by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



So, as we can see, the Apostle Paul now exposes the darkest part of his letter. It took a while because he was laying a firm foundation for the lighthouse he’s about to build and turn on. If, when we were born again, our bodies disintegrated, and we simply fluttered around like spiritual butterflies, that would be different, but it didn’t happen that way. The original resident who lived in the body died, and a new resident moved in with a renewed mind and a spiritual attitude and refined purpose for living there. However, the new resident must now deal with how the old resident kept the place in order, and in some cases, it wasn’t very tidy or clean. You talk about a major home-makeover; for some, it takes a radical spiritual cleaning.

The Apostle Paul gives the Galatian believers an inventory of the many things the old carnal sinful-self, left behind that need to be cleaned out. If they leave them lying around or stick them in their mental and emotional closets, they might feel tempted to grab them and use them at some critical moment. Let me illustrate: when a man marries the love of his life and carries her across the threshold of his former bachelor’s pad, believe me, things won’t remain the same as they were before she moved in. Therefore, his immediate question becomes: does he make the necessary changes now to please her and make her happy, or does he insist on keeping them the way they’ve always been? It has all the possibility of the dark clouds of a perfect storm brewing on an otherwise sunny horizon.

Now the inventory: There’s nothing to suggest that Paul accuses the Galatians of performing these past deeds, but he wants them to know that their sinful-self is still capable of being tempted to do them.  Paul wisely puts them into different categories so the Galatians can perceive where they may be having problems. The first category concerns the body and its desires: immoral sexual desires, impure thoughts, being tempted to fulfill their lustful cravings. The second category impacts their heart and intellectual lives, getting involved with cults and reading horoscopes and dabbling in Spiritism.

The third category involves their emotional lives as influenced by a sinful mind, by misbelief, a corrupt personality, and unbridled lust of the flesh: holding grudges, getting into arguments, becoming jealous, fits of anger; always wanting to have their way, and taking sides against anyone who doesn’t agree with them; envious of what others have, getting drunk, wild parties, etc. But the most shocking and frightful aspect of Paul’s admonition is that converted saints are susceptible to these sinful activities, not unconverted sinners. They are subject to such displays if they do not stay fully connected to the vine, the Lord Jesus the Anointed.

Then how much more does this apply after Jesus the Anointed moves into our lives? Who do we want to please? Does He become Lord of all or not Lord at all?  Do we relinquish control reluctantly, or do we let it all go for the joy and freedom that He brings into our lives? Does He always sit on the throne of our hearts, or do we only allow Him there when we want Him to grant us a favor? Do we want our physical house to look more like our old tent or His new temple? Do we always keep the blinds pulled and curtains closed, or are they open so everyone can see the sunshine of His love glowing within? Do we cohabit with Him, or do we treat Him like a visitor? “Hey, you Galatians,” yells Paul, “make up your minds; you can’t have it both ways; it’s either one or the other.”

Chrysostom joins the conversation by predicting that the sinful activities of the flesh are not bodily functions, but the immorality in one’s heart using the body for such pleasure. Does he want those who easily mix immoral behavior with Christian living to explain why they should not be considered hostile to the Gospel? Yes! For instance, says Chrysostom, let’s assume that adultery and fornication proceed, as they assert, from the desire of the flesh. On the other hand, hatred, contention, zeal, strife, heresies, and witchcraft arise from depraved choices of the mind. It is the same thing with the other abominations. So, how can you tie these solely to the flesh?

Chrysostom tells us to observe that Paul is not speaking exclusively of the flesh, but immoral thoughts. That’s why Paul sounds an alarm by saying that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. If all these things belong to human nature and not bad moral choices, why did Paul use the expression, “they who practice?” Maybe he should have used “they who suffer.” But that begs the question: why must they be denied entry into the kingdom of heaven because of things they suffer as a result of their errant human nature? The truth is that it comes from allowing sinful tendencies to make suggestions that undisciplined minds choose to satisfy.[1]

Augustine gives an interesting comment here on what Paul is talking about when it comes to the active efforts of our sinful tendencies. He points out that it is one thing not to sin, another not to be immoral. For the person in whom sin does not reign (in other words, who does not obey its bodily desires) does not sin. But the person in whom such desires do not exist at all, not only does not sin but does not even have sin. In many respects, this is impossible in this life. So, we need not hope for it in every respect until the resurrection and transformation of the flesh.[2] In other words, while being sinless may be theoretical, it is not practical as long as we live here on earth. Therefore, even for the believer, sinful tendencies are something they must contend with every day.

Martin Luther shares more about his progress in understanding what it means to be freed by the Spirit: He thanked God that He permitted him to see (what, as a monk, he so earnestly desired to see) not one but many saints, whole multitudes of faithful saints. Not the kind of saints the Vatican beatify, but the type of saints the Anointed wants. I am sure I am one of the Anointed’s devoted saints, says Luther. As a baptized believer, Jesus the Anointed my Lord redeemed me from all my sins and invested me with divine eternal righteousness and holiness. If to hide in caves and dens, to have a bony body, to wear hair long in the mistaken idea that such departures from normalcy will obtain some particular regard in heaven is not living a holy life. Living a spiritual life after baptism is to believe in the Anointed and to take control of sinful tendencies with the help of the Holy Spirit.[3]

John Calvin has a Reformed Doctrine on the origin of these effects of our sinful tendencies. He begins with the Reformed definition of original sin. He has no intention, however, to discuss all the explanations which different writers have adopted, but only to bear witness to the one which seems to him the most in harmony with the truth of the Scriptures. He says, “original sin,” is defined as “hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us objectionable to God’s wrath, and then produces in us sinful works termed in Scripture as ‘works of the flesh.’”

This corruption is repeatedly designated by Paul by the term sin, as we see here in verse nineteen, while the effects which proceed from it, such as adultery, fornication, theft, hatred, murder, revelings, which he terms as sins. The two things, therefore, are to be observed, that is, being perverted and corrupted in all parts of our human nature, we are, on account of such corruption, are deservedly condemned by God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity. We are not liable for another person’s fault. For when it is said, that the sin of Adam made us hostile to the justice of God, the meaning is not, that we, who are in ourselves innocent and blameless, are forced to bear Adam’s guilt, but that since by his transgression we are all placed under the curse. In other words, Adam’s sin brought us all under God’s condemnation.

Because of Adam, the punishment for sin extended to all generations because the pollution of sin infected every person. Therefore, although Augustine often terms it another person’s sin, (that he may more clearly show how it comes to us by way of being Adam’s descendants). However, mistakes committed by humanity, because of their inherent pollution of sin, make them responsible for all of those since they voluntarily committed them. Paul made that very clear when he testified that “death passed on to all men, for that all have sinned.” [4] [5]

What Calvin is explaining is that these seeds of sinful tendencies come implanted in all humans. So, our sinful tendencies are a “seed-bed of sins,” and, therefore, if we do not neutralize these seeds, the weeds of sinful thoughts and tendencies will continue to sprout and grow. The best way to deal with this is to let the Holy Spirit plant seeds of sanctification so that our reborn spirit produces fruit that grows and dominates our attitude and behavior. That doesn’t mean the weeds will stop sprouting altogether, but the fruit of our reborn spirit will make it almost impossible for them to blossom and send out their evil pollen.

We must all realize that our fallen human nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness but so prolific in all kinds of misdeeds, that they can never ignore them. John, in his Revelation, received a key ingredient in helping to fertilize spiritual fruit while putting pesticides on the weeds. That is the term “overcomer.” Jesus said that He specifically came to earth to teach us how to have peace when He is in us, and we are in Him.[6] Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows, Jesus said, but be encouraged because He has overcome the world.[7] And we find many promises to those who fight against these sinful tendencies and prove to be overcomers.[8]

Dr. Burton sees these works of the flesh as falling into four categories, which he attributes to the punctuation of the Greek text. In the first group, we see three sins in which sensuality, in its narrow sense, is prominent: fornication, moral impurities, and immorality. In the second group, there are two associated with pagan religions: idol worship and witchcraft. The third group contains eight in which the element of conflict with others is present: hostility, strife, jealousy, anger, splinter groups, divisions, and envying.

A fourth group consists of drunkenness and its natural accompaniments, such as partying and the like.[9]  Burton goes on to say that Paul lists these sinful activities of the flesh so that by their very quality are designed to deter the Galatians from following the impulses of the flesh because the outcome is clear, such will not inherit the kingdom of God.[10]

[1] Chrysostom, op. cit., loc. cit

[2] Augustine of Hippo, op. cit., loc. cit

[3] Luther, Martin: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[4] Romans 5:12

[5] Calvin, John: Institutes of the Christian Relation, Book Second, Ch. 1, pp. 270-271

[6] 1 John 4:4

[7] John 16:33

[8] See Revelation 2:7, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 12:11

[9] Burton, Ernest DeWitt: Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, p.304

[10] Ibid. p. 311

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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