The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21
These three verses contrast with the next two verses (which we’ll share later). Two keys are critical to understanding both sets: the grace of God and free choice.
In these verses, Paul lists “don’t’s” for Christians. Don’t do this; don’t do that. I think many people are turned off from Christianity by the perception that it’s full of “don’t’s”; that we are to not do more things than we are allowed to do. That God is displeased when we do the don’t’s and will reject us from heaven. But if we’ve turned someone off before we can explain to them what good comes from following Jesus, then we may have lost them forever. Worse, we’ll have misused the good gift Jesus gave us.
In today’s verses, Paul lists the “don’t’s” for our own good. It’s not that these behaviors and actions exclude us from heaven. It IS that they can become idols, tearing us away from our faith. What we think can become our reality, and if we focus on the thoughts that lead to such “don’t’s” in life, then following through with those actions becomes so much easier. And those actions can cause harm to us and others. They’re common temptations, especially acts of the flesh The things Paul lists here were common in the Roman first century. They were behaviors encouraged by the pagan world. Tell me: what has changed? Don’t we deal with these same things today? Aren’t they still a danger to us? If we’re freed from Jewish laws, aren’t we an easier mark for sin?
The behaviors he lists here are contrary to what Jesus thought, said, and did. They’re the kinds of things that He died and rose to atone for because we couldn’t on our own. Our loving God created us to have free will and free choice so we could choose to love and follow Him instead of being compelled to do it. Yet He knew our choices might lead us astray, so He graces our every day with patient and forgiving mercy, not wanting any of us to fall away; not wanting any of us to not know Him.
Without God’s grace, we can’t avoid things we shouldn’t think or do. Without Jesus, “don’t” becomes the cudgel that an unbelieving world uses to attack us. Paul wanted to help us avoid that.
For further reading: Malachi 2:6, Matthew 7:16-20, Matthew 15:19, Matthew 25:34, Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 6:18, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:12-15, Galatians 5:22
Lord, forgive me when I’ve fallen. I praise You for Your merciful grace.
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