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?

  • This is sort of related: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/6960/… Commented Apr 10, 2012 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... Commented Apr 10, 2012 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.
    – user971
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 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
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 15:28
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    Is this question coming from a Protestant perspective? If so should the question be rephrased to make that clearer? Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 16:15

3 Answers 3


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.
    – user971
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 17:06

How does the context shed light on this passage?

The entire letter to the Galatians is a warning about starting down the path that leads to the Pharisees. In the last chapter Paul is sort of summarizing building on points he establishes earlier.

The illustration of "sowing" can be seen as making an investment. Just as a farmer hopes that his investment of seed will produce a harvest, we are to invest ourselves in the work God has for us. If we invest based on the flesh (our own ideas and strength) we will receive the same "harvest" as the Pharisees.

Matthew 6:2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

If we invest based on the Spirit, we build on the solid foundation of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 3:11-13 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.

Works of the flesh are not of faith in Christ, but faith in self.

Matthew 7:22-23 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

At the core of the Galatian letter is the contrast between flesh and Spirit. This contrast can be summed up as in what do we trust or where is our faith.

The main reward from a life defined by faith in Jesus and sowing to the Spirit is eternal life. The main thrust of the Galatian letter is that being diverted from faith in Jesus to faith in self (the flesh) is very serious and should be guarded against as it produces a bitter harvest.


If after you have been saved by Grace and you continue to do bad, will you enter into the kingdom? Are you saved? Even Paul said “God forbid” You should not go back to your old ways. You are a new creation. Can we actually be saved before judgement? I doubt. After death judgement. So that brings us to “ what does Paul mean by saying “you are saved”? We should take all that Paul said into consideration before interpreting what he said. Having faith in God implies that we love God. To love God has been defined thus “if you say you love God and you do not love your fellow human being whom you see, how can you love God whom you do not see, you are a liar. This is in the Bible. Therefore having faith implies loving your fellow. If you love your fellow you will always do good to him. Paul said even if you have faith that can move mountain but you do not have charity, you are nothing. So l believe that all the Apostles are saying the same thing, no contradiction. People take Paul out of context. Paul is a very learned man and so he is brief and do not to explain certain things in many words.

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