Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 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.”
28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 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. 30 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.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 4:21-5:1
It is a perfectly normal human tendency to want to earn what we get. We don’t like to be objects of “charity.” However, when it comes to our relationship with God, we should probably rethink that posture. Paul lays out an allegory that carries us all the way to the end of chapter 5. It is a story of freedom and slavery. Given a choice, who would be a slave?
The allegory lines up like this: Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael is the son of Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid. Ishmael was born of natural procreation, strictly human effort to have the child God promised to Abraham. Isaac, on the other hand, is the child God promised and was born as a miracle since Sarah could no longer conceive, but God did render her pregnant with Abraham as a result of God’s promise. This, of course, prefigured the virgin birth of Christ, the true seed of Abraham.
The allegory goes on. These two women represent two covenants. Hagar represents Sinai, or the law of Moses and the then present Jerusalem, including circumcision, while Sarah represents the Jerusalem above (the New Jerusalem, or heaven). The present Jerusalem is under slavery to the law of Moses, a system of holiness which requires perfection with no power to perform thus leaving its subjects in slavery to the law.
Jesus followers are, however like Isaac, children of promise and live in freedom.
The allegory continues, “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.” It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, freedom from the system of human effort or a religion of the flesh.
The conclusion is that if we choose to attempt to please God with our human effort, we are disinheriting ourselves from the promise of God. Another way of saying this is that we have fallen from grace. We are no longer trusting the grace of God but our own human effort.
Consider contemporary applications of this principle since most of us have no desire to keep all the details of the law of Moses. We do, however, have other “laws” that we try to live up to. For some, we think we will earn a closer place with God if we don’t participate in certain social activities like dancing, movies, smoking or drinking alcohol or caffeine. While there may be some wisdom in some of these prohibitions, if one thinks they have anything to do with your relationship to God, you are in slavery to human effort, and this will not enhance your inheritance, in fact, it may void it.
Another category of application has to do with our religious performance as we attempt to climb the ladder of spiritual achievement. First is joining the church, then attending all the Sunday and mid-week church services. Then, we add our volunteerism helping as a greeter or an usher. If we do well and are recognized by our fellow congregants, we might become a deacon or an elder or lead a home group of some sort. We are getting our spiritual street creds. While all these things are good, if we depend on them or think they are the basis of a greater stance before God, we too are under slavery to human effort, and it will not enhance our relationship with God.
We must come to grips with the fact that we are children of promise and not children of human effort. We are God’s children only because we have trusted in the finished work of Christ alone. Anything else is a distraction from our seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is the best news. It is humbling because we can do nothing to enhance the work of Christ. He did it all. It is exalting because we also have to come to grips with the fact that we were chosen by God from before the foundation of the world. What could do more for one’s self-esteem?
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.