GALATIANS 4 – HEIRS AND SLAVES, GRACE AND LAW Paul Explains Their Adoption ( Gal. 4:1-7 ) Among the blessings of the Christian experience is adoption ( Gal. 4:5 ; Eph. 1:5 ). We do not enter God's family by adoption, the way a homeless child would enter a loving family in our own society. The only way to get into God's family is by regeneration, being "born again" ( John 3:3 ). The New Testament word for adoption means "to place as an adult son." It has to do with our standing in the family of God: we are not little children but adult sons with all of the privileges of sonship.
The heir, as long as he is a child, has the idea of a minor. It doesn’t suggest a specific age, rather someone who is not yet legally recognized as an adult.
In both Jewish and Greek cultures, there were definite “coming of age” ceremonies where a boy stopped being a child and started being a man, with legal rights as an heir .
- In the Roman custom, there was no specific age when the son became a man. It happened when the father thought the boy was ready. “A Roman child became an adult at the sacred family festival known as the Liberalia, held annually on the seventeenth of March. “There was a Roman custom that on the day a boy or a girl grew up, the boy offered his ball, and the girl her doll, to Apollo to show that they had put away childish things.” (Barclay)
- It is unfortunate that many translations of the New Testament do not make a distinction between children of God and sons of God. We are the children of God by faith in Christ, born into God's family. But every child of God is automatically placed into the family as a son, and as a son he has all the legal rights and privileges of a son. When a sinner trusts Christ and is saved, as far as his condition is concerned, he is a "spiritual babe" who needs to grow ( 1 Peter 2:2-3 ); but as far as his position is concerned, he is an adult son who can draw on the Father's wealth and who can exercise all the wonderful privileges of sonship.
We enter God's family by regeneration, but we enjoy God's family by adoption. The Christian does not have to wait to begin enjoying the spiritual riches he has in Christ. "If a son, then an heir of God through Christ" ( Gal. 4:7 ).
There are so many great and invaluable advantages which Christians enjoy under the gospel.
The Spirit of adoption is also the Spirit of prayer, and it is our duty in prayer to see God as a Father. Christ has taught us in prayer to see God as our Father in heaven.
If we are his sons, then his heirs. It is not so among men, with whom the eldest son is heir; but all God's children are heirs. Those who have the nature of sons shall have the inheritance of sons.
Even so : Now comes the comparison to our own spiritual condition. We are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus ( Galatians 3:26 ), and we are heirs according to the promise ( Galatians 3:29 ). The law was our guardian ( Galatians 3:24-25 ), to watch over us when we were still “children.” The law’s effect on our corrupt nature was to bring us into bondage under the elements of the world.
Vs 1-7 The Galatians could not fully understand the meaning of the law as given by Moses, and as that was a dispensation of darkness, so of bondage; they were tied to many burdensome rites and observances, by which they were taught and kept subject like a child under tutors and governors. We learn the happier state of Christians under the gospel dispensation. From these verses see the wonders of His Divine love and mercy; particularly of God the Father, in sending his Son into the world to redeem and save us; of the Son of God, in submitting so low, and suffering so much for us; and of the Holy Spirit, in condescending to dwell in the hearts of believers, for such gracious purposes.
We must break free from, and that is stressed in pagan religion just as much as Jewish law, it is the principle of cause and effect. Some people call it karma or “you get what you deserve” We live under the idea that we get what we deserve; when we are good we deserve to receive good and when we are bad we deserve to receive bad.
Since we are now under grace, He does not deal with us on the principle of earning and deserving. Because this is such an elementary principle, it is so hard for us to shake this kind of thinking. But it is essential if we will walk in grace. When we live on the principle of earning and deserving before God, we live in bondage under the elements of the world.
(4-5) The liberation of heirs from their bondage. For those who were under bondage to the law, it may seem that Jesus’ coming was late. Paul assures us that it was at just the right time.
- Vs 4-5 The Roman Empire helped prepare the world for the birth of the savior. They built all the roads that connected to Rome. Thanks to Greek and Roman conquests, Latin and Greek were known across the empire. Christ’s birth was not an accident; it was an appointment - Jesus came “in the fullness of time” and He will come again when the time is ready.
The time was also right because the 483 years prophesied by Daniel were drawing to a close ( Daniel 9:24-26 ).
God sent forth His Son, born of a woman : Jesus came not only as God’s Son, but also as one born of a woman, born under law. The eternal Son of God in heaven added humanity to His deity and became a man, born of a woman, born under law.
Born of a woman may be a veiled reference to the Virgin Birth, because Paul never says that Jesus was born of a man. “The more general term ‘woman’ indicates that Christ was born a true man. Paul does not say that Christ was born of man and woman, but only of woman. That he has the virgin in mind is obvious.” (Luther)
To redeem those who were under the law : Because Jesus is God, He has the power and the resources to redeem us. Because Jesus is man, He has the right and the ability to redeem us. He came to purchase us out of the slave market, from our bondage to sin and the elements of the world.
That we might receive the adoption as sons : It would be enough that we are purchased out of the slave market. But God’s work for us doesn’t end there; we are then elevated to the place of sons and daughters of God by adoption.
We receive the adoption of sons; we do not recover it. In this sense, we gain something in Jesus that is greater than what Adam ever had. Adam was never adopted as a son of God in the way believers are. So we are mistaken when we think of redemption as merely a restoration of what was lost with Adam. We are granted more in Jesus than Adam ever had.
***- Definition of adoption: the act or process of establishing a legal relationship between a child and a parent other than the child’s biological parent, thereby entrusting the designated adult with responsibility for raising the child; the act of legally taking a child to be taken care of as your own.
- *** Definition of Regeneration: born again (John 3:3) Regeneration is the process of regenerating —renewing or restoring something, especially after it has been damaged or lost. A close synonym is regrowth.
- We enter God’s family by “regeneration” but we enjoy God’s family by adoption. The Christian does not have to wait to begin enjoying the spiritual riches he has in Christ. Gal. 4:7 “I a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
John Newton, the man who wrote the most popular and famous hymn in America, Amazing Grace, knew how to remember this. He was an only child whose mother died when he was only seven years old. He became a sailor and went out to sea at eleven years old. As he grew up, he became the captain of a slave ship and had an active hand in the horrible degradation and inhumanity of the slave trade. But when he was twenty-three, on March 10, 1748, when his ship was in imminent danger of sinking off the coast of Newfoundland, he cried to God for mercy, and he found it. He never forgot how amazing it was that God had received him, as bad as he was. To keep it fresh in his memory, he fastened across the wall over the fireplace mantel of his study the words of Deuteronomy 15:15 : You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you. If we keep fresh in our mind what we once were, and what we are now in Jesus Christ, we will do well.
- Vs 6-7 Again the entire Trinity is involved in our spiritual experience: God the Father sent the Son to die for us and the God the Son sent His Spirit to live in us. The law could never give a person God’s nature within. All it could do was reveal to the person his desperate need for God’s nature. So when a believer goes back into the law, he is denying the very divine nature within, and he is giving the old nature (the flesh) opportunity to go to work. The Spirit works in the heart of the believer to quicken and increase his love for God. The law can never produce obedience. Only love can do that. John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Since we are adopted - placed as adult sons in the family - we may begin drawing on our inheritance right now. God has made available to us the riches of His grace, the riches of His glory, the riches of His goodness, and the riches of His wisdom and all of the riches of God are found in Christ (Col 1:19;2:3). As Christians, we have been purchased by Christ and indwelt by the Spirit, and the best part of our inheritance is yet to come! Peter 1:1-5)
Because you are sons… “Abba, Father!” It is fitting that those who are in fact sons having theSpirit of the Son in their hearts. This gives us both the right and the ability to cry out “Daddy!” to God our Father, even as Jesus did to His Father.
“Abba is an Aramaic affectionate diminutive for ‘father’ used in the intimacy of the family circle; it passed without change into the vocabulary of Greek-speaking Christians” (Fung)
We have access to the same intimacy with God the Father that God the Son, Jesus Christ had. Jesus addressed God the Father as “Daddy” when He prayed, Abba, Father as recorded in Mark 14:36 .
We also should not miss the way the truth of the Trinity is woven into the text: God the Father sends God the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of God the Son, into our hearts to give us an assurance that we are the sons and daughters of God.
The Spirit of His Son : The Holy Spirit can be called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, or linked to God the Father. This is because the nature of God is consistent among the persons of the Trinity. Here, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of His Son because the idea of our sonship is based on Jesus’ sonship.
Our sonship is based on who we are in Jesus, yet there are important distinctions between our sonship and Jesus’ sonship. He is the only begotten Son ( John 3:16 ) making Him a Son by essential nature. We are adopted sons and daughters of God, made children by a legal decree of God.
Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son : Sons are never slaves and slaves are never sons in their father’s house. Jesus illustrated this in the parable of the prodigal son, where the son was determined to return to his father as a slave – but the father refused, and would only receive him as a son.
And if a son, then an heir : There is a beautiful progression. First we are set free from slavery. Then we are declared sons and adopted into God’s family. Then, as sons, we are made heirs. Heirs inherit something and Paul made it clear just what we inherit: an heir of God through Christ. We inherit God Himself, to be an heir of God is the richest inheritance of all.
- Legalism, then, is not a step toward maturity; it is a step back into childhood. The Law was not God's final revelation; it was but the preparation for that final revelation in Christ It is important that a person know his ABCs, because they are the foundation for understanding all of the language. But the man who sits in a library and recites the ABCs instead of reading the great literature that is around him, is showing that he is immature and ignorant, not mature and wise. Under the Law, the Jews were children in bondage, not sons enjoying liberty.
- Legalism gives the appearance of spiritual maturity. Many Christians today get involved in various legalistic movements, hoping to become better Christians. Their motive may be right, but their methods are wrong. They think they are going forward, when in fact, they are regressing and taking a step back into childhood
- (Weirsbe) Such people are in a situation similar to the airplane passengers who heard their pilot announce: “Our navigator has lost our position, folks, and we have been flying rather aimlessly for over an hour. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we are making very good time.”
Gal 4:8-11 In these verses the apostle puts them in mind of what they were before their conversion to the faith of Christ, and what a blessed change their conversion had made upon them; and then endeavours to convince them of their great weakness in hearkening to those who would bring them under the bondage of the law of Moses. He reminds them of their past state and behaviour, and what they were before the gospel was preached to them. Then they knew not God; they were grossly ignorant of the true God, and the way wherein he is to be worshipped: and at that time they were under the worst of slaveries, for they did service to those which by nature were no gods, they were employed in a great number of superstitious and idolatrous services to those who, though they were accounted gods, were yet really no gods, but mere creatures, and perhaps of their own making, and therefore were utterly unable to hear and help them.
- Vs 8-11 The Galatians abandoned their liberty in Christ and were going back into bondage with the law. They were giving up the power of the gospel fo the weakness of law, and the wealth of the gospel for the poverty of law. The law never made anybody rich or powerful; on the contrary, the law could only reveal man’s weakness and spiritual bankruptcy. The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are not to legislate religious observances for each other (Rm 14:4-13). All of us must beware of that legalistic spirit that caters to the flesh, leads to pride, and makes the outward event a substitute for the inward experience.
- When the Judiazers led the Galatians back into legalism, they were leading them not only into religious bondage, cut also into moral and spiritual infancy and immaturity.
Commentary on Galatians 4:8-11 Those who are ignorant of the true God cannot but be inclined to false gods. Only God should be the proper object of our religious worship.
- Paul calls upon them to consider the happy change that was made in them by the preaching of the gospel among them. They were turned from idols to the living God, and through Christ had received the adoption of sons, was not owing to themselves, but to Him. It was the effect of his free and rich grace towards them, and as such they ought to account it; and therefore they were laid under the greater obligation to adhere to the liberty where he had made them free. All our acquaintance with God begins with him; we know him, because we are known of him.
- Since they had never been under the law of Moses, as the Jews had been; and therefore on this account they were more inexcusable than the Jews themselves. Their weakness and folly were the more aggravated, in submitting to them, and in symbolizing with the Jews in observing their various festivals, here signified by days, and months, and times, and years.
- Paul expresses his fears concerning them, lest he had bestowed on them labour in vain. He had been at a great deal of pains about them, in preaching the gospel to them, and endeavouring to confirm them in the faith and liberty of it; but now they were giving up these, and thereby rendering his labour among them fruitless and ineffectual, and with the thoughts of this he could not but be deeply affected and troubled.
How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements : In turning to legalism, the Galatians were not turning to a new error, but coming back to an old one – the idea of a works relationship with God.
As Christians, we can place ourselves under the bondage of a works based, “cause and effect” relationship with God – but this is moving backward, not forward. By writing turn again, Paul shows that the Galatians were not turning to a new error, but coming back to an old one; the idea of a works relationship with God.
(Wiersbe) “One of the tragedies of legalism is that it gives the appearance of spiritual maturity when, in reality, it leads the believer back into a ‘second childhood’ of Christian experience.”
Weak and beggarly : These elements of the world areweak because they offer no strength; they are beggarly because they bestow no riches. All they can do is bring us again into bondage.
You observe days and months and seasons and years : The false teachers among the Galatians demanded the observance of days and months and seasons and years and other such legalistic matters and acted as if this would lead them into a higher plane of spirituality. Yet all these weak and beggarly elements of legalism did was to bring them into bondage.
Paul seems amazed that someone would turn from the liberty of Jesus to this kind of bondage. Yet legalism caters to and recognizes our flesh by putting the focus on what we achieve for God, not on what Jesus did for us. The liberty of Jesus gives us status as sons and a rich inheritance, but it won’t cater to our flesh.
I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain : Paul’s fear was that this attraction to legalism would mean that his work among the Galatians amounted to nothing and would end up being in vain.
Labored is literally “to labor to the point of exhaustion.” Paul worked hard among the Galatians, as he always did ( 1 Corinthians 15:10 ). Paul never thought the gospel of free grace meant laziness in serving God. In vain: At the end of this section, Paul set a choice before the Galatians and before us. We can have a living, free, relationship with God as a loving Father based on what Jesus did for us and who we are in Him. Or we can try to please God by our best efforts of keeping the rules, living in bondage as slaves, not sons. Living that way makes the whole gospel in vain.
A good example of this is John Wesley. Before his conversion:
- He was the son of a clergyman and a clergyman himself.
- He was orthodox in belief, faithful in morality, and full of good works.
- He did ministry in prisons, sweatshops, and slums.
- He gave food, clothing, and education to slum children.
- He observed both Saturday and Sunday as the Sabbath.
- He sailed from England to the American colonies as a missionary.
- He studied his Bible, prayed, fasted, and gave regularly.
Yet all the time, he was bound in the chains of his own religious efforts, because he trusted in what he could do to make himself right before God instead of trusting in what Jesus had done. Later, he came to “trust in Christ, in Christ only for salvation,” and came to an inner assurance that he was now forgiven, saved, and a son of God. Looking back on all his religious activity before he was truly saved, he said: “I had even then the faith of a servant, though not that of a son.”
Paul knew well that he wasn’t sinlessly perfect. He wasn’t standing before the Galatian Christians, saying, “Look at how perfect I am. Don’t worry about following Jesus, just follow me.” He simply wanted them to follow him as he followed Jesus.
Paul desired that the Galatian Christians would imitate his consistency. The Galatians started out with the right understanding of the gospel, because Paul led them into the right understanding. But some of them didn’t stay there like Paul did, and in that way, they should become like Paul.
Paul knew the Galatian Christians should imitate his liberty. Paul was free in Jesus, and he wanted them to know the same freedom. In that way, they should become like Paul. “Be as I am is an exhortation to the Galatians to become Christians in the same sense as Paul is a Christian, one who is not bound by the Jewish law.” (Morris)
We can feel Paul’s heartfelt emotion in these verses. For I became like you: Paul could say to the Galatian Christians, “When it comes to legalism, I know where you are at. I used to live my whole life trying to be accepted by God because of what I did. In that regard, I became like you and saw that it was a dead end. Take it from someone who knows where you are coming from.”
You have not injured me at all : Paul has used pretty strong words with the Galatians. It would be easy for them to think he spoke just out of a sense of personal hurt. Paul assured them that this wasn’t the case at all. Paul wanted them to get this right, but for their own sakes and not for his.
Commentary on Galatians 4:12-18 The apostle desires that they would be of one mind with him respecting the law of Moses, as well as united with him in love. In reproving others, we should take care to to be sincere in our reproofs with utmost regard to the honour of God and religion and their welfare, then they are more likely to be successful in receiving our words. The apostle reminds the Galatians of the difficulty under which he laboured when he first came among them. But he notices, that he was a welcome messenger to them. Let us labour to be accepted of God. You once thought yourselves happy in receiving the gospel; have you now reason to think otherwise? Christians must not forbear speaking the truth, for fear of offending others. The false teachers who drew the Galatians from the truth of the gospel were designing men. They pretended affection, but they were not sincere and upright. An excellent rule is given. It is good to be zealous always in a good thing; not for a time only, or now and then, but always. Happy would it be for the church of Christ, if this zeal was better maintained.
- Vs 12-18 One of the characteristics of a false teacher is that he tries to attract other men’s converts to himself, and not simply to the truth of the Word or to the person o Jesus Christ. Like the cultists today, these false teachers were not winning lost sinners to Christ, but were stealing converts from those who were truly serving the Lord. Paul told them the truth, but the Judaizers told them lies. Paul sought to glorify Christ but the Judaizers glorified themselves and their converts. A true servant of God does not “use people” to build up himself or his work; he ministers in love to help people know Christ better and glorify Him. Beware of that religious worker who wants your exclusive allegiance. The task of a spiritual leader is to get people to love and follow Christ, not to promote himself and his ministry. The Galatians were losing the enjoyment of their salvation and finding satisfaction in their works instead.
- They actually thought they were becoming better Christians by substituting law for grace, and the religious deeds of the flesh for the fruit of the Spirit.
- Note, How uncertain the respects of people are, how apt they are to change their minds, and how easily they are drawn into contempt of those for whom they once had the greatest esteem and affection, so that they are ready to pluck out the eyes of those for whom they would before have plucked out their own! We should therefore labour to be accepted of God, for it is a small thing to be judged of man's judgment. 1 Co. 4:3 .
- There may appear to be a great deal of zeal where yet there is but little truth and sincerity. It is the usual way of seducers to insinuate themselves into people's affections, and by that means to draw them into their opinions.
- Whatever pretenses such may make, they have usually more regard to their own interest than that of others, and will not mind ruining the reputation of others, if by that means they can raise their own.
- We would all be better Christians if we were only consistently zealous for the things of the Lord.
- (17-18) Paul appeals: “Beware of the affection the legalists show you.”
They zealously court you, but for no good : Paul will admit that the legalists zealously court the Galatians; and legalism often comes wrapped in a cloak of “love.” But the end result is for no good.
Many cults use a technique informally known as “love bombing.” They overwhelm a prospective member with attention, support, and affection. Yet it isn’t really a sincere love for the prospect; it is really just a technique to gain another member. Christians can use the same technique in some way or another.
The zeal cultivated by legalism is often more a zeal for the group itself than for Jesus Christ. Though they name the name of Jesus, in practice the group itself is exalted as the main focus, and usually exalted as the last refuge of the true “super-Christians.”
Exclude : This literally means to “lock you up.” For now, the legalists are courting the Galatians, but once they have alienated them from Jesus and from Paul, the legalists will demand that the Galatians serve them. Legalism is almost always associated with some kind of religious bondage.
The Galatian Christians were no doubt impressed by the zeal of the legalists. The legalists were so sincere, so passionate about their beliefs. Paul agreed that it is good to be zealous – but only in a good thing always. Zeal in the service of a lie is a dangerous thing.
Paul knew this well, because before he became a Christian, he had plenty of zeal; even persecuting the church ( Acts 7:58-8:4 ). Later, Paul looked back at that time of great zeal in the service of a lie and deeply regretted it ( 1 Corinthians 15:9 , 1 Timothy 1:15 ).
(19-20) Paul appeals: “I love you like a father, please listen to me.” My little children : Paul rightly considers himself to be a father to the Galatians. Yet this challenge has made him feel as if he must bring them to Jesus all over again ( for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you ). Paul knew that his work of forming Christ in them was not complete until they stayed in a place of trusting Jesus. Paul likens himself to a “mother” who gave spiritual “birth” to the Galatians
The idea of Christ is formed in you is similar to the idea of Romans 8:29 : For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. There are many advantages to being under the law as your principle of relating to God. First, you always have the outward certainty of a list of rules to keep. Second, you can compliment yourself because you keep the rules better than others do. Finally, you can take the credit for your own salvation, because you earned it by keeping the list of rules.
iUnder the law it is what you do for God that makes you right before Him. Under the grace of God, it is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ that makes us right before Him. Under the law the focus is on my performance. Under the grace of God, the focus is on who Jesus is and what He has done. Under the law we find fig leaves to cover our nakedness. Under the grace of God we receive the covering won through sacrifice that God provides.
The “Ishmaels” – Legalism
The “Isaacs” – True Christianity
Slavery and bondage
Conceived and born according to the flesh
Miraculously born by God’s promised miracle
Coming from the earthly Jerusalem
Coming from the heavenly Jerusalem
Many more children
Relationship based on law-keeping
Relationship based on trusting God
Children of God
Hagar versus Sarah = law versus grace
Ishmael versus Isaac = flesh versus Spirit
(22-23) The Old Testament shows the contrast between the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. For it is written that Abraham had two sons : The legalists who troubled the Galatians protested that they were children of Abraham, and therefore blessed. Paul will admit they are children of Abraham, but they forget that Abraham had two sons .
The one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman : Abraham’s first son was named Ishmael. He was born not from his wife, but from his wife’s servant (the bondwoman), from a misguided surrogate mother scheme to “help God” when Abraham’s wife Sarah couldn’t become pregnant.
Isaac was born by God's power. In fact, God deliberately waited twenty-five years before He granted Abraham and Sarah their son. Isaac was "born after the Spirit" ( Gal. 4:29 ), and, of course, the Christian is "born of the Spirit" ( John 3:1-7 ). Isaac came into the world through Abraham (who represents faith, Gal. 3:9 ) and Sarah (who represents grace); so that he was born "by grace ... through faith" as is every true Christian ( Eph. 2:8-9 ).
Isaac brought joy. His name means "laughter," and certainly he brought joy to his aged parents. Salvation is an experience of joy, not only to the believer himself, but also to those around him.
Isaac grew and was weaned ( Gen. 21:8 ). Salvation is the beginning, not the ending. After we are born, we must grow ( 1 Peter 2:2 ; 2 Peter 3:18 ). Along with maturity comes weaning: we must lay aside "childish things" ( 1 Cor. 13:11 ). How easy it is for us to hold the "toys" of our earlier Christian days and fail to lay hold of the "tools" of the mature believer. The child does not enjoy being weaned, but he can never become a man until it happens. (Read Ps. 131 at this point.)
Isaac was persecuted ( Gen. 21:9 ). Ishmael (the flesh) caused problems for Isaac, just as our old nature causes problems for us. (Paul will discuss this in detail in Gal. 5:16ff .) Ishmael created no problems in the home until Isaac was born, just as our old nature creates no problems for us until the new nature enters when we trust Christ. In Abraham's home we see the same basic conflicts that we Christians face today:
Hagar was Abraham's second wife. God did not begin with Hagar; He began with Sarah.
As far as God's dealings with men are concerned, God began with grace.
In His relationship with Israel, God first operated on the basis of grace, not Law. His covenant with Abraham ( Gen. 15) was all of grace, because Abraham was in a deep sleep when the covenant was established. When God delivered Israel from Egypt, it was on the basis of grace and not Law, for the Law had not yet been given. Like Hagar, Abraham's second wife, the Law was "added" ( Gal. 3:19 ). Hagar performed a function temporarily, and then moved off the scene, just as the Law performed a special function and then was taken away ( Gal. 3:24-25 ).
Hagar was a slave. Five times in this section she is called a "bondmaid" or "bondwoman" ( Gal. 4:22-23 , 30-31 ). Sarah was a free woman, and therefore her position was one of liberty; but Hagar, even though married to Abraham, was still a servant. Likewise, the Law was given as a servant. "Wherefore then serveth the Law?" ( Gal. 3:19 ) It served as a mirror to reveal men's sins ( Rom. 3:20 ) and as a monitor to control men and ultimately lead them to Christ ( Gal. 3:23-25 ); but the Law was never meant to be a mother!
Hagar was not meant to bear a child. Abraham's marriage to Hagar was out of the will of God; it was the result of Sarah's and Abraham's unbelief and impatience. Hagar was trying to do what only Sarah could do, and it failed. The Law cannot give life ( Gal. 3:21 ), or righteousness ( Gal. 2:21 ), or the gift of the Spirit ( Gal. 3:2 ), or a spiritual inheritance ( Gal. 3:18 ). Isaac was born Abraham's heir ( Gen. 21:10 ), but Ishmael could not share in this inheritance. The Judaizers were trying to make Hagar a mother again, while Paul was in spiritual travail for his converts that they might become more like Christ. No amount of religion or legislation can give the dead sinner life. Only Christ can do that through the Gospel.
Hagar gave birth to a slave. Ishmael was "a wild man" ( Gen. 16:12 ), and even though he was a slave, nobody could control him, including his mother. Like Ishmael, the old nature (the flesh) is at war with God, and the Law cannot change or control it. By nature, the Spirit and the flesh are "contrary the one to the other" ( Gal. 5:17 ), and no amount of religious activity is going to change the picture. Whoever chooses Hagar (Law) for his mother is going to experience bondage ( Gal. 4:8-11 , 22-25 , 30-31 ; 5:1). But whoever chooses Sarah (grace) for his mother is going to enjoy liberty in Christ. God wants His children to be free ( Gal. 5:1 ).
Hagar was cast out. It was Sarah who gave the order: "Cast out this bondwoman and her son" ( Gen. 21:9-10 ), and God subsequently approved it ( Gen. 21:12 ). Ishmael had been in the home for at least seventeen years, but his stay was not to be permanent; eventually he had to be cast out. There was not room in the household for Hagar and Ishmael with Sarah and Isaac; one pair had to go.
It is impossible for Law and grace, the flesh and the Spirit, to compromise and live together as principles for our Christian life. God did not ask Hagar and Ishmael to make occasional visits to the home; the break was permanent. The Judaizers in Paul's day—and in our own day—are trying to reconcile Sarah and Hagar, and Isaac and Ishmael; such reconciliation is contrary to the Word of God. It is impossible to mix Law and grace, faith and works, God's gift of righteousness and man's attempts to earn righteousness.
Hagar was not married again. God never gave the Law to any other nation or people, including His church. For the Judaizers to impose the Law on the Galatian Christians was to oppose the very plan of God. In Paul's day, the nation of Israel was under bondage to the Law, while the church was enjoying liberty under the gracious rule of the "Jerusalem which is above" ( Gal. 4:26 ). The Judaizers wanted to "wed" Mt. Sinai and the heavenly Mt. Zion ( Heb. 12:22 ), but to do this would be to deny what Jesus did on Mt. Calvary ( Gal. 2:21 ). Hagar is not to be married again.
From the human point of view, it might seem cruel that God should command Abraham to send away his own son Ishmael, whom he loved very much. But it was the only solution to the problem, for "the wild man" could never live with the child of promise. In a deeper sense, however, think of what it cost God when He gave His Son to bear the curse of the Law to set us free. Abraham's broken heart meant Isaac's liberty; God's giving of His Son means our liberty in Christ.
Hagar and Sarah could not live together in the same house ( Genesis 21:8-14 ). We could argue all day long whose fault it was, but that isn’t the point. The point is that God told Abraham to send Hagar away. So also every Christian must send away the idea of relating to God on the principle of law, the principle of what we do for Him instead of what He has done for us in Jesus Christ.
Note that Sarah could live with Hagar and Ishmael until the son of promise was born. Once Isaac was born, then Hagar and Ishmael had to go. In the same way, a person could relate to the law one way before the promise of the gospel was made clear in Jesus Christ. But now that it has been made clear, there is nothing to do but to cast out the bondwoman and her son.
For the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman : Ishmael was not necessarily a bad man or a cursed man. But neither was he blessed with the promise of inheriting the glorious covenant of God given to Abraham and his descendants. That was the inheritance of one heir – Isaac, the son of the freewoman.
(Spurgeon) The Christian has no business living under the law. “What is God’s law now? It is not above a Christian – it is under a Christian. Some men hold God’s law like a rod over Christians, and say, ‘If you sin you will be punished with it.’ It is not so. The law is under a Christian; it is for him to walk on, to be his guide, his rule, his pattern… Law is the road which guides us, not the rod which drives us, nor the spirit which actuates us.”
Paul draws between real Christianity and legalism is the contrast between freedom and slavery. One son of Abraham was born by afreewoman, and one was born by a bondwoman. The real Christian life is marked by freedom.
Born according to the flesh : Ishmael was Abraham’s son, but he was the son according to the flesh and unbelief and trying to make your own way before God.
It often doesn’t look like it, but legalism is living according to the flesh. It denies God’s promise and tries to make your own way to God through the law. This is living like a descendant of Abraham – but it is living like Ishmael.
(Wiersbe) “Legalism does not mean the setting of spiritual standards; it means worshipping these standards and thinking we are spiritual because we obey them. It also means judging other believers on the basis of these standards.”
(Spurgeon) “The better legalist a man is, the more sure he is of being damned.
He of the freewoman through promise : Abraham’s second son was named Isaac. He was born, miraculously, through Abraham’s wife Sarah (the freewoman). Isaac was Abraham’s son, and he was the son of God’s promise and faith and God’s miracle for Abraham.
Paul draws contrast between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between a work done by God’s promised miracle and a work done by the flesh. The real Christian life is connected to God’s promised miracle and not the flesh.
(24-27) The Old Testament shows the difference between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.
For these are the two covenants : In the Bible, a covenant is a “contract” that sets the rules for our relationship with God. Paul brought it right down to the issues confronting the Galatian Christians. The legalists wanted them to relate to God under one set of rules, and Paul wanted them to relate to God under the “rules” presented by the gospel.
The one from Mount Sinai : One covenant is associated with Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the Law ( Exodus 19-20 ).
This covenant gives birth to bondage. Since it is all about what we must do for God to be accepted by Him, it doesn’t set us free. It puts us on a perpetual treadmill of having to prove ourselves and earn our way before God.
This covenant is associated with Hagar, the “surrogate mother” who gave birth to Ishmael. It is therefore (if used wrongly) a covenant according to the flesh (Gal 4:23).
This covenant corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, that is, earthly Jerusalem which was the capital of religious Judaism. This was the way most Jewish people in Paul’s day tried to be right with God – by trusting in their ability to please God by keeping the law.
But the Jerusalem above : The other covenant is associated with Jerusalem, with Mount Zion – but not the Mount Zion of this earth. Instead, it is associated with the Jerusalem above – God’s own New Jerusalem in heaven.
Paul draws contrast between Christianity and legalism showing how it is the contrast between heaven and earth. Real Christianity comes from heaven and not earth.
The Jerusalem above is free : Paul will now tell us more about the covenant represented by the heavenly Jerusalem. This covenant brings freedom – it is free. It is free because it recognizes that Jesus paid the price, and we don’t have to pay it ourselves.
Which is the mother of us all : This covenant has many children; it is the mother of us all. Every Christian through the centuries belongs to this new covenant, the covenant of the heavenly Jerusalem. And every birth under this covenant is a miracle, like the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah 54:1 , Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Every one is born because of a miracle by God.
The desolate has many more children : The quotation from Isaiah 54:1 also suggests that there will soon be more Christians than Jews – a promise that was fulfilled. Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between many more and many. The abundance and glory of the New Covenant is shown by the fact that it would soon have many more followers than the Old Covenant.
Commentary on Galatians 4:28-31 Paul applies the contrasts between the two systems. We are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free. Let us rest our souls on the Scriptures, and by a gospel hope and cheerful obedience, show that our conversation and treasure are indeed in heaven.
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise : As Christians, we don’t identify with Ishmael. We identify withIsaac, as children of a promise that was received by faith.
But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now : Ishmael and his descendants persecuted Isaac and his descendants. So we should not be surprised that the modern day people who follow God in the flesh persecute those who follow God in faith through the promise.
Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between persecuted and persecuting. The legalists – represented by Ishmael – have always persecuted true Christianity, represented by Isaac. As we walk in the glory, in the freedom, in the miraculous power of this New Covenant, we should expect to be mistreated by those who do not.
NOTE - (Boice) The persecution Christians face “will not always be by the world but also and indeed more often by their half-brothers – the unbelieving but religious people in the nominal church. This is the lesson of history… Today the greatest enemies of the believing church are found among the members of the unbelieving church, the greatest opposition emanating from pulpits and church hierarchies.”
Paul draws between Christianity and legalism by contrasting between inheriting all and inheriting nothing. While the “Isaacs” of this world may be persecuted, they also have a glorious inheritance that the “Ishmaels” of this world will never know. We are heirs of God through the principle of grace, not works.
So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free : For Paul, one of the great issues in this was freedom. He knew the bondage of trying to earn his own way before God, because he lived that way for decades. Now he knew the freedom of living as a son of God, free in Jesus Christ.
- When the Judiazers led the Galatians back into legalism, they were leading them not only into religious bondage, cut also into moral and spiritual infancy and immaturity.
“Barclay makes the point that anyone who makes law central is ‘in the position of a slave; all his life he is seeking to satisfy his master the law’. But when grace is central, the person ‘has made love his dominant principle… it will be the power of love and not the constraint of law that keeps us right. Love is always more powerful than law.’” All who do trust in Christ are born into God's family and share in that promise by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:21–31).
The greatest tragedy of legalism: it gives opportunity for the flesh to work. The old nature cannot be controlled by Law.
***With the life we have left (tape measure illustration of how much time we have left)
How are you going to finish your race? What is God calling you to do with the rest of your life?
- Is your Christian life moving forward into liberty or backward into bondage? To live in the present requires action. Your control over your life will lead to death. God’s control over your life will lead to life.
- Satan will use your liberty and destroy you, deceive you, and then leave you. When God uses you, you will thrive. Rm 6:13 “We have been made alive who were dead…”
- Remember that the Lord has chosen you to be born and living at this exciting time in history and allowed you to see so many prophecies fulfilled and be encouraged.
- How many people are you going to share the Good News with before Jesus returns for His bride?
- Let our lives make a difference to those around us by shining God’s light through us.
Let us be women who are going to be faithful to Jesus Christ. We must know God’s Word and stay in His Word daily. Let us not be women who choose to live for the world now and be women looking forward and longing for the world to come by finishing our race strong.