An Exploration of Galatians: Deeds of the Flesh Part 2
Galatians 5:19-21 - What is your passion? Is it God?
”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
First of all, I would like wish all of the readers of our devotionals a most blessed Christmas! Joy to the World, the Lord is born!
It is somewhat ironic that I am digging into the next two deeds of the flesh on this essential Christian holiday. These deeds are religious sins: idolatry and sorcery.
So what is idolatry? This word comes from the Greek word εἰδωλολατρεία or idololatria and has these Biblical usages:
the worship of false gods, idolatry
of the formal sacrificial feats held in honour of false gods
of avarice, as a worship of Mammon
in the plural, the vices springing from idolatry and peculiar to it
It’s certainly worth paying attention to the definition in 1b, as I explore this a little bit more.
Now, I’m not going to throw Santa Claus under the bus, but that fictional character (who is based on a real and noble saint) has taken over the central role of Christmas in almost every way, shape or form. People watch Christmas parades to see Santa at the end, not a manger scene (although those can sometimes be included if the non-believers don’t scream too loud). Children are brought to stores to sit in Santa’s lap and tell him their long list of “wants” for Christmas. Here’s some advice from Gotquestions.org about this question (and you can go to the link to read the entire article, including the history of St. Nicholas):
Many Christian parents are torn as to whether or not they should play the "Santa game" with their children. On one hand, he makes Christmas fun and magical, leaving wonderful holiday memories for years to come. On the other hand, the focus of Christmas should be on Jesus Christ and how much He has already given us. So, is the story of Santa Claus an innocent addition to Christmas festivities, or is he a subject that should be avoided?
Parents need to use their own judgment in deciding whether or not to include Santa during the holidays, but here are some things to consider: Children who believe that the gifts they receive Christmas morning are from a magical man with unending resources are less likely to appreciate what they have been given, and the sacrifices their parents make in providing them. Greed and materialism can overshadow the holiday season, which is meant to be about giving, loving, and worshiping God. Children whose parents are on a tight budget may feel that they have been overlooked by Santa, or even worse, deemed one of the "bad" boys or girls.
An even more troubling aspect of telling our children that Santa comes down the chimney each year to leave their gifts is that it is, obviously, a lie. We live in a society that believes that lying for the "right" reason is acceptable. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, it is not a problem. This is contrary to what the Bible tells us. "For the Scriptures say, 'If you want to live a happy life and good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil, and keep your lips from telling lies'" (1 Peter 3:10, NLT). Of course, telling our children that Santa is real is not a malicious deception, but it is, nevertheless, a lie.
Although it is probably not typical, some children honestly feel deceived and betrayed by their parents when they find out that Santa is not real. Children trust their parents to tell them the truth, and it is our responsibility not to break this trust. If we do, they will not believe more important things we tell them, such as the truth about Christ, whom they also cannot physically see.
This doesn’t mean we must leave Santa completely out of Christmas. Children can still play the "Santa game" even if they know it is all pretend. They can make lists, sit on his lap at the mall, and leave out cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. This will not rob them of their joy of the season, and gives parents the opportunity to tell their children about the godly qualities of the real Saint Nicholas, who dedicated his life to serving others and made himself into a living example of Jesus Christ.
This month, we decided to watch some of the classic Christmas movies. The list includes the usual favorites, like “White Christmas”, It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Story”, “The Santa Clause”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, “The Bishop’s Wife” “Home Alone”, “Elf” and many more. With rare exceptions, most of these films don’t even touch on or talk about the real reason for Christmas, but focus instead on holiday cheer, parties, decorations, snow, elves, reindeer and good ol’ Santa Claus. The airwaves are filled mostly with the “secular” Christmas songs interspersed with a few Christian classics. People are told to shop until they drop to satisfy family members, friends and, especially, children, with all of their wants. We must concede that Santa Claus has won the battle of the season, sadly, except during church services and in the hearts of believers.
There are more insidious idolatries that can invade our lives, not just the greed and stress of the Christmas season. I borrowed this meme (above) from a friend who shared it on social media. In Paul’s day, idolatry meant bending your knee and making sacrifices to false gods, like the Roman pantheon. In this day and age, people make idols out of many more things. Here’s a list that I think covers many of the modern idols:
Celebrities - Look at the ubiquitous Taylor Swift, who is worshipped by many young women - the series of magazine covers above testify to her relentless pursuit of the fame that has been granted to her by our culture. The ridiculous amounts of ink and pictures surrounding her and the latest boyfriend, who happens to play in the NFL, is beyond belief. Celebrities are worshipped or even just looked up to by many. If you don’t believe it, what is your physical reaction when you are told that a major movie star is in your immediate vicinity?
Sports Figures - These are the people who are paid exorbitant amounts of money to carry or kick balls downfield, hit them with a bat, or dunk them in a basket. They wouldn’t make that amount of money if fans weren’t willing to fork over buckets of hard-earned bucks for tickets, gear, beer and parking at the arenas and stadiums. A fans’ “happiness” rises and falls with the random actions of their heroes. I would know - I was a huge baseball fan who was totally immersed in the actions of the nascent Colorado Rockies in their first years. My smiles were for wins, my frowns and grumpiness were displayed prominently for when they lost a game or a favorite player was injured. Interestingly, we haven’t been to a game since 2019.
Pets - Dogs and cats (and other domesticated animals) have become the substitute for children. People deeply grieve their loss when pets die and hope to see them on the “Rainbow Bridge” before they even see Jesus or other deceased relatives. We love our cats, but seeing Him comes FIRST and LAST in eternity.
Environment/Earth - Many people now are literally worshipping the Earth (Gaia) and treating the other creatures that live here as more important than any human, even calling for drastic reductions in human populations and other paralyzing actions that would destroy so many lives.
Science - In conjunction with the last one, many people are so hardcore about their belief that only science is the “answer” that they cannot see the beautiful mysteries of this life and know that the Universe is one that God created.
Greed - Money becomes the center of the personal universe, along with the possessions and experiences that it can buy. It becomes a “worship of self” to indulge as much as possible (the Fear of Missing Out/You Only Live Once syndrome). Think of miserable old Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, who couldn’t even share his wealth and ownership of all things in Bedford Falls with a tiny Building and Loan company. Think of how so many woman are lured by the siren call of career, greed and “fun” and use these excuses to justify aborting healthy unborn babies who might get in the way.
Power - An idolization of power and the prestige it brings explains why so many politicians are still looking for re-election at the age when most regular people are looking for a good assisted living center. It also explains why those who have a lot of money are seeking to expand their influence in corporate and government power circles, even when they are quite advanced in age.
Justice - People today are concerned deeply with justice for past slights and historical flaws. They are focused like a laser on how their people/race/type suffered in the near past or even well before they were born. They also “adopt” other groups as their cause to show their bona fide concerns with reaching an equitable solution. Justice becomes their god.
Health and Beauty - Many folks become fanatics about their health, spending hours and hours at the fitness center, spending a fortune on surgeries and treatments, loading up with cosmetics, and taking it all in while standing in front of the mirror and on the scale. It’s Godly to be concerned about your health and fitness, but it becomes an obsession for many people.
Anything else but God - Distractions, the internet, social media, television, reading, hobbies and a host of other things become the thing we desire to do, to not do the things that bring us closer to God. Whatever you spend the most time on voluntarily is an idol that governs your life. That can include really good things like family, endless busywork church activities, and trying to advance your career through sacrifices.
A difficult list! I know that I am often distracted and need to seriously look at the idols in my life.
So what is sorcery? Sorcery comes from a really interesting Greek word φαρμακεία or pharmakeia, with the following Biblical usages:
the use or the administering of drugs
sorcery, magical arts, often found in connection with idolatry and fostered by it
metaph. the deceptions and seductions of idolatry
Ok, I was expecting witchcraft and magical arts as part of sorcery, but the use and administering of drugs?? Our modern age is a wonder because of OTC and prescription drugs, drugs that have cured diseases, helped with pain and led people to cures for so many ailments. Are these truly evil and “sorcery”? Here’s what Gotquestions.org says about a Christian and prescription drugs:
Many Christians wrestle with their decisions over accepting valid medical therapies, including the use of prescription drugs. The Bible does not give us much on this subject, but if we examine the purposes of prescription drugs we can present an ideal approach to their uses based on biblical principles. We know from Scripture that ill health, disease, and death are the result of sin in the world. Much of Jesus’ earthly ministry involved combatting that curse, as He healed people everywhere He went (see Matthew 15:31). Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3), and by healing people He showed us God’s compassion and His identity as the Great Physician who will one day restore all of creation to health (Romans 8:18–22).
So, it is clear from Jesus’ ministry that to seek healing is not wrong; in fact, it is very right! Also, Luke, the writer of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts, was a physician (Colossians 4:14). Dr. Luke may not have dispensed prescriptions in the manner that doctors do today, but he was in the business of treating people’s physical ailments, using the medicines and treatments of his day.
In the days before prescription drugs, people sought relief from pain in other ways. Alcohol is mentioned in Proverbs 31:6–7 as being given to the terminally ill and others who suffer. Also, in 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul advises Timothy to drink a little wine to relieve his stomach ailment. Since other drugs had not yet been developed, fermented drinks were often used as remedies for pain and suffering, and the use of such analgesics is approved in God’s Word.
Also, we should keep in mind that most of today’s prescription medicines are based on elements occurring naturally in creation. A doctor may prescribe Amoxil, for example, but where did that antibiotic come from? It came from a substance produced by a blue-green mold called Penicillium notatum. Where did the mold come from? God made it. So, we can say that God created the penicillin mold and gave it the useful property of killing infectious bacteria. God then allowed people to discover this property, isolate the acting agent, and purify it for use in the human body. Is it wrong to use God’s own creation to improve the health of humanity? Not at all. In fact, He is glorified in such discoveries.
All of this should help us decide how we should think about prescription drugs. There is nothing wrong with seeking a doctor’s help when we are sick. There is nothing wrong with taking the drugs that doctor prescribes in the way that they are prescribed. Are there dangers and side effects associated with prescription drugs? Yes, of course, and doctors and pharmacists will explain the risks. Is it possible to abuse prescription drugs, overuse them, or develop unwanted dependencies? Yes, and the children of God must never allow themselves to be brought under the habitual control of a substance (see 1 Corinthians 6:12 for this principle stated in a different context).
In the end, a Christian’s use of prescription drugs is between that Christian and the Lord. The Bible does not command the use of medicinal treatments, but it certainly does not forbid it, either. The child of God should care for his or her body as being the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). This means taking preventative care, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting proper exercise. It also means taking advantage of the wisdom that God has given skilled researchers and physicians. We understand that God is the Healer, no matter by what means He heals, and we give the glory to Him.
There is good advice in this commentary from Gotquestions.org. When I had my knees replaced, I was given opioid pain relievers, which have been a bane for so many people in this country who become addicted. I used them precisely as directed, put up with the side effects, and carefully eased myself off of the medications, also as directed.
So what is really being referred to here are drugs that are used as tools of sorcery that do not help, heal, offer hope or relieve a person who is suffering. These are drugs that are taken to suspend mental acuity and create altered states of consciousness so that the users are more “in touch” with the dark spirit world. Sadly, the use of these types of drugs is becoming more and more “mainstream” and is even legal in many states (and I’m not just talking about marijuana).
Sorcery employs many others tools to draw a person to the dark side, besides strong drugs. Here’s some good advice from Rob Morgan (in Precept Austin) from the Donelson Fellowship on concerns for sorcery:
The teaching of the Bible, from the first books of Moses through to the final book of Revelation is clear. Sorcery and witchcraft are manifestations of Satan’s power and influence in this world. They are evil and wrong, they are destined for eternal judgment, but in the meantime they have the potential of causing harm. How can we protect ourselves? What do we need to do?
First, pay no attention to superstitions. Don’t worry about black cats, broken mirrors, four-leaf clovers, or spilled salt. Don’t follow old wives’ tales.
Second, avoid anything remotely connected with the occult such as ouija boards, séances, etc. Don’t call the psychic hotline, and don’t consult the horoscopes in the newspapers. Avoid entertainment that majors on these elements.
Third, be a student of the Scriptures. Isaiah 8:19 says, "When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony!"
Most of all, make sure you are covered with the blood of Christ. Take Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Appropriate the power of His blood over your life. There’s an old Gospel song that says, "Would you be free from the burden of sin? There’s power in the blood, power in the blood. Would you o’er evil a victory win? There’s wonderful power in the blood."
It’s not something to shrug off or laugh about. I remember a bunch of us, as young teenagers, trying out an Ouija board at an overnight sleep-in just for laughs. It creeped everyone out when the answers seemed to veer towards really dark and disturbing answers and many of us had nightmares for a few weeks. Evil is alive and walking on the Earth! Seek refuge in the blood of Christ!
My next devotional examines the first three relational sins that Paul addresses: Enmity, strife, and jealousy.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Please remove the idols in my life and help me make you the center of my remaining time here on Earth. Please protect me from the sources of evil that seek to destroy us. 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 12/21/2023 to review the lexicon definitions for idolatry and sorcery.
Gotquestions.org was accessed on 12/21/2023 to answer the questions about Santa Claus and use of prescription drugs.
The personal testimony of Bruce Hurt, creator of the Precept Austin site, may be found Here.