Fruit of the Spirit – Works of the Flesh

While most Christians believe that the Ten Commandments are essential to their faith, some believe the other laws given in the Old Testament are irrelevant. They say that Christians are not bound by the Law of Moses. One person with this attitude raised the question, “What was the purpose of the law, if we no longer live under it?”

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21) include the basic set of biblical moral principles relating to ethics and worship, but that is only part of the law. In reality, there are 613 commandments. The contents of these laws are spread among four books of the Old Testament: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.1

The Christian religion was started by Jews, so of course they were brought up observing these laws. “The question of the relevance of the Mosaic Law for Christians arose when God allowed adding Gentile believers to the Body of Christ.” An influx of non-Jewish believers brought this issue to the forefront for discussion, and the Apostle Paul addressed this issue extensively.2

Paul wrote a letter, the Epistle to the Galatians, to the church members in Galatia (modern central Turkey). This letter was written because they were deserting the true faith of Christianity, by demanding adherence to the Mosaic Law, thereby returning to Jewish practices. Paul felt that such practices were regressive to Christianity’s new freedoms.3

In the end of chapter 3 of the Book of Galatians (vs. 19-29), he identifies the purpose of the Law of Moses. God ordained (instituted or prescribed) the law, it was explained, because of peoples’ transgressions. It was only meant to be temporary,4 and was intended to reveal sin as a violation of God’s rules. Of course, sin existed before the law, but people did not recognize it as transgressive until the law was given. “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression,” (Romans 4:15, ESV).

This law, given to a nation of sinners, was to demonstrate that it was impossible for the people to fully obey it and that they were, but hopeless, sinners. Being impossible to obey, the law demonstrated the unworthiness of man to receive any blessing, unless by the grace of God. Although humans continually failed, they could always depend upon God to find a way to fulfill his own promises.5 They did not know, at the time the law was given, that it was but a temporary measure until the later coming of a Messiah as liberator.

God’s promises, at that time, involved only one party, God himself. But to make a binding contract, two parties are necessary. So, the law was to discipline and build faith within his people, until they understood what they had to do — offer something in exchange to seal this contract. What they would have to do was forsake their sinful ways and begin a life of righteousness. But, that is not all. Contract negotiations also require a third party, a mediator, and when they were ready, Jesus Christ would be that mediator.6

This is how Paul said it: “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise,” (Galatians 3:23-29, NRSV).7

In the beginning, when first receiving the law, it was Moses that played the part of a mediator, and that is why Moses is sometimes referred to as a ‘type’ (symbolizing or exemplifying the defining characteristics) of Christ.

I don’t want this article to get bogged down in symbolism, but I should mention that the story of Abraham and his wife, Sarah, and slave-wife, Hagar, symbolize the grace of God, as well as the slavery of the Law, because of peoples’ fleshly transgression.

Because of impatience, or a lack of faith with God’s promise, a son is produced through Hagar. This son, Ishmael, represents Abraham’s fleshly human intervention through transgression of the law and the result was not the son promised. Whereas, the real promised heir, produced through Sarah, came later as a gift by the grace of God. That son, Isaac, represents the spiritual gift of God. (For an article related to this story, see “Abraham’s Son Ishmael: the Arab People and Islam” listed in References & Notes.)8

This is a good example of a fleshly approach to life verses a spiritual one. Those who try to come to God through the flesh will not receive the blessings he promised, but true believers who, by faith in Jesus and trust in the spirit of God, will receive his blessings. And this brings us to the main point of this study.

Works of the Flesh & the Fruit of the Spirit

“How does one tell if someone is filled with sinful thoughts?” That is a question I get from time-to-time. The answer, however, is fairly easy to discern. The Apostle Paul points out the obvious in Galatians, chapter 5. “Do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want,” (Galatians 5:16b-17).

This is advice to us, as well as how we can judge the conduct of others. Paul goes on to explain what are the desires of the flesh. “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” (Galatians 5:19-21).

It is here that Paul encourages the Galatian Christians to give up their old life of being self-absorbed, filled with greed, superstition, and jealousy — that misguided life with constant strife and destructive habits. “These attitudes are so alien to Jesus that he will bar us from his kingdom.”9

Keep in mind that although Paul indicates his list is not all inclusive, the Greek words he uses each have several applications. For instance, dissensions would include division, disunion, and sedition, and quarrels include contention and intrigue. Enmities can also mean hostility, opposition, and hatred, while idolatry also includes — in our modern world — image worship of sports figures, entertainers, and business leaders. Carousing also means reveling and rioting, while faction includes choosing sides against another. Envy, of course, includes discontent and longing aroused by another’s possessions, spouse, wealth, or power. I believe many so-called social organizers, church pastors, and politicians easily fit many of these descriptions.

Then Paul tells about a new life available to all that want it, one inspired by the Holy Spirit. He says, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another,” (Galatians 5:22-26).

So, there it is — observe how someone relates to you, to others, and to the world, and you will know if they are on God’s side, or the other side. Their desires (and ours, too) describe the type of persons they (or we) are. Hopefully, we are all allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, or at least making a real effort to be so, for the fruit of the Spirit reflects the character of God. Remember, in the beginning of creation, before sin entered into the world, we were made in God’s image. We now have an opportunity to regain those attributes.

When Paul says that those belonging to Christ have “crucified the flesh,” he means that we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, leaving behind the old lifestyle of selfish desires. We must continually follow after the spirit while resisting the flesh.10 This is a new life which is available for anyone who wants it; it is the life that the Holy Spirit inspires. Paul summed it up this way, “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” (Galatians 5:14).

What is the other side?

There is division in the world. There is God’s side of light and Satan’s dark side. Since we have free will, it is by our own choices, upon which side we will settle. Both sides have an attraction, but it seems the dark side is more magnetic to many people.

Those people are comfortable with the current evil world; they find it more fun, more attractive, more gratifying. God’s world seems so far away, maybe even unattainable, maybe not even real; why wait for happiness when they can get it now. The problem is, like the Mosaic Law was temporary for teaching, so is this evil world, today.

God gave his guarantee that evil will end and be completely destroyed. So, it is our decision whether to shed evil ways now and eventually enter the promised paradise, or just continue on our current path until we are destroyed along with evil’s defeat. Jesus said, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man,” (Matthew 24:37-39).

I’m not going to say it is easy to change, for I can give first-hand testimony of its difficulty. But God understands our dilemma and has even given us a short course of instruction on how to recognize Satan and his evil influences.

First, it is important to know that Satan is a real being, and his associates are real, too. And they now rule this world. Today’s churches fail miserably on teaching these facts. Remember when Jesus was in the desert for forty days and he was tempted by Satan? He was brought to a high place and shown all the majesty and kingdoms of the world.

Satan said, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:6-7, ESV). God’s word says that this world is in the possession of Satan, because one cannot give away control of something, if one doesn’t already have it. For more related to this subject, see “Ephesians 6:12: Satan, Fallen Angels, & Demons — the Real Enemies of Our Faith” listed in References & Notes.11

Next, you need to know what strategies Satan uses to manipulate us to do evil. He and his fallen angel followers, as well as the demons they created on earth, are so crafty that they can even snare the best of Christians, so knowing how they operate can actually save your life.

There are many complicated lists and charts describing Satan’s ways of taking control of us, even entire books devoted to describing his methods of operation. Although they are fine for detailing his talents, I believe a few simple points will help you understand when you are under attack. Satan’s methods fall into four main categories: deception, temptation, accusation, and destruction. These four methods are explained in detail in the study “Satan’s Strategies of Attack — How to Protect Yourself” listed at the end of this article.12

Satan and his cohorts are afoot in the world today, causing all kinds of mayhem. In explaining what it is we face, the Apostle Paul is very specific. It is not a struggle against other humans, but one against spirits. Flesh and blood foes are just mere tools of evil, the real foes lurk behind humans. This is a spiritual war against a devious, wicked, and a ruthless enemy.13

Paul writes, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm,” (Ephesians 6:13, ESV), and then he describes the various pieces of Christian armor necessary, as though he is equipping a soldier for battle.

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, (Ephesians 6:14-17, ESV).

Sweet Holy Spirit

If we want to be serious Christians, we need help to stop living our lives in a fleshly way and begin doing so in a spiritual way. We should pray for God’s help in displaying the fruit of his Spirit. Now, while it can be said that the Holy Spirit reflects personality (that of God to all who display his characteristics), it should be obvious, from scriptural research, that the Holy Spirit is not a person.

A popular Bible dictionary states that the Holy Spirit is the power or presence of God in nature or with individuals and communities, which can inspire or empower them with qualities they may not otherwise possess.14 For a further study on this subject, see “Can you be a Christian and Not Believe in the Trinity?” listed in References & Notes.15

For our story-related song, I’ve chosen “Sweet Holy Spirit” by ‘The Isaacs’. It was recorded live in 2012 at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado USA. The group’s roots go back to 1971 and they were once known as Sacred Bluegrass, before settling on using the family name, ‘The Isaacs’, as their children became old enough to join the group.16 Selected lyrics are below and the music video is listed in References & Notes.17

Sweet Holy Spirit I’m down on my knees
I am low in the valley, I am so weak you see
But I know I can make it, for I trust in thee
The sweet Holy Spirit is falling on me

Sweet Holy Spirit, Oh how I love Thee
For being a comfort so many times and for strengthening me
For I could not make it across life’s troubled sea
If the sweet Holy Spirit should ever leave me

Copyright © 2021, Dr. Ray Hermann
OutlawBibleStudent.org

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Reference & Notes

  1. “Law of Moses”, (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 June 2021), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Moses
  2. Zwayne, Emeal, “Are Christians bound by the Law of Moses?” (CARM, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, 26 May 2011), https://carm.org/about-doctrine/are-christians-bound-by-the-law-of-moses/
  3. “Letter of Paul to the Galatians”, (Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 July 1998), https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Letter-of-Paul-to-the-Galatians
  4. Mays, James Luther, (Ed.), Harper’s Bible Commentary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 1208.
  5. MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, (Ed.) Arthur Farstad, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), p. 1884.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture is taken from New Revised Standard Version Bible, Division of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, 1989. Used with permission.
  8. Hermann, Ray, “Abraham’s Son Ishmael: the Arab People and Islam”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 3 February 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/abrahams-son-ishmael-the-arab-people-and-islam/
  9. Knowles, Andrew, The Bible Guide, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg [1st edition], 2001), p. 611.
  10. Barry, John D., et al., Faithlife Study Bible, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016).
  11. Hermann, Ray, “Ephesians 6:12: Satan, Fallen Angels, & Demons — the Real Enemies of Our Faith”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 22 September 2020), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/ephesians-612-satan-fallen-angels-demons-the-real-enemies-of-our-faith/
  12. Hermann, Ray, “Satan’s Strategies of Attack — How to Protect Yourself”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 20 November 2020), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/satans-strategies-of-attack-how-to-protect-yourself/
  13. Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), vol. 2, p. 357.
  14. Achtemeier, Paul J., (Ed.), Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1985), p. 401.
  15. Hermann, Ray “Can you be a Christian and Not Believe in the Trinity?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 28 July 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/can-you-be-a-christian-and-not-believe-in-the-trinity/
  16. “The Isaacs”, (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 March 2021), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Isaacs
  17. “Sweet Holy Spirit”, Artists: The Isaacs; Live at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, recorded 2012; Album: Rocky Mountain Homecoming/Red Rocks Homecoming, (Licensed to YouTube by: UMG on behalf of Gaither Music Group, SonyATV, others; uploaded 15 November 2019) – MUSIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/roc9TkIqqFY
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