Seeds of Grace
Read Galatians 6:7-18
I remember when I was in fourth grade the teacher had each of us plant a bean seed in a Styrofoam cup filled with soil.
I waited and waited for what seemed like months (probably a week!). I wanted so much to help that little seed grow that I finally dug it up to see how it was doing. I saw the tiniest little root, so I put it back. Next day, I dug it up again to see what was going on. Not much progress. Buried it. Dug it up again later that day to see very little growth. Tugged on the root to help out a little. Buried it again. Repeat hourly.
You can guess how that turned out. I was the only kid in class who couldn’t even grow a bean. Why? I was trying too hard to make something happen!
When it comes to your spiritual growth, maybe you need to stop trying so hard. Stop being so introspective, digging up the bean to see what’s growing. Instead, plant good seeds, make sure they’re watered, and relax a little. In time you’ll see the crop. That’s what Paul says in today’s potentially confusing passage.
Remember, the Galatians had slipped back to legalism after starting their Christian walk by grace. So through this whole letter, Paul shows them how God is all about grace, grace, grace.
Then, toward the very end of the letter, Paul says something that may totally surprise you because it sounds like he’s going right back to the old, tired religious formula of “you get what you earn”:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7–8
Uh… this sounds a lot like… earning salvation to me. So am I saved by grace, or do I reap what I sow?
Read it in context: In this passage Paul’s talking about how you can enjoy the results of God’s grace in your life. When you plant seeds of grace, you will reap the fruit of grace. When you plant seeds of destruction, you reap the fruit of destruction.
It’s God who changes you. But you can cooperate in one way: repentance. In Greek, the word for repentance literally means to “change my mind” (really, every other “spiritual discipline” is just a form of this one). This works because you always move toward whatever you focus on. Every moment spent gazing in wonder at Christ, every act of grace done in the name of Christ, every prayer spent thanking God for His grace — these are all seeds that will slowly grow as the focus of my mind is changed.
And what kind of a harvest is my goal? Not Bible study or prayer as ends in themselves — those are ways I water the seeds.
What grows from the seed? As we read yesterday: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23) This is the consequence, the reward, of godly, grace-full living: I am increasingly filled with love and joy and peace and more. But if what I’m doing is not producing that harvest, then I need to rethink what I’m doing.
I think this is why some people I know — people who have the most incredible Bible knowledge and the strictest moral code — also come across as the least kind, the least gentle, the least joyful people. They’ve been focusing not on Jesus and those qualities of Christ-likeness as their intended harvest, but on the spiritual disciplines themselves or producing “results” for God.
How does this shift in focus happen? Speaking here from my own experience, you start by constantly checking the bean seeds like I did in fourth grade, wanting so badly to see spiritual growth. And because qualities like joy or kindness are hard (if not impossible) to accurately measure, you start focusing on more quantifiable things — like time spent in Bible study or prayer or on mission trips. And so you become more studious or more disciplined, since that’s what you’re measuring, but not more joyful or kind.
The lesson I learned from years spent living this way? It’s much better to relax, plant some seeds, and let them grow. And remember to keep looking at the picture on the seed packet: It’s a picture of Jesus.
As Joshua Harris comments, “Holiness isn’t a mysterious spiritual state that only an elite few can reach. It’s more than an emotion, or a resolution, or an event. Holiness is a harvest.” It takes time and an easy-going patience that is at odds with a performance-driven Christianity.
How does the concept of sowing and reaping help you understand how to grow spiritually?
How can you sow seeds of grace in your life, and in others’ lives, today?
Ask God to help you plant good seeds of grace in your soul each day.