Before we share the Lord’s Supper together, it is important to examine ourselves. We read in 1 Corinthians 11,
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. (1 Corinthians 11:27–30)
This is a self-examination, not an examination of the person in the other pew. There are times to judge and confront others—but this is your time to judge and confront yourself—“Let a man examine himself.” Do your sins still make you squirm?
How do we examine ourselves? We must use the Word of God.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (James 1:23–24)
The Bible is like a mirror for us to look into and see ourselves. But, as James tells us, it does us no good to look in that mirror and then walk away without changing. It’s like saying, “Yep, my hair is a mess and my face is filthy, oh well.”
Where do we look in the Bible? Just about any passage you read can be a passage that convicts you of your sin. But there are some passages that seem designed to lead us into times of self-examination. The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, for example, has been used by generations of Christians to shine a light into their heart to see their sin.
In the New Testament, a passage we can use to examine our heart is—
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19–21)
There are 17 works of the flesh—sins—listed here. A proper self-examination will pick each one of these up and turn them over to see if they are hiding in our hearts. Which ones make us squirm?
Let’s take a look—we find that the 17 sins are broken into four groups, which helps us get a handle on them. The first group are…
I. SINS OF LUST
Galatians 5:19a Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness…
Adultery is, of course, extramarital relations. Our culture tells us that it’s okay to look as long as you don’t touch, but what did Jesus say about adultery—is it just a physical thing?
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
The Greek word for “fornication” (πορνεία, sexual immorality) is porneia, in the Bible, it’s used to refer to relations before marriage. You can tell that here because it’s paired with “adultery.” While our culture, and even many Christians, believe that this is okay to do now, God’s Word is very clear on the matter:
4 Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers [same Greek word as “fornication”] and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)
Uncleanness is about the defilement that sin, especially sins of lust brings to a person. Nothing makes us feel more dirty than sins in that department of our lives. That’s why the Bible says,
18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)
Examine your heart: Have you gotten to the point where sins of lust do not make you feel unclean?
I’ve noticed that more and more television shows are rated MA, for mature. The popular show, Game of Thrones, is one of those—I’ve never seen it because of the nudity (I guess I’m not mature enough!). But many Christians are watching such shows.
One person once observed, that violence on a television show is faked and we can remind ourselves of that—not that watching a lot of violence is a good thing. But nudity on television is real, we aren’t pretending here. When we watch it, we are violating Jesus’s commandment against lust. And if we don’t feel unclean when we do, we’re in big trouble.
This word refers to an eagerness for lustful pleasure to the point where a person abandons all restraint. The prophet Jeremiah says that Israel got to where they did not care what anyone thought about their sin.
15 Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush… (Jeremiah 6:15)
They had lost all restraint, decency, and self-respect. We live in a culture that loves to flaunt our sensuality. Both men and women have forgotten how to blush—and try to put less and less to the imagination to provoke a blush, a lustful look, from others.
How are you doing with these four sins of lust—whether in your mind or in the way you dress, act, speak, or even in the shows that you watch? Confess those sins and ask God to help you avoid them.
The second group of sins are…
II. SINS OF MAN-MADE RELIGION
Galatians 5:20 Idolatry, witchcraft…
The reason that these are works of the flesh is because these are ways that people try to build religion through self-effort.
Idolatry is setting up a false god to worship—and not just a stone figure. Today, in our materialistic and sensual society, it can be money, fame, possessions, our physical beauty, our success in our jobs, and so on. As the old saying goes, anything that you worship besides God is your idol.
How do you identify your idol? One way is to examine yourself and look for the things in your life that would devastate you if you lost them. I don’t mean that you wouldn’t grieve or be upset, that’s normal and understandable. But would you find it impossible to go on without that person or thing? That is probably an idol.
You can also ask the reverse question: What do you enjoy more than God? What is it that distracts you from prayer or time with God? Is it a weight or a sin that is keeping you from running the race (Hebrews 12:2)? If so, then you need to lay it aside.
“Witchcraft” (φαρμακεία, φαρμακον, NNSF) translates the Greek word from where we get our word pharmacy. Paul may have been referring to the use of mind-altering drugs used in occult practices to produce a supposed communication with spirits.
Witchcraft or sorcery includes all sorts of ways contacting the spiritual world, which is why it’s a man-made religion. Drug induced trances, seances, horoscopes, visions, even Ouija boards are some ways that people have tried contact the spiritual world. Sometimes the demons actually do step in and help out, making it all the more dangerous.
Any method of contacting the spiritual world beyond a faith in Jesus Christ is not going to be from God. It’s going to be demonic.
The main point here is that idolatry and witchcraft are a couple ways people build their own man-made religions; with their own rules and rituals. Are you building your own religion? Does what you believe come from the Bible? Do you worship God or an idol?
The third group of sins are…
III. SINS OF A RELATIONAL NATURE
These have to do with our relationships with other people.
Galatians 5:20a hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
Galatians 5:21 Envyings, murders
We usually consider these to be the less dangerous sins, but notice how they start with hatred and end up with murder. No wonder Jesus said,
21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement… (Matthew 5:21–22)
Let’s start with hatred and see how we get to murder:
(1) “Hatred” is a hostile attitude against someone for nearly any reason. We see so much hatred in our nation today. Humans hate one another because of skin color, social status, real or perceived offenses, differences in religion or because of their religion, political views, etc.
The Lord Jesus wants us to love instead of hate, even to love those who hate us (Matthew 5:44).
D.L. Moody, a famous 19th century evangelist, pictured the Lord’s desire for us to love those who hate us by imagining him telling Peter to go…
Find the man who crowned Me with thorns and tell him I wish to offer him a crown in heaven. Find the man who pierced My side with that spear. Tell him there’s a quicker way to My heart. (Phillips)
Examine yourself—is there someone you hate?
(2) “Variance” is another word for strife. When a person has strife in their heart, they are often at odds or variance with others. They cause difficulties or tension in a group of people. They love to stir up others with their words—they will slander others and gossip about them to create an atmosphere of strife.
(3) “Emulations” are the desire to be like someone else—to emulate them. Sometimes that’s a good thing that causes us to be better. But here it means that we are jealous for what someone is or what they have.
(4) Then comes “wrath,” which is basically our hatred on display.
(5) Now we have “strife,” which is similar to “variance,” and has to do with having an attitude of disputing. I think the word focuses more on the selfish ambition that is behind the strife and disputes. This is a person who wants something and is willing to cause problems in groups of people to get his way. It’s the person who wants to gather others to his cause no matter what damage is caused to the whole group.
(6) That leads us to “seditions,” which literally means “standing apart.” This person has caused strife and disputes, gathered a following to himself, and now, they separate from the others. Paul warns believers not to listen to these sorts of people:
17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Romans 16:17)
(7) The word “heresies” has to do with divisions that are based on false teaching. The entire Mormon church, for example, is based on the false teaching of Joseph Smith. For example, they believe that Jesus and Satan are spirit-brothers and everyone can become their own god.
Sounds outrageous, I know, but often, the more outrageous the falsehood, the more likely people are going to be drawn to believe it. That’s why conspiracy theories are so popular—if it’s outrageous, some people think it must be true.
(8) Then there are “envyings.” How is this different from jealousy? Someone has said that jealousy wishes to have what another person has, but envy wishes to deprive that person of what they have. The person may wish to deprive them of their wealth, their friends, their reputation, or, as we see in the last word, their life.
(9) Lastly, we have “murders.” We started with hatred and jealousy, moved through a range of disputes and strife, and got to envy and the desire to deprive a person of everything. Envy, unchecked, leads to murder. Pilate, for one, recognized that it was envy that led the religious leaders to murder Jesus (Matthew 27:18).
Murder would be the ultimate relational sin, would it not? Do not miss the cause and effect relationships between these relational sins. Do not think that you can hold hatred in your heart for someone without it going any further. Sin doesn’t stay still. It always wants to grow, like weeds.
Confess any relational sins that you have and repent of them today. Put them behind you, even if the other person doesn’t. Go shake that person’s hand, and be free, even if they refuse to be themselves.
The fourth group of sins here have to do with…
IV. SINS OF OUR PHYSICAL APPETITE
The sin of “drunkeness” has to do with using something, like alcohol or drugs, to lose control. In groups, like in bars and nightclubs, this leads to the sin of “revellings,” or carousing. The whole point is about feeding our physical appetites.
It’s incredible to me that people think that you can’t have fun without beer and really loud music and strobe lights and clothing that leaves nothing to the imagination. I suppose it should not be surprising, because if you remove any restraints, that’s where our sinful nature leads.
No wonder the Bible word for the sinful nature is actually the word, “flesh.” The “works of the flesh” very often work themselves out in how we use our bodies. The Bible warns Christians not to give in the sins of our physical appetite:
13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting [revellings] and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. (Romans 13:13)
How are you doing? Did you get through the list unscathed? Did you even care? It should make us nervous when verses like these in the Bible don’t make us nervous anymore.
Perhaps this has hit you hard. You’ve recognized that you have indulged in sin time and time again. You’ve offended the God who made you. Well, I’ve got Good News for you! The Bible says,
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned every one to his own way; And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
Who did the Lord lay our sins on? His only Son, Jesus Christ. J.C. Ryle once said, “How sinful sin must be if Christ had to die on account of it.” God hated sin and loved people so much that he sent his one and only Son to pay the penalty for sin. All you have to do is trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation.
Believers share in the Lord’s Supper to remind ourselves of what Christ did for us on the cross. We share in the Lord’s Supper to remind ourselves what our sins did to Christ.
Every one of us will come to this table as sinners, but the question is: do your sins still make you squirm? In one sense, they should. We should not forget that we are sinners and that Christ had to die because our sin.
But on the other hand, our sins are forgiven if we have faith in Christ, so we should no longer squirm under the guilt of our sin. We can come to this table joyfully because, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1).
NOTES AND WORKS CITED
George, Timothy. Galatians. Vol. 30. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994.
Phillips, John. Exploring Galatians: An Expository Commentary. The John Phillips Commentary Series. Kregel Publishers; WORDsearch Corp., 2009.