In Galatians 5:16–25, Paul contrasts the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. He does so in order to encourage the churches in Galatia to “walk in the Spirit.” The basis of his appeal is the new life they have in Christ by the Spirit (v. 25). They are freed from the law and are now led by the Spirit (v. 18). The flesh, its “passions and desires,” died with Christ on the cross (v. 24). Let’s contrast these two ways of living with some help from the Believer’s Bible Commentary by William MacDonald.

The Works of the Flesh

  • Adultery is unfaithfulness in the marriage relationship.
  • Fornication is unlawful sexual intercourse.
  • Uncleanness is moral evil, sensuality.
  • Lewdness is shameless conduct involving absence of restraint.
  • Idolatry is not only the worship of idols, but also the immorality that accompanies demon worship.
  • Sorcery is witchcraft, the Greek word being related to drugs (pharmakeia). Since sorcery included the use of drugs, the word came to mean intercourse with evil spirits, or the use of magic spells. It may also include superstitions, “bad luck,” and so on.
  • Hatred means strong feelings of malice directed toward individuals.
  • Contentions are discord, variance, quarrels.
  • Jealousies are distrust, suspicions.
  • Wrath is outbursts of hot anger or passions.
  • Selfish ambition is the self-centered strivings to be “number one,” even at others’ expense.
  • Dissensions are separations over disagreements.
  • Heresies are sects men form with self-willed opinions.
  • Envy is displeasure at the success or prosperity of others.
  • Murders are unlawful killing of others.
  • Drunkenness refers to intoxication caused by strong drink.
  • Revelries are riotous gatherings for entertainment, accompanied by drunkenness.

Paul follows up this list with the solemn warning that “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21). The life characterized by the works of the flesh is contrary to the Christian and incompatible with God’s kingdom.

The Fruit of the Spirit

  • Love is what God is, and what we ought to be. It is beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 13, and told out in all its fullness at the cross of Calvary.
  • Joy is contentment and satisfaction with God and with His dealings. Christ displayed it in John 4:34.
  • Peace could include the peace of God as well as harmonious relations among Christians. For peace in the life of the Redeemer, see Luke 8:22–25.
  • Longsuffering is patience in afflictions, annoyances, and persecutions. Its supreme example is found in Luke 23:34.
  • Kindness is gentleness, perhaps best explained in the attitude of the Lord toward little children (Mark 10:14).
  • Goodness is kindness shown to others. To see goodness in action, we have but to read Luke 10:30–35.
  • Faithfulness may mean trust in God, confidence in our fellow Christians, fidelity, or reliability. This latter is probably the meaning here.
  • Gentleness is taking the lowly place as Jesus did when He washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:1–17).
  • Self-control means literally holding oneself in, especially regarding sex. Our lives should be disciplined. Lust, passions, appetites, and temper should be ruled. We should practice moderation.

The items of this list are all of the same kind, the fruit produced by the Spirit in the life of the one in Christ. When this fruit grows in a believer’s life, a truly magnificent picture begins to develop.

One Final Thought

In newspaper English the passage reads something like this: the fruit of the Spirit is an affectionate, lovable disposition. It is a radiant spirit and a cheerful temper; a tranquil mind and a quiet manner. The fruit of the Spirit creates a forbearing patience in provoking circumstances and with trying people. It also instills a sympathetic insight and tactful helpfulness; generous judgment and a big-souled charity. Where the Spirit is active, loyalty and reliableness are present under all circumstances. The Spirit produces humility that forgets self in the joy of others. In all things the Christian is self-mastered and self-controlled, which is the final mark of perfection. How striking this is in relation to 1 Cor. 13!

Samuel Chadwick

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this insightful article. I particularly enjoy the outlining of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. This listing makes it so easy to see, and really appreciate the awfulness of the works of the flesh.
    As a Bible teacher, I find that this topic of “flesh vs Spirit” continues to be a pain to many Christians. Interestingly, not the manifestations of each—which is quite easy to see—but what exactly is the flesh! And your line “Let’s contrast these two ways of living” quoted from the commentary is so insightful. Flesh and Spirit are two ways of living. And added to the complication, although the “flesh, its “passions and desires,” died with Christ on the cross” , many of God’s children are perplexed to find that the flesh appears to be well and alive, a real enemy that still have to deal with every single day!
    A practical understanding of the flesh as used in Galatians 5, especially from the functional perspective, is really important to make sense of our daily ongoing struggles with its cravings. I encourage believers to personally study this fascinating topic, as its practical benefits are enormous.

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