What is the Sowing and Reaping Principle in the Bible?

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This post explains the powerful principle of “You reap what you sow” according to the Bible.

Our home is surrounded by many farms. 

A long walk or bike ride will take me past blueberry bushes, apple orchards, two dairy farms, several corn crops of the field, and even a Christmas tree farm!

Here are my friends, the cows. 

cows on dairy farm

Every time I walk by I say hello and talk to them they run up to the fence to say hi. 

They aren’t a fan of my husband, however. They actually grunt and even charge at him as he says hi to them!

I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for hard-working, dedicated farmers, and I take every opportunity I can to support them. 

It’s amazing to watch the passing of seasons on the farms from freshly planted seeds to harvest time.

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From the planting of a good seed to the harvest

There are so many parallels from the physical implications of sowing and reaping to the spiritual realm, and they often come to mind as I walk past these farms, watching the farmers tend to their crops at their various stages of growth.

Farmers can attest to the law of sowing and reaping. 

They’re very familiar with the various seasons:

  • Planting. 
  • Sowing.
  • Tending to the crops.
  • The farmer waits for what can seen a long time.

At just the right time a good harvest is reaped, rewarding the farmer for their diligent, consistent hard work.

You and I may not be farmers, but we will have our own kind of harvest; what we reap will have a direct correlation to the things we’ve sown. 

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The principle of sowing and reaping according to the Word of God

More than just an idiom or catchy phrase, there’s a Biblical foundation behind the words, “You reap what you sow.” 

As you read the verses from God’s Word below written by the Apostle Paul, take note of two ways a person sows and the drastically differing outcomes of each.

“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.” Galatians 6:7-9

This post has been adapted from a lesson I wrote in Wholly Devoted: An In-Depth Bible Study of King Solomon.

Two Ways a man sows in life

The process of sowing occurs over time and the choices we make in the things we sow have a direct correlation to the outcome.

1. Sows to what the flesh desires

We can sow to please our sinful nature, and this comes very naturally to us.

The moment we come to Jesus in true repentance, proclaim Him our Savior, and surrender our life to Him with a desire to follow Him, the Holy Spirit takes residence in us and 2 Corinthians 5:17 becomes a reality,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come, the old has gone, the new is here!”

Though we are a completely new creation at that moment, we still have our sinful, flesh nature with desires towards sin. 

1 John 2:16 describes these desires as, “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world.”

It can be very easy and lucrative to pursue selfish gain, engage in activities that stroke our ego, indulge in our own desires, and satisfy our cravings. 

Simply put, satisfying our cravings and catering to our desires feels good.

At least for a while…

But then the reaping comes.

And when it comes to God’s laws, you can count on them coming to pass every time without exception.

Hosea 8:7 tells us, “For they sow the wind, and they reap the whirlwind.”

The verse we just read describes the end result of this type of sowing: we will reap the whirlwind. 

King David was no stranger to experiencing the painful realities of the law of sowing and reaping. 

David reaped the whirlwind after he sowed the wind with Bathsheba. Even after David sincerely repented and was forgiven, the consequences of his sin remained – and they were sharp and painful.

God’s forgiveness is always complete and certain; however, the consequences from a past season of sowing may result.

  • Sowing seeds of gossip? You may lose a friend.
  • Sowing seeds of materialism? You cannot serve both God and money.
  • Seeking selfish ambition and walking in pride? Scripture is clear about how God feels about and deals with the sin of pride. The book of Proverbs includes many verses on this topic, including the ominous words, “The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.” (Prov. 16:5).
  • Sowing seeds in a relationship outside of your marriage? Be warned: you’re playing with fire.

John MacArthur explains uses simple terms to describe what it means to mock God when it comes to this principle:

“You have a choice as a believer: You can walk in the Spirit, you can walk in the flesh. Don’t think for a moment that you can walk in the flesh and not pay the consequences. You can’t mock God and get away with it. I mean, this is essential throughout Scripture.”

You can’t sow to the wind and NOT reap the whirlwind.

In other words, you can’t indulge in your sin and think you won’t experience any consequence from it.

I want to point out one more thing in Pastor MacArthur’s quote:

You have a choice as a believer. You can walk in the Spirit, or you can walk in the flesh.”

You see, a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ we have been equipped to be able to make the choice to say no to sin and choose to surrender to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. 

As a child of God, you are no longer a slave to sin… we GET to say no! We’ve been freed from the clutches of sin and empowered to forsake those temptations. 

The good news is that God’s people have the ability to forsake the desires of their own flesh and be victorious over them… That’s not possible exempt from the power of the Holy Spirit. 

2. Sows to what the Spirit desires

Sowing to please the Spirit does not come naturally to us, and this is accomplished by surrendering to the authority of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, it goes against the grain of our flesh nature and can be excruciatingly difficult.

We need the enabling and empowering of the Holy Spirit in order to successfully sow to the Spirit; this cannot be accomplished in our own strength.

Our focus in doing this is not the “good things” we do, or “good work” we accomplish…

It’s about surrender.

By God’s grace, we have a choice in whether we will cater to our own desires or surrender them in order to yield to the authority of the Holy Spirit.

By the grace of God, we’ve been equipped with the ability to deny the desires of the flesh and instead pursue and sow the desires of the Spirit.

A few Examples include sowing seeds to: 

  • Demonstrate love to others rather than disdain, anger, or hate.
  • Extend grace and humility rather than offering critical or judgmental words.
  • Offer forgiveness, patience, and peace rather than nursing a grudge and harboring unforgiveness.
  • Strive to cultivate a household of faith, declaring as Joshua did, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (Josh. 24:15)

As we sow to the Spirit, we will see the fruit of the Spirit manifest in our lives, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)

It’s possible to walk in freedom from the clutches of sin in the Christian life as a follower of Jesus, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is in conflict to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do whatever you want.” 

farm with corn crop ready to harvest

Harvest time will come

It’s important to understand our sowing and reaping occur in two different seasons of life – they do not coincide. 

We live in a culture where instant is more than a buzzword, it is seen as a right and a necessity.

We want instant communication, instant results, and immediate gratification!

We have pills that promise to shed pounds from our bodies, cell phones that double as mini-computers, and drive-through windows for food. (And don’t even think about telling me to pull ahead to wait for my order!)

Instant messaging. Instant replay. Instant pudding. We want results and we want them now!

Now I’m not saying that the things mentioned above are not good or beneficial, but I am suggesting that our mindset can be easily affected by the surrounding of these advances.

We do not serve a God who will cater to our demands and desires for immediacy, and we must be careful that we do not have the gall to approach Him as if He should.

There is often quite a lapse in time that bridges the seasons of sewing and reaping, and it can be difficult to continue to sow and sow and sow with no hint of reaping in sight.

May Paul’s words from the sixth chapter of Galatians encourage you and me today, “Do not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9)

There have been times in my life when I was becoming weary in doing good, and it was plain hard to press on…

Paul’s words ministered to my heart during these times — big time.

If we’re honest, it can be tempting to give up sometimes.

Especially if we don’t feel as though we’re seeing results from our sowing, and we’re trying so hard to press on…

If you’re in a season of sowing now and you feel yourself becoming weary, take heart in Paul’s words, my friend:

Don’t become weary in the good you’re sowing to… you will reap a harvest of blessing.

Whether you’re in a season sowing to:

  • Parenting
  • Serving in a specific ministry 
  • A growing relationship with another person whom you feel compelled to befriend, support, or show kindness to 
  • Working through difficult times in your marriage 
  • Striving to be a cheerful giver – whether that’s giving generously of your finances, time, or talents

It may seem like a long period of time you’ve been sowing without seeing concrete results of your efforts, but don’t give up

In due time you will reap according to what you’ve sown.

Make no mistake, in the midst of your sowing, your heavenly Father sees every: 

  • Deliberate decision you make to serve Him 
  • Sacrifice you’ve made in order to obey Christ Jesus
  • Large – or small decision – to resist the temptation to sow to your flesh and yield to the authority of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Choice to invest in the lives of other people out of your love for God 

We will see the results of our sowing in due season, and they will point to one of two things: blessing or destruction.

Rest assured, reaping will come. 

And when that season comes, you will reap what you’ve sown. 

There will be no option to do back in time, change the past, or get a “do-over”!

Now the past is the past. We can’t change it, and the last thing I’d want if for you to feel guilty as you reflect back.

When we look back, none of us will see a road of perfection and there will always be things we’d do differently if we could get a “do-over”!

But we can make changes today. Now. To prevent us from looking back with regret.

We can choose to sow to the Spirit as we strive to follow Jesus so that when we look back one day we’ll look back with an understanding that while we weren’t perfect, we did make deliberate decisions in sowing in ways to bring God glory.

To draw a parallel from a farmer, if you planted and sowed apple seeds, the farmer will wait to harvest apples from his trees. He should not expect oranges to appear since he did not plant orange seeds! 

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Encouragement in the midst of sowing

“Last week after church, my seven-year-old son handed me a note that read, ”Dear Mommy, I love you. I’m glad you take care of me, and you work sow hard for me. Love, Chris.”

What a precious note, and he could not have known how the Holy Spirit would use his misspelling to minister to my heart.

The truth is, our sewing can be so hard at times! Look again at Paul’s words, ”Do not become weary in doing good.

Like making deposits and a bank account, we choose every day to make deposits to please our flesh, or we make them to place the spirit.

Over time, we will reap according to what we have sown. That’s a guarantee.” Wholly Devoted, Jennifer Brooks p 39) 

It’s easy for us to make excuses or rationalize why we cater to please our sinful desires and don’t reap to please the Spirit.

To quote John MacArthur once more,

The harvest is determined by the planting, like begets like. If you want wheat, you don’t plant strawberries. The law is true; it’s true in a moral sense. The fruit of life is determined by what that life has planted. A man’s character and condition is the harvest of his habits. Think about a child, foolishly indulged and encouraged to think only of his own whims and its own wishes and its own way. And it may be cute; but the obstinate, stubborn, self-centered common undisciplined adult reaps the whirlwind.”

I love the simplicity of Pastor MacArthur’s analogy – if you want wheat, you don’t plant strawberries, you plant wheat seed!

Makes me reflect once again on my own life – the type of fruit I want to bear, and what I’m actually sowing to... Do they align with each other?

3 Common Excuses When Sowing is Difficult

There are 3 excuses I often hear people make regarding the choices they make in their sowing and they are as follows:

1. “I’ve always been this way. This is just the way I am! I can’t help it! I’ve come to accept this of myself and so must other people.”

2. “This is how my family has always been. This is just who we are.”

3. “I feel that for me change is hopeless. I’m not sure I even want to change.”

Can you relate to any of the above excuses? I can. I’ve used each one at some point(s) in my life.

I examined each of these excuses (or cop-outs) along with corresponding empowering truths from God’s Word to overcome each one in the in-depth Bible study lesson you can download for free.

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Ponder the application of this spiritual principle to your life

blueberry bushes with fruit ready for harvest

This is a good time for you and me to reflect on the things we’re choosing to sow in our lives; we want to invite God’s blessing on the fruits of our sowing.

You and I need to stop and think about the type of fruit we want to characterize our lives, which means we must contemplate what we’re sowing – are they to please the flesh or the Spirit?

As Pastor MacArthur points out, “A man’s character and condition is the harvest of his habits.”

What do my habits reflect?

What changes do I need to make in order to see a change in my fruit? 

Picture of corn crop for harvest with text overlay the law of sowing and reaping in the Bible

You reap what you sow is a very powerful principle in the Bible; a law of life that will come to pass in everyone’s life.

Related posts to the Law of Sowing and Reaping:

How to overcome a stronghold

Bible lesson on Prayer

Prayers to get closer to God and Grow in your relationship

Bible Study on Psalm 1

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