The Works: Whether or not we are gratifying the flesh or walking by the Spirit is relatively easy to observe. Paul lists fifteen "works of the flesh" in Gal 5:19-21 and ends with the catch-all phrase "and things like these" (Gal 5:21). These works involve sexual sin ("sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality"), worshiping or depending on something other than God ("idolatry, sorcery"), damaging our relationships with others (enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy), and wildly sinful living ("drunkenness, orgies").
As to the Spirit, Paul gives us nine examples of "fruit" that He produces in the Christian's life. "Love" heads them all, and while more could be listed, his emphasis in this text (as with the earlier "works of the flesh") involves the Spirit's work in our relationships ("joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness"). Perhaps "self-control" at the end of this list sits in contrast to the two sins of wild living in Paul's list of sins.
In evaluating whether or not we are living according to the flesh or Spirit, we could simply ask which list is more evident in our lives than the other. Whether works of the flesh or fruit of the Spirit, one or the other might be more prominent than another from one person to another. As far as the overall thrust of Gal 5:16-26 is concerned, perhaps the question could be this-do I see the works of the flesh gradually diminishing over time while at the same time seeing progress in the fruit of the Spirit? As we live by the Spirit, walk by His leading, and keep in step with Him, we will progressively bear His fruit.
The Warning: As to the works of the flesh, Paul gives this warning: "those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:21). A life that is void of faith and thus the Spirit will evidence the works of the flesh to one degree or another. The person who perseveres in sin has no place in Christ, has never been transformed by Him through the Spirit, and will not inherit all that God could otherwise have for him in His future kingdom.
On the other hand, after listing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul comments, "against such things there is no law (Gal 5:23), implying in the context of Galatians, it seems, that neither is there the curse of death for violating the law nor its consequent condemnation of the law-breaker. As this list and comment follows Paul's list of the works of the flesh with the warning against those who do them, it seems this comment actually assumes a positive eschatological tone-if no curse and condemnation come to those who bear the Spirit's fruit, they will be the ones who inherit the kingdom of God.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.