The Works of the Flesh
While Paul’s focus in Galatians 5:16-18 is on the necessity of the Holy Spirit for victorious Christian living, in verses 19-21 his emphasis shifts to the works of the flesh. We saw in our discussion of verses 1-15 that in the context of Galatians we must define flesh as anything against love. That is the opposite of flesh is love; and love means serving one another (Galatians 5:13-14). Flesh therefore, defined by its opposite, means self-centered existence, egocentric existence; not specifically a proclivity to carnal sins (as we call them), but a concern focused upon oneself.
That is much the same as saying that SIN is love perverted and loving yourself more than God and other people. The impulse toward the flesh and SIN is the same thing. Anything that makes us self-centered rather than other-centered is a work of the flesh. From that perspective, SIN in the mind leads to sinful actions (or sins), and a focus on the flesh leads to the works of the flesh. Thus, If I believe that I am the most important person in my universe, I may eventually begin to dishonor God, use your body, or take your things. Those, of course, are the more obvious works of the flesh. On a less visible level my fleshly self-love may just lead me to be critical of you because I am more dedicated to living all of God’s laws than you are. The fruit of that religious attitude is dissension and strife in the church, the very problem that the law-emphasizing believers in Galatia were facing (see verses 20, 15).
As far as the works of the flesh (verses 19-21) are concerned, the thing to note is that they are not all what we should describe as carnal sins. Some are: Fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, drunkenness, revellings. And the sexual sins stand first because they are the clearest of all example of a man, or woman, arrogating to himself rights he does not possess, exploiting for his own indulgence not only another’s property but another’s person, and at the most sensitive point. But idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wrath, factions, divisions, party sprit, envying, those too are works of the flesh; and church history has been and is littered with them. Not all are carnal sins, but all self-centered sins. They underline the fact that sin is egocentricity; and the flesh is man’s innate tendency to egocentricity.
Paul’s list of works of the flesh falls into roughly four categories (1) sexual sins, (2) religious deviations, (3) disorders in personal relationships, and (4) sins of intemperance. His final words are that those who practice (the verb tense here suggests continuing to practice on a regular basis rather than an isolate lapse) such persons who practice these things a regular basis will not inherit the kingdom of God (verse 21 NASB).
God will have to exclude them for at least two reasons. First, their works provide evidence that they are not in Christ and thus they are not of Abraham’s seed and heir according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). And, second, they wouldn’t be happy in the kingdom because they are totally out of harmony with its basic principle of outgoing love to other people. As a result, not only would they feel uncomfortable there with their fleshly principles but their presence would be eternally disruptive.