An Exploration of Galatians: A Warning from Paul
Galatians 5:19-21 - The Holy Spirit is our Holy guide and conscience to keep us from practicing the deeds of the flesh.
”Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.“
Galatians 5:19-21 NASB1995
I have spent several devotionals exploring these three verses in Galatians 5. Paul ends this passage with a “forewarning” to the churches of Galatia that those who practice these deeds of the flesh will not inherit the Kingdom of God. These are powerful words and should be quite sobering to the believer.
First, what does it mean to forewarn? Forewarn comes from the Greek word προέπω or proepo, with these Biblical usages:
to say before
to say in what precedes, to say above
to say before i.e. heretofore, formerly
to say beforehand i.e. before the event: prophecies
Paul has not spoken about these sins to Christians for the first time in this epistle. He is saying that he has addressed them before and the converted soul does not practice such deeds of the flesh. So let’s look at another phrase: those who practice comes from the Greek word πράσσω or prasso, with these Biblical usages (the first two are the most appropriate in this context):
to exercise, practise, to be busy with, carry on
to undertake, to do
to accomplish, perform
to commit, perpetrate
to manage public affairs, transact public business
to exact tribute, revenue, debts
So those who have said they believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, yet continue to blithely practice and commit sins like those listed (don’t forget the laundry list of “things like these”) will not attain eternal life in heaven. Is Paul saying that we need to knuckle down and adhere to thousands of laws (works), sweating bullets every day in great fear, to ensure our salvation? Of course not! Let’s look at commentary from Enduring Word:
Of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past: This shows that Paul often instructed Christians in how they should live, and this wasn’t just an occasional emphasis. Paul knew that we are saved by God’s grace and Jesus’ work alone, not by what we have done, are doing, or promise to do. But he also knew that those who are saved by God’s grace have a high moral obligation to fulfill – not to earn salvation, but in gratitude for salvation, and in simple consistency with who we are in Jesus.
Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God: To walk in these works of the flesh is to be in plain rebellion against God, and those in plain rebellion against God will not inherit the kingdom of God.
What is at stake here? The kingdom of God, which describes where God rules, and the benefits of His rule are realized. Because Paul speaks of inheriting the kingdom of God, we understand he means “heaven.” Paul says plainly, that those who practice such things will not go to heaven. Neither will they know the wonder and the glory of the kingdom of God on earth.
Who are the people in danger? Those who practice such things. This means more than someone who has committed adultery, or fornication, or sorcery, or drunkenness, or any of these. This speaks of those who continue on in these sins, ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit telling them to “stop.”
“The tense of the verb (present) indicates a habitual continuation in fleshly sins rather than an isolated lapse, and the point is that those who continually practice such sins give evidence of having never received God’s Spirit.” (James Montgomery Boice)
Practice “represents a present participle, ‘people doing such things’, and it carries the implication that they do them constantly.” (Leon Morris)
“The verb prassontes [practice] referring to habitual practice rather than an isolated lapse.” (John Stott)
Will not inherit the kingdom of God: The strength and certainty of Paul in this verse is striking. Paul may sound rigid or even harsh here, but he is consistent with the Biblical idea of conversion. When we come to Jesus to have our sins forgiven and our soul saved, He also changes our life. It doesn’t happen all at once, and the work will never be perfected on this side of eternity, but there will be a real change none the less (1 John 3:5-9). As Charles Spurgeon is said to have put it, “The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.” The idea isn’t that a Christian could never commit these sins, but that they could never stay in these sins.
“Christians also fall and perform the lusts of the flesh. David fell horribly into adultery. Peter also fell grievously when he denied Christ. However great as these sins were, they were not committed to spite God, but from weakness. When their sins were brought to their attention these men did not obstinately continue in their sin, but repented. Those who sin through weakness are not denied pardon as long as they rise again and cease to sin. There is nothing worse than to continue in sin. If they do not repent, but obstinately continue to fulfill the desires of the flesh, it is a sure sign that they are not sincere.” (Martin Luther)
If you glean anything out of this superb commentary it is to focus on what Charles Spurgeon likely said: “The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul”. I thought about this quite intently as I wrote this and came to the realization that the Holy Spirit has definitely been working in me in the years since we came back to belief. I still fall into sin every day, but that voice in my mind (sometimes soft, sometimes a bit louder) convicting me of that sin is ever-present. The rebellion and obstinacy of this convert are being subdued and my soul is refined during every waking moment! I must note that the “small voice” was in my head even when I was walking in a sin-filled (by choice) secular lifestyle. Steve admits to the same thing, so the Good Shepherd was calling out to us in the dark woods that lead to death even before we turned came back to Him.
I believe I have shared some of this before, but I really like the explanation in Gotquestions.org on how we can know we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Here is an excerpt:
Being filled with the Holy Spirit in the context of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:18 differs from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at salvation (see John 14:16–17). Those who believe in Jesus Christ and accept His gift of salvation receive the life-giving, eternal “Living Water” of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39; see also 1 Corinthians 12:13; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 3:14; Ephesians 1:13). Everyone who belongs to Jesus Christ has the Spirit of God living in him or her (Romans 8:9). Nevertheless, we can hinder or stifle the work of the Spirit in our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and even “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30).
Sin and rebellion against God’s will hinder us from being filled with the Holy Spirit. When we give in to sinful temptations and worldly desires, when we lose control and do what we know is wrong, living as we did before accepting Christ’s salvation, we prevent God’s Spirit from guiding, influencing, and governing our behavior. The Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched because He is not allowed to reveal Himself in our lives as He wants to, with expressions or “fruits” of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). When we sin, we should confess our transgressions to God as soon as possible (1 John 1:9) and renew our commitment to being filled with the Spirit.
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) and are “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18), “live by the Spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). According to the apostle Paul, being filled with the Holy Spirit makes the difference between life and death. When we belong to Jesus, “the power of the life-giving Spirit” frees us “from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:2, NLT). “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). Instead of living in bondage to sin and fear of death, we live as God’s adopted children (Romans 8:14–15).
We can be filled with the Holy Spirit daily by yielding our will to God in submission and obedience to His Word. There is no formula to follow other than to allow Him to fill us and control every part of our lives—our thoughts, emotions, bodies, and actions. Only as we submit to Him and are filled with the Holy Spirit can we experience a harmonious relationship with God and one another.
We can hinder or stifle the Holy Spirit. We should confess our transgressions to God immediately after they occur and renew our commitment daily to being filled with the Holy Spirit. Living with the Spirit is life! The Spirit can control our thoughts, emotions, bodies and actions and help us lead a harmonious life with God and others.
This is a perfect transition for the next series of devotionals examining Galatians 5:22-23, the Fruit of the Spirit. My next devotional will introduce “Fruit” as a spiritual concept.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Thank you for filling me with your Holy Spirit and turning me away from the deeds of the flesh that used to dominate my life. Please help me to continue to turn aside the sins that lead to death and to work to fill me with the fruit of the Spirit. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The Blue Letter Bible was accessed on 1/4/2024 to review the lexicon for “forewarned” and “those who practice”.
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
Gotquestions.org was accessed on 1/4/2024 to answer the question on how you can know you are filled with the Holy Spirit.