Galatians 6:8 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.
Paul continues his discussion of the principle of sowing and reaping. In the previous verse, Paul emphasized that no one can escape this truth. We can fool ourselves into believing otherwise, but God will not allow otherwise. Here in verse 8, Paul is building on what he has established and defined regarding the dichotomy of “living” or “walking” “ by the Spirit” and the “acts of the sinful nature” back in chapter 5.
“The one who sows to please his sinful nature” None of the other English translations of the Bible I have available have the word “please” in this verse, but it certainly fits, and illuminates the concept. Ephesians 6:12 explains that our struggles in life are not with “flesh and blood,” but with the “principalities and powers” of Satan. We are in a spiritual war. But the sowing and reaping principle involves personal responsibility in that war, and how we will be equipped to fight it. This is not a passive exercise. We don’t simply scatter the seed. We actively choose to sow either to our flesh or to our spirit.
“from that nature” You can’t reap a crop from ground where you did not sow. We have to expect that if we “feed” the sinful nature, it will grow and produce. Again, as Paul warned in verse 7 – Don’t be deceived!
“will reap destruction” The verb for “will” here is translated in the King James Version as “shall.” There is an air of inevitability here. This will happen – and, indeed, it MUST happen. I am no Greek scholar, and I don’t have enough background to truly understand how Greek sentence structure really works (I just point and click with the computer based lexicon!), but the Greek verb for “reap” appears twice in this phrase. It literally reads “shall reap of the sinful nature reap destruction.” It’s like doubly emphasized! This is a law of God’s Kingdom and the natural world that cannot be escaped.
The word translated as “destruction” literally means decay, or rotting away. It also means corruption and ruin, as well as destruction. Paul has already warned us of the byproduct of sowing to the flesh – we will reap the “acts of the sinful nature” listed in Galatians 5:19-21. Recall these are more than the stereotypical “fleshy” sins of sexual immorality and other sins of excess, but things such as jealousy, anger, envy, ambition and such. All of these things are incredibly destructive. In Romans 8:13, in a similar passage, Paul states that living according to the sinful nature leads to death. This is not meant to apply to “spiritual death” – this is not about salvation, or needing to perform and “do good” in order to please God and be worthy of entering heaven. This is about the here and now, and how what we do today plants seeds we will invariably reap tomorrow. The truth is this – if we plant to please our flesh, if we act on the whims of our sinful nature, the results are guaranteed to be the aforementioned “acts of the sinful nature.” Remember in verse 7 is says “God cannot be mocked.” He will not allow any other result.
“the one who sows to please the Spirit” The word here for “Spirit” is a word that especially applies to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the triune God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son. This is NOT some depersonalized force, or the “spirit” of a person (as opposed to the body and soul of a person).
“will reap eternal life” The sentence structure discussed above for the previous phrases apply here as well, on the “Spirit” side of the sowing equation. Indeed, most of the verses discussing sowing and reaping in the Old Testament emphasize the disaster that flows from sowing to the flesh, of feeding the sinful nature (e.g. Job 4:8, Proverbs 22:8). Occasionally, the opposite is presented (e.g. Hosea 10:12). It is important to grasp the positive side of the sowing/reaping principle. Sowing to the Spirit produces a harvest that is positive.
In Galatians 5:21, Paul speaks of the concept of inheriting the Kingdom of God. Here, he speaks of reaping “eternal life.” In Romans 8:13, he also speaks of how living by the Spirit produces “life.” The first concept – that of “inheriting the Kingdom” – appears to emphasize a place, a “realm” if you will, that is inherited much like the nation of Israel was promised the land. The second concept, or “reaping” eternal life, appears to emphasize the blessed life enjoyed in that land.
Again, I don’t think this applies to salvation at all, but on the life we lead as Christians. The reward for sowing to the Spirit and producing fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) is enjoyed in this life (because we are walking closely with God and in harmony with other Christians) and is rewarded in the next (see I Corinthians 3:10-15). We do not “please God” by obedience, in the concept of following rules in order to be right with God and earn our salvation – no! But once we’ve been transformed by God’s power and a relationship with Him when we are truly born again, if we respond to God’s favor in love and follow the principles of righteousness, we will find reward. Not because we deserve it, but because God loves us, and because of the principle of sowing and reaping. Remember – “God cannot be mocked!”
One last thought on the principle of sowing and reaping – This is not a concept like “Kismet” or fate. It is not inevitable, as in its not irreversible. If we sow to our sinful nature, it doesn’t mean we’re doomed. It just means things will be tougher. There is always forgiveness of sins, if we repent. And the principle of "eventuality" discussed in the last verse can be thwarted, at least in part. If a farmer realizes he’s sown the wrong type of seed, he can tear it up before the plants take deep root. If we repent soon enough, we seek forgiveness from God and the people we’ve wronged before the seed takes deep root and avoid some of the bitterness of the harvest later. (The same could be said for the opposite – a shift to sowing to our flesh will spoil our efforts to sow to the Spirit, even if just a little bit. It works both ways).
One more thing – we always reap. A farmer who wants to provide for himself and his family from season to season and year to year must not consume or sell all of his harvest, or he’ll have no seed to sow for the next season. An implied part of the principle of sowing and reaping is the need to reinvest part of the harvest of “eternal life” back into the soil – to selflessly give back to others from the personal blessings we’ve received from sowing to the Spirit. Otherwise, we have nothing to continue to sow with. (And recall in the parable of the sower, Jesus explained that the harvest was greater than what had been invested in the ground!).
And in the context of this passage, this especially applies to finances. In the only other passage where Paul uses the sow/reap concept (1 Corinthians 9:6), he warns that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly, and those who sow generously will reap generously. He’s talking about giving financially there. In Galatians 6:6, Paul is talking about the financial support of the teaching ministry. Arguably, this whole discussion of sowing and reaping was being presented in the context of financial giving. It’s the one area of “sowing” that really shows a person’s heart and true motivations. It is the ultimate litmus test for where a person is at in his or her commitment to the Lord.