Choose Freedom

Title: Choose Freedom

Text: Galatians 4:21-31

Time: February 27th, 2011

It’s not normally a good idea to allegorize or overly spiritualize a Bible passage, but when a prophet or apostle does it on occasion it’s acceptable. I say that because in today’s passage, Galatians 4:21-31, the Apostle Paul does just that – he allegorizes an Old Testament passage dealing with Hagar and Sarah in order to teach an important spiritual truth. What do I mean by allegorize? What does it mean to use allegory in interpreting a biblical passage? To allegorize is to spiritualize a passage, or in other words, to make it highly symbolic, when the context is straight-forward narrative. The problem with allegory is that it’s so subjective that anybody can make anything into any kind of spiritual message. I can take the words of any Bible passage and find some invisible or spiritual or symbolic meaning – and there’s nothing to stop me from taking the interpretation in any direction. A real imaginative person could find any meaning in any verse at any time. This can lead to all kinds of abuse in using the Bible. You come up with strange and bizarre messages from the Bible if you take allegory too far. The proper way of reading and interpreting the Bible is to study the context of a passage and interpret it in its most straight-forward way. The intent of the author is very important. Now that doesn’t mean from time to time we can’t be inspired to apply a Bible verse in a way that the original author never intended, or that God can’t speak to us from a passage that has nothing to do with something we are dealing with in life. The Holy Spirit can use anything to speak to us at any time. But in respect to doctrine and morality and Christian practice we must stick to interpreting the Bible in its plain sense meaning. We can’t use allegory whenever we feel like it, because it’s much too relativistic, meaning, it’s too subjective. It can take us way off track. But if you are a biblical prophet or an apostle, and God gives you special permission to use allegory, that’s permissible. So we see Paul the Apostle making use of allegory in order to teach us an important spiritual truth. He uses symbolism to communicate something important. What’s the symbolism he uses? It’s comparing and contrasting the Old Testament women Hagar and Sarah. You probably remember the story of Abraham, that God promises him he’d be the father of many nations, only he had no children. Sarah gave her handmaid Hagar to Abraham to bear him a child, which she did, Ishmael. Then, eventually, Sarah herself bore Abraham a son, Isaac. Paul uses this story to illustrate his point, which I’ll explain today, this morning. Galatians 4:21-31 (read).

First, there’s the difference between the ordinary law and the supernatural promise. Galatians 4:21-23, “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of promise.” Paul’s first point is that if we examine how the two children of Abraham were born, we’ll see that one was born of ordinary and natural circumstances, but the other was born of supernatural, special and divine circumstances. Abraham had no son, no heir, and yet God had promised that he’d be the father of many nations. But how can you be the father of many nations without at least an heir to start things off? So Abraham had a child through the handmaid of Sarah, Ishmael. This took no faith, no miracle from God, nothing but human ingenuity. Ishmael’s mother was Hagar, who was a servant girl. Now in contrast to Hagar and Ishmael, we know later that Abraham had a son through his wife Sarah, Isaac. He was the child of promise, a miracle from God, in fulfillment of the prophecy to Abraham. Now the application to our lives as Christians is that if we continue in our natural, normal state, the way we are born into this world, we will pursue salvation through law, because that’s the natural, normal way of trying to work out a relationship with God. I’ve mentioned before that if left to ourselves we will all work out some legalistic way of relating to God. It’s the most natural and normal way of thinking. If you work hard, you’ll get paid on the job. If you want to be rewarded, you must try hard at whatever you are doing. You’ve got to invest a lot of money to make a lot of money. This is just an extension of the principle, “You reap what you sow.” Now applied to a relationship with God, you’d naturally think, “If I want to please God I must work hard at obeying the Law of God.” This natural way of thinking represents Abraham’s thinking in having Ishmael, because he thought, “If I want a son, I must go through Hagar not Sarah, since Sarah is unable to bear me a son.” So he had a child through Hagar. It didn’t take any faith on Abraham’s part to do this, just common sense. But God made a promise to Abraham that required the supernatural, not the natural. The promise child was Isaac, not Ishmael. In the same way, God’s promise of salvation to us involves the supernatural atonement of Jesus Christ, not the ordinary working of obedience through the Law. So Paul is trying to show us the difference between the ordinary versus the extra-ordinary, the natural versus the supernatural in respect to salvation.

Second, there’s the difference between the covenants of law (slavery) and promise (freedom). Galatians 4:24-27, “These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bear children who are to be slaves. This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother, For it is written: ‘Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.’” Paul continues to explain the allegory by bringing out the aspect of slavery versus freedom. Hagar was a slave girl, and her child, Ishmael, a slave child. This represents the covenant of Law God gave at Mount Sinai to Moses. Everyone who operates under this covenant is a slave, a slave to the Law of God. There’s nothing anyone can do while a slave under the Law, because there’s no way to escape from the Law, or rise above the fact that one breaks the law and is a lawbreaker. The slave has harsh working conditions being under and serving the Law. But in contrast to this, Sarah produced the child of promise, Isaac. Both Sarah and Isaac are free, because they live under the covenant of promise. Their lives are marked by the freedom and blessings of being free under a better covenant. Now the application to us as Christians is also clear. We live under a covenant of faith in the promises of God. God promises that though we are sinners deserving judgment and eternal punishment, we by faith in Jesus Christ can be saved. We can be forgiven of our sins and escape any final judgment for our sins through believing in the promise of salvation God offers through Jesus Christ. The Jews follow the covenant of Law and try to legalistically work salvation through obedience to the Law of God. But it isn’t just the Jews who pursue salvation legalistically; so too also do Gentiles, or non-Jews. The world is made up of many religions and philosophies, and they all call for following or obeying rites, rituals and requirements for salvation. But this is all legalism. It is represented by Hagar and Ishmael. Only Christianity teaches salvation by grace alone, through Christ alone. Only Christianity represents the covenant of promise. Are you still under the old covenant of Law? Are you pursuing it in order to be saved? If so, then you are not free, and you aren’t saved either. Come to Christ, by faith alone, and live under God’s promise. That’s true Christian faith.

Third, there’s the difference between legalism and grace. Galatians 4:8-31, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time to the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the salve woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’ Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.” The Apostle explains a little more about the account of Isaac and Ishmael, and continues to apply that situation to the situation in the church of Galatia. The Jewish legalists from Jerusalem who came teaching the Christians to submit again to the Law in order to be saved should be put out of the church. There can be no mixture of their teachings with the true teachings of grace and faith in the church. The legalist is following the ordinary principles of the natural world, with it’s law of sowing and reaping, works-righteousness and other such things. But salvation by grace through faith is the supernatural promise of God through Jesus Christ. There is no compatibility between these two systems. Now we see why the Reformation of the 16th century had to happen. The established church at that time was Roman Catholic. This church had picked up many additional and extra teachings along its historical progress, and one of the things it picked up was the legalistic understanding of salvation by works. Yes, there was teaching of faith, but it was a mixture of faith and works for salvation. Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin identified this legalism and exposed it for what is was. That started the whole Reformation and resulted in splitting the church in Europe. Today, there is still an element of legalism in Roman Catholic theology, but before we pick on this church, we must also acknowledge that legalism has once again infested Protestantism as well. Why is legalism so persistent? Because it’s the natural, normal way of thinking about God and our relationship with him. It’s the old Hagar/Ishmael way, slavery to law or ritual or regulations of religion. Most religion is legalistic. Only true, biblical Christianity escapes the chains of legalism because it depends on God’s promise of salvation through Jesus Christ alone by faith. Are you a legalist? I hope not, but if you are typical you are tempted to think as a legalist. If you learn anything from church, if you learn anything from Christianity, if you pick up just one thing about salvation, pick up this – Jesus came to save us through grace by faith alone. Have you received the free gift of salvation yet? Have you surrendered your heart, soul, and mind to Christ? Have you confessed and repented of sin, and embraced the gospel by faith? If not, don’t delay, do so today.

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