For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:8 ESV)
What does “sow to the Spirit” mean? This may be a question you have never asked yourself before because on the surface it seems obvious. However, if I gave you a microphone and set you in front of a group of serious Bible students to answer this question, how sure are you that you would make it through the Q&A portion without being embarrassed?
Or consider the question from a different angle. The harvest in this metaphor is clearly eternal life, but what is the seed? Is it paying your preacher? After all, the two verses which proceed read, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. … for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:6-7) Or perhaps the answer is that the seed we sow to the Spirit is “doing good.” For the next verse reads, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
The harvest is eternal life, but what is the seed?
Another way to approach this question is to consider what “sowing to the flesh” means. Clearly this includes living a blatantly sinful life—but is that all? A brief look at Galatians 3:2-3 reveals that relying on self-oriented good works for either justification or sanctification is another way one might sow to the flesh. So we return to the question: What is the seed we are to “sow to the Spirit”? A study of this theme in Galatians as a whole yields answers.
- We are called to sow faith, meaning hearing of Christ crucified with faith (Galatians 3:2-3,13-14)
- We are called to sow hope, meaning eagerly waiting for the hope of righteousness in Christ (Galatians 5:5)
- We are called to sow our lives, as we walk by the Spirit’s power, live to please the Spirit, and allow the Spirit to show us how to live (Galatians 5:16-18)
So yes, sowing to the Spirit means paying the preacher—if your giving expresses faith in the word he preaches. But what about “doing good”? We have already seen that one type of “doing good” is actually sowing to the flesh. So what makes our “doing good” a seed that is sown to the Spirit?
The answer to this question is found in the sowing metaphor. Where do seeds come from? Well, if I want to plant an apple tree, I need an apple. For the seed is in the fruit. If I want to sow to the Spirit, I need the fruit of the Spirit. Thus, “doing good” is sowing to the Spirit when the doing-good seed is in fact Spirit-fruit. (It is not without reason that Paul teaches on the fruit of the Spirit just a few verses earlier in Galatians 5:22-23!)
If I want to plant an apple tree, I need an apple. For the seed is in the fruit. If I want to sow to the Spirit, I need the fruit of the Spirit.
This is “keeping in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25) First, we go to God by faith in Christ. Second, we bear fruit from the Spirit. Third, we plant that fruit in others (i.e. we sow to the Spirit). Fourth, the Spirit of God grows this seed into new fruit. This is true life in Christ and it will never end for those who belong to him. This is the forever-harvest of eternal life.
So, go to God to get love for friend and enemy today and then plant that love in them. Go to God for joy today (the kind that works even on the worst of days) and then plant that joy in others. Go to God for peace today and then plant that God-peace in the ugliest battle happening around you, and watch it grow. Go to God for patience today and then plant it via hopeful waiting and lavish forgiveness. Go to God for kindness today and dare not to hold it in! Plant it in everyone you meet. Go to God for goodness today and then plant it with delight and a pure heart. Go to God for faithfulness today and then plant it by doing what you said. Go to God for gentleness today and then plant it in a lowly brother/sister who needs your encouragement. Go to God for self-control today and then stand strong, no matter the temptation. Plant it with faith that God will satisfy.