We are surrounded by immorality, but we are different. In the love of Jesus, we find strength to love.
John A. Braun
When the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, he sets us on the path to heaven. The early Christians described that path as the Way (Acts 9:2; 24:14). We know Jesus is the Way. We walk on that path through life to the destination of heaven, but it is also a way of acting and thinking.
As we follow the path, we encounter crossroads that can lead us in different directions. We know they lead us away from the Way, and our sinful flesh is often tempted. As saints and sinners at the same time, we often need correction to avoid paths that lead us astray.
In Galatians 5:19-23, the apostle Paul warns us about the crossroads he calls “acts of the flesh,” and then he encourages us to retain the “fruits of the Spirit.”
First on the apostle’s list of acts of the flesh is “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery.”
Acts of the flesh: Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery
These acts of the flesh are not hard to find. Again and again they cross our paths to lure us from our way. We see them as we browse the Internet, as we watch television and the movies, and as we read magazines or books. Their temptation invades much of what we hear and see in our entertainment choices. And because we still have the sinful flesh, we are not immune to their attraction.
We find ourselves leaning a bit toward immorality. We laugh at situations and jokes that are off-color. Our entertainment choices push the buttons on our desires of the flesh. We monitor what our children watch in order to shield them from the worst influences, but our own choices sometimes reveal a compromise with the acts of the flesh. We find it difficult to resist some of the influences, and sometimes we pause at the crossroad, looking longingly down the road of temptation.
But it all leads in the wrong direction. Child pornography and sexual misconduct lead to late-night news stories exposing teachers, politicians, reporters, clergy, and even news agencies. Some lose their jobs. But the immorality persists. Even these consequences are not enough. Some of it still attracts us and can lure us into sin.
But we don’t like to hear that word sin. That word confronts us with its accusation. If as children of God we use it to describe these acts of the flesh, we are sometimes ridiculed as prudes, old-fashioned, and out of touch with the modern world. We live in that world and mingle with people who have a different attitude toward sexual immorality. We do not wish to be ridiculed for our morality so at times we go along and hide our Christian way of thinking.
The world doesn’t think carefully about how destructive these temptations become. A family is destroyed by sexual unfaithfulness. A child is murdered by a live-in boyfriend who is not the father. Pornography addiction quietly ruins relationships and marriages. Drugs and human trafficking flow from these acts of the flesh to destroy men and especially women. Children are considered objects of desire, not precious gifts of God. Love is distorted, as some look for love only in intimacy. It results in a “total eclipse of the heart,” as the popular song even acknowledges.
But we must not become Pharisees and point the finger at all this evil as if it remains on the other side of the street. Christian marriages are sometimes heaped on the jagged rocks of acts of the flesh. Lives have been destroyed. Pornography seeps quietly into Christian lives, destroying some and altering others. It distorts the attitudes of Christian love and marriage. Parents don’t teach their children about alternatives to immorality. Pastors, teachers, church leaders, friends and relatives abandon fruits of the Spirit for acts of the flesh and discredit the message of Christ.
Fruit of the Spirit: Love
The Holy Spirit through the gospel has created a new attitude within us. We are children of God by faith (Galatians 3:26). But we are not perfect yet. Within us we still carry the old sinful nature and the desire to yield to those temptations of the flesh. We want to live as children of God, but so often we discover a desire to be rebellious and disobedient renegades. We struggle. Paul says the Spirit and the flesh are “in conflict with each other” (Galatians 5:17). Paul mentioned sexual immorality first among the acts of the flesh. He also mentions love first among the fruits of the Spirit.
The path to sexual immorality will frequently beckon us. When it does, the love of Jesus gives us strength and the willingness to take positive steps as children of God. Love is part of our thinking and acting on the Christian way. We love. Of course, love has many applications. One of them is that it is the opposite of the sexual sins. So Paul mentions it here.
While many have a distorted view of love, Christians understand love from Jesus. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). How different the Christian concept of love is. Paul expands the definition: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9,10; cf. 1 Corinthians 13).
Jesus unselfishly did what we could not do for ourselves. He shed his blood for us, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He gave himself for us. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are his. We love and have the fruit of the Spirit. We have an unselfish concern for others that changes our relationships and alters the way we think of sex and immorality.
Paul encourages us to turn away from acts of the flesh. Love, as Jesus taught it, helps partners in marriage remain devoted to each other and find a God-pleasing place for sexual intimacy. Our relationships in families and friendships honor others and seek their good. We do not exploit others to gratify ourselves. We pursue what is good and turn from what is evil.
Yet we struggle with our sinful nature. We may have seriously underestimated its grip on us, even as Christians. Acts of the flesh may have destroyed our relationships with spouses, children, friends, and others. The boundless love of Jesus calls us to repent, turn away from our failures, walk by the Spirit, and refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The loving arms of Jesus are always ready to embrace us with forgiveness and strength. When we stumble, he can plant our feet firmly on the correct path and keep us headed toward our room in his Father’s mansion.
This is the first article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit.
Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019