The Law of Sowing and Reaping

2 Samuel 12:13-14, Galatians 6:7-10
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, September 03, 2000
Copyright © 2000, P.G. Mathew

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”

2 Samuel 12:13-14

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 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 6:7-10

In 2 Samuel 12:13-14 we read, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord to show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.'” In verse 15 we read, “After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had born to David, and he became ill,” and in verse 18 we read, “On the seventh day the child died.”

This passage teaches us about the spiritual law of sowing and reaping, a law that all Christians must consider as they live their daily lives. As we study it, we must keep in mind that this is not a word spoken to a pagan, but to a believer, King David. We find the same idea repeated in Galatians 6:7-10, which speaks about sowing to one’s sinful nature. It is a passage written to God’s people, the church of Galatia, not to pagans. That is why I say those who profess to be Christians must pay attention to the spiritual law of sowing and reaping.

Our Actions Matter

You have probably heard the slogan, “Once saved, always saved.” The idea behind it is that it doesn’t matter what Christians do; they will be saved because they invited Jesus into their hearts. Those who use this slogan will quote Paul’s words in Romans 5:20, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” but what they are really saying is, “Let us go on sinning that grace may abound.” They will say, “I believe in eternal security” and then they sin without fear of any consequences.

I want to tell you that such notions are delusionary. Not only are such people ignoring Paul’s declaration in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” but they are also ignoring his words to the Galatians, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. . .” (Galatians 5:13). In Galatians 6:7 Paul instructed, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” We cannot sow weeds and reap wheat, nor can we sow thorns and reap strawberries. Hosea tells us if we sow wind, we will reap a whirlwind, and if we sow to sin, we will reap destruction, not righteousness. That is why “Once saved, always saved”-this claim to justification without clear evidence of sanctification-is nothing but equivocation and sheer prevarication.

The God who justifies us will also sanctify us. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Yes, I believe in eternal security of all true believers because it is clear biblical doctrine, but I also believe that true believers will practice holiness as they strive to please the God who saved them. I also believe that if believers sin, they shall suffer serious consequences both in this present life and in the life to come. In other words, it matters how a Christian lives, and this understanding should stimulate all true believers to holiness.

David’s Sin Had Consequences

David secretly sinned against Bathsheba by committing adultery with her and then arranged to have her husband murdered. When confronted by God’s prophet Nathan, David did truly repent of his sins, so Nathan told David, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” But then he added, “But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord to show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” Soon thereafter the Lord struck the child, and he died.

But even after the infant son of David and Bathsheba died, there were further consequences of David’s sin. In verse 10 Nathan told David, “Therefore, the sword will never depart from your house,” which can have the meaning “from your kingdom” as well. In other words, Nathan was prophesying continuous war within David’s kingdom as well as in his own family, and this literally happened. In the subsequent years, David’s kingdom and family experienced great troubles and sorrows as a direct result of David indulging secretly in sin. Additionally, because David had indulged in sexual lust, we find Nathan telling David in verses 11-12 that his own son would commit sexual sin against David’s concubines, and this came true during Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 16:21-22).

Before all these things happened, I am sure David the believer had thought that he could get away with it all-a little sowing of evil, a little lust, a little indulging in the evil pleasure of adultery, a little arrogance, a little lack of listening to the word of God, a little laziness, a little injustice-with no consequences. But what was God saying through Nathan to David? “No, David. You sowed evil and you shall reap the consequences. You threw a stone into the pond and the ripples will be many, affecting not only you but your family and your kingdom.”

This is true any time we sin. One sin will produce a terrible chain reaction of consequences. First, it will work against you, but then it will work against your children and your children’s children-against your whole family and beyond. Then it will work against your profession, your economic status, and your health. Even one sin will affect every aspect of your life. That is why I hope we will pay attention to the lessons from these passages. I pray that this study will act as a stimulant to sow not evil but righteousness.

Consequences of Sin in Our Body

The first point we want to examine is the consequences of our sins here and now. First, David experienced serious consequences in his own body. He felt severe pressure in his body from God Almighty, which he speaks about in Psalm 32:3-4: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” King David experienced serious psychosomatic trouble as a result of his sin. It is impossible for a Christian to sin and enjoy good health.

Second, David’s family suffered. In 2 Samuel 12 we read that there was a child born of the adulterous relationship between David and Bathsheba. Nathan, speaking the very word of God, told David, “Nevertheless, your son shall surely die.” The child’s death was divine determination, and no intercession would be heard on his account. When we read that the Lord struck the child and he died, we must understand that this infant died, not for his own sin, but for the sin of his parents.

We may wonder what is going on here, because David, after all, was a believer. Let me assure you, there is no question that King David was saved and that he will be justified on the last day. But here the Lord was functioning not as his Judge, but as his Father. As a son of God, David had sinned, and God had to chasten him. Why does God give pain to his children? To produce holiness in them. That is why David had to be disciplined, even though it was painful.

The Effects of Parental Sin

What, then, was the result of David’s sin? The Lord struck the child and refused to hear prayer for healing, and the child died on the seventh day. This was direct judgment for the sin of the child’s parents.

Now, children’s afflictions are not always a result of parental sin. In John 9 we read about a man who was born blind. Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” meaning this particular blindness did not come because of the specific sin of the man or his parents, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life,” meaning that God could be glorified through him, which he was. But in David’s situation, the child died because of his parents’ sin. That also was for the glory of God.

The principle of parental sin affecting children is mentioned several places in the Scriptures. In Exodus 20 the second commandment deals with this principle, which is repeated in Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; and Jeremiah 32:18. The second commandment tells us, “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:5). In other words, the Lord was telling Israel that he demanded an exclusive relationship with them, like the exclusive relationship of a husband and wife; he would not tolerate Israel having other gods. If Israel did serve other gods, the holy jealousy of God would manifest and he would deal with his people severely.

This is true of the relationship between God and believers of all ages: violation of this relationship results in severe judgment which extends to subsequent generations. A great-grandfather’s sin can affect the grandfather, the father, and the child-four generations. When David sinned, I do not think he thought much about the effect it would have upon his own family as well as on the generations who came after him, and I don’t think we think of these things either when we sin.

I pray that God will put some fear of God into our hearts as we examine the way God dealt with his people and disciplined them when they sinned against him. Our sin has an ongoing, evil effect which affects our future generations. When we sin, we are sowing an evil seed into a field of human beings, especially those who are near to us, which continues to future generations. How many children of Christians have learned evil from their parents and now hate God and practice evil?

Somebody once said that we sow a thought and reap an act; we sow an act and reap a habit; we sow a habit and reap a character; and we sow a character and reap a destiny. Evil thoughts produce evil deeds which, in turn, produce evil habits and evil character, and, finally, result in evil destiny. When we sow evil, we produce evil deeds, such as those we read about in Galatians 5:19: “The deeds of the sinful nature 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.” Is this the inheritance we want to leave our children?

The Effects of David’s Sin

David felt the consequences of his sins in his own body and psyche, and then the child born to him and Bathsheba was killed by divine action. But that was not the end of the story. In 2 Samuel 13 we read about another son of David, a handsome man named Amnon. As we read the story of Amnon, we see that the sexual sin of the father manifested in his son, not in terms of adultery, but something worse than that-incest and rape. Did David think about this kind of thing when he secretly sinned with Bathsheba? Yes, David indulged in what he probably considered a little lust, but I am sure that he never considered that a time would come when his own son would manifest this trait in greater grossness. Full of lust, Amnon devised a scheme and raped Tamar, who was his own sister through another mother.

Tamar was the full sister of another son named Absalom, who didn’t say anything at the time, but later invited Amnon to come for a feast given by Absalom during the time of sheep-sheering. This was a plan by Absalom to murder Amnon, and Amnon was cut down at the feast. Do you think David thought about these things when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and secretly arranged to have Uriah murdered? No! David’s actions were totally self-centered. He acted blindly, not foreseeing any repercussions in the generations to come.

Even this tragedy was not the end of the consequences to David’s sin. In 2 Samuel 12:11 Nathan told David, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret and I will make it happen in broad daylight, and all Israel will know.'” This happened through David’s son Absalom, who, like Amnon, was also extremely handsome and sensual. In 2 Samuel 15 we read that Absalom rebelled against his father David, and David had to flee from Jerusalem. David’s trusted counselor Ahithophel joined with Absalom, and on Ahithophel’s advice, Absalom pitched a tent on the roof of the palace and had sex with David’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. Once again, we must ask: When we sin, do we think about the implications of our sin, in our own lives as well as in the lives of our children, our children’s children, and their children in the generations to come? What arrogance, what blindness, what shortsightedness we display when we give in to sin, as David did!

When all Israel joined in Absalom’s rebellion, David fled Jerusalem. This also was a direct result of his secret sin. In 2 Samuel 15:30 we read, “But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot,” and later on we read that a man named Shimei came out and cursed King David and threw dirt on him as he passed by.

Additionally, Absalom himself suffered for his father David’s sin. In 2 Samuel 18:14-15 we read that when David’s army caught up with Absalom, “Joab said, ‘I am not going to wait like this for you.’ So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.” What was David’s reaction to Absalom’s death? In verse 33 we read, “The king was shaken. He went up the room over the gateway and wept as he went. He said, ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you-O Absalom, my son, my son!'” You see, David had not wanted his son to be killed. He had instructed his men to spare Absalom, but David’s wish was not granted. Oh, what grief, what pain, what agony, what misery David experienced-all because of his own sin!

We never think anything this serious will happen when we plant our little seed of sin, do we? Let me tell you, the seed of sin is extremely potent. It will spring up, the root will go down, and in due time there will be fruit-serious, grievous fruit.

The consequences of David’s sin did not end with Absalom’s death. Before David died, Adonijah tried to ensure the succession for himself, even though Solomon was God’s choice. After David died, Adonijah, who was full of lust, came to Solomon’s mother Bathsheba, saying he had only one request: he wanted Bathsheba to ask Solomon to give him Abishag, a very beautiful girl who was the last wife of David. Here again we see the sexual lust of David working in the lives of his sons.

In 1 Kings 2:22 we read, “Then King Solomon answered his mother, ‘Why do you request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? You might as well request the kingdom for him. . . .” Adonijah’s last grasp for power ended in his own destruction, and in 1 Kings 2:25 we read, “King Solomon gave orders to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he struck down Adonijah and he died.” We may want to adjust our view of God. He is a holy God who deals with sin severely.

Continuing Effects of Sin

Even the death of Adonijah was not the end of the consequences of David’s sin. Remember Nathan’s words, “the sword shall never depart from your house”? Generations went by, and in 2 Chronicles 21 we find some further effects of David’s sin in the lives of his descendants. In verses 1-2 we read, “Then Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers and was buried with them in the City of David. And Jehoram his son succeeded him as king. Jehoram’s brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat, were Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azariahu, Michael and Shephatiah.” And in verse 4 we read, “When Jehoram established himself firmly over his father’s kingdom, he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the princes of Israel.” Jehoram’s actions resulted from the sin of his forefather David. I hope this will make us a little careful when we are tempted to sin, especially when no one is watching but God.

The consequences of David’s sin continued-wave after wave after wave of pain and suffering and misery and grief in the line of David. In 2 Chronicles 22, we read that Athaliah, a granddaughter of Ahab, rose to power in Judah when her son Ahaziah was killed. In verse 10 we read, “When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah.” Here we find more people being killed because of David’s sin. This is exactly what Nathan meant when he said, “Because you have done this, the sword shall never depart from your house.” There was big-time family trouble among David’s descendants, all as a result of David’s sin.

When we have family trouble, have we ever wondered why such things are happening to us? We tend to get upset with God and accuse him of not doing anything right for us. But don’t be so quick to blame God. We may be shortsighted and forgetful, but maybe it is time to look back and see what we did twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, and face reality.

In 2 Kings 25 we meet the last king of Judah, a son of Josiah named Zedekiah. When the Babylonians came against Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah urged Zedekiah and his people to surrender to them, but Zedekiah refused to listen to Jeremiah. He did not want to believe God or submit to him because he hated God. Zedekiah thought he could escape, but he was captured by the Babylonians, who put his sons to death before his eyes and then put out his eyes. The last thing Zedekiah saw was the God-ordained killing of his own children by the Babylonians, and in due course he himself was killed. Oh, the serious consequences of David’s sin!

Illustrations of Sowing and Reaping

I want to examine some other examples of the spiritual principle of sowing and reaping so that we can be convinced of the serious consequences our sin can produce. In the book of Joshua we read about a man named Achan who was part of the Israelite army that had conquered Jericho. I am sure Achan was present when Joshua gave the army God’s command to totally destroy everything in Jericho and take no plunder. I am sure he heard the word of God, but when he saw some objects that he wanted to keep for himself, Achan probably reasoned, “I think God is somewhat deficient. He doesn’t see everything, so he won’t see me stealing these things. As long as I can bury them in the ground, God wouldn’t be able to see them and I won’t be caught.” (PGM) Isn’t this the reason we sin also? We have this idea that God does not see everything we do. Over against the clear word of God, Achan took some plunder from Jericho and buried it, thinking that God did not see him.

By divine intervention Achan’s sin was revealed to the whole assembly of Israel, and in Joshua 7:24-25 we find the consequences of Achan’s sin, both for Achan and his family: “Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had to the Valley of Achor,” which means valley of trouble. “Joshua said, ‘Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.’ Then all Israel stoned him and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them.'”

In 1 Samuel 1-4 we read about Eli, who was God’s priest. It was Eli’s job to teach God’s truth to the people, but he did not. Additionally, Eli failed to restrain his sons even though they showed great contempt for the Lord. In 1 Samuel 2:30-33 we find God’s judgment on Eli:

Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: “I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever.” But now the Lord declares: “Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man. Every one of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grieve your heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.”

These are shocking words from the mouth of God! But what happened because of Eli’s sin? Not only did Eli and his sons die, but in 1 Samuel 22 we are told that eighty-five male descendants of Eli-eighty-five priests-were slaughtered in one day by Doeg the Edomite. It is interesting to note that we find no mention of God interfering to spare the lives of these priests.

Does this picture of God surprise you? Oh, most of us want some kind of nice God who will close his eyes to every disobedience and every sin, but there is no such God. There are serious consequences when we sin against God.

In 1 Kings we read about Jeroboam. God raised him up, made him a king, and gave him ten tribes of Israel to rule over. But as soon as Jeroboam became king, he turned his back upon God. In 1 Kings 14 we read that when Jeroboam’s son became sick, Jeroboam sent his wife to the prophet Ahijah to inquire whether the child was going to live or not. On Jeroboam’s instructions, his wife disguised herself and went to this prophet. She was like the people who only go to God when they experience serious trouble. But even though the prophet was blind, he knew the woman who had come was Jeroboam’s wife. As soon as Jeroboam’s wife entered the house, the Holy Ghost came upon Ahijah and he began to prophesy the destiny of Jeroboam, his children, and the nation of Israel. Beginning in 1 Kings 14:7 we read Ahijah’s words:

Go, tell Jeroboam that this what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I raised you up form among the people and made you a leader over my people Israel. I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David. . . .You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have provoked me to anger and thrust me behind your back. Because of this, I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel-slave or free. I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one who burns dung, until it is all gone. Dogs will eat those belonging to Jeroboam who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country. The Lord has spoken! (1 Kings 14:7-11)

Ahijah continued, “As for you, go back home. When you set foot in your city, the boy will die. All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. . . .” (vv. 12-13). We find the fulfillment of this prophecy in 1 Kings 14:17. Additionally, Ahijah said, “The Lord will raise up for himself a king over Israel who will cut off the family of Jeroboam” (v. 14), and in 1 Kings 15:29-30 we read, “And as soon as [Nadab] began to reign, he killed Jeroboam’s whole family. He did not leave Jeroboam anyone that breathed, but destroyed them all, according to the word of the Lord given to his servant Ahijah the Shilonite-because of the sins Jeroboam had committed and had caused Israel to commit.”

Now, children, what do you think? Fathers and mothers, what do you think? Is it all right to sin? Oh, it’s just a little pleasure, that’s all-just a little arrogance, a little lust-no big problem. No. If we sow sin, we will reap grievous, long-lasting consequences.

Someone may ask, “Aren’t all these illustrations from the Old Testament?” Yes, but read 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, where Paul writes, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. . . . That is why many among you are weak and sick and many fall asleep.” The Corinthian Christians did not have to become weak or sick or die in the midst of their years. The Bible clearly teaches that these problems were a direct result of divine dealings against sin. The people in the church of Corinth refused to pay heed to the word of God and they suffered consequences of their sin.

We are living at a time when the evangelical church will not tolerate any discussion on holiness or righteousness. I am not speaking about liberal churches, which don’t even preach the gospel, but about those churches that still believe in the word of God. The vast majority of them do not tolerate any serious preaching of the truth of holiness; that we are to obey Jesus Christ and live for him on a daily basis; that our sin has consequences. In fact, whenever a minister of the gospel preaches this, he is not appreciated. But we must declare the full gospel! Life is not some game we play; it is very serious. We know a man who is going to die soon, and I am sure he looks upon life in a very serious manner. Praise God, he is a serious believer in Jesus Christ and knows where he is going. But don’t get upset with me or any other preacher of the gospel when we speak about holiness and righteousness. Read the Bible: the prophets, the apostles, the gospels. Read the last book of the Bible, which clearly reveals the glory of God and the judgment which will be poured out upon people who will not own him.

I pray that we will conform, not to cultural Christianity, but to scriptural Christianity. Study the subject of sanctification, especially as it is explained by theologians such as the late Professor John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary in the second volume of his collected works. The goal of sanctification is that we conform to the image of the Father by conforming to the image of his Son, so that we may have fellowship with the Father and the Son.

Salvation must deal with sin or it is not salvation. Sin must be dealt with, punished, and eradicated. When that happens, we will be made glorious because we are called for the purpose of fellowshiping with God, whose eyes are purer than to behold sin.

Eternal Consequences of Sin

Not only does sin have consequences in our personal life, in our family life, in our professional life, in our economic life, in our health life, from generation to generation, but it also makes itself felt when we are summoned before the judgment seat of Christ. When we are made manifest in the presence of God, he will look, not at our outward appearance but at our very heart and will make manifest everything we have throughout our life, whether good or bad. That is why we must examine the eternal consequences of our sins. Remember, we are not dealing here with the sin of pagans but with the sin of God’s people. There are consequences to our sin here and now, and there are also consequences hereafter.

The Judgment of Believers

In 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 Paul wrote, “So we make it our goal to please him,” meaning the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice, Paul was including himself in this statement. It was the apostle’s singular ambition in life to please the Lord Jesus Christ. “So we make it our goal to please him,” Paul wrote, and then he gave the reason in verse 10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” This translation is not very correct. In the Greek it is, tous gar pantas hêmas phanerôthênai dei emprosthen tou bêmatos tou Christou, which means, “For we must all be made manifest in the presence of or before the court of Christ, the judgment seat of Christ.” The Greek word dei tells us this is a must, a divine necessity. No one will escape this final judgment before Christ.

Professor Philip E. Hughes, who was professor at Westminster Theological Seminary years ago, makes this remark about being made manifest before Christ:

To be made manifest means not just to appear, but to be laid bare, stripped of every outward facade of respectability, and openly revealed in the full and true reality of one’s character. All our hypocrisies and concealments, all our secret, intimate sins of thought and deed, will be open to the scrutiny of Christ-a clear indication, incidentally, of the absolute Deity of the Redeemer, for it is only the divine gaze which penetrates to the very essence of our personality: “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). The conduct of our lives should constantly be influenced by the solemn remembrance that “there is no creature that is not manifest in God’s sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13; cf. 1 Cor. 4:5).

(Philip E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the Bible, [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962, 1979], 180).

Jesus Christ has a judgment seat, and we must all stand before it. If you travel to Corinth today, you can still see the ancient judgment seat to which the apostle Paul was brought by the Jewish people, as we read in Acts 18. Jesus himself was brought before the judgment seat of Pilate in Jerusalem. So the idea of a bema, or judgment seat, means a raised place where the judge sat and people would be brought before him. Here Paul is referring to the judgment seat of Christ, bêmatos tou Christou. It is the judgment seat of the Judge of the whole universe-the Lord Jesus Christ-whose gaze is directed to the very essence of our personality. All judgment is given to the Lord Jesus Christ, and before him everyone will be stripped bare.

Judgment and Reward

What is the purpose of our coming before him? “That each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” This is the judgment of believers. Jesus Christ will judge the works we have done while we are in our body as believers on earth-every thought, every word, and every deed. This is a serious issue. The purpose of this close examination of our thoughts, words and deeds by our Judge is to discover which ones are good and which are worthless. Then, on the basis of this examination, in his own gracious manner, the Lord may give rewards to us.

We find this idea also in 1 Corinthians 3, beginning with verse 11: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire,”which is the gaze of the all-seeing eyes of the Judge, our Lord Jesus Christ, “and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. . . .” Notice the eternal significance of what we do in the present life. Even what we have done today will be made manifest, examined, and weighed in the balance of God.

Paul concludes, “If it is burned up, he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, meaning those who are justified by God. Such people are saved and safe. But Christ the Judge will examine the works we have done as believers to determine what rewards to give us. To some, he will give no reward, while to others he will give the rulership over five cities, or ten cities, or whatever he determines. There will be degrees of reward based on deeds, and some people will receive no reward, even though they themselves will be saved.

So Paul was speaking about this appearance, this manifestation, on the day when God himself summons us. We shall stand before him, stripped of all hypocrisy, cover-ups, and argumentation. Do you think anyone will argue with God on that day? And it is this understanding that stimulated Paul to live and breathe for God alone. “We must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ.”

In the fourth century John Chrysostom wrote about this verse: “Let us then imagine Christ’s judgment-seat to be present now and reckon each one of us with his own conscience, and account the Judge to be already present, and everything to be revealed and brought forth. For we must not merely stand, but also be manifested.” Then he asks this question, “Do you not blush? Are you not dismayed?” (Hughes,The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 180).

Think about these things. I pray that all of us will use this doctrine as a stimulus to please Christ alone by imagining that the judge is already here and we are already standing before him. If we can have this picture in our minds as we live our daily lives, we will aim to please the Lord Jesus Christ in everything.

This doctrine is taught in many places in the Scriptures, but let us just consider Romans 14:10, where we read, “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me and every tongue will confess to God.’ So, then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” This is speaking about how believers lived their lives on this earth. We believe in the security of believers and that all who have trusted in Christ will be saved on the last day. But there will also be degrees of authority granted to us based on whether we made it our aim to please our God on a daily basis or whether we chose to sin and suffer loss later on.

How Should We Live

In the light of the consequences of sin in the present and the future, and the knowledge that God will reward us for what we do in our bodies, how must we live in the present? First, we must realize that what we think and do now matters significantly, not only in our own lives, but also in our family’s life, and in the life of generations to come. Let us never be so deluded that we say, “Once saved, always saved, and so it doesn’t matter how I live. I am justified.”

We must also understand that what we do today will affect our eternal life. We shall be rewarded according to the works we do in our bodies as believers. Every thought, word, and deed will be examined by the fire of Christ’s all-seeing eye and judged.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Christians are to do good works. That is the purpose of our Christianity! Thus, as we said earlier, a claim to justification without clear evidence of sanctification is utter falsehood. Where there is justification, there will be sanctification, because he who justifies us also sanctifies.

In Ephesians 2:10 we read, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,” which means we must live to please our Lord Jesus Christ. No Christian can escape this purpose of God for his or her life. As new creations, we are to do good works, which means to obey the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 10:42 the Lord himself tells us, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” We must understand that the good works we do, we are able to do by the grace of God alone. We must understand all our good works are imperfect and marred by our sin, and yet God has purposed to accept them in Jesus Christ. And, finally, we must understand that Jesus Christ himself has purposed to reward us for the works we have done in the body.

Practical Application

How, then, must we live? Sunday School teachers, you must work hard. Serve God, and you will be rewarded on that day. Do not become weary in well-doing. Do not grumble or complain, but work as unto the Lord.

Parents, you must train up your children in the way they ought to go, and the Lord will reward you.

  • Those who are visiting the sick, you must be filled with the Spirit and go and visit the sick, encourage the sick, pray for the sick, minister to the sick because one day you will be rewarded.
  • Those who evangelize, do it for the Lord. Don’t be discouraged. Be certain that one day the Lord will reward you.
  • Those who support God’s work liberally financially, continue to do so. One day the Lord will reward you.
  • Those who labor in the prayer closet, ask God to bless his work. Pray faithfully, knowing that God sees you and will reward you.
  • Those who work hard to clean and keep the church in working order, yours is not a glamorous job, but keep on doing it. One day the Lord will reward you.
  • Those who are on the mission field, keep on preaching the gospel and working in other parts of the world, in the name of the Lord. You shall be rewarded in due course.
  • Those who cook food and perform other hard work in the church, keep on doing it. This is the ministry God has given you, and the Lord will reward you.
  • Those who faithfully preach the gospel, keep on doing it! Whether people like it or not, keep on preaching the gospel. Make it your aim to please the Lord and he will reward you on that day.

In all of these ways, we are sowing for the glory of God, and the Scriptures promise that if we sow to the Spirit, in due season we shall reap an abundant harvest. The Lord shall bless us here and reward us on that day when we stand before him. Let us, therefore, lay up our treasure in heaven by engaging and expending in the work of the Lord. That is the one sure way of converting the temporal to eternal.

In his commentary on Galatians, Dr. John R. W. Stott describes sowing to the flesh as pandering to our lower nature, cuddling it and stroking it instead of crucifying it:

“The seeds we sow are largely thoughts and deeds. Every time we allow our mind to harbor 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 aharvest; whether we reap it or not depends almost entirely on what and where we sow.”

Then Dr. Stott tells us what it means to sow 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 that are 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 in 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’.”

(John R.W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, part of The Bible Speaks Todayseries, [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1968, 1986], 170-1).

May We Sow to God!

As we said before, sin has consequences in our present life. Suppose your children are wild. Have you ever wondered why? Have you ever thought that perhaps their wildness is a result of your own problems, failures, sins, and stubbornness? Have you ever thought that whenever we sin, we are sowing a seed in the field of human beings, which will grow, become potent, and eventually will bear fruit? Have you ever considered that not only does sin have consequences in our personal life, in our family life, in our professional life, in our economic life, in our health life, from generation to generation, but it also makes itself felt when we are summoned before the judgment seat of Christ? When we are made manifest in the presence of God, he will never look at our outward appearance. He will look at our very heart and will make manifest everything we have throughout our life, whether good or bad.

I pray that we will all be able to understand the comprehensive consequences of the evil that we commit. Everything we do matters. I hope we will pay attention to John Chrysostom, and live imagining that we are already stripped and standing manifest under the all-knowing gaze of Christ. May this become the stimulus for us to sow not to the flesh and the self, but to the Spirit. May we learn to say “No” to all ungodliness and “Yes” to the Holy Spirit,” and learn to walk in the Spirit-in faith, in truth, in love, and in wisdom, so that, when our time comes, we will be ready to go.

I hope we will purpose today to sow to the Spirit, to obey God, and to do the will of God so that there will be personal blessing, family blessing, and generational blessing to a thousand generations. Then , when we stand before him, we will receive God’s blessing: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master!” Amen.