Paul makes a most interesting statement as he concludes his list of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21. As opposed to only warning us about the condemnation that these practices will incur and moving right along to the “fruit of the Spirit,” he first mentions the fact that “things like these” (also translated as “such like”) are also works of the flesh:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
This small phrase of Paul may include many more “works of the flesh” than the specific ones he has listed here! We may see that his statement proves clearly to us that the New Testament is not a “sin list:” it is, in fact, a guide for all things that are good, as evidenced in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.
Therefore, while the New Testament does provide many lists of practices that are sinful, we are clearly told that not every sinful act is mentioned, and this makes sense: if every such act were mentioned, man in his scheming would either (a) rename the sin in order to justify himself, or (b) get as close as he possibly could to the sin before actually committing it, or both. We are told, however, that the basis of every good work is furnished to us in the Scriptures.
What, then, should the Christian do concerning these facts? He must judge, and judge properly– he must objectively examine the practice, belief, or action, and determine whether it shares more characteristics of the “works of the flesh” than the “fruit of the Spirit,” or vice versa. The Christian might want to ask himself the following in this regard:
- Does this practice violate a specific command of God?
- Does this practice violate any Biblical principles?
- Can and will this practice commend me to God?
- Does this practice bring any spiritual benefit?
- Does this practice seem anything close to a “work of the flesh?”
- Will the consequences of this practice lead me toward the “fruit of the Spirit” or the “works of the flesh?”
- Would my Master perform this practice?
Let us examine a few practices that are prevalent today and see if they would be “things like these:”
Gambling. While there is never a specific prohibition in the Scriptures against gambling, the practice does violate many Biblical principles. We are told the following in 2 Thessalonians 3:10:
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat.
Gambling is done as a desire to “get rich quick,” to gain the property of another in games of chance. Such practices are much closer to the idea of covetousness and envy than any spiritually beneficial practice. Let us remember in this regard Colossians 3:5:
Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
If gambling is a form of covetousness, a desire to gain without fruitful labor but by games of chance, and covetousness is a form of idolatry, then gambling is certainly a “thing like” idolatry, and therefore would incur the same condemnation as the practices of which we have already spoken.
Dancing. While dancing between a married couple is certainly legitimate in the eyes of God (Hebrews 13:4), what about an unmarried couple dancing? Such dances, generally done in school-sponsored dances like homecoming and prom, can very easily lead to lust, especially with the popular dances of today. This certainly comes close to the idea of lasciviousness (or licentiousness and sensuality); in fact, one of Thayer’s definitions of aselgeia, the word translated as “lasciviousness,” is “unchaste handling of unmarried persons.” Such dances certainly would fall under this realm, and in no way will such dances commend one to God. Every young Christian should give thought to whether or not dancing between unmarried couples will incur condemnation for being a “thing like” lasciviousness.
Consumption of alcohol. The Biblical text by no means specifically condemns all forms of alcohol and alcoholic consumption, but certainly does specifically prohibit overindulging in alcohol and causing any other Christian to stumble because of his consumption of alcohol. Yet, in today’s world the Christian ought to judge the consumption of alcohol as a “thing like” drunkenness, since the types of alcoholic beverages served today are far stronger than their ancient equivalents, and with the vast array of beverages available today, there is simply no need to consume alcoholic beverages. They in no way commend us to God, but can certainly easily lead to drunkenness. Let us avoid alcoholic beverages, a “thing like” drunkenness.
These are but a few examples of the various practices that a Christian will be called upon to judge. A Christian will also very easily be called upon to judge in a similar manner beliefs and doctrines, to see if these things are “things like” the works of the flesh or if they belong to the fruit of the Spirit. Let us strive to objectively examine these things, so that God will remain our primary focus in life, and our desires of the flesh will not get in our way. We certainly would not want to be condemned on the day of Judgment not because we committed any of the specific sins listed as the “works of the flesh,” but because we judged improperly and allowed ourselves to practice (or believe) many things that were similar to the works of the flesh.
Paul concludes his discussion of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:21e:
…of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
The things here written to the Galatians were nothing new; Paul had already warned them about these practices, as every true gospel preacher will. Paul says clearly that anyone who practices these works (without repenting of them) will not inherit the kingdom of God, and if one does not inherit that kingdom, the only conclusion that remains is that they have been led off into condemnation. Paul does not allow for any ambiguity with these deeds: do them and be condemned; avoid them and live. Let us take this lesson to heart, and renew our fervor to avoid the “works of the flesh.”