In the area I live, the highway department has spent a lot of time and money cutting grooves in the side of the roadway that create noise if the driver strays outside of his driving lane. I call them rumble strips because they cause the car to rumble as you drive over them.
The rumble strips are quite useful and will likely prevent crashes due to driver inattention. The noise is so annoying that even someone who is falling asleep will be awake in an instant as soon as the rumble strips are encountered.
The warning the rumble strips provide is helpful to the driver in arriving at his chosen destination safely. Scripture provides similar warnings to keep us out of spiritual ditches.
For example, in Galatians 5, I encountered the following list:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19–21, ESV)
Many times when I have heard teaching on verses 19-21, the implication was that these are typical of those outside the church. It as if Paul is giving us a list of how we behaved before we encountered Christ.
But is this true? By coming to Christ do we no longer struggle with these things? My observation of myself and others in the church causes me to conclude that this is not true. We continue to struggle with these even after becoming a Christian.
I’ve seen plenty of rivalries, strife and jealousies in the church. I know Christians who regularly experience fits of anger. Many of the works of the flesh have been manifested at some point in church life. So Paul cannot be giving us a list of behaviors of only non-Christians.
What then is the point of this list? Perhaps the purpose is like the aforementioned rumble strips. The list gives us warning of when we’re getting off track. While orgies may be outside of our current experience, idolatry certainly is not. While you may not be tempted toward drunkenness, jealousy is probably lurking. Few of us can say that we do not experience inappropriate anger at times. How many of us can honestly say that we have never said or done anything that stirred up strife in the church?
The point is that when my focus is not on fulfilling the two great commands to love God and love others, I am likely to drift off the road into one of the works of the flesh. This list is a helpful assessment tool to keep us between the lines and moving in the right direction. When we find that we’re moving toward one of the works of the flesh, a course correction is in order and priorities must be reestablished.
I thank God that 1 John 1:9 is part of his revelation to us.