Galatians 4: Seize the Day

Galatians 4: Seize the Day

DAY 4 OF 4

This is a difficult passage to understand, so we’ll have to work hard at it!

All through this letter, Paul has been contrasting law-way with faith-way with respect to how we are saved. In other words, does God accept us as a result of our obeying a set of laws, or does He accept us as an outcome of faith only? The contrast could just as easily be between law-way and grace-way because faith comes as God’s gift of grace.

There’s a third way by which the contrast could be expressed. We could refer to the result of the two ways. In that case we would say it like this: bondage is contrasted with freedom. Trying to obey law so as to get God’s favour always ties us up in knots! It’s a real bind. It leads to an awful bondage. 

We’re like slaves. We have to be constantly at it, making sure that we’re always perfectly obeying! We’re always tensed up, never quite sure if we’ve done it right, or worked hard enough at it. On the other hand, coming to God in faith, as a response to His wonderful grace, sets us free. We can be relaxed and at peace. It’s the way of liberty.

In the passage we’re looking at now. Paul uses an example that would have been very well known to any Jew. He goes back to Abraham, and talks about his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Although Paul’s way of reasoning may seem a little strange to us, it would have been very telling to those who read this letter. 

What he does is give them an allegory. We call something an allegory when the characters and events in a story are used to symbolise a deeper moral or spiritual meaning.

You will remember that God promised to give the childless Abraham a son through his wife Sarah. What’s more, God promised that this son would be a blessing to the whole earth. Abraham and Sarah got older and older until it seemed impossible that they should ever be able to have a child. In desperation (and lack of faith!), Abraham took a second wife, Hagar—a slave—and had a son Ishmael, through her. Then, some years later, the promised son, Isaac, was born to Sarah, just as God had said.

Now for Paul’s allegory! In this story there are two sons and there are two mothers. One son is conceived by natural means, Abraham taking the initiative. The second son is conceived as a result of God’s explicit promise. One of the mothers was a slave. The other mother was a free woman (verses 22 and 23). The two mothers are representatives of two covenants or agreements (verse 24).

The first mother is a slave. She is in bondage. She represents those who are tied to the law (or covenant) that God gave at Mount Sinai through Moses. In other words, just like this mother who could never be anything other than a slave, so too are those who try to get salvation law- way. They will never be anything other than slaves—slaves to rules and regulations and rituals; slaves to their own sin and guilt. 

This mother’s son, Ishmael, could never receive the inheritance from Abraham, because he was the son of a slave. In the same way, those who want to do things law- way are slaves. They can never receive God’s inheritance.

The second mother is a free woman (that is, she is not a slave). She represents God’s covenant of grace in Jesus Christ. She represents those who, through faith, trust God for salvation. They come to know Him as a result of His promise. And just as Isaac was the true son and inherited the promises, so too are those who are men and women of faith. They are God’s true sons. They will receive the promised blessing.

The allegory keeps going! Paul refers to two cities (verses 25 and 26)—Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem. The first is symbolic of those who are law-way types and are therefore slaves. Jerusalem (as it was in Paul’s day) was the ‘mother’ of those who represented salvation by works. 

The second city is symbolic of those who are free because they have come to the Lord faith-way. Just as Sarah was the mother of the true son who inherited the promise, so too is the heavenly Jerusalem our ‘mother’. The heavenly Jerusalem is symbolic of true freedom!

The next thing we see in this allegory is that the law-way types will always persecute and abuse and try to destroy the faith-way Christians. This is illustrated by the fact that Ishmael taunted and teased Isaac. In other words, the slave son mocked and derided the free son—verse 29. (This principle is the same today. Any who are trusting in their works to buy them God’s favour will hate and despise those who trust Him by faith).

Verse 29 also tells us that there is a contrast between the son (Ishmael) who was born ‘naturally’ (or ‘of the flesh’), and the son (Isaac) who was born ‘of the Spirit’. This refers to the fact that Christians are those who have been born again, by the Holy Spirit. Law-way types have nothing to do with the Spirit. They are operating purely on a natural level. They are ‘in the flesh’. There is nothing supernatural in their belief.

Verse 30 reminds us that the slave son and the free-born son cannot both receive the inheritance. It’s for the true son only. That’s why, back in verse 28, Paul says, ‘we, brethren, like Isaac, are the children of the promise’. Those who are born of the Spirit, who have come into God’s family grace-way (or faith-way), are the inheritors. It is not for the law-way types. They will be excluded just as Ishmael was.

Finally, Paul concludes in verse 31 by reminding his Galatian brothers that they really are true sons, not of the slave woman, but of the free woman. In other words, they have come to know the Lord by faith, not by law. They are inheritors of God’s blessings, not because of works, but because of His promise.

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Galatians 4: Seize the Day

Jesus Christ has a right to be God’s heir and to receive the inheritance. We do not. We enjoy this wonderful prospect and promise only by God’s grace. It is only because He has brought us into His family that we are join...

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