Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft.… — Galatians 5:19,20
When people hear the word “idolatry,” they almost always visualize a great, carved stone statue of a pagan god, with wild, naked natives dancing in the light of a huge fire burning at its base. But is this what the apostle Paul had in mind when he included “idolatry” in his lists of the works of the flesh?
The word “idolatry” is from the Greek word eidololatria, which means the worship of idols. However, it is a compound of the words eidolon and latria. The word eidolon is Greek for a manmade idol; a heathen edifice; a pagan statue; or an image of a false god. Such idols were an offense to God in the Old Testament, and they were forbidden to believers in the New Testament. God’s hatred of idols is clearly demonstrated in First Samuel 5:1-4. The Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, which represented God’s Presence, and sat it on a ledge right next to an idol of the pagan god called “Dagon.” When the Philistines came into their pagan temple the next morning, the Ark of the Covenant remained high on its ledge, but the statue of Dagon lay on the ground. The Philistines put their idol back in place; but the next morning they found Dagon lying on the ground again, facing downward with its head and hands cut off. God refused to share space with a false god!
The second part of the word eidololatria (“idolatry”) comes from the Greek word latria, derived from the word latreuo, which means to work or to serve. However, it primarily has the meaning of one’s extreme devotion and service to something he worships. In a positive sense, it is used in the Old Testament Septuagint to depict the service of the priesthood. The priests faithfully served and fulfilled their duties in the temple, believing that part of their worship was the manner in which they served.
In Romans 1:9, Paul says, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit.…” The word “serve” is the word latreuo, which means Paul, like the Old Testament priests, viewed his service to God as a part of his worship. As a New Testament priest, Paul’s service to God was the highest goal of his life. This is the reason he served God with all his spirit — because serving God demanded his best efforts, his best work, and his undivided attention. This was how Paul viewed his worship and service to God.
When Paul wrote Romans 12:1, he used the word latreuo again. This time he said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” The words “reasonable service” are from the word latreuo. This implies that because of all God has done for us, it is just and fair for us to serve Him with our undivided devotion. This is one of the principal ways we worship Him. So when Paul declares that yielding our bodies as living sacrifices is our “reasonable service,” he is emphatically telling us that it is reasonable for us to give our very best efforts and our complete, undivided attention to the service of God.
However, when the word latreuo is attached to the word eidolon, it forms the word eidololatria, which depicts the worship of idols, or simply put, idolatry. The act of idolatry transpires when an individual gives his complete and undivided attention, devotion, passion, love, or commitment to a person, project, or object other than God. When something other than God takes first place in that person’s mind, he has entered, at least to some measure, into the sin of idolatry.
If you don’t mortify the flesh by the power of God’s Spirit, it won’t be long until you are preoccupied with other things that steal the devotion and passion that should belong only to Jesus Christ. If you’re not extremely careful, your family, spouse, parents, children, friends, job, dream or vision, profession, possessions, school, church activities, or even your own talents will unintentionally become the focus of your worship and service. You’ll find yourself serving in your own self-consumed priesthood, giving your best effort and your undivided attention to the fulfillment of your own self-interests.
So let me ask you: What do you think of more than anything else? What consumes most of your thoughts? What do you live for? Your answer will probably tell you what you worship most in your life. You don’t have to own a carved stone statue of a pagan god in your living room in order to be an idolater. If you are attempting to place any other person, project, or object in your life on the same level with God, you are probably committing a form of idolatry. If this is the case, it won’t be long until God does something about it. Just as He shoved Dagon off that ledge and decapitated him in First Samuel 5:1-4, God will do something radical to get your attention! He will teach you that He is not willing to share His position of Lordship in your life with anything or anyone else!
Make sure that Jesus remains the primary focus of your life. God isn’t against you possessing any of the things mentioned above —family, spouse, parents, children, friends, job, vision, profession, possessions, school, church activities, or personal talents — but God is against any of those things possessing you!
Jesus promised that if you would seek the Kingdom of God first, God will make sure you have all those other things (Matthew 6:33). Therefore, refuse to allow your flesh to take you down the road of self-worship, the worship of family, or the worship of material things to such an extent that you commit the act of idolatry.
Now let’s turn to the subject of “witchcraft.” Paul lists this next as one of the works of the flesh. The word “witchcraft” is from the Greek word pharmakeia, the Greek word for medicines or drugs that inhibit a person’s personality or change his behavior. We would call these mind-altering drugs. The Greek word pharmakeia is where we get the words pharmaceutical drugs or the word pharmacy. This word was used in connection with sorcery, magic, or witchcraft. But why was this word used in connection with witchcraft, and why would Paul use this word to depict the works of the flesh?
When the Church of Jesus Christ was being established in the first century, paganism ruled the Roman Empire. These were dark, demonic, pagan religions, of which one prominent feature was the use of drugs to alter the state of one’s mind.
Heathen worshipers would come to the pagan temples to find relief from their sicknesses, mental stresses, or a myriad of other personal problems. Rather than confront the real needs of the heathen worshipers and identify real solutions for their problems, the priests of these pagan religions poured hallucinogenic drugs into vials of wine, stirred it all together, and then gave the mixture to the worshipers to drink. After the recipients were medicated and under the influence of these mind-altering drugs, the priests would send them home, telling them that they would feel better. However, once the drug wore off, the worshipers still found themselves facing the same or even worse problems.
The only way these seekers found relief from their problems was to return again and again to the pagan temples for more doses of drugs. The drugs gave the people temporary relief but offered no permanent solution. The priests were powerless to heal and incapable of solving anyone’s problems. All they could do was keep dousing the worshipers with more drugs, thus temporarily altering the state of their minds and giving them a brief respite from their problems and pain. These priests were charlatans who tried to literally hypnotize people into believing their problems had gone away. But the truth is, they never dealt with the root of the problems and therefore did nothing but prolong the pain of those they pretended to help.
How does this apply to you and me today, since people in our modern-day society no longer go to pagan temples to worship? The flesh behaves the same way the pagan priests behaved in the illustration above. It doesn’t know how to fix itself or anyone else. In fact, the flesh doesn’t even want to be fixed. The flesh will try to convince a person to ignore his problem, to hide it with some superficial covering, or to drink alcohol and take drugs to make himself feel better. The alcohol and drugs may give that person a brief hiatus from reality, but when their effects wear off, he will still have the same problems to deal with that he had before.
People who refuse to look at themselves and find out what needs to change often develop chemical dependencies in their efforts to avoid seeing the truth. You see, the flesh hates confrontation. It doesn’t want to look into the mirror to see the truth. If the flesh is confronted and forced to look squarely at itself, it will have to acknowledge the real problem. Rather than look the facts squarely in the face, the flesh tries to run, to hide, to sleep, to consume itself with recreational activities — anything to stay busy, to keep from slowing down long enough to think about vital issues. In other words, flesh would rather try to learn how to cope then to be crucified and changed!
I am not giving you medical advice. If your doctor has prescribed medication for you, be faithful to take your medication. However, I am giving you spiritual advice. Don’t let your flesh tell you that you can keep covering up your problems with temporary solutions. Those temporary solutions will eventually wear off or run out, and when they do, the same ol’ you will resurface again.
What will you do then? Are you going to be like the heathen worshiper who keeps running from place to place, trying to find another temporary solution? Or are you going to let the Spirit of God deal with you and change you forever?
The Holy Spirit wants to identify the root of your problem and rip that ugly thing clear out of your soul. He wants to bring permanent change to your life. But for you to receive this soul-cleansing work of God, you will have to make your flesh shut up and move out of the way. And after you tell your flesh to be silent, then you’ll have to allow God to speak truthfully to you. This will demand that you spend time looking into the mirror of God’s Word so you can see what is wrong and what needs to be changed.
If you’re willing to do all this, God’s Spirit will set you free. Yes, your flesh will scream in pain; but when it does, just take authority over it and tell it to be silent. It is screaming because it knows that it is losing the power it has always exercised in your life!
So for our purposes in today’s world, the word “witchcraft,” from the Greek word pharmakeia, would refer to the flesh’s attempts to avoid being confronted and changed. In fact, the flesh would rather be told a lie than confronted with the truth! It wants someone to stroke it and to assure it, “You don’t need to change! Here, let me make you feel better! Just ignore those wrong things in your life, because if you ignore them long enough, they will somehow go away!” Doesn’t that sound just like someone on drugs?
Friend, it’s time for you to quit playing these games and to let the Spirit of God really deal with you. If you’ve allowed your flesh to keep you on the run from your problems, or if you have committed idolatry by worshiping something or someone else more than Jesus Christ, today is the day for you to stop what you are doing and get your heart right with God. Don’t you think that right now would be a good time to do this?
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I want to walk in the Spirit and to mortify the deeds of the flesh! I don’t want the flesh to have the superior role in my life that it has had in the past. I know that if Your Spirit empowers me, I can say no to the flesh and to its demands to control my life. I am tired of struggling with the same old sins again and again. So right now I am asking You to help me see the truth about what needs to change in my life. Once I see the problem, give me the courage to tell that work of the flesh that it is going to die. Then help me to fully embrace the new life You are wanting to release inside me!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I boldly declare that I am no longer dominated by the flesh; instead, I walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. There is therefore no condemnation for me! I am careful to read my Bible and to hear the truths that the Holy Spirit wants to show me. When I become aware of areas that need to be changed, I quickly ask Jesus to release His power to transform me. Instead of running from the truth, I run to the Cross to find permanent solutions for the problems I confront along the way.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Is there anything in your life that you worship more than Jesus? Don’t lie to yourself about this, because Jesus knows the truth anyway. Why don’t you take a few minutes to ask the Lord to show you anything in your life that you worship more than you worship Him?
2. Have you ever known a person who refused to see the truth about himself? Instead of facing the truth and embracing change, did this person run from place to place or from person to person, trying to find assurance that he was “okay” and didn’t need to change?
3. If that person is you, what are you going to do about it now that you know your flesh is causing you to run all over the place in order to avoid the truth that can set you free?