The Disease of Loving Self (Galatians 5:19-22)

The Disease of Loving Self

Evidence of salvation–the works of the flesh, part 1  Galatians 5:19-22

People lack joy today. People are sad and depressed from the guilt and disappointments of the past. And people are filled with anxiety and fear of the future. But the biggest reason for the lack of joy is, people are looking for joy and happiness in the wrong places. And the worst place to look for joy is within–to look at yourself, to focus on self. Instead of looking to the Savior, people look inside at themselves. They are looking to find themselves, instead of finding Christ. One pastor said, “Never before in human history have so many turned inside to solve what’s wrong.”

For centuries, the enlightenment told us to find answers by walking an inward journey–you must look within. In recent decades, we have sought to build up our self-image and make certain we have good self-esteem–all the time ignoring 2 Timothy 3:1, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.” And the first quality which will typify the last days in verse 2, “For men will be lovers of self.” The last days is the age you’re living in right now–and self-love is the main description of our age. Self is the pre-eminent God of our age. Self is the biggest idol for Christians.

Positively, the Bible points to the only way to know peace, joy and love–the only way to experience abundant life now and eternal life forever is to surrender your life to Christ by faith. The Bible calls you to serve others, but the world tells you to serve yourself. If you pursue self and you make yourself into an idol, you will eventually feel betrayed and it will leave you massively empty, even destroyed. But some of you are thinking, “I am not a lover of myself–I don’t even like me.”

But self-love has made its way into our lives and thinking in a very subtle way. There are, of course, some obvious indicators of self-love. Students on TikTok 50 hours per week are drinking in the message of self. SELF magazine, selfies, self-expression, know thyself, be true to thine own self . . . Again, you know why they call it a selfie? Because narcissis-ie is too hard to say. Every Disney movie in the last 30 years is all about finding yourself—”I want to be where the people are…let it go…Hakuna Matata…I can go the distance.”

But subtly, what we used to call selfish or narcissistic or self-centered has gone from the culture, because we’ve legitimized selfishness. Subtly, this is how it goes–the world teaches its crucial for you to take a journey inward to find your deepest desires. Then subtly the world teaches, your deepest desires now become your identity. Maybe my deepest desires are about my sexual orientation, my goth-ness, my sports addiction, my video games, my amusement park, my kids, my career path.

You think, “I am an artist, or an athlete, or dress only in Armani”—whatever, you name it. Today, now “I am not being selfish, I am finding myself–this is who I am. It doesn’t matter if you need me, I am a Packers fan–that’s who I am, even though you’re my wife or kids or friend, I have to support my team because that’s who I am.” I have legitimized my self-centeredness.

Then when it’s obvious I am being selfish, I will find people who agree with me–other Packer fans, other sexually-confused, others addicted to Magic Mountain, or working out at the gym, and they agree with me. So I can’t be wrong–I am not selfish. This is all about who I am and not merely a desire that needs to be curbed. And here is where it gets fun. Now if you question me, you’re not confronting selfishness, but you’re attacking me. You’re not attacking my idea, you’re not attacking my desire–you’re attacking me.

I’ve taken the journey inside. I’ve got my sexual orientation, I’m a basketball player, I’m a football player, my grades are my thing, right? You embrace that identity, but you begin to describe it as this is who you are–this is who I am. Then you find people who agree with your identity, no matter what it is and who it is–and they won’t ever say anything negative about you or correct you or criticize you, because you have defined selfishness as your identity. It’s who you are.

But sadly, it’ll not give you joy, or love, or peace–it doesn’t work. You’re still lonely, still angry, still anxious. And finally, because you want to justify selfish sin, you will find some sort of spirituality to sprinkle on top of your selfish lifestyle to make it legitimate before God. Because you can’t find peace internally, you try some meditation, or yoga, or as a marginal or phony Christian you attend church, or pray, and make lots of excuses. But what ends up happening is, you go to a religion like it’s some sort of ecclesiological buffet and try to sprinkle it on to your life to fix this weird identity that came from your desires. But this too will never work, never satisfy, never solve the empty heart.

Maybe for a time you will be happy. And there is always something thrilling and adventuresome about untethering from tradition and history and setting out like Aladdin for a whole new world. But all you are doing is self-love legitimized by calling it your identity–it’s who you are, then legitimized by finding others who agree with your desire. Then legitimized by some weak-sauce spirituality you have laid over your selfish desires like icing on a cake. It’s a disease which is eating up society and destroying the Church.

Those whose heart is given to self are self-deceived make-believers. Those who heart is battling with self are harming the witness of the Church, which is to exalt Christ through worship–giving yourself away to Him through ministry–giving yourself away in service through giving, sacrificing your material wealth for His purposes. This approach to life, the find yourself approach, now is flaunted and celebrated. Throughout history, this approach was seen as a vice as selfishness–called narcissistic. Only now we say this is the only way forward. You must find yourself. It’s difficult to correct and confront, because you’re attacking them, their identity. But the problem is, because you and I are fallen, sinful beings, there is no way of sustaining happiness with this approach–why?

You’re all on your own–it’s just you, you’re your own authority. You alone know what is best. You are the center of the universe. You are stinking proud. You are taking an inward journey, but if you are fallen and sinful, which you are, there is nothing to find there and it is just you. No biblical authority, no community who see you clearly, no relationships you listen to—just you. Your direction of life was not formed in community–no one else is speaking into your life. It’s just a journey inward. You have set up a life that, if anybody questions or presses anything, then they hate you and they’re your enemy. It’s a terrible place to worship, and it is empty, sad, void, dark, discouraging, defeating, denying and despondent.

My guess is, if I sat down with you around the firepit with a nice cup of chocolate almond milk shaken expresso, light ice, and I am learning about your life, how you grew up, your childhood scars, what your battles have been, what were your highs and lows, doubts and fears, frustrations and betrayals–my guess is this–I would leave that and think you were awesome. I would have respect for how you’ve endured. I’d be blown away you still have joy in your life and you were still looking forward to some kind of future.

But I’m convinced, and so you are–I would never think that guy I just heard pour out his heart and tell me his story makes a great god. But this is what people, regular people, are doing every day–and society loves it, teachers love it, the media applauds it, and God hates it, when you deify yourself. I’ve been following Christ now for 48 years, and I am a lot more stable than I have ever been–but I can look back a decade and see a lot more instability. Anyone else?

What is also amazing is, over time, even following Christ, my desires have changed. Anyone else? If I build my identity around myself, my inner me, but my desires change–then this entire identity which came from my desires must also change and shift. Then add to that reality, does anyone have competing desires internally? At any given moment, I could want this, and then the next I want that–I have to pick, but there is no way I can even sort it out. This is the crime of the transgender movement–one day a jr higher thinks she should be a boy, then the next week she thinks she should be a girl. Any given moment I could really, really want this–then change to want that.

There is no way you can find joy by living life by your desires or looking within–looking within, living by the self is a losing, lousy path. To focus on self is to do things your way–to elevate yourself above others and God. It means you are not considering others more important than yourself, or giving preference to others–and it raises the question of whether you truly know Christ. Second Corinthians 5:15, “And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”

The Christian, self-consumed will be spanked out of their self-love, or they will show they never knew Christ and were just worshiping themselves. This is what Paul exposes in Galatians 5–life lived by the flesh, by our humanness–life lived without the Spirit will produce the works of the flesh. Look at Galatians 5:19-22a, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love.”

Life lived by self, in your own strength, by your own power, for yourself, produces obvious self-centered works. The purpose of this passage is not for Christians. This is not meant to tell Christians to not do the deeds of the flesh–though that is still a goal. The main purpose of this passage is to identify those in the Church who are lost and living in their own strength and compare them with the saved and those living the strength of the Spirit.

Look at the beginning of 19 and the end of 21, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident . . . [skip to the end of 21] and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In Galatia, there were false teachers teaching church attenders to obey the law, get circumcised, and attend the festivals in order to be saved. In those churches were weak, wheat real believers who needed direction. But there were also two-timed tare make-believers who needed correction, since they were attempting to live a legalistic, modified, Jewish/Christian life in their own strength, in the power of self.

Both false teachers and their fake followers were manifesting the works of the flesh–and Paul now tells us what that looks like. Paul wants to make certain you do not live the Christian life empowered by self. Paul wants to help you identify who is a real believer and who is a make-believer. Paul wants believers to be certain of their salvation and how to experience God’s life in and through you. And Paul wants you to not rely on yourself and your humanness, but to live for Christ. The unsaved manifest the deeds of the flesh and the saved manifest the fruit of the Spirit. All of the works of the flesh manifest a heart given to self, pride and I. And all of the fruit of the Spirit manifest a heart given to Christ and His glory.

#1  Embrace the Lord EXPOSING the sick prioritization of self

Here are the tools to use to expose someone who lives for self in verses 19a and 21b. Each indicator demonstrates a heart which prioritizes self. Allow me to pick each Greek word apart and expose its meaning.

First  Not developing a WALK in the Spirit

This demonstrates a heart which prioritizes self. In verse 19, notice the word “now”, which connects these verses to the previous verses–and what you have in verses 16 to 18 is a challenge to walk in the Spirit. Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”

Paul is teaching the Galatians that ”now” the deeds in the flesh are the opposite of what I just taught about the importance of walking in the Spirit–you’ll not carry out the desire of the flesh. Flesh and Spirit will be in conflict for your entire life–but if you are led by the Spirit, you will not be functioning under the Law, not be trying to live the Christian life in your own strength, nor trying to depend on self to please God. But now you will live by the flesh if you don’t walk by the Spirit. You will live in your own strength, live for self if you don’t walk by the Spirit.

Again, a walking by the Spirit is living moment by moment filled with the Spirit. And to be filled with the Spirit moment by moment means depending on the Spirit, not yourself, following the Word of God, not your thinking or feeling or ideas–confessing all known sin and seeking to show the Spirit off by serving in the church and sharing Christ in the world. If you don’t walk by the Spirit, you are definitely going to live for self. You can’t live the Christian life–only Christ can through you. You can’t live for the glory of God–only God can through you. Walk by the Spirit. Exposing the self-heart is seen . . .

Second  Not DEPENDING, just doing

This demonstrates a heart which prioritizes self. In verse 19, the next word is “the deeds”. Maybe you have not noticed this, but compare the flesh and spirit in these verses–do you see it? It is “the deeds of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit”–deeds are what you do, fruit is what God does. Deeds are actions taken by the self–fruit are quality God produces in and through a life. The goal of the Christian life is not for you to keep doing deeds–even good ones. But for you to live by faith, depending upon the Spirit of God to work through you.

Yes, you step out, you engage your will, you act–but you do so dependently, asking the Lord to work through you by His Spirit. You know it–Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Christ lives in me–I live by dependent faith. I’ve died to self and now live for Christ. And now I depend on Him to produce His fruit through me. I don’t merely follow the rules of the Law. I don’t merely show up to church or CG or student group and appear Christian. I depend on the Lord to work through me. Deeds are what you do–fruit is what God does. A life lived for self is seen in those who are . . .

Third  Not crucifying the FLESH

Your humanness demonstrates a heart which prioritizes self. Verse 19, “Now the deeds of the flesh.” “Flesh” The flesh here seems to be that which springs from the old, fallen nature. When you become a Christian, the old nature dies. Romans 6:6 says it this way, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”

The Bible here is making flesh and spirit opposites–human/divine, external/internal, religion/relationship, natural/supernatural, unsaved/saved, humanness/holiness, flesh/Spirit. As a Christian, we still have the stain of sin, the memory of the flesh in us–an inclination toward our old humanness which often lets go of the railing of the Spirit and slides down a steep slope, landing on the cesspool of sin.

Unless we hang onto the Spirit, we will find ourselves sloshing in all kinds of sins. But if we are unsaved, then the flesh, this fallen nature in defiance of God, will automatically become evident in our lives. You will see the deeds of the flesh in you and through you–even if you claim Christ, even if you go to church, even if you study the Bible. Paul teaches, a life lived in the flesh is evident.

Fourth  Not CONFESSING obvious sin

This demonstrates a heart which prioritizes self. Verse 19, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident.” “Evident” is emphatic. The reason we know this passage is about determining whether you are a believer or a make-believer, a possessor or a merely a professor, is partly due to this word evident–it means to become clear, to appear, to be open, obvious, to manifest, to show, to light up. The second reason we know this passage is about determining whether you are saved or not saved is that the word “evident” is emphatic–meaning, like all Greek authors, when you want to emphasize something in the language, you make it emphatic, you put it first in the sentence. And the first word in the Greek of verse 19 is “evident”–to shine like the sun.

The third reason we know this passage is about determining who is real and who is phony is that the verb “are”—”are evident” is present tense, meaning these sins of the flesh are not one-time slip-ups, but continual, ongoing, unrepentant deeds in the flesh. He is not even talking about besetting sins which are your sin bents, unique to you, which are your lifelong battle. But these are unconfessed, unrepentant sins, kept a secret–given to sin this way all the time type sins. When you are lost, the deeds of the flesh are a glaring, obvious indicator you are not God’s true child. The false teachers were evident–their unredeemed nature shines through. Anytime a so-called Christian is not confessing those obvious evident sins, then they are calling their faith into question.

Will you admit you slip into the flesh way more than you want? You will admit that you have looked at yourself and said, “Oh wretched person that I am.” True–you are all disgusting. But what sets you apart is that as a true believer, you will confess, repent and get help over those sins. First John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Acts 26:20b, “They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” Galatians 6:1 and 2, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; 2Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Bearing burdens is holding up Christians and helping them when they are battling with sin.

Are your flesh sins occasional dips into the cesspool of sin, or are they unrepentant, ongoing, no confession, no seeking help type sins? Paul teaches a life lived by self in the flesh is known for . . .

Fifth  Not HATING all your sin

This demonstrates a heart which prioritizes self. After listing the sins of the flesh in verse 21, Paul adds, “…and things like these.” Paul just listed some horrific sins–then states clearly that his list is not complete, by stating there are more. There are additional sins not on this list—“things like these.” You may look at the list and say, “Chris, I am not really given to immorality, sorcery, or drunkenness. But what about selfishness, pride, lust, lying, or pornography? What about sins of omission–not serving, not giving, not loving, not caring, not praying?

Listen, Christian–one of the key indicators of a true Christian is they hate all their sin. The Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . blessed are those who mourn.” What about Paul, who called himself, present tense, “the chief of sinners”? What about the apostle Paul calling himself, as a Christian, “Oh wretched man that I am”?

What about Galatians 6:3, speaking of confronting sin, then helping others in their battle with sin, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself”–reminding you not to run away from those who are struggling with sin, but run to help them, since you are not better than them. Don’t think yourself above sin. Don’t deceive yourself–we are all in this together. Let’s hate all our sin and hate it together. Paul teaches a life lived in the flesh is known for . . .

Sixth  Not dealing with God’s providential WARNINGS

This demonstrates a heart which prioritizes self. Verse 21 adds his phrase, “of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you.” I forewarned you–Paul had taught/warned them, and was now still warning them. I told you this before, and I’m now telling you this again. Paul is reminding the Galatians, “Just as I said, I am saying now”–what? Good deeds can’t get you into Heaven, but bad deeds can keep you out of Heaven. The Law can’t save you, but the deeds of the flesh will prove you are not a child of God.

The saddest Christians in the world are those who continue to be warned by God through believers, through His Word, through providential circumstances, but they do nothing. A life lived by self will be a life which ignores the Word, the Spirit and God’s people. Some of you are in the midst of repeated warnings by God’s proclaimed Word, or God’s people in this church, and the prodding guidance of the Spirit—respond. Paul teaches a life lived for self is known for . . .

Seventh  Not dealing with ONGOING sin

This demonstrates a heart which prioritizes self. Verse 21, “that those who practice such things.” “Practice”–Paul is not talking about any specific sin which can send you to Hell–and Paul is not talking about any one sin. One time makes you an unbeliever. No–but Paul is saying any sin, ongoing, unconfessed, un-battled will prove you’re not His. The flesh life, the self-life is a life which does not attack, confess, repent or get help with ongoing sin.

The Greek “practice” is a present tense participle describing the continual sin. “Practice” means you are doing sin, acting out sin, or undertaking sin. You are living out the deeds of the flesh. If you are not dealing with those deeds, then you are showing you’re living for self, not the Savior. Paul teaches a life lived for self in the flesh is known for . . .

Eighth  Not fearing God with your ASSURANCE of salvation

This demonstrates a heart which prioritizes self. Verse 21 ends with “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” “Not inherit the kingdom of God.” The obvious meaning is they are not saved–they will not enter Heaven, they will not be a part of God’s rule on Earth, they will not be where God rules for all eternity in Heaven. It is pretty simple–either the self rules or God rules. You either bow before the Lord or you stand on your own. Paul says here, if you continually live out the deeds of the flesh, then you have not bowed the knee before Christ and you are not living under His rule.

The kingdom is where Christ rules. Paul teaches this everywhere in the New Testament–not just here. First Corinthians 6:9 and 10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” And Ephesians 5:5, “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

The fleshy, self-driven, fake believer will manifest the deeds of the flesh as a way of life and they will ignore the warnings of Scripture. They’ll not fear God, nor fear Hell—why? They prayed a prayer once–they were involved once. They made a decision for Christ once. They belong to a Christian family, they have served in ministry. They had feelings for Jesus once. But Paul plainly teaches here–those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul, what is the life in the flesh–what does that look like?

#2  Embrace the Lord EXPLAINING the evidences of self-love

Verse 19 to 21, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Lists of virtues and lists of transgressions were common during New Testament times–Greeks, Romans and Jews had their qualities to pursue and their qualities to overcome. In the movie Gladiator, the crazy son Commodus recites his list of virtues to his father Caesar just before he kills him–neat! When you are living with an external Christianity with a fake faith–if you are a make-believer, or a self-deceived disciple, then this is what you will see in your life and through your life internally, and at times externally. Compare your life to these.

Immorality–where we get the English pornography, all sexual activity outside God’s design, like adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, incest and prostitution

Impurity–used of the puss of an uncleaned wound, and had come to mean anything that makes you unfit to enter into God’s presence by soiling your life with impure behavior

Sensuality—originally, any excessive behavior or lack of restraint, but came to mean excessive sexual references/discussions or indulgence

Idolatry–worshiping man-made idols or elevating anything above Christ in your heart

Sorcery–where we get our English word for pharmacy, it came to mean any drug that was mind-altering, opening up your life to demons, magic, false worship

Enmities–this is the guy who is always angry at others, an angry guy

Strife–this is the self-driven gal who always wants to win or be first

Jealousy–the desire to have what someone else has

Outbursts of anger–anger that explodes, then dies out, then explodes again

Disputes–the self-seeker who festers animosity towards others

Dissensions–the aspect of the flesh, the one who separates herself from everyone

Factions–the man in the flesh who divides up against friends and family alike, like the dog who says, “It’s not that dogs have to win, but cats must lose.”

Envying—those who are pained when other people succeed

Drunkenness–excessive drinking of alcohol, to the point of losing mind or physical control

Carousing–an orgy . . . not merely sexual, but out of control eating and partying

There are more than these–these are not one-time, but ongoing. They are most dangerous when not confessed, not repented of, and not seeking help to overcome. It’s deadly if you don’t hate these deeds, nor refuse to do anything to stop them in your life. Is your life focused on self or the Savior–on conceit or Christ? Are you living the deeds of the flesh that you do or the fruit of the spirit that God does?


A  There is HOPE in Christ

After telling us those who practice the flesh list will not inherit the Kingdom of God, Paul concludes that clear statement with 1 Corinthians 6:11, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” By turning from your sin in heart and life in repentance, and depending on the person and work of Christ by faith, where God the Son took the punishment you deserved for your sin upon Himself on the cross, then rose from the dead to give you a new life–Paul says in verse 11 you can be cleansed, made new, and made righteous before God now and forever. There is great hope in Christ.

B  CONFRONTATION is necessary when the Word is continually violated

Everyone struggles with sin–we call ourselves the chief of sinners or wretched women. But when you stop battling sin, when you allow sin to control your life, when you stop confessing, repenting, and getting help, when that sin becomes descriptive of you–then believers who love you will confront you. Not because they are better than you, but because they desire to help you. Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” Don’t talk about them, don’t get permission, just go to them. Tell them three sins you are currently battling with, then ask them if they need any help with the struggle you’ve seen.

C  The most DANGEROUS posture for a professing Christian

It is not doing good all the time, for that is Christ through you. It is not doing evil all the time, for that is proving you are not in Christ. The most dangerous posture for a professing Christ is not doing nothing. You don’t serve, don’t give, don’t love, don’t disciple, don’t hunger after Christ–you just don’t do anything, though you claim to be a Christian.

The Bible talks about you in Revelation 3:15 and 16, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” Are you hot for Christ, cold to Christ, or lukewarm–lost to Christ. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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