Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are… (Gal 5:19)
In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul gives a list of 17 things (in the King James Version) of what walking in the flesh looks like. A quick look at them shows that four of them deal with sexual sins. Nine deal with how we deal with others, including being jealous of them and reacting in anger towards others.
I think when most of us think about walking in the flesh we think of the person who just gives himself over to sinful desires. If he is a believer, he is what we would call a backslider. He basically lives his life without caring about God and probably doesn’t even attend church, Bible studies, etc., or at least not very often.
But what is interesting about the book of Galatians is that is not how we would describe the people Paul is writing to. They are believers, but they are not what we would call backsliders. In fact, they are what we would call religious people. They were very interested in what the Bible had to say. They were particularly interested in what the Law of Moses said. They wanted to fulfill it.
The problem is that they saw that doing all these religious works, such as being circumcision, eating the right food, etc, was the way they were going to please God. They felt that acceptance before God was based upon these things. In doing so, they were looking to their own strength to accomplish this. They were not resting in the power of the Spirit. In other words, they were living under the power of their own flesh, not the power of the Spirit. In Galatians 5, this is what it means to live according to the flesh.
It is interesting, isn’t it? A person can be very active in church, read the Bible, and outwardly appear very religious, but be a very fleshly believer. That happens when we forget that we live by God’s grace and by faith, and not in the power of our own flesh.
It is no accident when we look at the 17 things that Paul lists in these verses that we do not only see them in unbelievers in the world in which we live. Unfortunately, we also often see them in the lives of believers, even believers that are a vital part of our local churches. Sexual sins, including pornography, are rampant in our churches. In addition, the anger and jealousy that Paul refers to are also staples in many evangelical churches.
Of course, some would say that such people are not really Christians. But Paul makes it very clear in Galatians that believers can indeed walk in the power of the flesh – even religious people. We can hate the other believers in the church, and speak ill of them, while serving as deacons and teaching Sunday School in that same church.
Isn’t it clear that whenever any of us focus on ourselves and how we can serve God in our power, that we are walking according to the flesh? When we do, we are capable of any of the works of the flesh that Paul lists.
If we are going to walk by the Spirit we must focus on the grace of God, who we are because of that grace through faith in Christ, and allow Him to live through and change us.