Slavery Or Freedom

Galatians 4:21-25

Judaism and Islam teach that in order to get things right before God it is important to try to be a good Jew or a good Moslem. An Orthodox Jew stresses keeping the Ten Commandments, the rest of the laws given in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, and studying the Talmud that presents the interpretation of the Mosaic Law by the great rabbis. Moslems emphasize that to have a chance before Allah one must fulfill the five pillars of Islam.

Both religions stress the importance of human effort in seeking to live the moral life that will possibly gain approval before God, and many cultural Christians stress this same appeal to human effort and striving to live a moral life to gain approval by God.

In the first century Jerusalem was the epicenter of this monotheistic, ethical, religious, merit based system, but when teachers came into the Galatians churches teaching this performance based religion, Paul didn’t react in the politically correct way, “All religions say basically the same thing with different words and rituals, but it all boils down to trying to live a nice, ethical life that doesn’t hurt others.” Paul takes the Old Testament Law far more seriously than this. He realizes that the Law revealed from Mt. Sinai condemns us all because none of us meet the requirements. And Paul reminds us of the story of Hagar and Sarah, and the birth of Ishmael and Isaac to move us to see the difference between seeking to fulfill God’s will by our own human effort or simply trusting completely in God’s promise and allowing him to give the miracle of new life.

“Now tell me, those who desire to be under the Law, have you listened to what the Law says? For it stands written that Abraham had two sons, one out of the female slave and one out of the free woman. Take note that the one out of the slave woman was born in the usual human way but the one out of the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things can be taken as illustrating two different covenants, one from Mount Sinai that bears children of slavery. This is Hagar. So, Hagar stands for Mt. Sinai which is in Arabia, and this now corresponds to Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.” Galatians 4:21-25

Paul taught us earlier from Genesis 15:6 that Abraham was declared righteous before God because he simply trusted that God would fulfill his promise and give him a son. Amazingly, in the very next chapter, Sarah comes up with a human way to fulfill God’s promise to give them children. She sent Hagar, her servant, into Abraham’s bed and let nature and human desire do their thing. Was it a good plan? God took care of both Hagar and her son Ishmael, but Isaac was a miracle child of God’s grace. We have to decide whether we will simply trust in the ultimate son in the line of Isaac, Jesus, the Savior Messiah, or whether we will remain in bondage to our sin. Paul challenges us to be free in God’s grace, not enslaved in seeking to do it our way. 

LORD, during Ramadan move Moslems around the world to recognize their inability to ever merit acceptance before God if they take the commandment seriously and open their hearts to receive the promise of forgiveness. Do this same work in the lives of Jews and Christians who, like these false teachers in Galatians, were teaching that salvation can be earned and that it is not received as a gift by faith.

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