What are the Works of the Flesh? (Galatians 5:19-21)
When the Bible speaks of “the flesh” or the “sinful nature” it is usually referring to man’s tendency to gravitate towards sinful living.
The flesh is man’s natural inclination to disobey God by attempting to find pleasure and satisfaction through sinful behavior.
The flesh refers to any conduct in speech, action or motive which contradicts the word of God. The flesh or sin nature entered mankind from the time Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Therefore we are all born with a sin nature.
Romans 5:12 NLT says: When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.
The flesh is what governs mostly those who are not born again or have not been genuinely regenerated by the Holy Spirit through salvation. This is why the Bible says that the flesh or sin nature is always fighting against the Holy Spirit or the things that pertain to the Spirit of God.
Galatians 5:17 says: For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Therefore, what are the works of the flesh according to the Bible? What are the characteristics / traits of the flesh or sin nature?
The Works of the Flesh Listed
Many of the works of the flesh are listed in Galatians 5:19-21 which says: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Paul warns that those who habitually and rebelliously live according to the works of the flesh “will not inherit the kingdom of God”.
The list mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21 is not exhaustive.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 says: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Again, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Paul mentions that those who practice the unrighteous deeds of the flesh “will not inherit the kingdom of God”.
Therefore living according to the flesh has consequences. The works of the flesh ultimately leads to hostility against God and eventual eternal punishment.
Romans 8:7-8 says: 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
The Flesh versus The Spirit
The only way we can avoid living in bondage to the works of the flesh is through salvation or regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
It is through salvation in Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit regenerates us and gives us a new heart and new godly desires. We become born again and therefore we become a new creation (John 3:5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
A person who is not born again is in bondage to the works of the flesh. It is only when we are born again that we are able to choose the things of the Spirit rather than the works of the flesh.
When we become born again, we are able to fight the impulse to gravitate towards the works of the flesh because of the power of the Holy Spirit who is in us.
Therefore it is only through the Spirit that we can overcome the works of the flesh when we make a choice to yield to the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:16 says: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:24 says: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Therefore when we walk in the Spirit, we will overcome the works of the flesh and therefore please God. However if we walk in the flesh, we are rebelling against God.
Romans 8:5-8 says: For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
The Fruit of the Holy Spirit
When we live or walk according to the Spirit, the Bible tells us that we will produce at least 9 virtues.
Galatians 5:22-24 says: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
The fruit of the Spirit is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in our daily life. It is only by the Spirit of God that we can overcome the works of the flesh.