Dave Newmarch – Sow in the Spirit and Boast in the Cross
Are you a gardener? Like growing things. There’s something special about seeing plants grow – and then seeing beautiful roses or other flowers come; or fruit grow on a tree or veges ripen ready for picking. George and I have had a go at growing veges and we’ve had limited success. But it is fun to plant the seeds and then eventually the first green shoots come and then the plant grows and then finally it’s ready to pick and eat. We never seem to get a lot of veges but it’s the satisfaction of having something we grew, to have a final product, on the dinner table.
In chapter 6 v.7-10: Paul uses a farming picture as he gives a final warning to his Galatian brothers and sisters. I don’t know whether Paul ever grew veges. He wasn’t a farmer but he’d seen enough farmers around to know how things worked. In v. 7 Paul makes the statement that every farmer would have known – “A man reaps, or harvests, what he sows.” In farming or gardening there is an absolute principle – whatever you sow you reap – sow tomato seeds , you get tomatoes, you don’t get corn, no matter how much you want corn to grow.2nd – whatever you sow, you will reap – the seed may lie in the ground for a long time, nothing may seem to be happening, but eventually it will come up. It’s not reaping that determines the harvest, it’s the sowing. And so Paul tells us the same is true in the moral and spiritual world. Paul has already said, “God cannot be mocked.” He can’t be treated lightly.
So we come to v.8 – “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” This doesn’t mean that God is a vengeful God, sitting in heaven looking to avenge any insults or slights. This image of sowing-reaping tells us that this is a natural process. The moral consequences are much more natural. You drive fast and dangerously, you have an accident. You treat people badly, you lose their trust. So it is with sin. If you give in to your sinful nature, if you sow to please it, you reap the consequences, you reap spiritual breakdown and destruction. This word, “destruction”, that Paul uses has the idea of “corruption” or “disintegration” or breakdown. Paul is saying that sin makes things fall apart. We don’t have to look far to see this. You sow dishonesty and it breaks relationships and creates the destruction of loneliness and separateness. You sow envy and jealousy and it breaks contentment and creates the destruction of bitterness and resentment. And so on.
The fruit of sin is always destruction, disintegration a breaking down of things. It never brings joy and life.
So Paul says that the other side is “whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life”. Okay, so how do we sow to please the Spirit? Obviously obedience to God is important, but it is an obedience that comes out of grateful joy that comes from knowing that WE ARE children of God. And we do it by keeping in step with the Spirit. Someone in our Home Group described keeping in step as like a three-legged race. I like that. In a three legged race you’re stuck with your partner. You have to work at keeping a good rhythm of walking or running together. So it is with keeping in step with the Spirit. But it’s not just try harder, and work up the energy and resolve to do better, you know, “I must do better”. We come to Jesus and cry out to him, “Help me. Strengthen me. I am just a branch, you are the vine. Help me today to remain in you. To draw my strength from you. Help me to say No to those things that would just be pleasing the sinful nature, that are not going to help me grow to love you more.”
I was reading John of the Cross this morning. He wrote, “We [need to] learn to see that every challenge offers us great benefit if it causes us to flee into God.” The hard things, those things I struggle with in my life – I can thank God for them if they are causing me to run to God. So I want to look at the things that I feed my mind on. What am I sowing into my mind? What am I feeding my mind with on Netflix? Am I watching endless news reports? I was disappointed with myself this week. A few times as I started my morning I had a quick look at my smartphone just to check the time. Oh, there were a few new emails. I would stop to read an email and then that would lead me on a thread where I was reading someone’s blog or a news report. Before I knew it an hour had gone. I wasn’t reading bad stuff, but it was taking me away from the thing I most wanted to sow into my morning which was time sitting with God in the quiet of the early morning. This is something that I can talk to God about. What am I sowing in my actions? Am I eating or drinking more during this coronavirus time just as a comfort? Complaining about things with others? Getting angry when my plans for the day are being frustrated rather than welcoming those interruptions? When I sow these actions what do I reap?
I know the principle so I want to proactively sow good things into my life that will yield fruit – again I cry out to Jesus, to the Spirit, help me as I read the bible to listen to you; help me to know how I can love Mrs Jones next door; help me to speak an encouraging word to my daughter today; how can I serve my friend at work who is struggling with their workload? Help me to pray for Muslims in my street, for Munir down the road, and the millions around the world who are in the fasting month this month; help me to be thankful today for all that I have and to thank you out loud; I want to sow that into my life. What we sow – may not see any results for a long time; there might not be any reaping for many years or at all on earth, but we know that we will reap eternal life. And the wonderful thing is that as I consciously sow these things, God is changing me, the Spirit is growing me, pruning me.
So Paul urges us in v.9, Don’t become weary in doing good – don’t give up. Yes, you may wonder what is happening in the life of your son or your daughter as you pray for them day after day; or your friend who doesn’t know Jesus – but we know that God is at work in his time. And the amazing thing is that he is changing us. And Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit says we “will reap a harvest”.
Yes, it may involve sacrifice – when you bind your heart emotionally to people who are unstable, you experience great distress that you could have avoided; it will involve sacrifice when you cut yourself off from many options that you could have if you weren’t spending time with people; you have less money since you are giving very generously to individuals and ministries and causes. The costs will be there but the rewards, Paul hints, are much greater as the value of the harvest is greater than the cost of the seed. We may get the direct and deep satisfaction of seeing changed lives; we may get the direct and deep satisfaction of seeing changes in our community; we may see people whose burdens we’ve been bearing become burden-bearers themselves. But we also may not see much outward success – but God is changing our character. Remember that song, “little by little every day; little by little in every way, Jesus is changing me.” It’s true.
Again, I need to keep in step with the Spirit – when I feel like what I am doing is really achieving so little I need to talk with God, share this with him, but keep following him, listening to his voice and for his voice. One of the reasons we meet on a Sunday is so that we remind each other of the truths – we are God’s children, he will never abandon us, he will strengthen us. We must keep in step with the Spirit.
And Paul says in v.10, “As we have opportunity – let us do good to all people. What is “doing good”? Something for us to talk about; to ponder over, to discuss in our home groups- is it just evangelism? Is it loving them in whatever way they need to be loved? I’ll leave that with you to think about. It’s a great little phrase.
As Paul comes to the end of the letter there is just one more point he wants to reemphasize. The letter started with Paul expressing how surprised he is that the Galatian Christians are moving away from the gospel that Paul preached. And then he goes on to explain how wrong these Jewish Christians are who are adding the Jewish laws to the gospel. And the whole letter is about how the gospel of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection are all we need to be saved and for the Spirit’s ongoing work in us to make us more like Jesus, what is referred to as our sanctification.
And he now finishes with a final word about this in v. 12 – 17. And is sounds like he is really keen to hammer home this point again. V.11 tells us that Paul wrote these last few sentences of the letter in his own hand. It’s almost like he’s grabbed the pen from the scribe to whom he’s been dictating and he writes – I want to say this again and just emphasize this again. These other preachers want you to be circumcised; they’re hounding you and putting pressure on you. Yes, you may face less persecution from the Jews and these Christians who hold on to the Jewish laws. But these Jewish law guys they just want you to be circumcised so they can boast that some more Christians have come around to their way of thinking. But listen, v.14, and this is the high point of his message here, “May I never boast about anything I have done, I just want to boast about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, I’ve been set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and I don’t have to fit into the little patterns that they tell me to do.
Circumcision does nothing for my eternal future or my relationship with Jesus and same if I haven’t been circumcised. What counts is the new creation – the gospel changes my future, giving me a place in Christ’s perfected re-creation. And the gospel changes my present, here and now, giving me a whole new self-image and I’m given a whole new way of relating to everyone. I don’t do things now to try and be good to fulfil the law. I now have a new motivation. The gospel creates a new motivation for obedience – the gospel gives me a grateful love which comes from my new understanding of what Jesus has done on the cross. This new motivation changes and renews me from the inside. It’s a new birth, a supernatural transformation of character, a new creation. You know those transformer toys. By turning them around and twisting them you make them into a new toy. In a more profound way, Jesus takes us when we repent and come into his family and follow him, he makes us into new beings. He gives us a new heart, a new motivation.
Another thing – Paul is saying here that the world now has no power over him.
Notice he doesn’t say that the world is dead, but that it is dead to him. The gospel destroys its power. Why? As we have been saying all along through this letter, if I don’t locate my righteousness and salvation in the world, if there is nothing in the world that I boast in, then there is nothing in the world that controls me – nothing that I must have. Paul is not saying that I must have nothing to do with the people and things of the world. Ironically, if I must have nothing to do with the world and must separate from it, then the world still has quite a lot of power over me! Paul means that the Christian is now free to enjoy the world, because he no longer needs to fear, nor to worship it. We are free to enjoy the world as God intended us to.
And so now Paul addresses the Galatians as the Israel of God in v.16 – you are the true Israel of God, not by circumcision but by trust in what Jesus did on the cross and his resurrection, the gospel. The true Israel are the ones filled with the Holy Spirit, not the circumcision party.
So as we finish Galatians what have we learnt? The gospel tells me that there is only one person who can save me , rescue me – and he has done that on the cross. Nothing else counts – so I, too, can boast in NOTHING else, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul finishes the letter – “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Brother and sisters this grace is the starting point of our walk with Jesus, it’s the way to continue and all we’ll ever need in our Christian lives. We begin by grace, justified by faith in what Jesus has done. We continue by grace, not by anything we do. This gospel of grace is what the Galatians need to know, and love. It is not a set of abstract truths. It’s a way of life, of deeply fulfilling, secure life now, and of eternal life to come.
In the Bible study notes for this week I’ve suggested that you read through Galatians again. I’ll actually include the whole letter for you to print out. Why don’t you read it and mark the verses that speak to you, that are the key things that we need to hang on to. And then pray over those verses asking God to make them very real in your life as you walk in the Spirit.