Galatians 4:21-31, “Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 The son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is figuratively speaking, for these women are two covenants: one from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves.”
25 “Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27 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.”
“28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 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. 30 “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.’ 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.”
We have been studying the apostle Paul who went through the region of Galatia and preached the gospel; and people who were converted to Christ. There were churches established and they were flourishing. The people had been forgiven and they received eternal life. They possessed the Holy Spirit which transformed their hearts. And they were enjoying the fruit of the Spirit.
Until some Jews came from Jerusalem, who said that they believed also in Jesus as the Messiah. However, they said to these Gentiles, “It is not enough for you that you have been saved by faith alone. In order to be truly saved, you must keep the law of Moses. And they were not talking about the moral law; they were talking about the ceremonial, civil ordinances, such as circumcision, and the feasts.
But these false teachers are wrong, because these Gentile believers lacked nothing. When Christ came the law was not valid anymore. Now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but all are one in Christ. Now we go from shadows to substance. From an elementary school we graduate into the school of discipleship with Christ. From bondage of those old Mosaic laws to freedom in Christ.
Gospel salvation comes by the grace of God through faith alone in Christ apart from works. But some Galatians accepted false teachings. So in Galatians 3:1, Paul says, “You foolish Galatians, you have become bewitched.” So he writes this letter to defend the true gospel. He says, “The true gospel I received from Christ Himself.” Then he says in Galatians 3:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
Here Paul is giving us an illustration. It’s about Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac. And it’s about Mount Sinai in Arabia, and the present Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem that is in heaven. And it’s also about two covenants. But all of that is history, and in that history is truth being revealed. This is just a powerful historical illustration. So with that understanding, let’s look at verse 21.
Paul says, “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?” He is talking to the Judaizers and in addition to that also to the Galatian believers who had been misled as they are now going back under the Mosaic Law. They are going to go back to circumcision, back to all the ordinances, and to the months and the days, and all of those external things.
Don’t you realize that the external law, which identified Israel as the unique people of God, is gone? Peter was told, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat,” no more dietary laws. Paul said in Colossians 2:16-17, “Let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” These are Gentiles who weren’t raised on the law.
Do you really understand what the law says? Galatians 3:10, “As many as are of the works of the law are under a curse.” Now remember Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law.’” In verse 12: “He who practices the law shall live by them.” But the fact is that no one can keep the law perfectly, except Jesus.
Now the only Bible Paul ever preached from was the Old Testament. Since the New Testament was in the process of being written. That is why in Galatians 3, he talked about justification by faith, and he obtained the proof from the Old Testament. So these Gentile people have been educated about the Old Testament; and now he can then tell the story again and use it as an illustration.
As a believer, we describe our Christian life not by our relation to the law, but we describe our Christian life by our relation to Christ, right? We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. And we continue to obey the moral law, because that is a reflection of the nature of God. And we obey out of love, not out of fear. There’s no need to go back to living the way Old Testament Jews lived, that’s all in the past.
Now, Paul’s going to illustrate this in a powerful way from the life of Abraham. So Paul says. “The law will just put you under bondage again. Not necessary.” And here’s the illustration. “22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 The son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.”
The Judiazers boasted that they were the children of Abraham, which made them the unique people of God. But Paul says, just because you’re Jewish and Abraham is your ancestor, those things do not automatically save you. In Galatians 3:7 Paul says, “Only those people who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” Verse 14, “the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
Further Galatians 3:29 says, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” And Romans 9:6 says, “Not all Israel is Israel. Not every Jew is a true Jew inwardly.” Jews would say, “Abraham is our father.” But Jesus said in John 8:44, “No, your father is not Abraham, your father is the devil, who does not stand for the truth.”
Here God illustrates historically these two covenants that separate works from faith. Abraham had two sons: Ishmael first and Isaac second. One was by the bondwoman, her name was Hagar; and the other son by the free woman, his wife Sarah. The son by the bondwoman Hagar, named Ishmael, was born according to the flesh. But the son of Sarah, the free woman was Isaac, born through the promise.
Works righteousness is trying to achieve God’s will in sinful self-effort by works. On the other hand, Isaac is the result of God’s power, a supernatural miracle to give life to fulfill His promise, and all Abraham had to do was believe. Human effort, works, self-righteousness, legalism and the flesh produces only slavery. You start out a slave to a false religion, and you just extend your slavery.
On the other hand, faith in God’s promise, faith that God will do what He says by His own power produces freedom. Hagar and Sarah are like two covenants, “one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar, Sarah’s maid. And this Hagar is like Mount Sinai in Arabia where God gave the Law and is now in Jerusalem,” meaning she is like the old covenant.
The two different mothers produce different sons. The bondwoman, the female slave named Hagar gives birth by Abraham to Ishmael who is a slave, and all his family are slaves spiritually and they are the Arabian people. The free woman Sarah, his wife, gives birth by Abraham to Isaac who is free. And his children are the Jews. They are born in different ways, not biologically but supernaturally.
Now here is the historic illustration. Ishmael was born to Hagar, the maid of Sarah. Ishmael is an illustration of the flesh. The promise was clear: God is going to give Abraham a son. It’s going to have to be supernatural. But they don’t want to wait on God, they want to do it their own way; so the flesh rejects the promise from God and tries to have a child by its own power over what God plans and gives.
So Ishmael is the child of flesh, but Isaac is the child of promise. By the time he’s born Abraham is 100 years old, and Sarah is 90, so they are too old. But God supernaturally creates that child in her womb. Ishmael was born according to the flesh; they did it on their terms the fleshy way. Isaac is born through the promise of God. Ishmael is born naturally, but Isaac is born supernaturally.
These two sons are illustrations of spiritual truth. Ishmael is a son born in the flesh in a sinful way, as if they could fulfill the will of God on their own sinful terms. Ishmael is an illustration of those who want to obtain salvation by their works. And Ishmael was born to a slave, and produced a whole lineage of slaves. Accomplishing what God wants by your own flesh ends up being in bondage to sin and judgment.
This is the divine interpretation. Ishmael and Isaac were born of two mothers: Hagar and Sarah. They represent two covenants: the old and the new. And we see two Jerusalems; the Jerusalem that is now on earth and the Jerusalem that is above. Hagar represents law and bondage and death. Sarah represents grace, faith and freedom. It’s not whether you’re of Abraham, your father; it’s who your mother is spiritually speaking.
“The Jerusalem of today,” Paul says, from which these Judiazers have come with their legalistic Pharisaic system, is connected to Sinai, which is connected to Ishmael and Hagar. The Jews prided themselves on being the sons of Abraham through Isaac. But Paul says, “That may be true physically, but spiritually you are the children of Ishmael. And the present Jerusalem is connected to Sinai.”
Mt. Sinai is in Arabia, which is a desert and not the Promised Land. So Sinai, Ishmael and Jerusalem today are all in the same line of producing slavery and bondage. And a sinner who seeks salvation by the law is on this legalistic treadmill his whole life. But the New Covenant through Jesus is freedom. John 3:3 says, “You must be born from above.” The spiritual Jerusalem is the Jerusalem above.
Galatians 4:26 says, “But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.” Free from the bondage of the law, free from all the ordinances that were prescribed on Israel in the past. Now you’re attached to heaven. Verse 27, “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.”
This passage is from Isaiah 54:1. That was a promise to Israel, who had been taken captive in Babylon that they would be released and would return to the Promised Land. And when they got back to their land, the women began to flourish, and the nation of Israel began to reproduce and grow. God said that to the exiles in Babylon, and He fulfilled it. God said that to Sarah, and He fulfilled it by His power.
Final point, personal exhortation. We saw the historical illustration, the divine interpretation and now the personal exhortation. Verse 28, “And you, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.” We have been born spiritually by a miracle. We have been saved by sovereign grace. Not by any work that we did; we didn’t work it out our own way like Sarah instructed Abraham to do with Hagar.
Every act has its consequences. Verse 29, “But as at that time he (Ishmael) who was born according to the flesh persecuted him (Isaac) who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” Hagar hated Sarah and Isaac. Then in Genesis 21:8 and 9, we see Ishmael hating Isaac. Ishmael thought for years that he was going to be the heir to the fortune. But then along comes the true heir, and he is out.
The sons of Hagar, Sinai, the works, the flesh and false religion are always the persecutors of the truth. They will continue to persecute the children of Isaac and Sarah, the children of promise. The greatest persecutor of the true church is false religion, Satan’s system of works. But Paul says, “All who live godly in this present age will suffer persecution.”
“And what does the Scripture say?” Verse 30, “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.’” This is a message from God. There is a spiritual war going on. We cannot become one with people under bondage. And we see that now more and more in our country and the rest of the world. Satan is clever, bondage teaching starts in schools and then grows in society.
What comes out of the human heart? What comes out of the flesh? Idolatry. It twists and perverts one’s relationship to the true God. This encompasses any kind of false religion or any other idol that you might invent in your life, whether it’s a material idol, whether it’s some kind of achievement, or some kind of object. Let’s follow only what God says for He alone is worth following, Amen? Let us pray.