The Works of the Flesh
Now the works of the flesh are manifest.…— Galatians 5:19
I’ll never forget the day I saw a terrible accident in the former Soviet republic where I lived. Right in front of me, an elderly man dashed into the middle of traffic. The oncoming cars were coming so fast that it was impossible for the drivers to put on the brakes and avoid hitting this elderly gentleman. He was hit so hard by the first car that it threw him over into the next lane of traffic. Before the traffic was finally stopped, four additional automobiles had run over the man’s crumpled body, further crushing his mangled torso.
From where I was situated, I could see the whole ordeal unfold before me. The elderly man lay motionless on the pavement. People began to gather on the sides of the road to see what was happening. A police officer arrived to try to manage the crisis. To my amazement, not a single person went to see if the elderly man was dead or alive. They all assumed he was dead, so no one checked on him.
As a Christian, I felt compelled to go see if the man was alive. If he was still breathing, I wanted to pray for him. I went over to the police officer, who recognized me from my television program, and asked his permission to go see what I could do to help this man. The officer looked at me and laughed. Then he said, “Yeah, you can check on him, if you think it will help!”
I hastened over to the elderly man lying on the pavement. Blood was coming from his ears and nose. From the way his arms and legs were oddly lying, it was evident that nearly every bone in this man’s body was broken. When I looked into his face, my heart ached. I could see the deep lines and the burnt reddish color that so often accompanies severe alcoholics in this part of the world. The lines in his face were deep. He looked like a wrinkled, worn-out piece of leather. It was obvious that this man’s life had been one of misery. I estimated that he must have been approximately seventy years old.
Suddenly I noticed that the man was lightly breathing. I yelled to the police officer, and he quickly responded, calling for an ambulance. They loaded this man’s broken body into the back of the emergency vehicle, and I watched as it drove down the road to transport him to the hospital.
The next week, the local police paid a visit to my office to inform me that the man had died. They wanted me to testify in court about the events that took place that day. Then they told me something that just shocked me — the man who died had only been twenty-seven years old! When the court official told me his age, I had a difficult time hearing anything else that was said in the conversation. I was completely dumbfounded that someone so young could look so old!
When the meeting concluded that day, I sat in my office, still stunned by what I had just learned. According to the appearance of that man’s flesh, I had really thought he was elderly. For him to be so young and yet to look so old, I knew he had lived an unruly life. He had obviously soaked up vodka as if he were a sponge. He had degenerated to such a ruined state that he wandered right into heavy traffic that day and died.
As I pondered on all this, my thoughts went to Galatians 5:19-21, which says, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.…”
When Paul writes about the works of the flesh, he uses the Greek word ergos for “works.” This word signified some kind of action, deed, or activity. Very often it referred to a person’s occupation, to one’s labor, or to the things produced by someone’s effort or life. It described a person’s line of work, his career, his labor, or his profession. It denoted the results of his hard work.
Because Paul connects this word to the flesh, he is telling us something very important! Just like a person has a career or profession and works hard to achieve results, the flesh — if it is allowed to go its own way and do what it wants — will work very hard to produce fleshly results. When the flesh is not surrendered to the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, it will work around the clock, twenty-four hours a day, to produce fruit that is hurtful, damaging, and even deadly. This is the occupation of the flesh.
The word “flesh” used in Galatians 5:19 is the Greek word sarx, which is used mostly in Paul’s epistles to depict sinful impulses and carnal cravings. Paul uses the phrase “works of the flesh” to give the idea that the flesh has its own mind and desires. If a believer doesn’t crucify the flesh and keep it under control, it will eventually manifest those evil desires. In other words, the flesh will go to work!
Paul says, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest.…” The word “manifest” is the Greek word phaneros. It means to appear, to manifest, to become visible, to become apparent, to become seen, to be well known, or to become conspicuous. By using this word, Paul tells you that if you let the flesh have its way, it will jump at the chance to manifest its evil desires and carnal cravings. In fact, the flesh is so carnal and base that if you don’t stop its activity, it will even try to lead you into adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and other similar vices.
When a little baby is first born into the world, he looks so pure, so innocent, so clean. But if that child is abandoned to the control of his flesh, he’ll end up in crime, scandal, alcoholism, or drugs and become bitter, hardhearted, and filled with malice and strife. Why? Because these are the fruit that the flesh produces. This is why it is so important to teach our children and to train ourselves to mortify the deeds of the flesh and live in subjection to the control of the Holy Spirit.
The twenty-seven-year-old man whom I saw killed that afternoon was once a beautiful, pure-looking baby boy. His proud mother and father had probably carried dreams in their hearts of what their infant son would one day become. But at the age of twenty-seven, this same person looked like an old man, with deep wrinkles in his face and the appearance of a severe alcoholic. There he lay, crushed on the highway — a wasted life. The flesh had its way in that man’s life and led him to destruction — the place where flesh always wants to go.
You may not be an alcoholic or a drug addict, but let me ask you this: Are you allowing your flesh to dominate your attitudes or your relationships? Are you giving way to the carnal impulses of bitterness or anger that the flesh wants to produce inside you? If you give in to these impulses, they will destroy your relationships, make you hardhearted, and fill you with negative attitudes that steal your joy and your peace.
You see, a life dominated by the flesh is a hard life. It is filled with excess, imbalance, extremity, laziness, self-abuse, hatred, strife, bitterness, irresponsibility, and neglect. The way of the flesh is the hardest route for any individual to take; yet the flesh cries out to be in charge, screaming to have its own way, demanding to be the boss. Unless you take your flesh to the Cross and mortify it by the power of God, it will keep screaming until you finally surrender to it and allow it to produce its ruinous effects in your life.
In the next several Sparkling Gems, I want us to look very carefully at the works of the flesh that Paul specifically listed in Galatians 5:19-21. But remember — if you crucify the flesh and choose instead to walk in the Spirit, you can produce fruit in your life that is just the opposite of the works of the flesh. You can yield the sweetest, most wonderful fruit imaginable. You can live in a way that is godly and beneficial and that truly makes a difference in other people’s lives.
So make the decision today that you are not going to take the route of the flesh. It really is the hardest way to go! Turn your attention to the Holy Spirit, and determine to let Him produce the life of Jesus Christ in you!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to mortify the deeds of the flesh and to reckon myself alive unto God! I have walked in the flesh long enough; now I want to walk in the Spirit. I no longer want the flesh to have its way in my life. Instead, I want to let the Holy Spirit produce the life of Jesus Christ in me. I know that I ultimately make the decision of what is produced in my life, so please help me to consistently say no to the flesh and to say yes to the Spirit of God!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that it is no longer I who live, but Jesus Christ lives in me! The life I now live in the flesh, I live for the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I am His temple. I am His instrument. I refuse to allow the old flesh nature to dominate me. I willfully surrender my mind, my thoughts, my emotions, and my flesh to the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. As I yield to Him, He purifies me and makes me a worthy vessel for the work of God’s Kingdom!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Can you think of areas in your life where you have intentionally or unintentionally allowed the flesh to retain its control over you? What are those areas, and what do you plan to do to bring them under the control of the Holy Spirit?
2. Is there any specific area in your life that has been more difficult to conquer than others — a habit, a thought, or some secret deed? Can you see how the Holy Spirit has been trying to help you bring that area of your life under control?
3. How do you respond when the Holy Spirit convicts you of wrongdoing or wrong thinking? Do you ignore His voice, or do you go before the Lord in prayer and ask Him to help you overcome it?