We live in a world that praises ideals and ideologies that are not from God, and the pull of many of them is appealing because it feels right to our flesh. We often downplay the pull of our flesh and the ways it can lure us towards destruction. We claim things like, ”the devil made me do it,” so we can absolve ourselves of responsibility. Make no mistake, the devil is out to “steal and kill and destroy,” (John 10:10) but in acknowledging the reality of spiritual warfare we must not ignore the ways our flesh can divert us away from the spirit. Paul gave clear exhortation to believers in Galatians 5:16-17, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
Jesus warned his followers to observe the fruit of others so they could grow in discernment. Paul then goes on to give us a verse that is commonly referred to as an indicator of growth in which he lists the fruit of the spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
But too often we forget that, before reminding us of love, joy, peace, etc., Paul also called out the fruit of the flesh, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul lists a bushel of fruits of the flesh, and while humanity struggles with them all, we are going to focus on 10 that are especially prevalent today.
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1. Sexual Immorality
We live in a world that has removed most limits on sexuality, but God only places limits where he knows his children need them. While it is unreasonable to expect people who are not Christians to live by Christ’s ways, among those who know Jesus, “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3). We cannot flirt with the lines of sex outside of marriage, with homosexuality, or pornography, even when the flesh screams for satisfaction. These acts will distract us from treating our body, and the bodies of others, as temples for the Holy Spirit, and disguise themselves as love. While the world may give license to behaviors that are consensual, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
When we seek out sensual pleasures that soothe the aches and wills of our flesh, we find debauchery beckoning. Debauchery invites us to indulge, “just a little bit more,” and leads us to lands of immorality we never thought we’d walk. It’s the chasing of a high or a pleasure that imitates the joy we were created for, but only leads to destruction.
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Many people inside and outside of the church can recall the first of the 10 commandments God gave Moses, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). To their own detriment, a large percentage of those people do not see how often they put idols and false gods in place of the true God. In Counterfiet Gods Tim Keller says, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”
When we place somebody or something in a place of more importance than God, we have created an idol and forsaken faithfulness. We seek this fallible, limited, and temporal thing out with haste and solicit it to fulfill us, only to be heartbroken when it inevitably fails. Our flesh runs to immediate gratification, and if we are not careful it will lead us to jump from one to another and keep us from ever finding the soul-satisfying love of our savior.
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Do not be fooled: many are still practicing witchcraft, some without recognizing they are doing so. Our flesh desires power, and when we think we can find it in an incantation, crystal, or connecting with otherworldly spirits, we open doors we don’t always have the strength to close.
A Christian cannot forget that there is a spiritual battle being waged for souls, and demons and angels are at war. People can submit themselves to evil or submit themselves to God, and many seek out the mysteries of the spiritual realm through witchcraft instead of salvation. Do not be deceived, one cannot serve two masters. Good and evil will always be in opposition and the occult is not to be trifled with.
5. Fits of Rage
Whether on the road, in our homes, or in the workplace, fits of rage are an absolute display of self-justification seeking to satisfy our perceived injustice. This is not to be confused with true justice, which is desirable, objectively fair, and from God; these fits are on par with a toddler’s full-blown temper tantrum. Whether it displays itself loudly or in silence, if fits of rage are ruling your life, your body and your spirit are suffering.
Proverbs 29:11 warns that, “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” We are meant to be people of peace, but rage will only bring discord.
6. Selfish Ambition
When our desire to serve God shifts to serving ourselves, we have bitten this poisonous fruit. Ambition to know, honor, and share the love of God is good, but if it’s only a means to our ends, it’s rotten. Paul taught in Colossians 1:28-29 that Christ, “is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” Willingness to sacrifice relationship, health, and connection with Jesus to the absolute pursuit of our own glory isn’t courageous, it’s catastrophic.
In this day and age, when anybody can debate the opposing side about anything simply by going online, this problem is more prevalent as ever. A faction is typically a group of people who break off from the larger group in a divisive manner. They can be motivaded by political, theological, or ideological means, but the goal is to divide—not build unity.
A warning for the church: The global church is supposed to be a unified group. Too often we let denominations slip into factions caused by false prophets sent by the enemy to divide and destroy. Jesus’s warning in Matthew 7:15-20 should remind us to stay alert:
“Watch out for false prophets.They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
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Envy will enslave us if we let it. We need not look far to see someone else enjoying something we have wanted, but will we give in to the temptation to forget all God has given us?
Thankfulness is the antidote to the venom in envy’s bite. When we meditate on, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy,” (Phillipians 4:8) we find godly contentment. Discontentment and envy fuel one another, and when embraced they leave their host with a withered life.
When the world feels heavy, a glass of wine can feel like a brief vacation, especially when done under the banner of “freedom.” But when we drink to excess we invite foolishness to rule us. When our inhibitions are lowered it changes our persona, and strips our ability to make wise decisions, which is why Paul tells the Ephesians, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit….” (Ephesians 5:18). The key here is that drunkenness leads to the blooming of another even more dangerous fruit.
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10. And the Like
This is your catch-all category for the fruit of the flesh. Anything that is born out of the flesh instead of the spirit is dangerous and Paul’s list is not exhaustive. We could add things like fear of man, tolerance of sin, and gossip to this list. However, we cannot forget that some fruits of the flesh are passive. Inaction motivated by the flesh can be just as detrimental as willful disobedience. James 4:17 reminds believers, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
The best way to defeat the fruit of the flesh is to draw ever nearer to Jesus as we let the Spirit of God develop the fruit of the spirit in us. As we abide in Christ we will see how he continually is patient with us as he transforms our hearts and minds to be more like his.
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Originally published Thursday, 17 September 2020.