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My understanding of the relationship between works and salvation is that works are the inevitable fruit of salvation by grace (1 John 3:6, Matthew 7:16-18). And my understanding of perseverance is that the genuinely saved will persevere (Philippians 1:6, 1 John 2:19).

However, this passage from Galatians does not seem to fit cleanly with my understanding:

Galatians 6:8-9 (NASB)
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 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

Particularly in verse 9, Paul seems to be telling the Galatians to keep doing good in order to reap eternal life. Furthermore, it sounds like this "doing good" falls under human responsibility, or why would Paul need to admonish the Galatians to do so? That sounds a lot like works salvation.

How do those with understandings similar to mine explain/interpret this verse? How does the context shed light on this passage?

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This is sort of related: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/6960/… –  Thomas Shields Apr 10 '12 at 14:54
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Um, Gal 5 is pretty clear it ain't works. Now if you had asked is James teaching works, I would thought, ok... Also, you may want to check out NT Wright's "New Perspective," in which he says our understanding of faith and works isn't what Paul thinks it is... –  Affable Geek Apr 10 '12 at 15:06
    
@AffableGeek, definitely I'd agree that Galatians as a whole is pretty clear on salvation by grace / not works, but at the same time, I don't want to just brush off any passage. I'd still like to understand the meaning of this passage, and the apparent contradiction between the rest of the Galatians. Also, someone might argue that in Galatians Paul is teaching against salvation by the law, but teaching in favour of salvation by good works (bearing fruit). And salvation by fruit bearing would still seem like works salvation to me. –  Eric Apr 10 '12 at 15:24
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I happen to believe in the view that you need faith and works for salvation so I won't actually answer the question as your looking for the opposite view. As is, I think that most people have this all or nothing view. Where they think that only works will save or only faith will save and the other has no bearing on the situation at all. I think that when all the scriptures on faith and the fruit of the gospel (works) are taken together you get this clear picture that both are required for salvation. We are all saved by grace but we are exalted by works. That is my interpretation of Paul here. –  ryan Apr 10 '12 at 15:28
    
@AffableGeek: Or that our understanding of Paul (or, more precisely, Luther's understanding) isn't quite what Paul intended when he wrote that. –  Mason Wheeler Apr 10 '12 at 16:18
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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think the key thing here is understanding what it means to "sow to flesh" and "sow to the Spirit".

The difference (referencing Bob Utley's commentary) is the key difference between the two basic approaches to being right with God: our own effort, or God's free grace.

The former (sowing to flesh) refers to trying to be right by God by trying to work for it. The latter (sowing to the Spirit) refers to trying to be right by God through his free grace.

In other words, Paul is strongly warning the Galatians to not attempt to be right with God through their own effort.

In verse 9, he goes on to encourage the Galatians to continue in their works. We are not saved by our works, but saved unto works. You see this same thing in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

So the interpretation here should be a strict admonition to not mock God by attempting to hold up your good works as a sign of your deserving eternal life, but rather that you would abandon your good works as an effort towards salvation, and instead, embrace good works gladly as a privilege given to those who have ceased their striving to be justified through those same good works.

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+1 good answer - thanks. I think that fits neatly in the context of Galatians. –  Eric Apr 10 '12 at 17:06
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