Sowing to the Spirit

Have you ever planted spinach and got carrots?

I asked that question in a Bible class once and got a surprisingly affirmative answer. The seeds got switched in the packages was the explanation, I think, but clearly no one plants one thing and gets another, and that was the writer’s point in Galatians chapter six.


“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 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. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9).


Although most of us get our produce from convenient grocery stores or the menu at Cracker Barrel and Boston Market, we maintain some connection to the soil whenever we plant flowers or vegetables in our backyard gardens. We can look at the tag or package and have confidence that whatever we put in the soil will reproduce only after its kind, so long as the tender plant is nourished and fortunately located.

God is not mocked – one does not plant spinach and harvest carrots. Furthermore, one does not sow to the flesh and reap spiritual blessing. 

Extend the illustration further – one does not dine solely on ice cream sandwiches and expect to shed weight. One does not go without sunscreen on a hot Texas summer afternoon and expect to emerge unblistered. Things tend to follow an anticipated cause-and-effect pattern. The same is true when it comes to how we live our lives before a God who is not mocked when people behave badly, but demand rewards.

Whatever one sows, that he will reap. Sowing is a metaphor for life’s decisions – the determination to do the right thing, to share, to submit to God’s will and to love one’s neighbor as he loves himself. We make sowing decisions every day – sowing selfishness, bitterness, and unkindness or sharing, pleasantness and compassion. We tend to reap an earnest of that harvest in the way that people respond to us. Sowing meanness produces a nasty reaction. The harvest, however, is not over, for God must likewise judge every crop.

Sowing to the spirit is a reference to the subject of the previous chapter in the inspired Galatian letter in which the fruit of the Spirit was identified as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We are only able to sow their seeds if we have a healthy supply of each, so much that we unconsciously broadcast them wherever we go, simply by being our redeemed selves.

When we sow joy and selflessness in our homes, workplaces, team environments and church families, we are much more likely to reap the same and enjoy the harvest of harmony and optimism (see Philippians 2:1-4). If, instead, we pursue self-satisfaction by putting ourselves ahead of everyone else, we are more likely to inspire others to do the same, creating envy, rivalry and jealousy in which no one will succeed. 

James warned, “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:16). 

Sowing selflessly does not come easy to most people – there exists an instinct of self-preservation that puts the entire process at risk. Christianity depends upon the disciple’s imitation of its founder, Jesus the Nazarene, who put the world ahead of his own convenience by first leaving heaven and then returning there by way of the cross (see Philippians 2:5-8).

Looking out for Number One seems like the surest route to happiness, but the highway to Hell is paved with selfish ambition. Paul asked the Romans, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death” (6:20-21). 

How many people reach middle age, find the kids grown and gone, the spouse disaffected and the path back to the church obscured because they spent the prime of their lives putting themselves first? You always finish last when you put yourself first (see Ecclesiastes 12).

Sowing to the spirit is hardly different from laying up treasure in heaven, the metaphor preferred by Jesus in the sermon on the mount, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). The things that you will treasure when the pitcher is shattered at the fountain are the rewards of self-sacrifice and putting God and others ahead of what appeared to be self-interest – mostly because self-interest is a chimera of the devil’s devising. 

The law of sowing and reaping is immutable, but so is the element of degree. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (Second Corinthians 9:6). Again, Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

Sowing to the spirit can be humbling and even frustrating at times, especially if it seems like everyone else is tending their own garden instead of yours. Sow to the spirit anyway. The rewards might seem small at first and not equal to the effort, but God has planned a bountiful harvest. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).