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The works of the flesh are evident, which are..."
Stan Cox

Included in the apostle's list of "works of the flesh" in Galatians 5:19-21 is uncleanness, which is translated from the greek word akatharsia. Two things are worthy of mention regarding the passage, which will be helpful in our understanding of the nature of this sin. First, in the list given, the apostle notes that these things are "evident"-ly works of the flesh. That is, they are obviously sins. Second, those who practice these sins "will not inherit the kingdom of God." So, uncleanness is evidently sin, and the practice of such sin will condemn our souls. It is obvious that Christians should avoid uncleanness. This article will attempt to identify the sin under consideration, that Christians will know what it is they must avoid.

A Word Study

Note the following facts and definitions regarding the greek term akatharsia.

  • Occurs 10 times in 10 verses (Matthew 23:27; Romans 1:24; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 4:19; 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:3; 4:7). In every verse, the KJV and NKJV uniformly translate the term uncleanness.
  • The adjective form of the word, unclean (akathartos) is found 30 times in the New Testament, and is used most often to describe unclean spirits or demons in the gospels. Also, it is used to refer to common or unclean food, illegitimate children, the ungodly and the immoral.
  • In Matthew 23:37 akatharsia is used to describe the stench, decay and corruption of the tomb.
  • The term comes from the greek a, (negative), and kathairo, (to purify). Hence literally the term references the opposite of purity.
  • W.E. Vine defines the term - "denotes uncleanness, (a) physical, Matt. 23:27;... (b) moral, Rom. 1:24; 6:19; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:3 (suggestive of the fact that sensuality and evil doctrine are frequently associated); 4:7. (IV, pg. 166)
  • Thayer, in his Lexicon, defines the term - a. physical: Mt. xxiii. 27. b. in a moral sense, the impurity of lustful, luxurious, profligate living: Ro. i. 24; vi. 19; 2 Co. xii. 21; Gal. v. 19; Eph. iv. 19; v. 3; Col. 3. 5; 1 Th. iv. 7; used of impure motives in 1 Th. 2. 3. (pg. 21)

The term uncleanness is accompanied in the text by such immoral activities as adultery, fornication, lewdness, murders, drunkenness, and revelries. Nicoll, in his The Expositor's Greek New Testament says, "The list begins and ends with sensual vices due to the lower animal nature" (III, pg. 187).

Mike Willis, in his commentary The Book of Galatians, wrote the following:

    "The basic meaning of akatharsia is 'impurity.' It can refer to physical uncleanness or filth. The Greek word was also used to refer to ceremonial uncleanness (Matt. 23:27). Later, it began to refer to moral uncleanness. It is joined with fornication in several contexts (Rom. 1:24; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5); etc.)... The word is so general that giving a specific meaning to it is difficult. However, understanding what sexual cleanness is, one can better understand what sexual uncleanness would be. The moral purity of those who flee from fornication, avoid homosexuality, adultery, and effeminate behavior is cleanness. Keeping oneself from filthy stories is cleanness (Eph. 5:4). The involvement in any of these could be considered sexual uncleanness." (pg. 258)

Keeping Oneself Pure

Perhaps, as suggested by brother Willis, the best way to avoid the sin of uncleanness is to seriously consider the Bible injunctions to purity. The New Testament is certainly full of such exortations. Note the following passages, with accompanying comments.

  • Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things."

    Children of God, as characterized by a spiritual walk, should fill their minds with pure things rather than the unclean. The world is characterized by a preoccupation with sexuality and profanity. You can see it in the plot lines of television shows and movies, the crude humor at the office water fountain, and the literature that makes the bestseller lists. We are literally inundated with sensual and perverse messages and images. It is easy to let our guard down, but it is not right. The faithful Christian will refuse to dwell on the "default" message of uncleanness, and will instead search out the pure and praiseworthy to meditate upon.
  • 1 Timothy 5:22, "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure."

    It is easy to be influenced by others. The influence can be good or bad, but when your companions are not faithful Christians, the influence is invariably evil. This is why Paul warned, "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits'" (1 Corinthians 15:33). Young people especially need to be careful in choosing their companions. Peer pressure can be a very powerful influence in young lives. God recognized the dangers of "group sin", and gave the following prohibition to Israel, "You shall not follow a crowd to do evil..." (Exodus 23:2).
  • 2 Timothy 2:22, "Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart."

    Young people are especially vulnerable to the pull of unclean influences. Youth is characterized by strong passions, immaturity, and opportunity. Car dating, dances and proms, mixed swimming, movies and television, increased liberties and independence, modern dress and culture... all of these can distract and tempt the Christian young person into unclean behavior. Rather than court such temptation, Paul instructed Timothy to flee! Parents today should be ashamed when they allow or encourage their children to take part in activities which could potentially lead to ruin.

    In our small community the prom is a big event. Amazingly there are several Christian young people who are planning on attending the dance. They do not intend to actively take part in dancing, but will immerse themselves in the evening and its dangers. And their parents seem not to care! Compare such dangerous attitudes with Paul's call to rather pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace!
  • James 1:27, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

    The practice of pure religion as defined by James is characterized by two things: The benevolent practice of charity (visiting widows and orphans), and the maintaining of moral purity. In other words, your faith is defined both by what you do, and what you refrain from doing! Don't participate in any activity that may "spot" or stain your soul!

  • Romans 12:1-2, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

    God expects our minds to be renewed. He demands our lives to be transformed, and no longer characterized by worldly influences. He expects of us sacrificial and holy living. And, these expectations are characterized by Paul as reasonable! It is alarming that so many Christians view the call to moral purity, abstinence, temperance, and modesty as unreasonable restrictions upon their lifestyles. They are more interested in defending their right to dress in the style of the day, or drink socially, or watch "R" rated movies than they are presenting themselves before God as holy and acceptable. The call to sanctification apparently has little meaning for some. We, brethren, are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people" (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). Our lives ought to be indicative of our calling.


Too often, liberty in Christ has turned into license. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Christians must heed the call to avoid uncleanness in their lives.

Yes, the term uncleanness is a broad term. That is as God intended. Anything that is not pure; that influences the children of God to profligate activity; that turns our minds away from righteousness; is unclean. It is to be avoided by the Christian. Instead of seeing how far we can push the boundaries before falling into sin, we ought rather to pursue purity and righteousness. We conclude with the proper attitude toward sin and righteousness, as revealed by John:

    (1 John 3:2-9), "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God."