A man reaps what he sows
The saying is instantly recognisable as religious. Even if few people know where it comes from, most will assume it’s biblical. And they’ll assume that they know what it means.
It’s about cause and effect right? It’s saying: ‘What goes around, comes around.’ ’If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.’ ’Everyone gets what they deserve.’
Perhaps we think it’s the Bible’s version of Karma – a conditional, performance-based spirituality where the books will all balance and justice will have the last word. Therefore, Look out sinners – a man reaps what he sows.
But actually Paul’s letter to the Galatians (from which our phrase comes) radically subverts this way of thinking.
He begins the letter by pronouncing a deadly anathema on anyone who denies or perverts the gospel of grace (Galatians 1:6-9). Even the Apostle Peter gets a blast from Paul when he forgets the truth of our gracious justification (Galatians 2:11-21). Paul is at pains to show that true righteousness has never been won by moral obedience but only by faith alone (Galatians 3-4). It is Christ who earns our salvation through His life, death and resurrection – not us. We are incapable of producing the life of God. The”flesh” we have inherited from Adam (our old nature) cannot work righteousness – though it constantly tries to do so. One of the characteristics of the “flesh” is its desire to self-justify. The flesh loves to live under the law in order to boast in its moral abilities. But no, Christ works righteousness for us, without any assistance from us. Then, wonderfully, we are “clothed in Christ” as the Spirit unites us to Him (Galatians 3:26-4:7).
Therefore a Christian is someone who has their flesh from Adam, but their Spirit from Christ. While the flesh produces Adam-like sin and death, the Spirit bears Christ-like fruit in our lives (Galatians 5).
Therefore Paul exhorts us to live in accordance with the truth. We ought to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. That is, we ought to dwell on Christ’s performance and not our own. We ought to be about Christ’s doing and not our own.
In that context we come to our verse for today:
Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. ((Galatians 6:7-8)
It turns out that Paul isn’t affirming a Christian Karma after all. Actually he’s speaking against it. You see the way of the flesh is the way of earning, performance and self-glorification. But Paul says – that is a perishing path. To invest in that is to invest in corruption itself. There is an organic union between flesh and death. To sow on this soil reaps exactly what you’d expect.
Yet there is another kind of life. And it’s not life ‘under the law.’ It’s not about getting your just deserts. The way of the Spirit is the way of grace. He is always bringing us the things of Christ (John 16:15). To ‘sow’ to the Spirit is to invest in the gospel word and live by this truth from beyond ourselves. So, again, there is an organic union, this time between the Spirit and life. There’s no sense of reward or earning here, it’s just natural that dwelling in Christ and He in us will bear good fruit.
A man indeed reaps what he sows. But this is not the law of ‘just deserts’, this is the truth of undeserved mercy. Stop sowing to the way of Adam, the way of flesh, the way of boasting, the way of performance, the way of law. That life is over for you. Only corruption can be reaped there. Instead, allow the Spirit draw you into the unshakeable love of the Father and Son:
God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6)
This is the truth of our position – filled with the Spirit, united to the Son, calling on the Father. Receive that sure reality by faith and you are sowing on very fertile ground.