“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
I have heard this verse use countless times in this manner: watch what you do because it will come back to you. And the next verse seems to validate this idea, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please his Spirit, from that Spirit will reap eternal life”.
A one on one correspondence, right? That is the way I’ve understood this passage for a long time. But I’m going to suggest that this interpretation misses what Paul is saying in the complete paragraph, which has to do with supporting the work of church leaders, Here’s the whole paragraph;
Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:6-10)
The support of the instructors and support of the family of believers shapes what Paul is referencing by sowing and reaping. He is not saying that whatever good or bad we do will come back to us. This one-to-one idea of retribution is karma not Christianity. In fact, the one-to-one correspondence is contradictory to what he is addressing in the entire letter, which is that the Christian life is lived by faith in Christ through whom we receive grace. He lays out how this is so in chapters 3-4 and in chapter 5 specifies how this life is lived through the Spirit. Chapter 6 then is practical implications that flow out of a Christian life that is lived by faith in Christ through grace in the power of the Spirit. A consequence of being recipients of this gift is how we prioritize support of the family of God. That’s why he begins chapter 6 by identifying how to address impediments that will enable the family of believers to live the Christian life with each other. So this paragraph is saying support one another. The sowing and reaping then pertains to how we support the family of believers.
The idea of receiving one-to-one retribution also flies in the face of Paul’s explanation of Christ’s accomplishment with respect to the promise of Abraham, which provides the basis for our faith.
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘the man who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, so that by faith we receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:10-14)
So here’s the deal. Christ provided redemption from the curse of the law (see also Romans 8:1-4). If we say that sowing and reaping relate to a one-to-one retribution then it negates the power of what Christ did on the cross. The Christian life is lived by grace, not karma. Tullian Tchividjian has a wonderful article, Does God Punish Disobedience that articulates this concept well and explains why we don’t live by karma principles.
The karma reading of reaping and sowing also demonstrate how verses can be lifted out of context of what the author is addressing. We cannot isolate verses and develop theology from what we think they mean. We must relate every word, sentence and paragraph to the author’s intent of the letter. Then taking that a step further, correlating it to what is going on through all 66 books. Please dear Christians, let’s read our Bibles thoughtfully and carefully.
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