Saturday, February 07, 2009

Sowing to the Spirit?

The elder teen subscribes to a daily Bible verse from -- actually she asked me to email her a daily verse in Latin and Español; I have a crontab entry that fetches those verses from the site and sends her email. Last week, she got this verse:
nolite errare Deus non inridetur
No os engañéis; Dios no puede ser burlado: pues todo lo que el hombre sembrare, eso también segará.
Apparently this was the daily verse two or three times in the past month -- which made me wonder whether these guys saw A Walk to Remember  too many times.

Looking at verses 7 and 8 in the NIV, we see this: 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.

This brings up a couple of questions:
  • What does he mean by "sows to please the Spirit"? and
  • Does "reap eternal life" mean that we work -- we "sow to the Spirit" (NKJV), whatever that means -- and then we get paid -- with eternal life?
The first thing that came to my mind is that this reminds me of Romans 2:6-11, where Paul talks about seeking immortality by doing good, versus rejecting the truth and following evil.

How can Paul write things like that, which make it sound like "do this, and you'll get this" but also write that God saved us "not because of righteous things we had done" (Titus 3:5) -- or that we are saved "by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9)? The latter passage is especially compelling in the CEV, where it's rendered "This is God's gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn't something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about." The Message, a great paraphrase by Peterson, has this: "No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving."

Here's what I make of that. The above links for Ephesians 2 also include verse 10, which Peterson renders thus: "He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."

This brings me to the traditional answer, and upon examining the Scriptures I think I still agree with it. Here's the deal: Other religions -- including what Jack Crabtree called "folk Christianity" -- teach that we do these practices (follow some 8-fold path, read our Bibles daily, give alms, etc.) and as a result reap a reward (nirvana, escape, paradise, etc).

The truth of Biblical Christianity is that the order is reversed: we are saved first, called with a holy calling (2 Peter 1:9), and then called to good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Other religions say "do A, and you'll get B"; Christianity says "because you're going to receive B, you should be doing A."

Back to the passage in question: If we read the passage in context -- you knew that was coming, didn't you? -- e.g., Galatians 5:16-6:10, we see that Paul contrasts those who live by the Spirit with those who live by the flesh (which the NIV renders "sinful nature"). The conflict between flesh and spirit weakens our freedom (5:17; Romans 7 describes Paul's own struggle with sin).

Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh (5:24 --see also 2:20), and I take this to mean that when people truly are saved, then something happens to their lives. Rather than being oriented toward the flesh -- resulting in impurity, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, envy, etc. (5:19-21) -- their lives should turn toward the spirit -- resulting in love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, self-control, etc. (5:22-23).

Paul says something like this in Romans 8 as well: those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh (8:5-7) and the opposite for those who are according to the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God and can't please him. Reading on a few verses, we see what this means: that if we belong to Christ, we have his Spirit in us, leading us in the path of life.

This is something I like to pray for those I love: that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so they can live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way by bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so they may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear son. (Colossians 1:9-13)

So, what does it mean to sow to (please) the Spirit? Let's look at Galatians 5:16-6:10 -- from here I think we can conclude that things that please the Spirit are things which bring about love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. Being conceited, provoking and envying one another take us away from the Spirit (5:26) -- not to mention the list from 5:19-21: immorality, impurity, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, envy, etc. When someone strays, we should restore him (6:1) with humility; we should help each other out (6:2) and not think too much of ourselves (6:3). We share with those who teach the Bible (6:6) and do good to all (6:10). I think I can safely say that all these things please the Spirit.

One more thought about eternal life: as my friend Jonathan used to say, eternal life begins now. So as we do those things that please the Spirit, we can start enjoying eternal life, abundant life today.

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