Some people seem to think that, because we are saved by God’s grace and not by our good works, it doesn’t matter how we live our lives. That’s really a gross misunderstanding of the gospel. It’s also insulting to God, as Paul pointed out in his Letter to the Galatians:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10)
A wise older Christian once told me, “Some people sow their wild oats and then pray for a crop failure.” Paul says they’re deceiving themselves, and mocking God in the process. It’s Basic Agriculture 101: You reap what you sow.
Well, what does it mean to “sow to your own flesh”? Actually, Paul doesn’t necessarily equate “flesh” with evil in this passage. I suppose when a married couple have sexual union that results in the birth of a baby, they’re sowing fleshly seeds that results in a flesh and blood new person. The night they conceived, they were probably not praying a lot. Also, when a shop owner invests in stock that he then resells to customers at a mark-up, he’s doing some fleshly sowing and reaping to support his family, just as surely as a farmer does by planting and harvesting crops. These are definitely “fleshly” acts that are part of the natural order of things, but they are not evil.
There are many fleshly acts that are evil, some of them associated with the sowing of “wild oats.” But Paul doesn’t focus on them in this passage. Instead, he emphasizes some ways in which we can “sow to the Spirit.” He encourages us, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right.” And what does he have in mind? He doesn’t list religious acts or righteous personal behavior. Here’s what Paul sees as sowing to the Spirit: “Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Sowing spiritual seed has to do with how we treat others.
Naturally, our responsibility begins with our own personal “family of faith.” But, how far does it extend? Paul says, “Let us work for the good of all.” That’s worldwide; that’s universal. Our responsibility to sow to the Spirit never ends. It extends to the homeless person begging on the street corner, to both Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem, to the Honduran children crossing our borders. No wonder Paul encourages us not to “grow weary.” Jesus said that our responsibility to “work for the good of all” extends even to our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
Everybody likes a good mystery. That’s because it’s a mystery. The culprit is never obvious. There’s always a surprise ending. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but mysteries are nothing like real life. Ask anyone in law enforcement: the one you suspected at first is usually the culprit. Our attraction to mysteries is related to our attempt to escape Paul’s law of spiritual agriculture: “You reap whatever you sow.” Surprise endings are rare.
So, do yourself a favor: sow the right seed. Think about the likely crop before you throw out those wild oat seeds. Instead, sow the seeds of the Spirit by committing yourself to “work for the good of all,” whether near or far. Others may not seem to notice your harvest, but your Heavenly Father will.
— Pastor George Van Alstine