The Mortification of Sin: The Works of the Flesh.

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 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.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

What exactly are the works of the flesh? While not a complete or comprehensive list, what the Apostle Paul does share is pretty thorough and reflects several categories of sin.

What is sin? The question is raised in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The answer provided to this catechetical question is simply this: “Sin is any want of conformity to or transgression of the law of God.”

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “To gain a complete view of sin, we have to see that it involves more than a negation of the good, or more than a simple lack of virtue. We may be inclined to think that sin, if defined exclusively in negative terms, is merely an illusion. But the ravages of sin point dramatically to the reality of its power, which reality can never be explained away by appeals to illusion. The reformers added to the idea of privatio” the notion of actuality or activity, so that evil is therefore seen in the phrase, privatio actuosa.” This stresses the active character of sin. In the catechism, sin is defined not only as a want of conformity but an act of transgression, an action that involves an overstepping or violation of a standard.

This is why believers in Christ must set about to mortify their sin. What are some examples of sinful behavior? Galatians 5:19-21 gives us a sampling. They may be divided into three distinct categories.

The first category concerns sexual sin. These are sins which violate God’s standard for sexual intimacy, which He restricts to a man and his wife covenanted in a heterosexual marriage. The violations include sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (Galatians 5:19).

The term sexual immorality comes from the Greek word πορνεία (pornia) from which we derive our English word pornography and pornographic. It means to engage in illicit sex or fornication. It is a general term referring to any and all sexual immorality, including prostitution and homosexuality.

Impurity (ἀκαθαρσία; akatharsia) means moral impurity. It refers to immorality and sexual filthiness.

Sensuality (ἀσέλγεια; aselgeia) refers to extreme immorality. It is often translated licentiousness. One Greek dictionary says the equivalent of “‘licentious behavior’ would be ‘to live like a dog’ or ‘to act like a goat’ or ‘to be a rooster,’ in each instance pertaining to promiscuous sexual behavior.”

Dr. John Walvoord writes, “Sexual immorality (porneia) is often translated “fornication.” From this word comes the term “pornography.” Porneia refers to any and all forms of illicit sexual relationships. Impurity (akatharsia) is a broad term referring to moral uncleanness in thought, word, and deed (cf. Eph. 5:3–4). Debauchery (aselgeia) connotes an open, shameless, brazen display of these evils (cf. 2 Cor. 12:21 where the same words occur; aselgeia is included in Rom. 13:13).”

This list of three words and phrases sounds like much of the content of many scripted and reality cable television programs. Quite frankly, it is the content of much of the prime time fare on network television, movies, music and magazines. All of these categories of sexual sin are presented by the culture as normal and liberating. The reality is that these sins are abnormal and enslaving.

Do you struggle with these sins? I know, this is a really personal question but answer it in the inner confines of your soul between you and the LORD. Repent of these desires and continually ask God to give you the strength to guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23-27).

Next time, we will look at the second category of sins found in Galatians 5:20.

May the LORD’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

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