A Commentary by John Stott
We have seen that our ‘flesh’ is our lower nature ‘with its passions and desires’ (5:24) which, if unchecked, break out in the ‘works of the flesh’ (5:19-21). This lower nature is in each of us and remains in us even after conversion and baptism. It is one of the fields of our human estate in which we may sow.
To ‘sow to the flesh’ is to pander to it, to cosset, cuddle and stroke it, instead of crucifying it. The seeds we sow are largely thoughts and deeds. Every time we allow our mind to harbour a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk which strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh. Some Christians sow to the flesh every day and wonder why they do not reap holiness. Holiness is a *harvest*; whether we reap it or not depends almost entirely on what and where we sow.
b). Sowing to the Spirit.
To ‘sow to the Spirit’ is the same as ‘to set the mind on the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:6) and to ‘walk by the Spirit’ (Gal.5:16, 25). Again, the seeds we sow are our thoughts and deeds. We are to ‘seek’ and to ‘set our minds on’ the things of God, ‘things that are above, not…things on earth’ (Col.3:1. 2; contrast Phil.3:19), By the books we read, the company we keep and the leisure occupations we pursue we can be ‘sowing to the Spirit’. Then we are to foster disciplined habits of devotion in private and in public, in daily prayer and Bible reading, and in worship with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day. All this is ‘sowing to the Spirit’; without it there can be no harvest of the Spirit, no ‘fruit of the Spirit’.
Paul distinguishes between the harvests as well as between the two sowings. The results are only logical. if we sow to the flesh, we shall ‘from the flesh reap corruption’. That is, a process of moral decay will set in. We shall go from bad to worse until we finally perish. If, on the other hand, we sow to the Spirit, we shall ‘from the Spirit reap eternal life’. That is, a process of moral and spiritual growth will begin. Communion with God (which is eternal life) will develop now until in eternity it becomes perfect.
Therefore, if we want to reap a harvest of holiness, our duty is twofold. Fist, we must avoid sowing to the flesh, and secondly we must keep sowing to the Spirit. We must ruthlessly eliminate the first and concentrate our time and energies on the second. It is another way of saying (as in Gal.5) that we must ‘crucify the flesh’ and ‘walk by the Spirit’. There is no other way of growing in holiness.