There is a perennial temptation for the people of God to go back to slavery. After Israel was delivered from Pharaoh’s tyranny, they found that freedom had its costs. They had no food; they ran into giants. So they longed to return to Egypt where there was bread, meat, and at least the semblance of protection—those chariots, pretty fancy.
A similar temptation came upon the Galatian Christians. God had brought them the gospel of Jesus Christ through Paul. But the Judaizers showed up shortly after preaching a different gospel, one that would take the Galatians back to bondage (Galatians 5:1). These Judaizers did not deny that Christ was the Messiah. But they insisted that if a man would be saved, then he must be circumcised, and thus keep all of the laws of Moses.
The Galatian situation maps on to Israel’s situation in Moses’ day. For Israel, there was no going back to slavery in Egypt. Egypt was under the judgment of God. For the Galatians, there was no going back to Jerusalem’s Old Covenant with its sign of circumcision. Jerusalem was under the judgment of God. In our text, Paul develops an allegory to teach the Galatian Christians that through Christ they have been set free and must not turn back to a yoke of slavery.
The message is: You’re children of the free woman so live free.
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free (Gal. 4:22-31).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Let’s consider a survey of the text. Paul writes to those who desired to be under the law (v. 21), not sweet Christians who wanted to obey God, but those who thought they would really get right with God by circumcision and keeping the laws of Moses.
It is as if Paul questioned these people, “But what about Abraham’s two sons?” Ishmael came by a slave woman, Hagar; and Isaac by a free woman, Sarah (v. 22). These sons were not born in the same way. Ishmael was born after the flesh and Isaac by promise (v. 23). Isaac, of course was a natural or biological son of Abraham just as much as Ishmael. But Isaac’s birth came about by divine promise, not mere flesh or nature.
These things are an allegory; they are two covenants. Hagar corresponds to Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage (v. 24). Hagar also corresponds to the Jerusalem that existed in Paul’s day, a Jerusalem that was in bondage with her children (v. 25). Remember that Jerusalem was the city that killed the prophets and it was the city that killed the Son. It was the city which was soon to be leveled by the Romans in AD 70.
Paul contrasts the Jerusalem which then was with the Jerusalem which is above. That heavenly Jerusalem is free and mother of us all (v. 26). She is Sarah. Isaiah says that this heavenly Sarah-Covenant, though she was barren, will have many more children than Hagar (v. 27).
The Galatians needed to grasp that they were Isaac, children of the promise (v. 28). They were the Spirit-born son being persecuted by the merely flesh-born son (v. 29). But they did not need to fret. For Scripture had already said through the mouth of Sarah that the slave woman and her son would be cast out (v. 30). And we in the new covenant are not slave-born, but freeborn (v. 31). You’re children of the freewoman so live free.
NO MORE SCHOOLMARM
Being a freeborn child of the new covenant means that you are no longer under a schoolmarm (Galatians 3:24-25). Say goodbye to all of the tsk-tsking and wrist-slapping. And if you’re response to this good news is to say, “Great, no more studying for me. Let me prepare my spit balls,” then know all of the freemen around you in this New Covenant classroom are chuckling to themselves saying, “This guy has no idea what the Spirit of holiness is about to do to him. He may not be ready for freedom. But freedom is coming for him and it is about to do a number on him.” If you think it hurt when the schoolmarm grabbed you by the ear, just wait until the Spirit does it.
ENLARGE YOUR TENTS
Sarah’s children have to join their free mother in enlarging their tents. The spirit of the Judaizers was an constricting one. The Galatians Christians couldn’t get into their little tent. They had put a few man-made hurdles in the way. In the face of this, Paul quotes Isaiah, and here it is with context:
“Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited” (Isaiah 54:1-3)
Peter got caught up with the Judaizing spirit when he pulled back and away from the Gentiles (Galatians 2:12). But the spirit of the new covenant says, “We’re going to need more space.” We both anticipate the Gentiles pouring in and our hearts are enlarged and wide open toward them. We care not what language you speak, what color you are. We care not what mess you have been tangled up in. Come sinners poor and needy, bruised and broken by the fall.
HEIRS, NO MERE SERVANTS
We happily say with Paul that we are servants of Christ (Romans 1:1). Yet this same Paul says that we are no longer a servant, but a son (Galatians 4:7). The slave woman’s son would not be heir, but the children of the freewoman would be (Galatians 4:30). An heir inherits. And what does an heir inherit? All that the Father determines to give. Our Father has not left us without a word on the matter: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?
BORN AFTER THE SPIRIT, NOT JUST THE FLESH
We are members of the new covenant. Like the Galatian Christians, we are born after the Spirit, not merely the flesh (v. 29). The Galatians made the foolish mistake of beginning by the Spirit and then trying to proceed by the flesh, and they heard Paul’s dismay (Galatians 3:3). So let us learn the lesson.
Put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3). You can’t get the job done by might or power. You are children of promise. You are children of gift. You are children of a barren woman, and an old one at that. We are supernaturally-wrought sons and daughters and members of a heavenly covenant and kingdom that is now at hand.
We must learn that sacred art of living in our flesh (for there is no other way for us to live) without living by our flesh. Plan by the Spirit. Confess sin by the Spirit. Make your resolutions by the Spirit. Provide for your families by the Spirit. Teach your children by the Spirit. Everything must be done by the work of the angels, by the wind that blows where it wills.
AND THIS THROUGH CHRIST
And you say, “But how do I get access to that power? I really do long for the Spirit to be poured out on my life. Where can I get more of this Living Water?” . . . Through Christ. He is the one in whom this new covenant—this Sarah covenant—is established. It was established in his blood, the blood of the new covenant. That blood-secured covenant is more solid than your fears.
You say, “But sometimes I feel like a slave.” The blood says you are free. “But sometimes I feel like a barren and lonely woman who wants to shrink her home.” The blood says enlarge your tent and enlarge your heart. You say, “I just don’t have the strength.” The blood that speaks a better word than that of Abel says, “Yes, yes, of course you don’t. You are born of the Spirit, and having begun by the Spirit, would you be now perfected by the flesh?” Of course you won’t. You will be perfected the same way all of the saints are, by the Spirit through Christ.
Christ has set you free. Christ will keep you free.