REAP WHAT YOU SOW

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Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfil the law of ChristFor if anyone thinks that he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he may be able to boast with respect to himself, but not (by comparing with) others. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for what a person sows, such he will reapFor the one who sows to his own flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. Let’s not become discouraged in doing good, for in due time we will reap providing we do not become weary. (Gal6:2-9)

Fulfilling the law of Christ

Unsurprisingly in view of the context of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, recent posts have focussed on the Law (Torah) and God’s law in general, examining which of the following applies: 

i) God’s law is not really an issue for the Christian – he is saved by grace/faith alone (Luther’s law versus gospel paradigm);

ii) the Torah has become redundant, but God’s law is to be fulfilled in spirit;

iii) Christians must continue to fulfil the Torah to the letter as the Galatian Judaizers were insisting.

I have been showing that Paul’s teaching accords with the middle case (ii). An example of what I mean is the opening verse of our passage: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfil the law of Christ”. James expresses a similar idea when he writes: “If you are fulfilling the royal law  of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’, you are doing well” (2:8), remembering that in the previous chapter Paul had written: “the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (5:14). Similarly, James’ assertion that faith without works is dead (2:26) accords with Paul’s comment from the previous chapter that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (5:6). That statement had been aimed at the Judaizers insisting on Christians being circumcised, but taken with Paul’s and James’ other statements above it also challenges Luther’s notion that God’s law and the gospel (incorporating the teaching of Jesus) are in any sense antithetical. However, Torah observance and the gospel are at odds now that Christ has “cancelled the written code with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross (Col2:14NIV). That has been the focus of Paul’s anti-Law rhetoric in Galatians. But he also continues to make the broader point that it is the quality we know of as faith rather than works or law keeping that justifies a person before God. But that saving quality (πίστις = faith/faithfulness) by its very nature cannot be devoid of works, more especially ἀγάπη (compassionate love) which is effectively faith’s efflux (Gal5:6).   

You reap what you sow

Many people in the world give credence to the expression: “what goes around comes around”. Some will confine such a maxim to paybacks during a person’s lifetime; those with a semblance of religious faith may also apply it to what is likely to happen thereafter. Contrary to what I believed for many years as an Evangelical Christian, the world broadly has it right in this regard. Paul affirms as much here (and especially Rom2:6-11) whilst Christ is still more adamant, especially regarding the post-mortem dimension. I had believed such a maxim to be inappropriate from a Christian perspective, but that was because I had misconceived the nature of grace and faith and what the bible (especially Paul) really means by those terms. That is an ongoing theme of these posts, but confining ourselves to this short Galatian passage, Paul uses a farming analogy, easily understood by his contemporaries but also suitably timeless: “What a person sows, such he will reap – the one who sows to his own flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (vv7b-8).

The translation here could equally well be “spirit” rather than “Spirit”, the former referring to Paul’s “inner man” that delights in God’s law and everything that is pleasing to Him (Rom7:22). In the Christian that inner man is renewed and daily invigorated by the Holy Spirit (2Cor4:16). For many more, such as those Paul depicts in that passage, the inner man or spirit is present and active (delighting in what is good) but is incapacitated by the flesh, creating a moral dichotomy (Rom7:23). But then there is a third category in which the spirit/inner man is quite dead – these are the “twice dead” (in flesh and spirit – Jude1:12). They are the offspring of the Evil One (1Jn3:12), the children of Hell (Mt23:15). The theological error has been to lump the second and third categories together as “the unsaved”. They are unsaved in the gospel sense, but with radically different natures and destinies. This pertains to an eluded universal covenant and the role of evil within divine providence, the sustaining of which mystery was foretold and divinely intended. Its end-time resolution is cryptically alluded to in canonical Scripture, more overtly so in the Book of Enoch.

 In terms of sowing and reaping, Paul has just shown why pursuing the desires of the flesh results in rotten fruit and spiritual death (previous post). The apostle concludes the passage touching upon another recurring theme within these posts: that whilst election to the Covenant of Promise is unconditional and unmerited, final salvation is dependant on human effort as well as grace: “Let’s not become discouraged in doing good, for in due time we will reap providing we do not become weary”. No doubt to the bewilderment of many readers, Paul elsewhere likens the Christian pilgrimage to competitors in a stadium. Many embark upon the race but few shall attain the prize (1Cor9:24-27) – that prize being an intimate and eternal association with God’s Son, sharing His throne, no less (Rev3:21; 19:7). The fact that proportionately few, even amongst those who have been baptized (Rev3:4) shall be counted worthy to attain such an honour will be better understood in the context of the vastly broader benign providence outlined in my book. For, “God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He set forth in Christ regarding His plan to be put into effect in the fullness of the times, to bring all things together into Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Eph1:9-10).

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