Sowing and Reaping

I want to talk about a passage that can be difficult to understand in terms of God’s grace in Galatians 6.

Galatians 6 “7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

I want to share two perspectives on this verse, which might together be one perspective. But that involves talking some about the context and then talking about the word flesh.

Throughout Galatians (I would recommend reading the book from beginning to end), he is reprimanding these pious jews for trying to make the Gentiles like them. By “like them” I mean that the jews were trying to establish a righteousness or “covenant membership” through keeping the law. Thus they wanted the gentiles to be circumcised, keep the whole law, follow the jewish customs and enter into God’s kingdom through those means. The same problem we saw in Acts.

Acts 15:1 “Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Romans 10:3 “Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”

Paul tells these gentiles,

Galatians 1:6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 which is really no gospel at all.”

Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Galatians 2:4 “This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”

Galatians 2 “14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

Galatians 3 “1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

Galatians 3 “10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'”

Galatians 3 “23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Galatians 4 “17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.”

Galatians 5:3 “3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

The primary issue that Paul was facing was with the jewish customs according to the law, but Paul refers to a greater principle, that those things are of human tradition and law and no one remains a christian through keeping the law or traditions. So circumcision becomes the “face” of righteousness through works. Now we know that when Paul speaks of the law, he is not merely referring to the ceremonial law but the entire law.

2 Corinthians 3:7 “But if the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:”

The ceremonial law was never written and engraved on stones, the ten commandments were.

Romans 7:7 “Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”

It was the ten commandments that said “Do no covet.”

Romans 6:15 “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!”

These believers were wrongly getting the idea that sin was now ok since we are no longer under law. Why would they have had that impression if they thought Paul only meant the ceremonial law?

And finally in Galatians itself,

Galatians 5:13 “13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

Paul didn’t want them to get the idea that sin is now ok because we are no longer under law, we see then he is talking about the whole law. Because, if he had only meant the ceremonial law, they couldn’t have possibly taken it as an excuse to sin.

But this scripture also provides a turning point in the theme of Galatians somewhat. He has put much effort into showing that they are called to be free, but then he follows up saying not to use your freedom to indulge in the flesh but to serve one another in love.

Galatians 5:15 “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

We will come back to this scripture, it will be useful later on.

What is the flesh?

So this leaves us to question, what is “the flesh?” Some people think it means, “sinful nature,” or that part of human nature that desires sin. This is accurate and is part of the meaning, but not the whole. For instance,

Galatians 3:3 “After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

Here the word flesh is used, but not in reference to sin, but to law keeping and human effort. If you look up the greek word for flesh it means both. It means both “sinful nature” and “human effort.” Essentially the two go hand in hand. We see this exemplified in Romans (I’m going to add in my own words in parenthesis).

Romans 7 “4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh (living according to human effort), the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

The word ‘sinful nature’ is the same word ‘flesh.’ Basically, under law you live according to human effort not the holy spirit. And your human effort is weak, it cannot do the good you want to do. So the result is when you try to live by it you find yourself unable to overcome sin, since sin is solved through the spirit and not the flesh. This is why Paul shortly after telling the Galatians to use their freedom to do good says,

Galatians 5:16 “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

The spirit can do what your own willpower cannot do. If he had merely told them to do good, that would not have been enough. They would have been like Paul, wanting to do good but being unable. So he teaches them how to go about doing good, by walking in the spirit. That is not merely saying do good and not bad. The spirit is contrary to human systems and traditions. The spirit brings freedom.

Galatians 5:18 “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

2 Corinthians 3:17 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

When you trust on the spirit, he guides you out of sinful behaviors by showing you the freedom of the gospel. When you put yourself back under human performance, law keeping, traditions, you are no longer walking by the spirit and the end result is you eventually fulfill the desires of the flesh.

Romans 7:5 “5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh (living according to human effort), the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us

Sin becomes attractive when you are not walking by the spirit. The spirit keeps you in God’s freedom, grace, and a revelation of God’s love for you (1 Corinthians 2:12). When you chose to walk your own path, ignoring grace, freedom, and love of the Lord you have no gratefulness in your heart that you would want to obey the Lord. Maybe outwardly you boast of your obedience, but inwardly your heart betrays you and you find it acting contrary to your intentions. Now we see a picture of the flesh in a sinful sense.

Galatians 5 “19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

‘Acts’ are something you do out of effort. ‘Fruit’ is something that is produced in you.

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Now we come to our passage,

Galatians 6 “7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

The first and simple translation is that Paul is simply telling us that sin in its nature is destructive. Repeating his words earlier,

Galatians 5:15 “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

He is telling us not to use our freedom as an excuse to sin because even though we are under grace, sin in its nature is destructive and apart from God’s intervention will produce bad fruit. On the other hand, when I talk to the Lord about this verse, He keeps showing me a different perspective that I want to share. You see the previous interpretation only looks at flesh as meaning ‘sinful nature,’ but it doesn’t consider the word as meaning ‘human effort.’ What I felt like the Lord was saying is that sowing to please your flesh is actually putting your trust in your flesh. Trusting in your human effort, traditions, and law keeping to be right with God. The result is you will reap corruption (as some translations put it). Corruption is the same word used in 1 TImothy 6:5, and 2 Peter 1:4 talking of being overcome with sinful passions and actions. Granted this is not the only way its used through the scriptures. But I believe this corruption is not a punishment for sin in the sense of ‘you did this wrong, now I will give you a bad day at work,’ but of being filled with sinful passions and desires ‘from your own flesh.’ Remember the sins he listed earlier?

Galatians 5:19-20 “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

When you put your trust in your flesh you are no longer walking by the spirit. And when you do not walk by the spirit, “the sinful passions aroused by the law are at work in you.” The picture is basically that when you try to keep the law out of human effort you will end up disappointed. You will find sinful behaviors and patterns and all sorts of ungodly desires emerging in you. When you live by human effort you fall from practical grace (Galatians 5:4). Grace is what leads you out of sin.

Titus 2:11-12 “That grace instructs us to give up ungodly living and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this world,”

1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all — yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

Without that grace, you have no gratefulness to indebt you to God, the christian life is just a performance drive.

What does it mean to sow to ‘please’ the flesh. Wouldn’t that imply enjoying sin?

Yes. But look at it from a different perspective for a moment. What had Paul said through this book?

Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Galatians 4 “17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.”

Galatians 6 “12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

So we see there is a pleasure in sowing to the flesh (in the sense of human effort). It is pride and boasting. They want to appear well before men and take glory because of their works. I believe this is somewhat what it means to be mocking God. God has established righteousness by grace, but these people are somehow thinking that they are more righteous than these gentiles because they keep the traditions of their fathers. However, the result is that because they are walking according to the flesh in the traditions and law of man, grace doesn’t have its powerful effect on their lives and the result is they will continue to sin.

Romans 6 “13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh.”

They are nullifying God’s gift of righteousness and attempting to establish their own. God cannot be mocked, a man-made righteousness does not hold up. God sees the inner thoughts of the heart and he cannot be fooled into thinking that you earned your way into the kingdom. They will reap what they sow, their human effort and human righteousness will betray them.

So I don’t believe we can take this passage to say that the law of karma is the law christians live by. Yes, in some sense there is a natural order where sin is destructive, but on the other hand, our sin does not stop God’s grace, it multiplies it.

Romans 5:20 “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more”

Does this mean we can go on sinning? By no means. If you walk by the spirit you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh and you will reap a reward in due time.

Galatians 6:8 “whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Living by human effort will produce the acts of the flesh, things that are corrupted and bring no reward. But walking by the spirit, living in a way that is pleasing to God brings life abundantly. Since we have this reward of eternal life and grace, let us live in a manner that is worthy of it. Let us use our freedom to build each other up.

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