Galatians Sermon 11: Reaping Eternal Life

July 28, 2019 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Galatians

Passage: Galatians 6:6–6:18

Galatians 6:6–18

[6] Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. [7] Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. [8] 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. [9] And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. [10] So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

 

[11] See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. [12] It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. [13] For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. [14] But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. [15] For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. [16] And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

[17] From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.  [18] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (ESV)

 

 

What are we reaping in the Christian life?  As we end this letter, Paul is closing up some of the common themes he has addressed, and ends with a vision for the life of the Christian who takes heed to the Law of Christ.  For these Galatians who had been taught that to take on Christ was also to take on Jewish culture and customs, the Mosaic Law, Paul has gone to great lengths to show and reveal to them the true nature of the Gospel, and what it means to be saved.  We’ve discussed continually what is Good News - and the Good News is that God has opened up a pathway of salvation that is found Jesus Christ, completely wrapped up in his work and his doing alone.  By faith and election we are brought in to God’s salvation, and thus now in these final chapters we have been examining the various virtues and teachings Paul is laying out for this Christian Church the life to life, day to day result of living in light of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the coming of his Kingdom.

As we go into this portion of the Scripture, I am not sure if much of the modern evangelical church has appropriate categories for understanding moral directives.  We have correctly taught that salvation is by grace through faith alone.  Countless books have been written to describe this and unpack this.  But if I were to ask all of you in this room “why are we to live the Christian life?” or “What’s the purpose of living like Jesus?  If we are Christians and are going to heaven, what is the vision for the Christian life day to day?”  I would bet there is a good chance that each of you would give around 3 or 4 different answers:

 

  1. Our life should be pleasing to God.
  2. We should be ashamed of our sin and not go back to what Jesus saved us from.
  3. Understanding all of what Jesus has done for us, and because of our love for him, we now get to serve the one to saved us from sin.

As the proverbs teach, good things come from righteous living, and there are common benefits that come from living a life of integrity, honesty and character.

 

All of these are correct and biblical.  But they are not comprehensive.  In fact, even together they do not complete the picture of the Christian life.  If we take any one of these and treat them as if they are the main reason why and how we should live the Christian Life, I’m afraid there will be either distortions, or a lack of vision for day to day life in Christ.  And then we’ll stumble on some verses, like we will see today, and realize that we do not have appropriate categories for interpreting what Paul says, and we’ll just kind of move on.  I think the church has suffered greatly from this, and our church plant needs locally to revive the vision for Christian Living, because I know if we do, then there is a possibility by the grace of God that everything will change not only in our lives but in our community.  

 

Here is the road map for today:

1) What it means to reap corruption in the Christian Life
2)  What it means to reap eternal life in the Christian Life

3) Making sure that we bring home this reality, and make it the marks of true fruitfulness in Christian ministry as we make disciples. 

[6] Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. [7] Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. [8] 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. [9] And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. [10] So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

 

There are two lives available for us: the life of the flesh and the life of the Spirit.  We know that the basis of the life of the Spirit is faith, as Paul mentioned earlier, “Faith, working through love” (chapter 5:6).  Faith alone saves us, as we know from the example of the thief on the cross.  One in the last moments of life can merely confess their sins and cry out for grace from Jesus, and be saved.  

Yet for those of us who have decades of life left after a confession to the Christian faith, scripturally speaking, our faith is defined as an active faith.  “It’s neither circumcision, or uncircumcision, but faith working through love” said Paul in the last chapter.  Real tangible faith is a life of love, active love.

Now Paul is directing the Galatians to understand this: what you do, your actions in your life, is like farming or planting a garden. This year we tried a garden.  Be it that I am planting a church, fathering 5 children under 9, and then that we added another child to the mix just two weeks ago, our poor garden is withering away.  It was a bad summer for our garden.

We reaped what we sowed, which right now, consists of a few cucumbers and tomatoes and 4 string beans.  We didn’t put much into it, and it suffered because of it.  

LIFE IN THE SPIRIT AND LIFE IN THE FLESH
Paul is using this simple kind of logic, but he divides is up into two different lives: the life of the flesh and the life of the Spirit.  The life of the flesh can be defined as a singular inversion of the singular commandment to Love God and Love your Neighbor to: life in the flesh is to Love yourself and Love yourself.  Actions that have you first.  That is the simple definition of the life of the flesh.  Living as if you are the center, living as if you are more important than your neighbor.  Living as if you are the end goal.  Now we all know this: anyone who lives as if they are the most important person in their own lives will reap corruption.  Those people become inverted, selfish, self-centered.  Those are the people who only act according to their own comfortabilities, their own conveniences, their own pleasures.  They are often irritable when they don’t get their way.  They are rude, inconsiderate.  They can be fake in their personal relationships, hiding their true self and proposing a different self to others according to their own choosing.  They don’t want others to know the truth of what lurks on the inside, they don’t want people to know the reality of the fruit of their reaping for so long: a long, a heart that is dark and lost in deep webs of selfish habits and selfish living.  They are the ones who enjoy cheap momentary thrills, choose passion over contentment, and find creative ways to try and fit Christianity into a pre-existing box that they have designed which denies the power of the Gospel, and makes our faith all about them.  These plus others are the life of what Paul calls “the flesh.”  

REAPING DECAY
The result?  It is simple according to Paul - it reaps corruption.  The idea here is of really something dead or dying that is decomposing or decaying, much like my poor garden this morning.  I remember when I was a kid and we went to Florida one summer, I found a dead crab.  Being the 8 or 9 year old boy I was, I shoved the dead crab in my swimming trunks pocket thinking that I would go and dissect the crab when I got back to our hotel.  We were rushing out to dinner that night, so I took the crab out of my pocket, laid it on the counter, and ran out with the family, unbeknown to everyone else.  We returned hours later to a horrid smell as we walked into the hotel room.  I still remember the onslaught - just the nasty dead fish smell.  Of course my parents walk up and find the big dead crab lying right there on the kitchen counter, all smushed from being in my little pocket.  “Who did this?” It was just me and my brother.  I don’t recall what I said or did, or even if I confessed the crime.  My guess is none of us claimed responsibility.

But the idea is that the crab was decomposing.  It was dead and in decay.  There was no life in the crab.  No matter how much I would have wanted to make the little guy come back alive, he was dead, and the smell was the proof.  His body was in corruption.

See, Paul, and the other New Testament writers are doing something when they use this word.  He could have said “you are reaping evil” or “reaping wrong” or so forth.  Rather he is making the claim that we are reaping “decomposition” or “decay” as the NASB says.  This is held in juxtaposition to LIFE, as we will see in a moment.  It’s a very intentional word being used. 

He is comparing two modes of existence that stands behind the moral directives he is giving - that of Life, capital L-Life. The Spirit-Filled Life as we will see is the fullness of life, the True Life, that God designed us to live.  Reaping a life in the flesh is reaping the decay that has come from the curse of being separated from God - DEATH, the complete absence of Life.  And when we do such things we are actually cultivating and reaping the curse.  The curse is a separation and enmity from God, and enmity against others.  In Eden, the first things that happened after we tried to decide Good and Evil on our own were those two things: separation from God, and animosity between Adam and Eve.  That is no way to live.  Decay is found there.  This is why Jesus told the Church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1 that “You are known for being alive, but even though you are alive and your heart is beating… you’re actually a walking dead person.”  

Now the thing to realize is that even as a Christian, knowing that we have received a new identity as a human being before God, one that belongs to Jesus Christ himself, we no longer bear the identity of a transgressor or sinner.  We’re all priests, we’re all holy, according to 1 Peter 2.  But we still struggle with sin, even though it’s no longer who we are in Christ.  

And sin, as we see here, life in the flesh, is the reaping of decay.  You even as a redeemed man and woman can still cultivate a life of decay, a life that smells like something you are not.  To combat this, Paul gives us a reminder of what exactly we have received as born again Christians.

 

REAPING ETERNAL LIFE

What about the life of the Spirit?  What does that reap?  It doesn’t reap decay and corruption.  Rather, it reaps “Eternal Life.”  Now, most of our English translations used the word “Eternal Life” here for the Greek behind the word, but that I am afraid has been far too narrowed in our modern day Christianese.  When we hear “eternal life” we hear “the life we get when we die and go to heaven.”  And then we hear what Paul is saying - how you do reap by your works in your life eternal life?  Isn’t the notion of reaping an active notion - reaping a garden is to continually cultivate it until it is time to pull the fruit off the vines.  It is a continual process that involves your action, a focused action.  Surely Paul isn’t saying that we need to work hard so we can “reap” our eternal security in heaven?

Of course not.  This is precisely why we’ve lost the vision for the Christian Life! The issue is our translations do not convey what the translation should convey.  To reap eternal life is to reap the kind of Life that God designed human beings to live - a life of a different age.  It’s the kind of Life that Jesus lived, and it is described continually in the Scriptures with phrases like life as a citizen “ in the Kingdom of God” or as Paul’s favorite verse, “in Christ” - this idea of union with him.  It’s described as an “inheritance” that we have already obtained, whom the Spirit is a guaranteer of.  It’s a life unfettered access to our King Jesus, by the Spirit.  It’s a life where God is enthroned in our hearts and over our church, and we are living as his subjects without any separation.  

And this life, promised to us forever and ever in the New Heavens and the New Earth, even life as it is presently in heaven, is being freely offered to us now and is able to be continually cultivated through love and good works.  

This is precisely why Jesus claimed that he himself was the Resurrection and the Life.  That is because HE is essentially the embodiment of ETERNAL LIFE that is received as we receive him.  He left us his Spirit for this purpose, that we can now live the Resurrection Life - the life of the future Age that is to come.  

Paul is making the claim that even though we are promised this and receive this life for our forever future in the eternal age to come, we have the ability to cultivate it today day to day NOW through the reaping of the Resurrection Life.  Now this is a profound statement, is it not?  That you and I can reap the qualities of our future eternal life even today?  What does it mean to reap eternal life?

 

REAPING ETERNAL LIFE
Paul says in verse 9-10, to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:9-10).  So right here, we see some of what it means to “reap eternal life” - by doing good to others, especially those in the household of faith.  And not to give up doing so!

How is something as simple as “doing good to others” reaping eternal life now?  I’m not saying ANYTHING about reaping salvation.  Nor do I want to say the effects of salvation.  We’ve already stated that salvation can be achieved on a death bed confession by faith, followed by death moments later.  Someone in that position, like the thief on the cross, does not have a life of obedience in faith.  Their faith is enough to save them.

What I am talking about is the life of salvation, the Life Jesus claimed to be bringing to Lazarus’ family as they stared at the tomb containing the decaying body of their dead friend, the Life he claimed to be.  Things that you don’t do to be saved, but because of the new life you received in Christ.  

I am currently not sure of the best language to use, but I am afraid that we have separated works from faith to such a large degree that we can now have a faith without works, whereas according to Scripture if you have faith you have works.  In the world of church planting we celebrate baptisms and new conversions so much - not near as much as two years later, seeing those same new Christians enjoying the eternal life they are sharing in now as they are shaped into one image of glory to another by his Spirit.  Too often, I’ve seen people we’ve baptized in the past 10 years or so on the Shore disappear from the church.  We celebrated, hooted and hollered for their conversions, only to see them disappear from the church.  What happened?  Possibly these people didn’t really have faith at all.  We are not only celebrating baptism, we are celebrating the new life they are receiving that will make their entire existence up until the last breath.

You know what the most sure sign of your Christianity is?  When you are still breathing the name of Jesus in your dying breath.  That is the kind of life that must be of focus, and must be cultivated.

DOING GOOD TO OTHERS = PART OF REAPING ETERNAL LIFE
How do we reap eternal life today?  How do we cultivate this even now? There are numerous ways, and often we resort to begin talking about the Spiritual disciplines - prayer, bible reading, fasting, tithing, and so forth.  Yes, that is part of it.  But Paul here does something that, again, we don’t have appropriate categories for.  He says one easy way is by simply doing good.  Earlier, as Paul said, when our “faith works in love.”

Loving others, doing good to others, is one of the quickest avenues of reaping the qualities of the Christian Life, the Heavenly Life, the Eternal Life.  This is because God, who is Love, is going to be experienced through our love for others.  Other people will experience the love of God through our love for one another.  Our love, our active love, will be the best and most profound apologetic for Jesus Christ and his Church in modern times.  Often it has been said that when you feel distant from God, or feel spiritually in the dumps, or when you are not feeling very passionate towards Jesus, that you should go and pray more and read your Bible more.  Sure, that won’t hurt at all.  But when I read this, you know what may be a quicker way to cultivate your love and passion for Jesus?  To truly “experience” him as so many want to do?  Not only through worship music, or singing, or praying.  Go and love someone.  Serve someone.  Go and do good to a stranger in the name of Jesus.  And don’t give up in doing it.  Especially, do good to someone in this room.  In doing so, we will be reaping and cultivating the harvest of eternal life God has given to us through his Son, the life of the age to come.  I am the resurrection and the Life, said Jesus.  It’s what he came to bring to us!  Not just eternal security, but the fullness of life today!

Now Paul continues back, and at the close of the letter, uses this argument to then give us a direction for the ultimate aim of Christian ministry, which is this LIFE.  And this is so, so helpful.  Let’s listen to the Word of the Lord:

 

[11] See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. [12] It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. [13] For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. [14] But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. [15] For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. [16] And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

[17] From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.  [18] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (ESV)

 

He gets very personal.  Usually there was a scribe who helped write these letters, who helped dictate them to paper, and even sometimes we have their names written down, like in Romans 16.  We don’t know who it was who was dictating this letter, but Paul apparently grabs the pen and starts scribbling very large letters to prove a point:  NOW this is Paul’s writing.  Now, this is Paul’s own handwriting.  No more editing.  This is free-flow from Paul.

He says very plainly:  the false teachers have two agendas: to make their lives easier by taking on these aspects of Judaism that keeps them from being persecuted.  Judaism was a protected religion in the Roman Empire, and the more Christianity separated from it, the more danger it was from being misunderstood, and thus persecuted.  Take on Jewish customs and Christianity?  That’s nice way to avoid being arrested or beat for Jesus.  When we speak of a “liberal church” that succumbs to cultural pressures to avoid being misunderstood any longer, abandoning orthodox Christian doctrine to make the Gospel message more palatable, that is exactly what we are doing.

Secondly, they have a false end point of success.  When people are convinced to be circumcised by them, they can say in response “Hey guys!  We had some more converts, 15 people were circumcised today at church.”  I know that’s an awkward thing to say aloud, but it appears that became one of their motives.  We do the same thing with baptism, do we not?  Baptisms can become like notches on our spiritual success belt as a church.  “Yea we’ve baptized people.”

What’s the end goal?  Boasting in our baptisms?  Paul says in 1 Corinthians that he didn’t come to “baptize” but to “preach the Good news, not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

It’s not about getting converts.  Ultimately that isn’t up to us.  The goal is to 1) preach the Gospel, and as Paul so clearly says in Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:14-16).

The central theme of anything that is worthwhile to say that you have attained, have accomplished, or have received, is in Jesus Christ.  If there is anything that we have to boast in ourselves, it is that we were crucified along with him to the world.  And if there is anything else boast in ourselves, it is that in Jesus we have been made a new creation.  Recognize that this is all Jesus’ work, and not our own.  

It’s not about the actual results of our ministry, because there is work done on that level in the hearts of people that we ultimately cannot do on our own.  It’s ultimately the work of God.  Salvation is in his hands.  The Christian Life is made possible through the Holy Spirit, given to us by in Christ by God the Father. Therefore, only in Jesus Christ can we take true pride in anything. 

Paul in this section does something very important: he gives us an understanding of appropriate goals for Christian Ministry.  When we call people to have faith in Jesus, we should not be baiting people with the idea of hell insurance.  That’s certainly part of it.  We need to make sure we are telling them the truth: we are calling them to die as Jesus did.  You die to everything today, and will spend the rest of your lives dying every day. That’s the first step.  Turn fro sin and die to yourself, take on your new King and Savior and turn your lives inside out by moving God and you neighbor by the help of the Spirit. In doing so, God is re-creating you now, and will one day do so once and for all in the resurrection.
Yes, heaven is a reality, but I encourage you to find even five bible verses that show an example of the way we share the Gospel with others today: “Believe in Jesus and you will die and go to heaven.”  You will rarely find it presented the way we do.  You know what you will find, though?  Innumerable teachings like these.  Living the new, resurrected life.  You’re a new creation!  That’s what we’re calling people to. 

A NEW CREATION

Faith in Christ leads to something much more comprehensive, a vision that encompasses everything in our life: a NEW CREATION.  In other words, we are resurrected to a new life even right now.  It’s not about how many people were baptized, because what’s the use if they abandon the church?  It’s about people being born again, of which baptism is merely a sign of.  Receiving faith leading to a resurrected life even now, that will one day culminate into their actual resurrection upon the return of Christ.  

Paul is calling us to reap and focus and live on the things of Life, to have our hearts set on living the resurrected life, finding and rejoicing in evidence of being a New Creation.  And when we follow this rule, peace and mercy is promised to us.  

 

As we close, a couple things:
1)  We need a restoration of a proper understanding of the Christian life.  We are not planting a new church to cultivate your church attendance, tithing and spiritual disciplines only.  Those things are important, but not comprehensive.  Nor are we calling you to learn how to avoid sin.  No - Paul here is calling the Galatians church to learn how to REAP eternal life now, and to make the focus of all we do be on the NEW CREATION that Jesus has made you, even now.  When we see others praying, reading their bible, tithing, and so forth, that’s great.  But unfortunately you can learn to fake those things.  That’s why there are, still even today, the numbers range anywhere from 1 or 2.5 out of every five Americans are attending a Christian church this morning.  That’s a lot of Americans.  But somehow we’re on the sidelines of influence in our nation.

If we combined a cultivation of  loving God and loving others through good works as much as we cultivate the desire to see baptisms, church attendance, bible reading, prayer, evangelism and the spiritual disciplines - I promise you, everything would change in our nation.  And Paul is doing that very thing right now.  Good works alongside of evangelism will set evangelism on fire.  They will get a taste of the life of loving God and loving your neighbor.  In a post-Christian culture, this is so, so important to understand.

Loving and serving others alongside of your church attendance will bring the fragrance of Christ to a nation desperately looking for hope.  Loving others will cause you to continue the process of reaping the eternal life you have received in Christ, and even now you and and I, we will experience a taste of God’s will being done on earth and it is in heaven.  I want that for you.  And I pray that as we close this wonderful book of Galatians, you will leave here and seek out how to do good to others, especially to one another. I’d love to see this church tripping over themselves in serving one another!  Let’s do it church.  Let’s pray.