| For More
Has This Passage Ever Bothered You?
Galatians 6:8 - Is Eternal Life Earned?
by Bob Wilkin
Sowing and Reaping. In our non-agrarian culture few of us have a ready grasp of these concepts.
When we hear the word "sowing" our first
thought is to what a person does with a needle
and thread (i.e. "sewing"). Not so for farmers.
Their first thought would be to spreading seed in
rows in a field. Likewise, those of us who are city
folks have only a vague notion of what reaping is
whereas a farmer knows that is harvest time,
payoff time. All of the hard work or laziness of
the growing time is paid off.
The hard working farmer reaps a good harvest.
That is, he makes a good profit. He has food and
money to provide for his family's needs and maybe
even some of their wants. The lazy farmer reaps
a bad harvest. His field is filled with weeds, not
wheat or rye or corn or potatoes.
In Arkansas where my wife's family lives, cotton
and rice are principal crops. Johnson grass and
other weeds are dreaded enemies. While growing
up Sharon would occasionally "chop cotton" in
her grandparents' fields to make some spending
money. She would go down the rows with a hoe
and chop down the weeds that threatened the cotton.
If a farmer fails to sow any seed, of course he
will have no harvest. If a farmer sows seed but
fails to prepare the ground properly or to water
and care for the growing plants, he will have little
or no harvest.
So it is with the Christian life. If we are hard
working in our service for the Lord, we will reap
treasure in the kingdom of heaven (2 Timothy 2:4-8, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Matthew 6:19-21). If
we are lazy or disobedient in our Christian lives, we
will reap no treasure. Rather, we will reap rebuke
by the Lord Jesus (Luke 19:22-26).
"OK, OK," you say, "That's fine. But what
does that have to do with Galatians 6:8? Doesn't
that say that those who sow to the Spirit will reap
eternal life? That sounds like it is saying that Christians can earn eternal life by working
Notice the context. Believers are obviously in
view (cf. Galatians 1:6,9; 5:1,13; 6:1-10). They are
clearly being called to do good deeds (cf. Galatians
6:6,10). I would agree that the interpretation just
alluded to is inescapable. That is, Paul is saying
that eternal life is earned by faithfulness. The key
is what he means by the expression, eternal life,
here. Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. Thus,
whatever Paul means by eternal life here he cannot
mean eternal salvation from hell. The Scriptures
clearly and repeatedly teach that salvation from
eternal judgment is a free gift (John 3:16; 4:10;
4:24, Romans 3:24; 4:5, Galatians 2:16; 3:6-14,
Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5-7, Hebrews 10:1-18,
Revelation 1:5; 22:17). Eternal life in that sense is
not reaped as a consequence of doing good. What,
then, did Paul mean by eternal life in Galatians 6:8?
Eternal life often refers in Scripture to an eternal
relationship with God. All believers have that--even unfaithful ones. However, eternal life can be
more than that. Our eternal relationship with God
is capable of degrees of joy and abundance. While
all believers have eternal relationships with God,
not all will have abundant eternal lives with Him.
The latter is Paul's meaning in Galatians 6:8. While
this doesn't correspond with Jesus' reference to
eternal life in John 3:16, it does with His use of
those words in Matthew 19:29. There in another
obvious rewards context Jesus links faithfulness
in serving Him with experiencing an abundant eternal life.
While neither Paul nor Jesus specifically use the
word abundant to describe the eternal life they
have in mind, that should not worry us. The context makes this clear. In fact, the power of these
passages is much stronger without adding the modifier. No serious reader of Paul or listener of
would misconstrue these words as teaching works
salvation. (Neither would they understand them
to mean that all believers will assuredly produce
such works in this life. The context clearly leaves
the negative possibility open as Paul repeatedly
did whenever he taught on the subject. See also 1
Corinthians 3:10-15; 9:24-27, 2 Corinthians 5:10,
2 Timothy 2:1-5).
What kind of harvest do you want? Galatians
6:7-9 is that simple. If we want a harvest of abundant life forever in Christ's kingdom we need to
obtain it in the old fashioned way as John Houseman is so fond of saying--we must earn it.
However, it is possible to lose sight of the goal and
grow weary of doing good since the prize is not
immediately given. (Galatians 6:9). That's why we
need to daily make it our aim to please Him. Jesus
said that where our treasure is there would our
hearts be also (Matthew 6:21). I often begin my
day by dwelling on the fact that my aim in life is
to please the Lord so that some day I will obtain
an abundant life forever. I have that written up on
a card which I read. That helps my heart be in the
right place each day.
Return to Grace in Focus Newsletter
Go to Main Menu