Read Galatians 5:13-21

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”


WORKS OF THE FLESH: Licentiousness. Paul now moves onto licentiousness. Now, this is not a word that gets tossed around too often now-a-days. If you are like me, you’re probably scratching your head asking, “Licentiousness? What on God’s green earth is licentiousness? What does it mean to be licentious?” If you are like me, you will probably end up Googling the word, and there you will find out that to be licentiousness means to know no bounds, to lack in moral restraints, especially sexual restraints. Human sexuality, when expressed in healthy ways, is one of the most beautiful thing shared between two people; however, when one abuses sexuality and uses it as a means for a selfish end (whether that end is power or pleasure), then human sexuality takes on an ugliness that God never intended for it.

As with fornication, however, the word licentiousness need not only apply to human sexuality. More generally, as mentioned above, licentiousness means to know no bounds, to lack moral restraints. To be licentious is to be a person who acts on impulse, to be a person who seeks to bring oneself pleasure without any regard of the other. To be licentious is to live in an unrestrained way to the detriment of friends, family and/or community. As such, licentiousness is the epitome of self-indulgence, of a life that thinks it has no limits, of a person who could careless about anything but what satisfies the boundless hunger for pleasure and power.

The truth is that we very much live in a licentious world, a world that tells us we can have anything we want, that we can be anything we dream of, and a world that tells us that there are no limits to what we can do or accomplish. What’s even more sad, is that many Christians and Christian leaders propagate such a message to their followers. The Gospel, for such people, gets relegated to obtaining prosperity and earthly success. When we buy into the message of this world, when we begin to believe that there are no limits for us, we begin to be filled with the spirit of licentiousness.

Rather than licentiousness, Christ is calling you to give up the hunger to be limitless. Ironically, that hunger to be limitless is deceptive, for the more one strives to be limitless the more limited in their sinful licentiousness they become. True limitlessness can only be found through the power of restraint. The licentious seek power; however, true power is restraint. The person who lives in God is the person who knows and embodies restraint. The person of restraint is not one who deprives his or her body of what it needs but, rather, the person of restraint avoids the temptation to be limitless in obtaining what he or she lusts after; in that avoidance, the person avoids being a slave to his or her lust. Christ is calling us all to drop the licentiousness of this world and to embody God’s divine power of restraint. The power to do so is God’s gift to you.

“It is his restraint that is honorable to a person, not their liberty.” – John Ruskin

Lord, show me the power of restraint that lies within me so that I may use it wisely and stand in firmly in that power. Amen.

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