Lets begin by looking at the first statement, then the last, and then listing out the “fruits” of the flesh. So, first off, notice that Paul is asserting that the fruits of the flesh are “evident”, or “obvious”. It isn’t any mystery as to what acts are of the flesh and which acts are spiritual. This isn’t rocket science, nor something debatable. If you know even the most elementary things of Christianity, you shouldn’t have to ask many questions before you come to these.
With that said, let us not be surprised at what is listed. And, let us not be surprised that “those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God”. How can they? They do the very things that are the antithesis of the Kingdom of God. This would be like an American who wants to destroy America. If you hate America so much that you forcefully battle in all of your ways against the very foundation of what America is and stands for, then you have no reason to be within America. Now, this isn’t about patriotism, but the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is about certain things, such as love, hope, faith, peace, and righteousness, then how can you expect they who hate to be a part of that Kingdom? If the Kingdom is righteous, then would it really be heaven for the unrighteous to dwell there? If the Kingdom is of self-control, will the impulsive and undisciplined actually find it to be heaven?
Jesus defined this pretty sharply when claiming that to even look at a woman with lust is to commit adultery. Essentially, what Jesus is getting at is that the act of adultery doesn’t begin with intercourse, but way before that there was a moment when your heart went from recognizing the beauty of the other person to desiring them. It was at that moment, when you went from recognizing the beauty to desiring them sexually that you not only committed adultery, but began to see them as an object for your own pleasure and satisfaction.
Just like adultery, this act doesn’t begin with the pre-marital sex, but with the moment that you go from simply being attracted to the other person to pursuing more than mere “attraction”. Now, here is the interesting thing: Often, the act of sexual intimacy isn’t condemned in the Bible. Fornication isn’t simply the act of having sex outside of marriage, but having sex for pleasure. When you will have sex with someone, only to then move on to the next person, you have committed fornication. Once again, this gets back to the heart of seeing people as objects instead of people. I think the biblical response to a couple who were attempting to remain pure, but got carried away in the heat of a certain moment, is that we allow them to get married. Don’t tell them they sinned and now need to break up. Instead, if they can’t keep their hands off of one another, let them express such things in the bonds of marriage. These are two completely different circumstances and dispositions of the heart, and therefore need to be treated as such. (BTW, not condoning pre-marital sex, but simply trying to help give better advice than the kind of condemnation that will lead to people forsaking Christ. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of people in my generation who probably have already had sex, or performed sexual acts, before they’re 20. How about we think through what we’re saying to them.)
In Leviticus, uncleanness was never treated the same as sin. Sin meant that you needed to repent and offer these sacrifices in order to be made right before God again. Uncleanness simply required washing yourself and then at the evening sacrifice you were made clean. Certain things did require an amount of time to be made clean (like the purification after child birth – Lev 12), but most of the time it was an issue of doing something, or having something happen to you, that defiled your body, and therefore wasn’t specifically sinful. It’s on this list because from a New Testament perspective it isn’t what goes into a man, nor what is necessarily a “defect” or sickness, that makes a man unclean, but rather what comes out of the man (Matthew 15:11).
What is lewdness? Is it not the very thing of the heart that has already been expressed through adultery and fornication, only the outward display of it? It is lewd to be sexually profane, whether in word or in action, but it’s also lewd to display any kind of indecent or profane behavior. Once again, it comes from the heart that is bent toward injustice, objectifying people, using people for selfishness, and bigotry.
Idolatry in the Old Testament is often the spiritual counterpart to adultery. Whereas adultery is the physical act of cheating on your spouse, idolatry is the spiritual act of following other gods. Idolatry is manifest in any thing that you devote yourself to in order to find satisfaction, relief, and/or happiness – especially, but not exclusively, when that is found in a religious context. When you’re relieved from the sense of shame through “things” that you do, you have committed idolatry. This could include even religious things, like tithing. It isn’t through tithing that you’re saved, but through faith in Christ Jesus. It isn’t by sports that you find the deep satisfaction of your soul, the calling upon your life, but by being what God has created you to be in Christ.
There is a verse in the Old Testament that claims rebellion is worse than witchcraft. Some have taken this to mean rebellion IS witchcraft, but I’m not so quick to endorse that. There are obvious examples of sorcery and witchcraft in the New Testament, Simon the sorcerer of Acts 8 being one of them. Sorcery endorses the wisdom of demons, and the power of demons, in order to accomplish signs and wonders. I can say that this happens within the “church”, especially when healings, miracles, demonic deliverance, etc are being promoted heavily. It isn’t through God’s wisdom and compassion that such things take place, but through a carnal grasping of things that the Bible says, and therefore an unholy boldness in “naming and claiming” through the supposed “power” of those Scriptures and Jesus’ name. It’s sorcery at its finest.
Hatred doesn’t begin with a condemnation toward another human being, but with being angry at your brother/sister for no warrant. Jesus said that anyone who says, “Raca” shall be condemned to hellfire, but why? Raca is the term used to say someone is worthless. You feel as though there is nothing that this person can contribute to society, nor the world in general, and therefore you hate them. To consider someone worthless is to hate, and that doesn’t begin with the feeling of “worthlessness”, but rather with the anger and bitterness that should be processed and overcome. When you can go from acknowledging someone on the road, being angry with them cutting you off, and then go from there to blowing past them without even considering that person at all, you have begun the process of hatred.
Contentions are brought about by moments that should be overcome. A brother/sister offends you, and so what do you do? Biblically, we should go to them (and them alone), and should strive to work out our differences. If they won’t listen to you, then take someone else with you to talk to them. Reason with the other person. If they caused offense, what is it that they did that specifically offended? If they won’t listen to that, then they don’t have a tender heart (another way of saying their heart is still hardened, and possibly unchanged by the Gospel). Contentions arise when we won’t consult one another to work things out, but rather gossip or let things fester.
Once again, jealousies arise when we see “worthlessness”. This time, it isn’t another who is worthless, but self. Why be jealous of what another has, whether physically or spiritually? Has God not created you to be different, and therefore not have the same things? Why, then, jealousy? They don’t have what you have, and you don’t have what they have. Rejoice in that, because God builds all things together according to His wisdom and not out own.
Outbursts of Wrath
This is the expression of hatred, contentions, and anger. If you are not willing to deal with these issues like healthy adults, then it will explode at some time in some way. Whether in physical violence or verbal/emotional violence, it makes no difference. Both require that hatred, contentions, and anger fester instead of being dealt with.
This doesn’t mean that we should have no goals or hopes or ambitions. What it means is that our ambitions should be loving enough to consider others. Why does Paul say to seek prophecy? We have thought we should seek tongues, but Paul doesn’t say to seek tongues. He says to seek prophecy, or if you do seek tongues to also seek the interpretation of tongues. Why? Because it is the loving thing to do. Above all, seek love, which then leads straightway into “seek prophecy”. Why? Prophecy edifies the whole Body, and interpretation of tongues edifies the whole Body, but the gift of tongues only edifies you. Do you see how this is an example of selfish ambition?
This is similar to contention, but doesn’t specifically have to result in anger or offense. It could be that you are jealous, that you gossip, that you don’t like someone, or even that you disagree doctrinally. Doctrinal differences aren’t to result in church splits or denominationalism. Is there not one truth? If there is one truth, then why split churches? Should we not wrestle together until we come to the same conclusions?
Heresy is not simply false teaching. Heresy is the renunciation of all truth. It is the establishment of lies in the place of truth. Heresy demands that you have said something so contrary to the truth that there is absolutely no way that you are in Christ, but rather are antichrist. You’ve rejected truth on such a fundamental level that the only satisfactory response is damnation.
This is likened to jealousy. What do you have that you have not received could be changed to, “What do they have that they have not received?”
Jesus’ point in Matthew 5 was that murder starts with the heart. It begins by saying someone is worthless, and then progresses to even further extremes. Not only are they worthless, but actually a hindrance to society, and the world would be better without this person. Have you ever heard someone say something like that? They might not have actually murdered someone, but they haven’t done any better by expressing “young earth creationists”, or Christians/Jews in general, are a hindrance to the progression of society.
This comes down to self-indulgence. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. When you can’t even control yourself enough to know how much you can drink before getting drunk, you haven’t only sinned against your own body, but against the very drink itself. Alcohol isn’t forthright condemned in the Bible, but drunkenness is. You can treat the alcohol with respect, knowing that wine has some medicinal properties, and that alcohol itself can relax your muscles. I can add to this the very lack of self-restrain that obesity demands. It isn’t genetics, nor a sickness, but self-indulgence that brings about obesity. These things are not fitting for the Kingdom, and they who struggle with them need to be encouraged with a godly encouragement.
This is like partying, which if you’ve ever been to a college party, you know exactly why this is condemned. Hollywood exaggerates, this is true, but that doesn’t mean that the mentality doesn’t exist or pervade many of the college parties. That mindset can be very much alive without the need for a “party”.