who may have been fellowshipping with the very believers Paul wrote to many years earlier.  Listen to some of the things Peter writes that sound very much like what Paul wrote to the Galatians:

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV)

This sounds a lot like, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Peter: Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart. (1 Peter 1:22 ESV)

Sounds like Paul: 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14 ESV)

Peter: (2:1) So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. (1Peter 2:1 ESV).  Peter has his own short list of sins which believers are to avoid, similar to Paul.

Peter: (2:11) Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11 ESV).  Isn’t that exactly what Paul says: For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17 ESV)

Peter:  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:16-17 ESV).

Paul:  For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13 ESV)

According to the Scriptures, Peter was considered to be the apostle to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles.  But what difference does it make when they both say the same thing to both groups?  All Christians, regardless of their pedigree, suffer the same affliction with the flesh, and we are all called to do battle with the flesh.  Again, Paul states it this way: For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

So what do you want to do?  Do you realize that whatever we desire to do as a Christians, we’re always swimming upstream?  Whether we desire to walk according to the Spirit, or according to the flesh, either way there is opposition.  Sometimes the opposition is bad, sometimes it is good.  If we want to be obedient and live holy lives, the flesh will fight against us.  That, obviously, is the bad opposition.  Peter says it is a spiritual war against our souls.  Our bodies are not allies with holiness.

But if we tire of that battle and decide to just give up the battle with our passions and stop fighting them, that is when the good opposition kicks in.  The Spirit who dwells within us will oppose us in our sinful desires.  A large part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to resist and fight against the carnal desires of our flesh.  Thank the Lord for the gift of His Spirit!

So regardless of what we want to do, whether we’re fighting to overcome our own sinfulness or we’re succumbing to the temptations around us, as a follower of the Lord Jesus there is no vacation, no leave of absence, no truce with the enemy, no escaping the battle.  We live IN the battlefield!  Our biggest enemy is our selves!  And until we get our new bodies, we will face the daily battle of living a holy life.

This is precisely why both Peter and Paul have lists of sins that CHRISTIANS are to avoid.  Yes, real Christians are capable of terrible sinfulness.  I’m sure that is news to no one here.  Thus the repeated commands for us to avoid it.  Neither Peter nor Paul is speaking to the general public.  They both write to their fellow believers.  In Galatians 5, just so his readers understand what he talking about, Paul lists 12 specific kinds of sins which he labels as “the works of the flesh”.  Let’s take a brief look at them.

Galatians 5:19Sexual immorality - "porneia" from which we get the word pornography.  In the world in which we find ourselves, the word “pornography” should be sufficient to explain what Paul is speaking of.  But to be precise, the phrase means illicit (illegal, unlawful) sexual intercourse of any kind.  Any sin of a sexual nature.  This first sin in the list sets the stage for many of the rest.  Believe it or not, the world of the first century was even more sex-crazed than ours.  As far as I know, people here in America have not yet built large temples the gods of fertility and invented sexual “worship” rituals.  But in Paul’s day, that was the norm and believers were to avoid it entirely.  But they couldn’t possibly escape its influence.

Impurity - This applies primarily to one’s thoughts and motives, what a person meditates upon and thinks about, especially sexually lustful thoughts, but not exclusively.  The most familiar biblical example is when Jesus says in Matthew 5:27&28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Then to put an even finer point on it, Jesus went on to say, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  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 (Mark 7:20-22 ESV). Or, in other words, the heart of man is inherently evil.  The fallen heart is desperately wicked.  And that is why even Christians, people in whom the Holy Spirit lives, have this constant battle within.

What Paul is addressing here in Galatians is the very opposite of what he says in Philippians 4:7-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Think pure, not impure thoughts.  We can, and sometimes do sin in our thoughts.  But by the power of the Spirit, we are even enabled to control our minds and bring them into subjection to Christ.

Sensuality - In a worst case scenario, this refers to unbridled, shameless, outrageous lust often accompanied by a nearly complete lack of self-control.  The motto of the sensuous person is, "If it feels good, do it."  It is abandonment to one’s senses and desires, particularly sexual desires, but not exclusively.  Losing control and regularly eating lots of food simply for the joy of tasting it is a kind of sensuality.  Sensuality is when we give ourselves over to our senses.

The Gay Pride Parade is an extreme example of sensuality: Open, publicly displayed, "out-of-the-closet", into the streets in broad daylight, shameless sensuality where one gives himself over (or he has been given over by God) to the unbridled pursuit of sexual desires and pleasures.

A slightly less extreme example would be nude beaches.  Although there was some small measure of propriety at many of those beaches in the past because they were private, out of the way places, it is less so today.  Public nudity is becoming more and more common and many who frequent public beaches and pools for the joy of sunbathing and the surf and swimming, who technically speaking aren't nude, might as well be, and that applies to both men and women.

People who would be mortified to walk down the street in their underwear are guilty of the sin of sensuality when they lie around the pool or on the beach in attire that is significantly smaller than their underwear.  It is not acceptable for believers to dress (or undress) in that manner simply because this is how people normally dress (or undress) at the beach.  The believer never has the freedom to act like the world because this is how the world normally acts.  When a Christian gives himself over to his own sensual desires, whether it is an inordinate display of skin, or an inordinate consumption of food, or an excessive viewing of movies and video games, or the viewing of those who display too much skin, this is the sin of sensuality.

Galatians 5:20 - Idolatry - Literally, this is the worship of false gods by means of physical objects (or the worship of the objects themselves).  Practically speaking, idolatry is the exorbitant desire for anything besides or in addition to God.  Idols are a direct insult to God.  When men try to fashion physical representations of God, it is an exercise in futility.  It shows immense ignorance of who God really is.  How can humans accurately represent in physical form a God who is physically invisible?  However, it has been done once: In the person of the Lord Jesus Christ!  John 1:18 - No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. Regardless of the skill employed, anything made by human hands that presumes to represent God is by definition a perversion of God.

This is one of the reasons why many Christians feel it is at least inappropriate if not actually sinful to have artistic representations of the Lord Jesus.  The argument is that it is impossible for us to know what Jesus looked like and therefore any presumed likeness of Him is necessarily inaccurate and a misrepresentation of Him.  That is not something we want to do.  It is not good to misrepresent God ever.  To do so is sin.

But the idolatry we need to be most concerned about is the idolatry Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:21 - For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If the greatest commandment is to love God with all my heart, the question we need to ask ourselves fairly often is, “What do I really love?  Where is my heart?  Are there things I treasure more, that I am committed to more than God Himself?  Are there things or people or relationships I must have regardless of whether God wants me to have them?”  That is idolatry.

Sorcery - "Magical arts, often found in connection with idolatry and fostered by it".  And we know from a number of other biblical texts that idolatry is influenced by demons.  Think Harry Potter.

On second thought, no, don’t think Harry Potter.  Don't read that stuff, don’t watch those movies, and at the risk of sounding paranoid, please beloved, do not participate in Halloween activities.  This is not simply the paranoia of an old man from a previous, superstitious generation.  All of these things are directly or indirectly associated with witchcraft and sorcery.  The ridiculously popular Twilight series on TV whose main characters are dead, or the living dead, or the un-dead, or vampires or something like that; it all should be completely avoided.  Beloved, what does light have to do with darkness?

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”
(1 Corinthians 6:14-18 ESV)

Thankfully, Paul explains what he means by this in 1 Corinthians 5:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside.  “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Regarding the sin of sorcery, there is a parallel universe to the one we see around us.  There in that other realm are angels and demons and the dead, both the righteous and the wicked dead.  Sorcery is a generic term to describe peoples’ attempts to make contact with that mysterious other world to use the spirits of the dead and demons for one’s own evil purposes in this world.

Beloved, that world has been hidden from us.  We are forbidden by God to go there.  Mediums and necromancers and seances and spiritists and psychics are all condemned in the Scriptures.  The realm of the dead is off limits to the Christian until he dies.  But more than that, there is no reason for us to inquire of that other world.  Jesus has already died and gone there for us.  He has defeated Satan, death and all the powers of Hell and darkness.  That should be more than sufficient for us.  Sorcery is sin.  Leave it alone.

Jealousy - "envious and contentious rivalry"; Surely Christians would never be guilty of such a sin, right?  Resentment over the accomplishments or possessions of another which we feel we deserve more than the person who possesses them.  Covetous longing for a thing or a position or a person belonging to another.  Another person’s job, his position, his prestige, his big church . . .  his fame and popularity, his money, his good looks, his girlfriend or his wife, or his raise, or his house, or whatever.  “Whatever it is, I deserve it more than he does!”  That, brethren, is jealousy.  It is the stuff murders are made of.

Fits of anger - The spoiled brat syndrome.  Titus 1:7 speaks of the elder/overseer who is not to be "quick-tempered", someone around whom you feel you must be careful so as not to upset him because he upsets so easily and so violently.  One who is prone to fits of anger is self-centered and proud and intimidating and hard to love.  It’s difficult to be comfortable around an angry person.  ANd while it is not a sin to be angry, it is a sin to allow one’s self to be easily enraged.  To lose control, to easily lose one’s temper is an indulgence of fleshly desires and is not pleasing to God.

Rivalries - For the person who engages in rivalries, everything is a contest to win the seat at the head of the table.  Kinda like the Republican Primaries.  The NAS uses the word "disputes".  Sinful rivalry is a subversive, fractious jockying for a position of prominence; Self-assertion, self-promotion, self-aggrandizement at the expense of others for the sake of gaining power and influence.  Pride and a lust for power are often the driving forces behind rivalry.  Many have “climbed the corporate ladder” through perpetually wicked rivalries with others who were “in the way”.

3 John 1:9I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority (ESV).  NKJV - who loves to have the preeminence ; Young's Literal - he who is loving the first place among them.

Jesus said in Luke 20:46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts.” Beware of such people.  Pastors and church leaders need to be particularly careful of the temptation to make rivals of their brethren.

Dissensions - "Disagreements, esp when leading to a quarrel" (; Here it is in the plural meaning an habitually argumentative attitude.  It is from the Greek word "stasis" which is translated "insurrection" in some Bibles.  Some people just aren’t happy unless everyone around them is miserable.  A perpetually argumentative and quarrelsome person is wretched to be around.  The world and the Church are both filled with an overabundance of disagreeable people.  Take Congress for example.  The sin of dissension is closely related to the sin of . . .

Divisions - NASB uses the word "factions".  "Dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims".  Think "denominational-ism".  Think Sects and Cults and communes and compounds and Jim Jones and The Branch Davidians and any number of other groups who part company with sound doctrine to pursue some peculiar teaching of an individual or small group.  Think Family Radio and Harold Camping who instructed believers nationwide on his radio network to stop going to church.  It would be difficult to find someone more divisive than Harold Camping.

It is sinful to be divisive just for the sake of being divisive, constantly stirring the pot, trying to promote disunity and disharmony and strife between groups paerticularly when it is done to gain a following.  Paul addresses this in more detail with Titus:

9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11 ESV)

All of this is the opposite of Philippians 1:27 & 2:2  Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, . . . complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Galatians 5:21 - Envy - a begrudging discontentment towards another because of their possessions or position, and the coveting of those things for one's self.

Drunkenness - uncontrolled drinking sprees leading to intoxication and sometimes orgies. "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18)

Orgies - Revelling, carousing, and/or rioting.  "a nocturnal and riotous procession of half drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honour of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before houses of male and female friends; hence used generally of feasts and drinking parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry"

Now just in case you’re tempted to think I’m being negative and overly morbid and oppressive in describing all these fleshly behaviors, notice what Paul himself says in verse 21:

I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

I warn you, as I warned you before - This is at least the second time Paul has addressed the Galatians concerning the consequences that await those who indulge the flesh in such sinful behaviors.  It is absolutely appropriate for us to remind ourselves regularly of the grave danger that awaits those who do not walk by the Spirit and who do habitually gratify their fleshly desires: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Those who habitually do such things as a way of life are not God's people and have no reason to believe they will be accepted into the heavenly kingdom.

Q:  Does God accept people just the way they are, in their sin and wickedness?  Does God somehow turn a blind eye and act as though a person has never sinned against Him so that He might accept them into His presence?

A:  No!  The people God accepts are those to whom He grants repentance from their sin and faith in the Lord Jesus to save them from their sins.  Until that happens, both the most moral and the most sinful of people are totally unacceptable to God.

But thanks be to God who has qualified you [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12b-14 ESV)  It is God who qualifies sinners to be accepted by Him by granting them faith to believe and repentance from their sin.  Look at this horrid list of sinfulness which God sent His own Son to bear for us!  Let us never forget the sin we have been delivered from, as well as the sinfulness we’re still prone to entertain.  Let’s walk by the Spirit, so that we do not gratify the desires of the flesh.



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