Question: "What does it mean to sow to the Spirit (Galatians 6:8)?"

Answer: Scripture contains numerous references to sowing and reaping—farming terms that were well understood by the agrarian society to whom the Bible was originally written. Old Testament references to sowing and reaping are mostly related to agriculture. But the terms take on a spiritual connotation in the New Testament: “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” (Galatians 6:8, ESV).

Sowing and reaping constitute unalterable laws of seedtime and harvest. To sow is to cultivate, as in planting seeds for growth. The farmer will always reap the same kind of plant or fruit as the seed sown. If we scatter cherry seeds, a cherry tree will grow and produce cherries.

In Galatians 5—6, Paul focuses on the nature of the Christian life. He stresses that freedom in Christ is not a lifestyle characterized by self-indulgence and gratifying our own sinful desires (Galatians 5:13, 16, 19–21). Freedom from sin is only possible for believers if they follow a new law established by Christ—the law of love (Galatians 5:13–15). True spiritual freedom expresses itself in love for God and others (1 Peter 2:16).

Paul compares the Christian life to tending a farmer’s field. As believers, we can sow seeds into one of two fields: the flesh or the Spirit. As we make decisions, we must realize that everything we do will either be an investment in the flesh or the Spirit. The fruit we produce depends on which field we choose to sow into and what we sow. Paul encouraged, “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9, NLT).

Sowing to our flesh means cultivating and developing our sinful desires. We sow to the flesh by nurturing and indulging it so that it grows and produces fruit: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19–21).

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” writes Paul (Galatians 5:24). The seeds we sow are linked to our thoughts and actions. Paul instructs us to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22–24, NLT). Some Christians sow to the flesh all day long—allowing their minds to dwell on resentments, impure thoughts, and self-pity—and then wonder why they don’t reap a spiritual harvest of righteousness and holy living.

We sow to the Spirit when we stop letting our sinful nature control our minds; a mind controlled by the flesh “leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace” (Romans 8:6, NLT). The way to experience freedom in Christ, Paul explains, is to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), “live by the spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) through a Spirit-led daily regime fueled by love (Galatians 5:18). We sow to the Spirit by cultivating and nurturing “the fruit of the Spirit,” which is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23).

A Spirit-controlled life involves setting our “minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1). If we think only about the concerns of life here on earth, we will reap a harvest of destruction (Philippians 3:19). We sow to the Spirit when we fix our “thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8, NLT). As we immerse ourselves in God’s Word, in fellowship with other believers, in praise, worship, and prayer, we sow to the Spirit. And the outcome of sowing to the Spirit is reaping the bountiful harvest of everlasting life.