Studies in Galatians – Wayne Barber/Part 22
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2004|
|He’s going to take them back into history and dig up some bones. He’s going to try to get his point across in a different way. Paul has clearly tried to help the Galatians understand that they are already sons of God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was not through any work that they could do. Works don’t cut it; the works have to be that which God does through us, and so salvation is not based on any work that we do ourselves.|
Flesh versus Spirit
Turn with me this morning to Galatians 4. We’re going to be finishing up the chapter today. Quite a bit of Scripture, but there’s a reason behind this. There’s such a profound thought that we’re going to see in Galatians 4, I just felt like if we broke it up we might miss this, and so let’s try to put it together. It’s interesting. Sometimes when you’re trying to learn something, if somebody comes along and says, you know, let’s go back to the past and look at the baggage that perhaps we have inherited—I think there’s a country song that says, “Digging up bones”—sometimes it’s good to go back and dig up some bones to find out why it is that life is like it is and what it is that God wants us to know and to learn from His word.
Well, the apostle Paul’s going to do that today. He’s going to take them back into history and dig up some bones. He’s going to try to get his point across in a different way. Paul has clearly tried to help the Galatians understand that they are already sons of God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was not through any work that they could do. Works don’t cut it; the works have to be that which God does through us, and so salvation is not based on any work that we do ourselves.
He has used every approach, and you’ve seen it as we’ve gone through Galatians. He’s instructed, he’s reminded, he’s confronted, he’s pled like a father would plead with his children for them to pay attention to the absurd thing that they have chosen to do. And what was that? They bought the false teaching of the Judaizers which has put them back up under that old “I’ve got to do more in order to be accepted by God.” That’s the mentality. And Paul says, “What are you doing? You’re already accepted by God in Christ Jesus. And what you’re doing He has already done.” I mean, this is really baffling the apostle Paul. Why would people who are so free now in Christ go back to something that’s going to put them right back into bondage to their flesh?
Paul, in our last message, shares that he feels like a woman that’s going through labor, he says, only the second time for the same child. Now he uses a rather abnormal terminology there. You normally only have one time you go through labor in birth. He says, “I’m going through it a second time.” And what he’s describing here, the term “labor” is the pain that he feels in his heart. And yet the pain is not to see them come to know Christ. He can’t do a thing about them coming to know Christ, he can just present the message. God’s the One who saves people. But here they’re already believers. The pain he’s feeling is, here are these believers that have been set free, Christ has come to live in them; and his pain is, Christ is not being seen in their lives. He says in verse 19, “My children with whom I am again in labor until,” and here’s the event “Christ is formed in you.” You see, Paul realized that because of the foolishness of their choices Jesus was not being seen in their life. There was too much of them for Jesus to be seen. John the Baptist had it right, didn’t he? John the Baptist said we must decrease so that He might what? Increase. The more there is of me, the less there is of Him to be seen in my life. And that’s what his pain is.
With a very tender heart he says to them in verse 20, “But I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone.” He says, “For I am perplexed about you.” Now, he realizes he’s come on pretty strong. He understands that; this is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. But at the same time he wishes he could be there to tell them face to face. He wishes they could see the emotion in his face and feel the burden of his heart. He says, “I am truly perplexed about you.” And what he means is, I’m at a total loss. “I’ve done everything I know to do. I’ve prayed for you. I’ve pled with you. I’ve confronted you. I’ve challenged you. I don’t know what else to do. I’m at a total loss.”
Now, if you’re a teacher of God’s grace and you are seeking to live that message, you know exactly what Paul’s talking about. When you see brothers and sisters in the family—they’ve already been accepted as adult sons in Christ Jesus; they can walk in those adult privileges if they just choose to live by faith—when you see that and then you see them choose to go back and do what they can’t do to begin with; they understood it, and to make that kind of mistake, to buy religion at the expense of a relationship, it breaks your heart and there’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing you can do. Like a parent with his children, you can’t make decisions for them. They’ve got to make their own choices, but, oh, how it breaks your heart when you realize what they could have as opposed to what they have chosen in their life.
All he could do was just challenge, encourage and confront these Galatians. He says in verse 21, and he brings it back to more of a challenge, he says, “Tell me,” you can see the perplexity in his life. “Tell me, you who want to be under law,” you who want to do it your own way, you who really think you have something that you could offer to God that He’s going to be impressed with, “tell me,” he says, “do you not listen to the law?” Now, that term “the law” there has two meanings. It’s a double-sided meaning. One is very specific, the Mosaic Law which they had bought back into as the means and the ways of righteousness. But there’s another meaning of that word, and really here you need to bring it out. It’s a general term that also includes the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch it’s called. And the first five books of the Bible they had at the writing of the book of Galatians. They had the Old Testament. And he says, “Do you mean to tell me that if you want to go back up under this old system, that’s only brought out in these books, do you not listen to what it says?”
And what he’s going to do is take them back to Genesis and dig up some bones. He’s going to dig up some bones. He said, “I don’t think you’re paying any attention whatsoever, and I want to help you go back and we’re going to look at the baggage that you have inherited.” And what he wants them to understand is they haven’t bought into anything that’s new. Man has been doing this all the way back. In fact, Abraham made the same mistake, and he wants them to understand that that mistake that Abraham made is still bringing all kinds of problems, even in the day that Paul was writing that letter.
Well, there are four things that I want you to do, to see here today. I want to try to explain to you, and Paul’s going to try to explain it to us. First of all he tells the tale of two sons. As he reaches back into history to help them understand his point, he takes them back. In Galatians 4:22 he says, “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.” Now, if you’ve noticed, in Galatians Paul has used contrasts to bring about his point over and over again. It’s a great way of teaching. When you want somebody to see this side of the story, show them the other side and put them together and sometimes it makes it more clear. He’s used the contrasts of law versus grace. Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law then Christ died needlessly.” And he just shows you right there the difference of grace and law. He used a contrast of faith versus works in 3:2. He says, “This is the only thing I want to find out from you. Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?” And he shows the difference there of faith versus works.
And what he’s been doing since 3:26 is showing us the contrasts of being a slave or living as a son. So now he’s going to give us some more contrasts, four to be exact. But the first one he brings up is the two sons: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one of them, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.” Now, the first thing you notice in this is that the father produces both sons. And what he’s going to show you is that every person that’s a believer has two choices: to do it his way, to try to help God out; or to trust God and wait upon God and let God do only what He can do.
And so we understand the story of Abraham and Sarah. God had promised them a son and Abraham makes a huge mistake. Now Paul characterizes these sons in this way. He says that one was the son of the bondwoman and the other the free woman. Now, the bondwoman is Hagar, and he’ll show you that in a minute. You know the story. And the second one, the free woman, that’s the wife, that’s the true wife. God only honors the one, the married to one woman, and that’s the key here. Now, even though he marries another woman, that’s not something that God approved of. He just allowed it, but He didn’t approve of it, and you’ll see that in the story. So the free woman is the true wife. That’s Sarah. The bondwoman is Hagar.
A bondwoman. And to tell you what that is, that was a slave. And in fact, the word is paidiske. It’s the word that means a female servant. So she’s just a servant. Now, even though Abraham was the father, slaves only begat slaves. You see, his true wife was Sarah, and therefore the true son would be Isaac. But with Hagar, she could only produce slaves. They were not legitimate sons in the family as far as God’s concerned. Now you say, wait a minute. Where is that in Scripture? I’m so glad you asked. Because God says to him one day, doesn’t He, He says, “Take your son, your only son up to the mountain.” Well, in verse 22 he says, “For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.” Again, the free woman was Sarah. I just want to make sure you’ve got the characters right in your mind. The bondwoman was Hagar and we see the two women he’s talking about.
Now, perhaps you don’t know the story. Go back to Genesis 15 and let’s just recite and rehearse what Paul is doing here to try to bring about his point. Genesis 15:1-4. “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you. Your reward shall be very great.’ And Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will Thou give me since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’” Now, see Eliezer was not a blood child. He was just a slave there and a servant in the house. Now, it was true when the inheritance would come there would be some inheritance that would go to the slaves. But the true son would inherit the whole estate. Eliezer was a slave and it was grieving Abraham that he had no children. Sarah was barren.
“And Abram said, ‘Since Thou has given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.’ Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him saying, ‘This man will not be your heir, but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’” Now God promised Abraham and Sarah a son. Ten years they tried to have a baby. They just wanted that son because God had promised it. Ten years go by, and Sarah is still barren and she had not conceived. And so therefore what they do is they come up with what we do so often. “Well, God said it, and He’s evidently not doing anything. He’s waiting on us, so we’ll take matters in our own hand.” And they decided to try to get a son their way. And, you see, that’s exactly the way our thinking works. And this is what Paul’s trying to tell the Galatians. “You go back to doing it your way; I don’t care how good it is, it may even be a promise that God has given, but when you do that it’s going to produce that which is illegitimate in God’s understanding.”
Sarah tells him to take her maidservant Hagar and take her as a wife. Hagar was a slave, the bondwoman. And so remember, slaves only begat slaves. Even though Abraham would be the father, he could only begat a slave. That could not be a true son because that was not his true wife. And Genesis 16:1, “Now Sarah, Abraham’s wife, had borne him no children and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarah said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go into my maid. Perhaps I shall obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarah.” He should have listened to the voice of God. “And after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan Abram’s wife Sarah took Hagar, the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife and he went into Hagar and she conceived.” Now the child of this wrong move by Sarah and Abraham was named Ishmael. Abraham has now another slave. That’s all he has. He cannot have a true son because it was not by his true wife, even though, yes, he took her as a wife; that was not in God’s program. Therefore he still does not have a true son.
And I want to make sure you understood what I said a moment ago; God says He never recognized that son to be the true son. In Genesis 22:2 God says, “Take now your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac.” And that’s when He tells him to go to the land of Moriah and to sacrifice Isaac. And what a beautiful chapter that is. You see, the point here is that Ishmael is what’s produced when we choose to do things our way. God never sees it as what He has promised. It may be that you have heard God’s promise. It may be that that’s what you’re wanting in your life. But if you do it your way, it will not be an Isaac. It will be an Ishmael. Paul is going to use Ishmael as a picture of what we produce when we seek to do things our way, when we choose to go back working in the energy of our flesh.
See, the religious mindset is so appealing to our flesh. It’s a set of rules. We can do this, this, this and this and we can become spiritual; and we don’t understand that’s not what it’s all about. We are already spiritual in Christ. The key is to learn to enjoy being what God says we already are. There is no way in the world that God needs our help. You know, I’ve been studying Scripture now for years. I’ve never seen a verse when God says “Oh, by the way, Paul, I’m having a tough time making a decision on this. What’s your opinion? What do you think I ought to do?” I’ve never seen that in Scripture. God doesn’t need our help. God’s going to do it whether we get with Him or not.
What we need to do is get in on His program. And when we choose to do it our own way and we choose to take our fleshly creativity and come up with great things that we think God’s going to honor because we studied the Word and we felt like that would be a good suggestion, God’s not impressed. All it produces is Ishmaels. Ishmaels are nothing more than the illegitimacy of what the flesh can produce. What Abraham wanted was not bad. God had promised him a son. He wanted what God wanted, but he wanted it his own way. And, by the way, he passed that same attitude down through generations; his great-grandson Jacob did exactly the same thing. God said, “You shall inherit the blessing. You shall inherit the birthright,” but Jacob spent his life trying to deceive everybody and contend with everybody to get it his own way. And nothing happens when we do it our way, except that which is illegitimate in God’s sight. By choosing to help God out, Abraham made a serious mistake. This is baggage and this baggage was passed on. It’s our flesh and we end up in the 21st century doing exactly the same thing, just like the Galatians had fallen into the same trap. God is not impressed with what we come up with and offer back to Him, other than a surrendered heart to Him.
Verse 23 says, “But the son of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh.” And that’s a powerful statement there. That word “according,” kata, means to the measure of what the flesh can produce. And the word sarx, flesh, means that which is the mindset of sin and the mindset of self. And what Paul is doing is showing all believers—he’s been teaching on it now for four chapters in Galatians—he’s trying to show them that we all have, like Abraham, the capacity to do things our way. We have that capacity. We can manipulate. We can put pressure on. We can try to get what we think God would be impressed with. But if we do it our way it is nothing more than an Ishmael.
Now why would Paul be using this kind of analysis right here in Scripture? Because that’s been his point for the last two chapters, the difference of what God can do through a man and what man can do for God. That has been his point, religion versus Christianity. When we trust our flesh, we produce Ishmaels into our life.
I wonder, as we think together in the Scripture how many Ishmael’s have been produced right here? What we have come up with in a committee, “Boy, the committee was wonderful. I had the best time. We even had refreshments and we came up with a wonderful thought of what we could offer back to God and we gave it to Him.” Now, I want to tell you something, how many Ishmaels are right here in the church? But let’s get off of that for a second. How many Ishmaels are in our own lives? You’ve done it your way. You’ve just done it. Every one of us are in that boat, aren’t we?
In one church where I pastured we had flock groups. Now flock groups are basically when you get together in each other’s homes periodically. We did that because we needed more fellowship with the people, to get together and to get to know each other. But we were doing well with it. I got asked to go to a conference and while we were there they were going to have a special session on how to do flock groups. And so I said, “Let’s go and find out what we’re doing wrong, because if they’re doing it, maybe we need to do it that way. But we went to these flock groups and you know what they were heavy on? They were heavy on equipping. They were heavy on discipleship. And so we went back and we said, hey, we need to change what we’re doing.
And we got together, got all the right people, and we just killed what God had raised up. And we came up with our little Ishmael and asked God to bless it. And in six weeks we killed the whole program. Everything we came up with and asked God to bless, He let it miserably fail. And we had to get in front of the people and say, well, we missed God again. And we went back to what God had raised up, the Isaac, that which He produces as opposed to what we produced, and it quadrupled in about three months. And it was so obvious to everybody that when you trust God what He raises up is right. You can’t come up with anything that impresses God. I can’t come up with anything that impresses God.
But Abraham tried it; the Galatians did it; and we need to learn from that. Anything you or I do, offering it back to God and asking Him to accept it, that He has not initiated in our life, is nothing more than an Ishmael and is illegitimate in His sight. I don’t know how clear you can be in Scripture for Paul to drive his point home. We all have two choices—to do it our way; or to it God’s way. And the sad legacy of the church is in the last 100 years we did it our way and that’s why we’re in the mess that we’re in today. You see, only when we trust God. And when I say “trust God,” that means walk by faith, forsaking all else, I trust Him. I lay everything down so that God can produce the Isaac that I didn’t even know was on His mind. Religion produces Ishmael; God produces Isaac. And that’s Paul’s point. That’s his point.
So Paul tells the tale of two sons, why? To just simply document what he’s been teaching for the last four chapters. Well, secondly, he relates the truth about two covenants. Now he goes from two sons to two covenants, another contrast. Paul continues and explains what he’s trying to do. He’s not trying to get detailed in these stories. He’s using those truths to bring out a point. Verse 24 he says, “This is allegorically speaking.” Now, the Greek word for “allegorically” is the word allegoreo. Allas means of the same kind—you are taking a truth of the same kind; and then egoreo, which means to speak publically. What he’s saying is, he’s using the truth as he speaks or writes to prove his point that it’s truth back here that goes right alongside with what he’s trying to teach.
Unfortunately we translated that “allegory.” That’s not a good translation. Let me tell you why. Well, an allegory does not have to be based on fact, and it frequently leads to biased and often bizarre conclusions. It’s one of the worst ways in which Scripture can be translated. So to use the term “allegory,” in our understanding in the 21st century, would not be a good term. What’s a better term? It’s the word “analogy.” That’s what really should be used here. He takes the true story from Jewish history, goes back and digs up the bone to bring out his point of what he’s trying to teach them in Galatians. Paul is not making his point and using Scripture to back it up. What he’s trying to say is, this has been going on ever since Abraham and even before him. So we need to learn from that; we need to learn from their mistakes.
Verse 24, “This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mt. Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.” Now Paul shifts from two sons to the two women who bore these two sons. These two women, Sarah, the free woman, the wife of Abraham, and Hagar represent two covenants. The bondwoman, Hagar, represented the covenant of law, and the free woman, who is Sarah, represented the covenant of grace, which the Galatians were a part of, which is only entered into by faith, not by works, but by faith. “This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai, bearing children who are to be slaves, she is Hagar.”
Now the word “Hagar” in Hebrew and in Aramaic means Mount Sinai. That’s the word for Mount Sinai. I thought, that’s interesting. Mount Sinai, where is Mount Sinai? What happened up there? That’s where God gave the Ten Commandments. That’s where God gave the law. So Hagar represents the covenant of law. “This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai.” Now watch this, this covenant of law, what can it produce? “Bearing children who are to be slaves, she is Hagar.” Anything that comes under this covenant can only produce slaves. It cannot produce sons because there’s no faith that is equivalent to the covenant of law. Paul says this covenant of law can only produce slaves. And because the covenant was not of faith. It was given 400 years later than when the covenant of grace was given to Abraham. As a matter of fact, when it was given to Abraham there wasn’t even an Israel at that time. There wasn’t any law. It was just God’s purpose for redemption.
The phrase, “who are to be slaves” is in the present tense. If a person remains under the law all he can ever be is a slave. He can never be a true son. He can never be an Isaac. He’s only an Ishmael. Paul wants them to realize that the law was never intended to produce sons. It was only intended to take slaves and frustrate them. We’ve already seen the role of the law in chapter 3. It was only a tutor, a babysitter. It couldn’t produce anything that God accepts. All it could do was keep the slaves in line until faith could come, until Jesus could be born, until the promised Seed could be born. Then in Him, He would produce the sons. But the law was never intended in any way to produce Isaacs, it could only produce Ishmaels. If you take the two analogies and put them together, the Galatians had chosen to go back under law which produced only that which was unacceptable to God. They had chosen to get back up under the wrong covenant.
Now let me ask you a question. Even though you are a child of grace like they are, you entered in by faith, what covenant are you living under? What decision have you made by your own choice of how to live? You either walk in the relationship dealing with sin every day, dealing with confession and repentance every day, making certain that God and you are in total fellowship, you have the relationship, but you’re constantly cultivating that fellowship and you’re walking, saying yes to Him; or you’re playing some religious game over here and you’re trying to manipulate and make everything happen to make you feel better which is nothing more than an Ishmael, which is nothing more than the mindset of the old covenant. That’s what he’s trying to show them. You can’t be an Isaac and be under the old covenant. You can’t choose to live doing things your own way and produce the Isaacs that God says He and He alone can produce.
Okay, the tale of two sons; and then he tells the truth about two covenants; and then thirdly he shares the tragedy of two Jerusalems. Man, this is something else. And when I studied this, this was so heavy, but now it’s just so profound to me. Paul continues to help them understand what they’ve done. How ridiculous it is for a church to think they can offer God anything other than give themselves to Him and let Him produce the Isaacs that only He can produce. Verse 25, “Now this Hagar [the bondwoman] is Mount Sinai in Arabia.” But look what he adds, “and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.”
Now, I’d like to have been a fly on the wall when some of the Judaizers who were the false teachers read this letter. Man, you talk about making somebody livid. You mean you’re going to compare us to Mount Sinai? You’re going to compare us to the old covenant. That’s what he does. He compared Hagar to Sinai, to the first century Jerusalem. In other words, first century Jerusalem was in slavery, but to two things: they were in slavery to Rome, yes, but they were also in slavery to the law. “She is in slavery with her children.” Now, Paul has talked about two sons that Abraham produced. One was acceptable because it was by faith; the other was not because it was of the flesh. He’s talked about two covenants. One covenant could only produce the physical seed of Abraham. That’s all it could produce. It couldn’t produce the spiritual seed because there was no faith involved. The other covenant could produce the spiritual seed. Now he talks about two Jerusalems. “Now this Hagar is Mt. Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” Then he adds in verse 26, “But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.” He shows that there are two Jerusalems. There’s an earthly Jerusalem in his day and as in today, and there’s a heavenly Jerusalem.
Sarah, in contrast to Hagar, is the mother of those born into grace. Remember, she’s the free woman. We’re free. And he again is following his thought all the way through. We’re part of the heavenly Jerusalem. Believers are the spiritual seed of Abraham, produced by the new covenant, the covenant of grace, out of faith and not out of works. Therefore we are the Jerusalem that is above, spiritual Jerusalem. The Judaizers, the false teachers who were born of the flesh, they were slaves along with the people they were deceiving. They didn’t have any clue what Paul was talking about. Slaves of the law, slaves of the bondwoman. But we who are born of the Spirit live by faith. We’re trusting God and willing to wait upon God believing that He is faithful or are we? You see, that’s the way we’re supposed to be living instead of trying to do what we cannot do to accomplish His will.
To illustrate this Paul quotes an Old Testament song and shows how that, even though God had promised, He waited a long time to fulfill that promise. And believing God means that you’re willing to wait upon God to do what only He can do. And he takes this song, Psalm 54:1 and he brings it into Galatians 4:27 and changes his whole picture. He moves now from the women and the covenants and Jerusalem, he moves now to Israel. And he’s not talking about Sarah, he’s talking about Israel. It was to give hope that in due time God would deliver them because He is faithful to encourage and if we’re just willing to trust God. In other words, captive Jerusalem, captive Israel. Israel’s been through captivity so many times it’s not even funny. I mean, you go back in Assyrians, and you go on to the Babylonians, and you move right on down the line, the Greeks and then the Romans. They’ve been in captivity in their whole history. And this is was a song that was given to them: Don’t try to get out from under what you’re under; just trust God to deliver you. Sarah, you were barren for a long time, but God came through with His promise. Israel, you’re in captivity and it’s going to be long time, but God will come through. Trusting God is the only way to see Him work in your life.
Verse 27 says, “Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more numerous are the children of the desolate than the one who has a husband.” Now, let’s break that down and make sure you understand. He says, “Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear.” And again you could go back to Sarah. She went for a long time. She was 90 years old when that baby was finally born. He’s moving now to Israel in captivity. The next phrase was to encourage them. “Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor.” Even though God has promised you, you feel no birth pains. You who are not in labor, “break forth and shout,” because if you’ll trust Him, at a certain point in time He’ll bring you out. You’re to wait upon the promise. “For more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband.” And this promise seems to say, even though you’re desolate now, wait until He delivers you and you go back into your land, and look then at the children that you’re going to bear. And so it was a promise; it was a song that they would sing. And they would sing it when they were in captivity.
And Paul takes this and says, “Listen, don’t you see what he’s saying here? He’s told you you’re going to get out, but you’re going to have to wait upon Him to do what only He can do. He’s the only one who could produce the Isaac. He’s the only one who can bring you out of captivity. If you get a committee together and try to do it yourself you’re going to produce an Ishmael. You’re going to jump in front of God.” Man, it’s so clear to me. I hope it’s clear to you. We cannot do anything to help God out. All we can do is bow before Him and only in His time will He produce the Isaac that only He can produce. Anything else is religion. Anything else is an Ishmael and that’s what he’s trying to say.
This baggage comes way back. Let’s dig up some bones and see what we’ve inherited. It’s where we all are. Israel was a nation of promise. Its descendents were as the sand on the sea. Paul takes this and applies it to believers, verse 28: “And you, brethren”—now look what he’s done; he comes right back to them—“like Isaac, are children of promise.” In other words, you didn’t just come to be. He’s reminding them that even though it had taken a long time, it was a process of time. Jesus didn’t come right away. Jesus, it was over the centuries that He came. We’re such a privileged generation because we get to live in the fullness of the covenant promises. It was through Isaac that Jacob was born. And Jacob, of course, became Israel, who had 12 sons. Judah was one of his sons, and it was through Judah that David was born. And it was through David that the virgin Mary was born. And it was through the virgin Mary that the Lord Jesus finally came after 400 years of darkness.
And what Paul is saying is, you are children of promise. You are the result of people trusting God and waiting upon Him and waiting upon Him and waiting upon Him. You are the result of all of that. Now why would you go back to the mentality you can do anything to get God to move before God is ready to move? That’s what religion is. Religion is an Ishmael; Isaac is what Christianity is all about—trusting and waiting upon God. “And you brethren, like Isaac are children of promise.” So what’s his message to the Galatians? By choosing to go back under the law they’ve chosen to go back and be slaves. They had chosen to live like earthly Jerusalem. They’d chosen to put themselves into bondage. They had chosen death instead of life. You wonder if they’ll ever get it. No wonder Paul says, “I’m perplexed, I’m perplexed. I’ve told you everything I know to do. I’ve tried to make you mad. I’ve pled with you. I’ve done everything to do to clarify it.” And you can see the dilemma he’s in: two sons, two covenants, and two Jerusalems.
But he finishes his thought here in this chapter. Finally there are two kinds of people. He warns them of two kinds of people, the trouble between two kinds of people. And if you take the text literally here, he’s speaking of lost versus saved, but you have to remember that that mentality of losthood, flesh is flesh on both sides of the cross, so you’ve got to be able to apply it even to the church. No matter whether or not a person’s saved, or whether he’s lost his flesh is going to go the route of Mount Sinai. His flesh is going to go the route of Hagar. His flesh can only produce Ishmael if a person chooses to walk after it. And that’s what he’s bringing out.
Oh, how people who walk after the flesh, and this is his point—now listen to me carefully—those who walk after the flesh, those who have chosen this direction, they literally hate the people who are seeking to live by grace and waiting and trusting on God. There’s your hostility. There’s your conflict. There’s churches being divided; there are families that are falling apart. Why? One has chosen Hagar and the other has chosen Sarah. And one is producing Ishmael and one is producing Isaac. And he’s going to show you the hostilities that come about when these kinds of things happen.
Verse 29: “But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh [Ishmael] persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit,” and then he says, it takes history. He says this is the way it was. And then he says, “so it is now also.” Nothing’s changed. Verse 29 is a direct reference to the time when Isaac was weaned from his mother. They had a huge celebration. Genesis 21:8 says, “And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.” Now, that’s a celebration, a feast. It’s time for him now. He’s in manhood. And verse 9: “Now Sarah saw that the son of Hagar [Ishmael] the Egyptian whom she had born to Abraham, she saw him mocking him.” There’s your hostility right there with the flesh and with the Spirit.
Do you know what else he’s going to do in chapter 5? He’s going to take it to another level of how the flesh wars against the Spirit. There was immediately the realization that these two, Isaac and Ishmael, could not peacefully co-exist. One came from the flesh; one came out of faith; and they cannot peacefully co-exist. Genesis 21:10 is quoted exactly in verse 30 of our text: “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.’” And that casting out there is a hostile word. It’s declaring war on the flesh. The two cannot peacefully co-exist. It’s almost word for word. Genesis 21:10 says “Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Drive out this maid and her son for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son, Isaac.’” There’s no way grace and law can co-exist. There’s no way. The hostility is incredible. It’s incredible. From people who are willing to wait and trust God to bring about the Isaac, and people who have chosen to, no sir, we will manipulate our way until we get what we want. That’s Hagar. That’s Old Testament. That’s flesh and he said the two cannot peacefully co-exist.
And then he says in verse 31, you know, you wonder why churches are splitting all over this country. This ought to tell you right here. You’ve got religious people and you’ve got Christians trying to intermingle and it cannot be peaceful. There’s a hostility here between the two. “So then, brethren,” he says in verse 31. This is all analogy. He’s using Old Testament baggage to prove his point. He says, “So then, brethren,” what are we going to make out of this, in other words? How do we draw our conclusions? “We are not children of a bondwoman, but of the [what?] free woman.” And you can almost hear him say it, and he does say it in 5:1, “then live like it.” Do you realize, folks, what he’s going to do in chapter 5? He’s going to show that the way we treat one another is directly a reflection of which covenant we’ve chosen to live under. It’s directly a reflection of whether or not we’re walking by flesh or whether or not we’re walking by faith. That’s going to be his litmus test. That’s going to be the acid test in chapter 5: The war of the flesh versus the Spirit, and how to win that battle. And when you win it by saying yes to Christ, fulfilling the desires of the Spirit, He produces a character of love to where now you have the unity in the body that ought to be there. That’s what he’s saying.
Chapter 5, verse 1 says, “It was for freedom.” And that doesn’t mean the right to do as you please like the book of Judges. It means the power to do as you should. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore”—I love those “therefore’s”—“keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Now, I don’t know about you, but if I was sitting in the audience in Galatia and somebody read this message, I don’t think I could have missed that one. That’s about as clear as the nose on our face. The way we act directly reflects a choice we’ve made as to which covenant we’re going to live under, whether or not we’re going to obey our flesh and its whims and opinions and agendas, or whether or not we’re going to by faith trust God to raise up an Isaac that we didn’t even know would exist. That’s faith. Just like you have captive Israel, just like barren Sarah, they had to trust God and learn to wait for Him to do what only He could do.
Two sons, two covenants, two Jerusalems and two kinds of people, two kinds of people; and the hostilities between these two kinds were going on in Galatia. But as we go back to the Galatians and dig up some bones, they’re still going on today in the 21st century. And I want to tell you something, folks. God is trying to teach us something and tell us something, and He’s wanting us to deal with the sin that’s in our life that so reflects itself by the way we treat other people. You never ever sweep sin under the rug and go on. No, sir; you have to confess it and deal with it and put it under the blood to be free now, to be free for God to produce the Isaac that we haven’t got a clue about. We’re just trusting Him to do. The hostilities are not just here. They’re everywhere.
I’m preaching a message right now that could be preached anywhere in the world. I was in Romania doing a conference on grace, the covenant of grace, living as children of Sarah, heavenly Jerusalem, and seeking to have people see that and be set free from the bondage that whole country has put themselves in. A man came up to me, and you know what he said to me? “Yeah, you Americans come over here and preach grace.” He said “We preach law.” I said, “You do? Why?” He said, “That’s the only way we can control our people.” And I said, “And yes, sir, you’re going to stand before God one day and everything you’ve done is going to burn at the bema seat of Christ.” He turned and walked out. And in my flesh I said, “Good riddance.”
Cast out the bondwoman’s son. They cannot peacefully co-exist. You know what the attitude is when people walk by faith? “I can’t; God never said I could. He can; He always said He would.” The biggest problem you’re going to have and the biggest problem I’m going to have in walking the Christian life is sitting down at a table in a committee and think for one second we can do it. You’re dead in the water. You have just bought the same lie Abraham bought; you’ve just bought the same lie the Galatians bought. And look it here, it’s still alive and well in the 21st century. Where are you today? What’s your relationships like? How do you speak to one another? What comes out of your mouth tells you everything as to where you are.
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Dr. Wayne Barber
Wayne has taught the message of “Living Grace” around the world. He is president, founder, and principal speaker of Living Grace Ministries and Senior Pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He learned to exegete Scripture by studying for 10 years with Spiros Zodhiates, one of the leading Greek scholars.