Maybe we should edit the old saying (probably misattributed to Abraham Lincoln, see https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/12/11/cannot-fool/) a little bit and say, “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool God…ever!”
Have you ever read (or heard) this passage from the book of Galatians?
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Galatians 6:7-8 NIV
Now, these verses are often quoted in isolation from the rest of the book of Galatians. I think that they hold up pretty well on their own, but in the context of the entire book, we find in these verses an emphasis of what was found in the previous chapter (which has been reviewed in several previous articles): If we cultivate the sinful nature and let it be our master, we’re going to see some pretty unpleasant stuff coming out of our lives. If we instead cultivate the habit of following God (through the Holy Spirit), we instead have the hope of eternal life (through faith in Jesus), and the natural output of our lives will be the fruit of the Spirit.
I would hope that we can agree that the results of following our sinful desires, as described in Galatians 5:19-21, can be pretty messy. A quick look around us confirms that people whose lives show these sorts of results often end up on their way to destruction.
Conversely, despite some people’s attempts to paint righteous behavior in a negative light, I think that we can consider individuals whose lives manifest the fruit (i.e., the result) of walking by the Spirit, and we can observe that they are more successful in the things that really matter in life (both here on earth, and in the eternity to come). When the output of our lives is like Galatians 5:22-23, this does not make us right with God because we are doing them. Rather, these outcomes are the evidence of a life that has been given over to a better leader and savior (Jesus Christ); that is, a life that is led by the Holy Spirit. The result of that decision is both the fruit of the Spirit and justification to spend eternity with God.
Having said this, following Jesus and actively keeping in step with the Holy Spirit takes some work. It is challenging to fight against forces that pull us away from the Spirit’s leading, especially when parts of our own selves seem to be battling against our desire to live in a way that glorifies God.
I like the example of “let us keep in step with the Spirit” in Galatians 5:25-26. When we are free from the law, and live in freedom (sealed by the Holy Spirit), it’s a good idea to follow Him. Apparently, we can have the Spirit in our lives, but maybe not do a good job of keeping up. So, we might still be part of the family of God, but we’re missing out on the adventure that He is leading us on.
Think about a child trying to keep up with a parent, as they go on a journey. The child might have to take two steps for each one of the parent’s, but if they can keep up, there are going to be some great things to see and to do. Or, consider the effectiveness of a military troop where everyone is in step. What could the church accomplish in the battle for the souls of humankind if we could all walk with the Holy Spirit, and not follow the path and pace that our individual selfish desires want?
Conversely, what does it look like if we get off-track or fall behind from where God is leading us? Galatians 5:26 identifies conceit (or boasting), provocation, and envy. If you see these things growing in your life, I encourage you to not just try to “do better”, but instead check back with the Holy Spirit to learn whether you are still caught up with (and following) Him, or if you have gotten off track and need to get back onto His path for you.
Understanding that doing good can wear someone out, Paul has some encouragement to those who may have been getting tired of this work. While these words were written to the church in Galatia, they are still meaningful today.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:9-10 NIV
Even if we are in step with the Holy Spirit, we might not see the results right away, whether in our own lives (where the fruit of the Spirit may take some time to mature) or around us (where other people aren’t always immediately ready to turn their lives over from their sinful nature to God). We should still keep going, though.
Notice that there is a harvest promised. When you’re not sure if obedience to God is going to pay off in the end, re-read these verses. Not only is there a promise, but there’s a helpful reminder to do good. If we’re not sure where the Holy Spirit is leading us next, doing good to others (and especially to other believers) is a great place to start.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for August 29, 2021
- The Lookout, August 29, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Galatians & Ephesians, by Kenneth L. Boles. College Press Publishing Company, © 1993.