Works of the Flesh: Uncleanness

Previously we examined sexual immorality (or “fornication”), deemed by Paul to be a work of the flesh. Let us now continue with our study and examine uncleanness, as Paul says in Galatians 5:19:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness…

“Uncleanness” (translated in other versions as “impurity”) is the Greek term akatharsia, which Thayer defines as the following:

1) uncleanness
1a) physical
1b) in a moral sense: the impurity of lustful, luxurious, profligate living
1b1) of impure motives

We see from this definition, therefore, that the term under discussion has two primary meanings, notably, it describes one who is unclean physically and also one who thinks and acts in ways that are not pure and holy.

The term is used in both senses; Jesus uses it in Matthew 23:27 to describe the “uncleanness” of the sepulchre, “full of dead men’s bones,” and also the moral “uncleanness” of the Pharisees, who are compared to these sepulchres. The vast majority of its use, however, refers not to the physical uncleanness of a person but to the moral, internal “uncleanness” of a person, which we see clearly in Romans 1:24 (referring to the Gentiles), 2 Corinthians 12:21 (addressed to Christians), along with Ephesians 5:3 and Colossians 3:5:

Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves.

lest again when I come my God should humble me before you, and I should mourn for many of them that have sinned heretofore, and repented not of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed.

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints.

Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

We see, then, that truly “uncleanness” is another work of the flesh, for the Gentiles have reveled in it and such things are not to even be mentioned among the saints, and are sins which require repentance.

What kinds of things, then, would fall under the term “uncleanness?” Any thing that is of sin and is not of God and would soil one’s spiritual garments. Certainly the realm of sexuality and the sins therein fall under this category, as the term is used in conjunction with the other terms that refer to sexual deviancy (cf. above). Yet truly any thing that would separate one from God– drinking, drug use, lying, causing strife, promoting error, violence, and many, many other things– may be considered “unclean” and ought not even be named amongst us.

God has truly not called us to uncleanness; we are to actually be found in Him, without spot or blemish, willing to confess and repent concerning those sins which beset us. Let us heed the message of Paul in Romans 6:19 and 1 Thessalonians 4:7:

I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification.

For God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification.

Let us lay aside all things which lead to physical and moral uncleanness, and strive for the sanctification in Jesus Christ, presenting our bodies as servants of righteousness and not the slaves of sin.


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