Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 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. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:7-10)
It is a simple truth, one easily observed in nature and is applicable to life in general, even in the spiritual realm: we reap what we sow. What Paul has in mind here is the contrast between sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit, and he seems to be referring back to chapter 5, concerning the “acts of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.”
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 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. (Galatians 5:19-21)When Paul speaks of the flesh, he is talking about what we are apart from the Spirit of God. So the “acts of the flesh” are works done apart from the Spirit. It is important to understand that Paul is not addressing people who want to do corrupt things but people who want to do good things: they want to follow the Law of Moses. The history of Old Testament Israel, though, is largely a history of faithlessness and failure to keep the Law. So these are not works of the Law that Paul is describing but works of the flesh failing to keep the Law, for the Law was of absolutely no use against the corrupt ways and desires of the flesh and provided no means for producing what the Law required.
In Romans 7, Paul describes this problem and how easily it leads to desperation. He sums it up this way: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Romans 7:14). The problem was not the Law but bondage to sin, a problem that affected not only Israel but all of humanity. But God promised that the solution would one day come: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
The good news of the gospel is that, in Jesus Christ that time has arrived. For through Christ, God has not only broken the bondage of sin but has also put a new spirit in us — God’s own Spirit. So in contrast to the works of the flesh, and the inability of the Law in the face of them, Paul offers the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)The Law of Moses is certainly not against this. Indeed, it is love, particularly, that fulfills the Law (Galatians 5:14). Yet what the Law was helpless to produce in us, God has given the Holy Spirit to bring forth in us.
Back to chapter 6, now, where Paul draws the contrast between sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit and the harvest each one brings. Sow to the flesh and you will reap destruction — ruin, decay, corruption. Sow to the Spirit and you will reap eternal life.
Let’s take a closer look at “eternal life.” We are accustomed to thinking of it as being outside the time frame of history and having very little, in anything, to do with this present world. But the Greek word for “eternal,” aionios, has to do with ages, particularly the age or ages to come. The truth of the gospel is that in the resurrection of Christ, the age to come has broken into this present age and God’s new creation has already begun. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining,” is how John puts it (1 John 2:8).
“Eternal life” (zoen aionion), then, is the life of the age to come. But since Christ and his resurrection have already entered into this present age, so also has the life he brings. It is available to us now and may be experienced now, for it is not merely a duration of life but, more importantly, a quality of life.
What does this life look like and how may we experience it? It looks like the fruit of the Spirit and it comes forth through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. It is a life of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When we sow to the Spirit, we reap the lively fruit of the Spirit. We can think of this fruit as the character of Christ manifesting the life of Christ in us.
How, then, do we sow to the Spirit? It is a matter of trust, of faith. For the fruit is not something we could ever produce in ourselves, otherwise we would be back in the same predicament as Israel was with the Law, trying to live up to a certain standard but without the wherewithal to do so. No, the fruit is the Spirit’s and therefore something only the Holy Spirit can do in us. So we yield ourselves to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit rather than to the flesh, and we do not try to accomplish by Law what can only be done by the Spirit of God.
“The only thing that counts,” says Paul, “is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Sowing to the Spirit is dependence on God. Yet even that dependence, that faith, must come from God — we receive it as a gift. We can no more work it up within ourselves than we can conjure up love from within ourselves. The nature of the faith that comes from God is that it is energized by the love that is the fruit of the Spirit. That faith and love, then, are the manifestations of the life of the age to come, and by them we do what is good.