005. Sowing and Reaping

Sowing and Reaping

Galatians 6: 7, 8

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Gal 6:7 KJV)

On June 7, 2017, the parliament of the world’s foremost state-sponsor of terrorism was ferociously attacked by Islamic terrorists, killing 17 and wounding dozens more. “What goes around comes around,” an old saying goes. “You will reap what you sow” is the biblical principle. Certainly the Gospel of John (esp. 3:16 and 14:6), Romans 4:5 and “Justifying the Ungodly,” the “Romans Road” and Matthew 11:28-30, and “The Great Invitation” have had a decisive influence on the direction of my life. Yet there have been a number of other milestones along the way where a verse or a passage jolted me from my spiritual slumbers and drove me forcefully in a direction I had not anticipated.

The preacher of my youth, Martin Van Buren Canavan IV, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dominquez in the Long Beach/Carson area of Southern California, thundered the above verses in the King James Version at a time when I needed to hear them. I can’t place the time precisely. I was probably a pre-teen or an early teenager. “God is not mocked,” he shouted in the course of his sermon. That “word” struck me. It was the first of many self-authenticating encounters with Scripture that would characterize my spiritual pilgrimage. I knew that because God is God, it must be true. He will not be mocked. He will not be outwitted. We don’t get away with anything. We mustn’t kid ourselves. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” We will reap exactly what we sow. God will see to it. He will ensure it. Sow the Spirit and reap eternal life, or sow the flesh and reap corruption and eternal death. The principle has been expressed like this:

Sow a thought, reap an act;

Sow an act, reap a habit;

Sow a habit, reap a character;

Sow a character, reap a destiny.

I needed to know that truth as a tween or teenager. I was a child of the 60’s. From my point of view the world was beginning to come unglued: race riots, student protests, assassinations, the Vietnam War, the “sexual revolution” with its “New Morality,” and the widespread experimentation with drugs. I can recall a large group of fellow junior high students staggering towards me, blurry-eyed, obviously high on drugs. This was 8th grade. This was 1968, the year of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and of Martin Luther King, of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the riots outside of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, and so on. I was observing my friends getting increasingly worldly and given to excess. I saw myself as part of a shrinking Christian and moral minority. Hemlines were going up (the “miniskirt” was the rage), necklines were plunging, Woodstock was around the corner. Thoughts passed through my mind about whether I was right to follow the path my family and church had laid out before me. Was there a party going on out there amidst all the turmoil and was I missing out? My preacher’s words hit me, or should I say, flooded me with conviction and certainty. God is God. He is not One with whom to be trifled (“messed with” is probably how I expressed it back then).

Stating the principle

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Gal 6:7)

“Do not be deceived,” the Apostle warns us. Why? Because this is an area in which we would tend to be deceived. We easily convince ourselves that our sins are minor, incidental, no big deal. We are sure that there will be no major consequences. We are eager to believe that God doesn’t concern Himself with our conduct. The Psalms say of the wicked, “All his thoughts are, ‘There is no God,’” or more specifically ‘“God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it’” (Ps 10:4, 11). “They say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?’” (Ps 73:11). They are confident that God isn’t paying attention. God doesn’t care. If there is a God, He doesn’t concern Himself with trivial matters such as my behavior. “Do not be deceived” about the all-seeing, heart-searching God, says the Apostle. “Our actions when done,” says the Puritan commentator Matthew Poole (1624-1679), “are not done with.”

“The big lie,” of all the lies of our popular culture, is that one can sin with impunity. Rarely are there any consequences for sin. The drunks are all funny drunks. They are the life of the party, beloved by all. They don’t seem to get in wrecks and kill people, like they do in real life. They don’t fail on their jobs and get fired, like in real life. They don’t turn their homes into trauma centers. Their immorality is all romantic, glamorous, exciting, air-brushed fun. Teenagers don’t get pregnant, like in the real world. No one gets a venereal disease, like in the real world. Single mothers don’t live in abject poverty. Adultery doesn’t lead to divorce and heartbroken children. If there is a divorce, it is happy for all. If there is an abortion, there are no regrets. Life is painless. Sin has no consequences. The whole culture screams at our youth, “Do what you feel like doing.” If you have an itch, scratch it. If you have a desire, fulfill it. Yet listen to what God says: don’t be deceived.

“God is not mocked.” He will not be treated with contempt. He will not be outwitted. Those who think they can escape His notice err on an epochal scale. He will not long allow us to defy His authority, mock His laws, or blaspheme His name. There will be a reckoning, whether sooner or later. No one will get away with anything.

Rather, “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” Jesus introduces a universal law, the principle of sowing and reaping. It is an agricultural metaphor. Sow corn and corn will be reaped. Don’t expect to sow corn and reap wheat. It will not happen. Ever. We reap whatever we sow. Sow sin, and we will reap death and all that leads up to it. Sow the things of the Spirit and we will reap life and all that accompanies it. “The expression,” says the Scot John Brown (1784-1858), “intimates that there shall be a strict conformity between a man’s present character and conduct, and his future condition.” The connection between now and then, he says, between this world and the future world, “is not accidental or arbitrary.”

Sowing the flesh

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. (Gal 6:8)

What does it mean for me to “sow to (my) own flesh?” Sowing is a metaphor of one’s life’s activity. Because the Apostle presents only two options, it represents that which occupies and dominates one’s life. “Flesh” can indicate the physical body or it can denote fallen human nature. Sowing the flesh, in this context, means to live so as to satisfy the desires of the physical body, some of which may be legitimate, such as marriage, food and sleep, but are taken to idolatrous extremes, while others are illegitimate, such as drunkenness, gluttony, sloth, adultery, lying, cheating, and coveting (see Gal 5:16-21, 24). Live life to fulfill these ends and one is serving the flesh, and there will be dire consequences. Live for now, live for the present, live for pleasure, live for worldly honors, live for material things, live for the transitory and perishing, live for self, and I will reap “corruption” or “destruction” (NIV). Everlasting ruin will be my inheritance. The harvest may come in this world, or it may come in the next. However, it will come.

My college pastor, Mark Neuenschwander, taught me that the flesh is both pleasurable and progressive. A young man begins to court a young woman. First time he holds her hand, it is electric. Next time, it’s not so exciting. Nervously he puts his arm around her. It’s thrilling. Next time, it’s not so thrilling. The flesh is never satisfied. It wants more. Drug users need more and more to get the same high. Vacations have to get more exotic. Movies have to get more erotic. There was a time when a “well-turned” ankle was a pretty exciting sight for a man to see, if we can believe the old cowboy movies. Now little is left to the imagination, all is exposed, nothing is sacred. Comedians have to become more vulgar to get the same laugh, a phenomenon we’ve witnessed over and over again.

Our contemporaries, by and large, tend to live for the present. Even if they are not grossly immoral they are consumed with the temporal. They are sowing the flesh. They give no thought to eternity. They pay no attention to their souls. They live for the immediate. They surround themselves with all the creature comforts and forms of entertainment that they can afford. They go from meal to ballgame to a weekend away to new car to new clothes. This is what popular culture encourages. The people on TV and in the movies don’t go to church. They don’t read the Bible. They don’t contemplate or discuss the eternal destiny of their souls. They are all, almost without exception, happy atheists. They live like there is no God. And there are no consequences. The message is: who needs God? One can be happy, fulfilled, satisfied from this world alone. One does not need the Bread of Life. One does not need Living Water. This world alone fulfills us. There is no empty space in the heart. There is no troubling sense of meaninglessness.

Yet what will they really reap from a lifetime of sowing this world? In this life, a deep, profound angst, an unrelieved sense of purposelessness, a troubling sense that surely there is something more to life. In the next world they will reap corruption and the opposite of eternal life, destruction. Wake up to what is going on all around us. We are “amusing ourselves to death,” as Neil Postman would say. Recognize the consequences of such a life. Sowing the flesh is not harmless; it is not benign; it is not trivial. It is soul-damning.

Sowing the Spirit

What does it mean to “sow the Spirit?” It means that one devotes oneself to the things of the Spirit, to those things that are spiritual, eternal, and divine. One endeavors to “walk by the Spirit” so that one might not “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). One is “led by the Spirit” so that one will not succumb to the “works of the flesh with its passions and desires.” One “live(s) by the Spirit” and “keep(s) in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:24, 25). One cultivates the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22, 23). One deliberately sets one’s mind on the things above and not on the things below (Col 3:1, 2). There are corrupt behaviors and attitudes to put off (Col 3:5-9). There are virtuous characteristics and practices to put on (Col 3:10, 12-17). We are to sow the characteristics of holy love and the disciplines of public worship, family worship, and private devotions, all three of which are saturated with the word of God and prayer.

The classic case of sowing the flesh and reaping destruction must be that of King David. He looked out at Bathsheba, and corrupt thoughts led to corrupt acts, including adultery, deception and murder. He sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind (Hos 8:7). Cascading tragedy followed his self-indulgence as his son Amnon raped his sister Tamar. Absalom murdered Amnon, leading to his exile. Upon returning, Absalom led a civil war against David, violated his father’s household and was himself killed. Sheba then led a second revolt. David sowed violence and reaped devastation (2 Sam 11-20). Beware!

On the other hand, Joseph sowed integrity, honesty, faithfulness and purity. Given the opportunity to indulge the same lusts that David would later chose to indulge, Joseph refused and later rose to great heights as a ruler in Egypt. He reaped temporal and external rewards (Gen 39-50).

Remember, this world is merely a preparation for the next. Sow the spirit, not the flesh. Concentrate on believing and obeying God, in cultivating the fruit of the Spirit and forsaking the deeds of the flesh. Remember that there is no profit in gaining the whole world, with all its prestige, power, pleasure, if you lose your own soul in the process (Mt 16:26). “Paul is reminding the Galatians that they should get their priorities right and give time and energy to that which concerns ultimate issues,” says Leon Morris, “and not merely the passing things of here and now.”

The Apostle adds this concluding word of encouragement to his readers and us:

 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal 6:9)

We are not to “grow weary” of “doing good.” We are not to “give up.” Why might we? Because often the harvest long delays. We have so many duties to perform, so many commands to obey, so many pains to endure, and so many temptations to avoid. We grow weary. Reward delays. Yet we will reap in “due season.” “We must not look to sow and reap in a day,” warns another of the great Puritans, John Trapp (1601-1669). In the meantime we might begin to think we’re missing out. The party is inside and we’re outside. Fun is to be had and we’re not having it. We grow weary. So to meet our discouragement the Apostle promises “we will reap,” but we must not “give up.” A harvest is coming, though it is not yet.

These themes had so much to do with keeping me out of trouble at a time when so many of my peers were spiraling out of control. I needed to hear those warnings. I needed to hear about consequences. I believed John 14:6 with all by heart. I believed in salvation by faith in Christ apart from works. Yet I needed a strong dose of biblical realism. Many voices today brush aside this kind of message as “law” or “moralism,” thinking to invalidate exhortative preaching as they do. What I’m saying is, I needed to hear Galatians 6:7, 8, and I needed to hear it without equivocation, without it being explained away, and without it dying to death of a thousand qualifications. I suppose that God put those verses in His Bible because we all need to hear them. I will always be grateful for a preacher who not only preached the gospel (every week, complete with altar call and multiple stanzas of “Just As I Am”), but also preached the Bible’s warnings. I needed both, and I suspect you do as well.

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