Galatians 4:21-31

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Paul is still in bewilderment over the idea that the Galatians would want to be under the law. So he asked, “Have you even read the law?” Paul then uses an allegory to contrast the law and the gospel.

Sarah had given Hagar to Abraham to bear a child for him. She was barren and she was old. God had promised Abraham a son. It was becoming evident that she was not to be the mother. So to fulfill God’s promise she gave Hagar to Abraham to bear him a son.

There was no malice. There was no evil intent. This was not even an easy thing to do, to give her husband to another woman. You can even argue that not only was there no evil intent, but her intentions were honorable. She was trying to fulfill the promise to God.

And that was the problem. She was trying to fulfill the promise of God. This was God’s promise. It was His to fulfill. Sarah was stealing God’s glory. She may not have intended to do it. But that was what she did.

Ishmael was then born without the promise. Ishmael was born as a result of the flesh not as a result of God’s promise.

Paul makes the same argument in Roman’s but there he does it through an allegory. While allegories serve well to illustrate and clarify they are not evidence. Paul has already presented a mountain of evidence and reason. “’But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’” (Romans 9:6-9)

Hagar bore Abraham a son who was a servant rather than an heir. So too Sinai, the Law, the allegorical Hagar, bares only servants not heirs. The Jews regarded the Law as if it were the promise. The Jews never even considered the part of the law that reads: “If you keep the commandments it shall be well with you.” When the prophets warned about the destruction of Jerusalem, they were stoned for blasphemy.

Paul, in the analogy, equates Hagar to Mount Sinai and to the earthly Jerusalem. The earthly Jerusalem represents slavery to the Law, sin, and death. In 70 A.D., God showed the He abolished the Law when He, God destroyed Jerusalem.

Sarah represents the Jerusalem from above. This does not refer to heaven or the Second Advent. It refers to the Church, that is those of faith, all believers throughout the world. As Isaac, we are the children of promise. We are born by grace and faith into an eternal inheritance.

Ishmael the son of the bondservant persecuted Isaac the son of promise. Perhaps Ishmael believed he was in the right. He was Abraham’s firstborn. But he was only born of flesh. Isaac was born of promise.

When Paul says, “We are not children of the slave but of the free woman.” We are not subject to the righteousness of the law.

There are three parts of the law. There is the civil law, the ceremonial law, and the moral law. Some claim that Christ abolished the judicial and ceremonial laws of Moses. But the moral law remains intact. That is not what Paul says. When Paul says we are free from the curse of the law. When Paul says law, he means the whole law. This includes the moral law. It is the moral law more than any other type of law which accuses, curses, and condemns us. Yes, even the Ten Commandments have no right to condemn us. Christ’s righteousness covers us. We are free from the law. Paul is saying the law cannot drive us to despair. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1.) “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36.) If Christ has redeemed you, the law has no power over you.

The question that I hear asked more than any other is, “What then will restrain our evil if we are no longer under the law? Are we free to sin and do whatever we will?” In Romans 6:1-2 Paul says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Again the answer is the grace of God. The role of the law for those in Christ is to show us how God would have us live. It is because of what He has done for us and that we love Him. It is love that restrains not the law. I do not cheat on my wife because of the law. Rather I am faithful to her because I love her. As Christ said about the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47) We have been forgiven much.

We obey because we love. We love because Christ took our sins. Christ takes all the blame. He says: “You have not incurred the hatred and persecutions of the world. I have. Be cheerful; I have overcome the world.”

Christ is much greater than the Law. His righteousness is so much more excellent than the righteousness of the law. If faith alone in Christ justifies, then the whole law is abolished. This includes the civil, the ceremonial, and the moral law.

Whenever we preach the gospel of grace, we can expect persecution as Isaac was persecuted. We will be blamed for upsetting the people. Those who are under bondage do not want to hear the gospel of grace. They feel they have worked hard for their righteousness. They state, “How dare we claim it is just given without being deserved.” But God clothes us in the righteousness of Christ simply as a gift. And no one deserves such grace.

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