How does a believer evaluate how they are doing in their spiritual lives?
- Do they take a test?
- Do they look at how many ways they serve in the church?
- Do they take a survey of the opinions of others?
- Do they ask their Pastor?
How do you evaluate your progress in walking by the Spirit? Paul suggests that the answer is in the way we live our lives. In Galatians 5:19 Paul tells us that the works of the flesh (or the sinful nature) are just as clear as the fruit of God’s Spirit.
Before looking at these lists we need to reiterate that Paul is not changing his approach to salvation. He has emphasized that we are saved by God’s grace plus nothing else. He is not now saying we are saved by the way we live our lives. What Paul IS saying is we will be able to see how we are doing in our walk with Christ by looking at the impact the Holy Spirit is having in our lives. The evidence (or the lack thereof) of the work of God’s Spirit will help us to see whether our faith is genuine or spurious (pretend).
We talked last week that we are in a battle. That battle is for control of our life. It is a battle between the impulses of the flesh (our instinct along with the culture around us) and the leading of God’s Spirit.
Let’s look once again at the list:
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list (there are other such lists in the Bible). It is designed to help us get the flavor of the works or behavior of the sinful nature. To try to grasp the list we will organize it into four categories.
Before we look at this list however it is important that you understand something: The gospel does not expose sin in order to condemn but to reconcile
The first groups of bad fruit are: Sexual immorality, impurity and lustful pleasures (or debauchery). These works all take what is good and beautiful and distort it. God designed sex and sexual attraction. He designed it to draw two people together into a committed and covenant relationship.
The word for sexuality immorality is the word “porneia” the root word of our word for pornography. It denotes any behavior that seeks to satisfy sexual desires in ways outside of marriage. It represents a lack of restraint and passion out of control. Platt and Merida write,
Sexual sin is a major problem for many reasons. Sexual sin with another person (either physically or through other forms of porneia) grieves the Holy Spirit. It affects many others, not just the one sinning. It displays a graphic self-centeredness. It dishonors those made in the image of God. It violates God’s pure plan for marriage. It is totally opposite of the fruit of the Spirit, especially love. (Exalting Christ in Galatians p. 114)
Let’s note that it should not shock us that our society has become perverted in this area of life. When sinful people act like sinful people, it should not surprise us. Paul is not bemoaning the state of the culture. He is warning that believers should not be living this way. Moral compromise shows that we have not surrendered this part of our life to the Lord.
The second group of indicators that you are living “in the flesh” rather than in the Spirit are religious sins: Idolatry and sorcery. Both of these sins are, at their core, about people trying to come to God on their own terms. In other words, we want God to conform to us rather than the other way around. It is when we fashion God in our own image.
Idolatry is when something is more important in our life than the Lord. Something other than the Lord has the most sway on your life and your decision making. It could be money, people, activities, comfort, image, security, possessions and lots more. Understand these are often good things that become ULTIMATE things. They take on an importance that is disproportionate and unhealthy.
Do you want to know what your idols may be? Fill in the blank of these sentences:
- The only time I miss weekly worship is when __________________ .
- The only time I don’t spend time with God in the morning/or evening is when ______________
- The only time I don’t encourage my children to attend youth meetings is when ________________.
- The command I have the most difficulty obeying is _______________
- When I lay awake nights I am usually thinking about ________________
The things you put in those blanks will likely lead you to the things that have become or are becoming idols in your lives. They stand between you and the Lord. These are the things you tend to choose over the Lord.
The word for sorcery (or witchcraft) comes from the word pharmakeia (from where we get pharmacy). It denotes trying to obtain the blessings of God by secondary means. Again let me quote Platt,
Sorcery involves the practice of trying to manipulate circumstances or dark powers to bring about a desired goal rather than submitting to and trusting in God alone. Today people read horoscopes to find meaning, and many believe superstitious actions will somehow manipulate events. This is the work of the flesh. (112-113)
Social (Interpersonal) Sins
When we reject the Lord we inevitably become more self-absorbed. When that happens, we begin to see other people as threats. It is possible that Paul spent the most time on these issues because these were the things going on in the Galatian church. Paul may have been trying to narrow the focus of his words to a laser sharp point with these words.
Look at the words
- Quarreling and Outbursts of Anger result because every conversation and every encounter is viewed as a contest. It is a test to see who “wins”. This trait denotes someone who cannot control their temper. We must not excuse this as a personality trait. Paul says it is a result of living by the values of the flesh.
- Jealousy, selfish ambition, and envy are also competitive attitudes. The idea here is that someone else has something and you don’t see why you can’t have that thing too. It leads to bitterness and violence. You feel somehow you have been cheated! It is when you cannot stand to celebrate with another person because any gain for someone else is deemed as a loss for you. It is like there is only so much blessing to go around so if someone else knows joy, it has been taken from you! It shows a lack of satisfaction with what God has provided.
- Dissension and division. Are you beginning to get the idea? James asked,
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:1-3
The diagnosis James makes pulls all of this together. He says the root problem is our lack of faith. We don’t have, because we don’t ask of God. We would rather scheme and battle than ask, wait, and trust.
The last two indicators of a flesh oriented lifestyle are “drunkenness and wild parties. Alcohol in our society is the drug people are free to abuse.
We have said many times that the Bible does not condemn drinking. It does not say you can’t (or even shouldn’t) drink a beer, a glass of wine, or anything else. Lots of people drank wine and other drinks in the Bible.
However, the Bible warns of the danger of alcohol. In Ephesians 5:18 we are told not to be drunk with wine (which is excess) but to be filled with the Spirit. Simply put Paul advises that we make sure we stay in complete control of our faculties. We should desire to be controlled by God’s Spirit rather than by a substance.
Alcohol can and does create a dependency. It is a fact that almost everyone here has observed. Most people who think they are “more fun” when they have had a few drinks are wrong. Such people do things that embarrass them, embarrass the people that are with them, hurt others, destroy or damage relationships, and destroy their testimony.
Listen to the way drunkenness is described in Proverbs
29 Who has anguish? Who has sorrow?
Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining?
Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
30 It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns,
trying out new drinks.
31 Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is,
how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down.
32 For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake;
it stings like a viper.
33 You will see hallucinations,
and you will say crazy things.
34 You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea,
clinging to a swaying mast.
35 And you will say, “They hit me, but I didn’t feel it.
I didn’t even know it when they beat me up.
When will I wake up
so I can look for another drink?” (Proverbs 23:29-35)
In Isaiah we read
11 What sorrow for those who get up early in the morning
looking for a drink of alcohol
and spend long evenings drinking wine
to make themselves flaming drunk.
12 They furnish wine and lovely music at their grand parties—
lyre and harp, tambourine and flute—
but they never think about the Lord
or notice what he is doing. (Isaiah 5:11-12)
The person who spends their time looking for the next or best party; the one who loves drinking and “how it makes them feel”; the one who lives for the weekend so they can “party” has become self-absorbed. They aren’t thinking about, and do not see, the consequence of their actions (on their own lives, the lives of their family, the example to their children, and their faithfulness before the Lord.)
I am not saying we should promote prohibition or even necessarily abstinence from alcohol. However, we should not use the fact that the Bible does not prohibit alcohol as a way to indulge our sinful nature. If you cannot drink in moderation (and you might need to ask someone else who doesn’t drink whether you drink in moderation) then you shouldn’t risk drinking at all. Why would surrender control of your faculties to anyone or anything other than the Holy Spirit?
I know this is not a “fun” message. However, sometimes we have to see the negative clearly before we can see the positive. Seeing what we shouldn’t be doing helps us to see what we should be doing. Seeing that which is the picture of our bondage will help us to appreciate the beauty of our freedom in Christ.
Paul tell us that this is a representative list. If this list does not make you uncomfortable somewhere, you aren’t being honest with yourself. Please remember that Paul is not saying who struggles with these things is no longer loved by God or is disqualified from their salvation. He is talking about the person whose way of living is characterized by these traits. None of us will avoid these things all the time.
Let me draw three principles from this. First, The Way We Live Our Lives Reveals Where Our Real Trust Resides. If you genuinely trust someone you will go where they lead you. You will listen to their counsel. You will bend to their will. When we turn to Jesus, we profess that He is the one who saves us and leads our life. If we ignore Him as we live our lives, we give evidence that this “commitment” was not genuine but it was just a game.
Jesus was asked how to tell the false teachers from the true teachers. The answer of Jesus was clear: “By their fruit you will know them”. In other words, the lives we live reveal the true nature of the commitment we declare.
Again, I must stress: This is not about trying to be “good enough” to gain Heaven. We cannot earn our way to Heaven. However, once you have become indwelt by God’s Spirit you should begin to see the difference in the way you live. Your values will change. And with the changing of your values there will be a changing of our behavior . . . or at least there should be.
We can learn a great deal about our relationship with Christ by asking some questions:
- Am I controlled by my lusts or are my lusts under control?
- Am I feeding my mind with immoral materials?
- Is the Lord first in my life or does He come after several other things?
- Do I bring people together or do I seem to leave conflict in my wake?
- Am I an angry person?
- Do I have trouble rejoicing with those who rejoice?
- Do I look to substances to provide the peace, joy, and sense of security that should be coming from the Lord?
If these questions alert you to some problem areas of your life, then it is time to renew your commitment to the Lord. It may be time to make sure that commitment to Him is genuine.
Second, we see that Attitudes and actions (hidden and obvious acts) are judged equally. Jesus drove that point home in the sermon on the mount. He pointed out that adultery is bad but lusting for someone who is not your spouse is the same sin even though it may not be as advanced or blatant. Hatred and murder. Stealing and jealousy. Outright lies and innuendo. God cares about our heart not merely about what can be proved in a court of law.
Finally, we must battle the tendency to put the spotlight on others when we should be looking at ourselves. It is much easier to measure other people by these traits than it is to measure ourselves. So, here is the suggestion: let the God convict your brothers and sisters. Put your focus on what you are doing as His follower. Work hard to let God’s Spirit produce in you the fruit of a godly life.
Russell Moore says,
We are not standing [against] history, yelling, “Repent!” We are, like John before us, pointing to Christ and announcing, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (Russell Moore, Onward: engaging the Culture p. 110)
The whole point of this list is to remind us that you don’t have to live like this. There is a better way. Christ sets us free from the “bad fruit”; the stuff you’d like to get rid of from our lives. If the things in this list describe the way you are living, then you are living well beneath the privilege you have as followers of Christ. There is a much better way to live and we will look that better way in the weeks to come.