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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 hard."

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 Jesus 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.

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