BONDAGE VERSES FREEDOM

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What a curious phenomenon it is that you can get men to die for the liberty of the world who will not make the little sacrifice that is needed to free themselves from their own individual bondage.

Bruce Barton
Galatians 4:21-31

The Message (MSG)

21-31 Tell me now, you who have become so enamored with the law: Have you paid close attention to that law? Abraham, remember, had two sons: one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. The son of the slave woman was born by human connivance; the son of the free woman was born by God’s promise. This illustrates the very thing we are dealing with now. The two births represent two ways of being in relationship with God. One is from Mount Sinai in Arabia. It corresponds with what is now going on in Jerusalem—a slave life, producing slaves as offspring. This is the way of Hagar. In contrast to that, there is an invisible Jerusalem, a free Jerusalem, and she is our mother—this is the way of Sarah. Remember what Isaiah wrote:

Rejoice, barren woman who bears no children,
shout and cry out, woman who has no birth pangs,
Because the children of the barren woman
now surpass the children of the chosen woman.

Isn’t it clear, friends, that you, like Isaac, are children of promise? In the days of Hagar and Sarah, the child who came from faithless connivance (Ishmael) harassed the child who came—empowered by the Spirit—from the faithful promise (Isaac). Isn’t it clear that the harassment you are now experiencing from the Jerusalem heretics follows that old pattern? There is a Scripture that tells us what to do: “Expel the slave mother with her son, for the slave son will not inherit with the free son.” Isn’t that conclusive? We are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

How you interpret the facts is important. A worldly young Southern Baptist went to the racetrack for the very first time. He saw a priest in the paddock give a horse a blessing. The boy took the horse’s number, placed a small bet and sure enough the horse won.

For the next several races, the boy went to the paddock, saw the priest bless a horse, placed a bet and won. On the last race of the day he repeated the routine and bet all his winnings on the anointed horse.

Rounding the final turn the horse had a sizable lead, but then he suddenly dropped dead. The young man sought out the priest to complain.

“That’s the trouble with you Baptists,” said the priest. “You don’t know the difference between a simple blessing and the last rites.”

Events aren’t always what they seem on the surface. Some events in life can only be understood if the Holy Spirit explains them to us. Such is the case with Paul’s disclosure here.

The proposition that only those who by a true and living faith accept God’s promise are children of God is given its last defense with an appeal to Scripture interpretation. It is an appeal to Scripture to again prove that Christians are not under the law. He takes the familiar story of Ishmael and Isaac (Gen. 16-21) and draws from it basic truths about the Christian’s relationship to the law.

Paul uses the slave woman Hagar and her son to show that adherence to the law is slavery. The free woman Sarah and her son of promise stands for faith and freedom. The law is bondage and spiritual slavery but faith in the promise is freedom and spiritual fulfillment (CIT).

I. THE TWO SONS OF ABRAHAM, 21-23.
II. THE INTERPRETATION, 24-29.
III. THE PRACTICAL APPLICATION, 30-31.

People are saved and sanctified because of their faith in Christ, not because of what they do. Verse 21 begins a contrast between those who are enslaved by law and those who are free from law. Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?

The legalistic Jews continuously promoted the indispensable necessity of keeping the law. If they had truly listened to the law they would know that it contradicted their beliefs. The word law here is without the definite article referring to a legalistic following of the Torah or Pentateuch. The lively word listen or hear carries the idea of understanding what is heard. The challenge is that if they really hear the law, meaning correctly understand and respond to it, they would not want to be under it.

Verse 22 summaries part of the story of Abraham. For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.

The Jews were always boasting about being descendants of Abraham as if that relationship granted salvation. Yet those who prided themselves on their descent from Abraham forgot that he had two sons. Ishmael by Hagar and Isaac by Sarah. If physical decent from Abraham is so all–important then Jews are no better than the Ishmaelites or Arabs. Yet there is a difference, not just of mothers, but of a contrast in relationships. One was a wife and a free woman, the other a slave and a bondwoman.

A further contrast of the manner of each son’s birth is in verse 23. But the son of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son of the free woman through the promise.

Ishmael was the product of his parents’ physical power of procreation therefore he was flesh-born. He was born by the fleshly nature of Abraham and Hagar (Rom. 9:7-9). Ishmael’s birth was the result not only of a physical act but of a sinful act caused by doubting the promises of God (Gen. 16: 1-4). Ishmael thus represents all who place their hope of salvation in what they are able to accomplish, or their own works.

Isaac was the child of faith. He was the child of promise born because of a miraculous intervention on the part of God which enabled the dead seed of 99 years old Abraham and his barren wife Sarah to conceive (Rom. 4:19; Heb.11:11f). Isaac was born as a result of the promise, born by the Spirit’s enabling. The conclusion is that Isaac is a symbol of all the Spirit-born.

II. THE INTERPRETATION (24-29).

The allegory here of Ishmael and Isaac (Gen. 16:15; 21:3, 9) expresses truth embedded in the simple facts of the case in order to inform the legalists that they were related to Hagar, Sinai, and the law and did not have the authority or blessing of God.

A new understanding from the old story begins in verse 24. 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.

This story that actually took place was designed by God to convey a meaning additional to the strictly literal. An allegory ( – from allo, “another” and agorevo, “to speak” – to speak another meaning) is a narrative which has a deeper meaning behind it. In an allegory like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress persons and actions represent hidden meanings giving the passage a symbolic as well as literal meaning.

These two women represent two covenants, one of law and one of grace. Paul begins with the covenant given at Mount Sinai which was one of law. This covenant places all who try and obtain their salvation through it in bondage and under heavy burdens. “The law, even when kept to the best of a person’s ability, is nothing but a prison, a death row cell where one waits for eternal execution”— John MacArthur.

Why isn’t law keeping enough? We were not made to know and love laws. We were made to know and love God. A mother and a father do not gain a sense of parental fulfillment because their infant doesn’t climb over the side of his play pen. What they long for is a smile, a giggle of recognition, and a hug of affection. As that baby grows, obedience to household rules is not a fitting replacement for a warm relationship with his mom or dad. Taking out the garbage or cleaning up a room is no substitute for the words “I love you.” So too, what God wants from us is not mechanical adherence to certain regulations, no matter how noble. He wants us, He longs for our love and our loyalty.

Hagar, who represents fleshly birth and the covenant of law, also represents the earthly Jerusalem in verse 25. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
Both Hagar and Mount Sinai can produce nothing but slaves. In line with Hagar and Mount Sinai is the present day earthly Jerusalem and her children, the third element of the comparison. Jerusalem, the center of legalistic religion and the place of fulfilling Sinai’s law, is a place of enslavement for her children, for they imagine that by stringent obedience to this legal code – with emphasis on its ceremonial regulations and man made additions– they can achieve entrance into heaven.

They failed to see that the cross of Christ signaled the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new. They failed to believe that God accepted them solely on the basis of faith, not because they kept rules and regulations. They were bound to earth and the earthly and had rejected the heavenly and spiritual.

The place of realized redemption for the God’s born again children is connected to the new Jerusalem in verse 26. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

The heavenly Jerusalem is the mother of all the children of grace. This new Jerusalem which one day will descend to be the eternal city of glorified believers (Rev. 21:2) is now the “city of the Living God” (Heb. 12:22). The Jerusalem above symbolically is the mother of God’s children. Heaven is the church’s mother for it was heaven that gave birth to her children.

This Jerusalem is free (Jn. 8:36). She has been delivered from every form of bondage and enjoys perfect peace in the presence of her Lord. She is the mother, both of the Jews and the Gentiles who have placed faith in God’s promise. Legalistic Jews are really brothers with the Ishmaelites. Those born from above are true Israelites (Rom. 9:6-7; 1 Pet. 2:1-10).

Verse 27 teaches that the children of the barren woman will be fruitful. For it is written, “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 OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.”

To support his point Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1. It originally prophesied the changing fortunes of Israel and pictured spiritual restoration and growth after the Babylonia captivity. Paul seems to be applying this passage to Sarah who though previously barren was later blessed with a child who ultimately would have numerous children.

Spiritual barrenness for those under the old covenant was the norm. For they married themselves to the law instead of to God. Under the new covenant spiritual fruitfulness is the norm for the children of promise.

Verse 28 begins the teaching on the outcome of believing in God’s promise and living out God’s promis. And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.

Here again Paul affectionately addresses them as brothers. They like Isaac, by virtue of the promise realized in him, are children of promise. They are Abraham’s legitimate sons, the true heirs. As children of the promise, they should live in light of the promise and not the law.

Verse 29 points out another similarity between us and Abraham’s two sons. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.

On the occasion of Isaac’s weaning at three years of age, Ishmael mocked or mistreated Isaac (Gen. 21:10). Because of the in-fighting Hagar and Ishmael promoted, Sarah demanded that Abraham cast out Hagar and her son.

The persecution that existed in Abraham’s household is like the persecution of those in bondage to sin bring upon those free from sin even now. Paul and other Spirit-filled believers had experienced its bit and venom.

The persecution of the descendants of Ishmaelites and the Jews is still fierce. Just as the persecution of legalists against the Spirit-filled still is fierce today.

III. THE PRACTICAL APPLICATION, 30-31.

God rejects legalism as verse 30 indicates. 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.”
Sarah gave the order and God approved of it (Gen.21:10, 12). Ishmael had stayed in the home for at least 17 years and it might appear his stay was permanent, but he eventually had to be cast out. The two pairs could not remain together and no reconciliation was possible.

Law and grace cannot be mixed. The bondwoman and her son have no inheritance with the son of the free woman. A religion based on works is incompatible with one based on faith.

Verse 31 confirms the true heirs of heaven. So then, brother, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
In closing, Paul affirmed that he and the Galatian believers were not children of the slave woman who was driven away and denied a share in the inheritance. Rather they are believers and children of the free woman, “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

In Alex Haley’s epic book ROOTS Kizzy Kinte didn’t have a chance. She [was the daughter of Kunta Kinte &] wanted to slip the bonds of slavery and live free, as her ancestors had done in Africa. But she couldn’t. She was born of a slave-woman, Bell Kinte, and in those terrible days of bondage, she was destined to live as a slave. Kizzy’s parentage, over which she had no control, dictated her destiny.

Paul used an analogy of an Old Testament story to help us understand bondage and freedom. Alluding to the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, Paul explained the difference between the child of a bondwoman and the child of a freewoman. Only the child of the freewoman could enjoy an inheritance; the other was destined to bondage.
Here’s the point: each of us-male or female, Jew or Gentile, black or white, rich or poor-can share in God’s inheritance.

All who trust in Jesus as Savior become children of the free woman. We are released from the bondage of the law of God and offered God’s grace instead. And our inheritance is freedom in Christ (Jn. 8:31-44).
Has God’s grace made you free?
Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee. -Sleeper

The law has its place in God’s plan. It is not the goal to put a road sign that tells us we have failed and need Jesus. We should not be chained to this warning sign, nor should we try to chain others to it. We should attach our life to the life of Christ instead.

It was Abraham’s faith in God’s promise that made him right with God. By works of law no one can be right with God and the law lacks power to transform anyone.

The man who makes law the principle of his life makes himself a slave attempting to satisfy this task master. The one who surrenders his self reliance to the grace of God is born from above. Only those born of the Spirit are sons of God and only sons receive an inheritance in God. This present inheritance is demonstrated in a love for God that has a constraining and freeing power that those who adhere to the law cannot know.

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