Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Vision (3.20.14): “The Works of the Flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21): Paul’s Spiritual Pathology

Note:  I preached last Sunday morning on Paul’s listing of The Works of the Flesh from Galatians 5:19-21, a catalogue of seventeen dreadful sins.  This Sunday we move on to their opposite, the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-26.  Here are some notes from the introduction to last week’s message:

Thus far in our study of Galatians we have seen that Paul has described the existential dilemma of the regenerate man.  He is saved, yet not fully sanctified.  He is not what he used to be but not yet what he will be.

An internal civil war rages within his heart (see v. 17a:  “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh”).  On one side there is the flesh (remaining sin) and on the other side there is the Spirit (the indwelling presence of God).  There is no doubt who will ultimately prevail in the life of the believer.  Still, he must persevere in this life, and so Paul’s encouragement is:  “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (v. 16).

A failure to acknowledge this existential condition in regenerate man results in one of two equal and opposite errors:

First, to fail to acknowledge the flesh leads to the soul destroying errors of works righteousness and perfectionism (see 5:1).

Second, to fail to acknowledge the indwelling Spirit leads to the soul destroying error of antinomianism (see 5:13).

Paul continues in our passage today to let this argument run its course and to add further detail.  In vv. 19-21 he offers a list of “the works of the flesh” and in vv. 22-26 he will list “the fruit of the Spirit.”

Today we look at the first list (the works of the flesh) and next week the second list (the fruit of the Spirit).

Many of our children know that second list from a song we have sung in Vacation Bible School.  We have, as far as I know, no such ditty to help in memorizing the the works of the flesh.  In medicine the systematic study of disease is known as pathology.  We might call what Paul does in vv. 19-21 a work of spiritual pathology.  It is a taxonomy of sin.  Why do doctors study pathology?  They do so in order to know how to prevent and cure the various diseases.  And Paul, as a doctor of the heart, working as an intern under the Great Physician, provides us this list to serve a similar goal—that we might know these things and avoid them as we walk in the Spirit.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle


Mad Jack said...

Hey Pastor Jeff!

Thank you for writing this missive; it has helped me greatly.

I have a question or two. I note that idolatry is listed as a sin, and at the same time I see the cross (often three crosses) conspicuously displayed at church buildings. I don't worship the cross, but I'd like to know how this fits in with idolatry. Is idolatry in the eye of the beholder? If so, is that true of other things as well?

Another question: You wrote that First, to fail to acknowledge the flesh leads to the soul destroying errors of works righteousness and perfectionism (see 5:1). Okay, failure to acknowledge the flesh leads to soul destroying errors. I can understand this part, but the rest is lost on me. Would you please point me to a little enlightenment?

Thanks again for maintaining your blog and posting. You've helped me on more than one occasion.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for reading and commenting.

Question One: Are crosses idols? When I preached this message I actually made some extemporaneous observations on literal idolatry (bowing down to images) versus spiritual idolatry (making something or someone "god" in place of God). As for crosses in churches, I had never thought of this until a few years ago. I now believe a Reformed worship space is better off without them but understand not all would hold this conviction.

On works righteousness and perfectionism: My point here was that folk who adopt works righteousness or who believe they can attain absolute perfection in this life, do not take seriously enough he reality of remaining sin (the flesh) as it exists even in the life of the believer. If they understood this they would not think they can be justified by their perfect law keeping.


Mad Jack said...

Pastor Jeff,

Thanks for the response. After I was saved I had the same thought about crosses, but any suggestion I made was generally met with incredulity and a certain amount of chastisement - with one exception, that of my Godfather who thought the same way I did. I think that the more experienced and learned a person is, the more they'll tend to agree with you.

I hadn't thought about perfectionism in quite that way before. I always accepted that I would never be perfect, that any work I did would likewise not be perfect, but that the Lord loved me anyway and would enjoy any righteous and imperfect work. That's a nice point you make, Pastor Jeff.

Thanks for your answer.

Mad Jack