“What kind” is important in a lot of things. For instance, when we talk about dieting, we seem to focus on counting calories. But should we be counting calories or watching what kind of calories we’re eating? It doesn’t take a dietician to tell us that eating 2,000 calories worth of frosted doughnuts is not the same thing as the same caloric intake of fresh salmon and asparagus.
One will lead to all kinds of health related problems, the other will promote a healthier lifestyle, even though both have the same number of calories.
The same is true with spiritual sowing and reaping.
You can do a whole lot of sowing that you might think is good for you, yet not have a healthy spiritual disposition. How so? First, let’s look at what Paul told us about it.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (Gal.6:7-8 NKJV)
Notice the relationship here. Paul is contrasting sowing to the flesh with sowing to the Spirit. You will reap something from both. One is beneficial, the other is not. So what does that mean?
To know that, we need to know the context. We can’t just pluck these verses out and make them mean anything we want. Throughout this letter, Paul has been chastising the foolish Galatians for following “another gospel,” which he equates to mixing the law with grace (See Gal.1:6-9; 3:1-5). It’s saying that one is saved by grace through faith, but you need to walk by the outward moral restraint of the law.
Paul’s point was that trying to live by the Law is sowing to the “flesh.”
Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal.3:3 NKJV)
Conversely, walking by faith is likened to sowing to the Spirit.
Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Gal.3:5 NKJV)
In other words, when we attempt to live the Christian life by following the Law, we will sow to the flesh and reap corruption. When we live the crucified life in Christ by faith (Gal.2:20), we will reap everlasting life.
The Old Covenant operated on obeying commandments and nobody was made righteous; the New Covenant is based on believing promises and everyone receives Christ’s righteousness, just as Abraham did.
just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (Gal.3:6-9 NKJV)
The “flesh,” throughout all of Paul’s teaching, is living by our own human power and understanding, unguided by the Spirit of grace. It’s outward obedience by “trying harder.” It’s eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and living circumstantially instead of by faith.
How do we know we’re sowing to the flesh? By the fruit it produces. Here’s how the Message Bible describes it:
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. (Gal.5:19-21 MSG)
Obviously, the list is not exhaustive and you may not being doing most of them, but just one is an indication of living according the flesh in that area of your life. Pretty sobering when you take an honest look at it.
Living according to the Spirit, on the other hand, is when our human spirit, which is in constant communion with the Holy Spirit in heavenly places in Christ, informs and empowers our soul life. Our soul is now eating from the Tree of Life (Jesus). Our new logic and rationale is in accordance with the “mind of Christ” (See 1 Cor.2:10-16). This is the renewed mind, which I talked about in “Being led by the Spirit and road construction.” Those led by the Spirit believe the promises of God and walk by faith rather than by circumstances.
How do we know we’re sowing to the Spirit? By the fruit. Again, the Message Bible describes it beautifully:
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. (Gal.5:22-23 MSG)
Here’s the deal. We could be a “Spirit-filled,” “born-again,” “on-fire” Christian and still be sowing to the flesh. We’re just very energetic about it!
We could still be sowing out of duty, obligation, performance, out of our own desire to achieve, to be affirmed, to be accepted, rather than working from rest in our heavenly Father’s embrace.
We could still be trying to manufacture fruit. We do this by looking at the exhortations of the New Testament, that describe what the Christian life looks like when led by the Spirit, and turn them into “thou shalt’s” and “thou shalt not’s.”
We could still be trying to imitate Christ instead of living His life, still trying to crucify ourselves instead of seeing Christ and Him crucified in us (1 Cor.2:2).
Even though we mean well, all of this is still sowing to the flesh. It’s just major burn-out waiting to happen.
So when we talk about sowing and reaping, let’s make sure we understand what that means. Sowing to the flesh or the Spirit may have the same “caloric” intake, but they produce very different results.