In my last post I began a series on Galatians 5:19-23, the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Last time we gave our focus to the sexual sins catalogued in this list. This post we’ll give attention to the pagan elements of these works of the flesh.
Idolatry is the worship of things in this created world rather than the Creator. Paul put it this way, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Romans 1:22, 23. Man always seems to have chaffed at the idea of worshipping what he cannot see or touch, and this is the origin of idols.
Often idolatry is considered just another name for pagan worship, but this is not entirely true. While pagans use images, there were times in Israel’s history when they made the attempt at using golden calves to represent the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These stories are told in Exodus 32 and 1 Kings 12. In both cases, as the golden calves were being utilized as objects of worship, they were identified as the God, “who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Ex. 32:8 and 1 Kgs. 12:28). Not even the one true God is to be “image-ized”, an important warning even among modern folks who believe in Jesus.
But idolatry can also take another form, the looking to “saviors” other than God. This is why greed is called a form of idolatry (Eph. 5:5 and Col. 3:5). God alone is God. Wood, stone, images, money, things, armies, and science are frail and vain substitutes. Isaiah crystalized the folly of idolatry, when he wrote by God’s inspiration, “No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!’” Isaiah 44:19.
The Old Testament forbade the occult practices (sorcery) of witchcraft, divination, spiritism, and necromancy (see Deut. 18:9-14). Such information and powers were not from God, but from evil spirits (e.g., Acts 16:16-18). Instead, God’s people were to get all the information that they needed from God’s prophets (Deut. 18:15ff). Just as then, everything we need to know spiritually speaking from God’s word, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
The original Greek word found in Galatians 5 is pharmakeia and it had to do with using drugs. We get the word pharmacy from it. Originally, it was used in a medical sense, but as time passed the word began to take on the meaning of misuse of drugs for poison—an interesting meaning given the recent spate of opioid deaths. Later still the word came to be associated with witchcraft, calling upon evil spirits to curse others, the casting of malevolent spells, and occult visions.
Today, witchcraft and the occult are on the rise in popular culture—interestingly enough, along with the use of drugs and neo-paganism. But God’s judgment about those who practice such things remains the same; the practice is sinful. Christians must look to the Lord alone both for what can be known about the future and the afterlife and for what power might be exercised beyond human control.
Idolatry and sorcery as works of the flesh are from the same rotten root that seeks to deliberately neglect or reject the one true God in favor of a god or outcomes of our own choosing. And they are not trivial matters; such practices will exclude men from inheriting the kingdom of God.