A U.S. pastor sent me this excellent question:
Grace in Focus Crew,
Thanks for the series on eternal rewards. Not sure if you covered this yet: Galatians 6:8 says, “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.”
I think this a rewards verse, but it seems to indicate that eternal life is something we reap, even if through the Spirit.
Could you folks offer some insight on this?
The answer is straightforward.
Eternal or everlasting life has two major senses in the NT. First, it refers to Jesus’ life which lasts forever. When a person believes in Jesus, he is given everlasting life which never ends (e.g., John 11:26).
Second, everlasting life refers to a life that is capable of great abundance. See John 10:10b, “and that you might have it [eternal life] more abundantly.”
Believers can have a more abundant life in this life. And, they can have a more abundant life in the life to come.
How we live now will determine how full our life will be forever. Paul uses the farming language of sowing and reaping in Gal 6:8. If we sow to the Spirit, then we will from the Spirit reap eternal life. That is, we will reap fullness of everlasting life.
Notice that Gal 6:8 uses a future tense: will reap. Believers have everlasting life right now (e.g., John 5:24; 6:47). But believers can also reap fullness of everlasting life at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
There are two other NT texts which speak of a possible future reaping of everlasting life. In Matt 19:29, Jesus answered a rewards question from Peter (v 27), saying that the believer who leaves home and family for Him “shall receive a hundredfold [in this life], and [shall] inherit eternal life.” Future tense again. The faithful believer will inherit a full experience of eternal life.
The third NT text about future reaping of eternal life is 1 Tim 6:12, 19, which refers to “laying hold on eternal life.” Paul says that if the financially rich are “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share” (1 Tim 6:18) then they will “store up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim 6:19). We lay hold on future fullness of life by being rich in good works here and now.
The key is to recognize the difference in time. When everlasting life is spoken of as a present possession, that is the life which every believer has. But when everlasting life is spoken of as a possible future reward for work done, then it refers to the potential abundance of life which only overcoming believers will receive.