Sermon Notes | Subject to Christ

Paul continues his refutation of those within the Galatian community who sought to pull Christians back into subservience under the Law with today’s passage…

In the prior passage, addressed by Don Pahl, we see that Paul views the Galatian church, predominately made up of Gentiles, to be his rightful fellow brothers – heirs to God, heirs of the promises to Abraham. That these Gentiles were awoken by the presence of the Spirit and, at that moment, freed from the bondage of slavery. He continues this thought by refuting the Gentiles and their false teachers – wondering aloud within the text if he ‘labored in vain’ after they so quickly would abandon their zeal for Christ for a desire to live under the Law. He ends this thought with verses 19+20 which express his concern and frustration “My children, with whom I am in labor again until Christ is formed in you … I am perplexed about you.” (LSB – emphasis added).

Paul then, in today’s section of Galatians 4:21-31, seeks to address the church of Galatia in a different manner. Rather than explain his concerns and frustrations as has he has done up until this point, Paul uses allegory (a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one) to explain the story of Abraham and Sarah/Hagar in light of the relationship we are meant to have with God. 

To adequately understand this allegory it is important to have a good grasp of the narrative Paul is referencing. Abraham (Abram) was called by God to take up his family and venture into the wilderness toward a land that God would provide for them, ensuring Abraham that he would have descendants that outnumber the stars. After traveling for a season, Abraham called out to God through prayer and questioned why God had not provided for him an offspring/heir. God responded saying that He would provide Abraham and Sarah with a child in spite of their advanced years but would not elaborate further. 

Abraham and Sarah, whether through frustration, desperation, or ignorance, chose to take it upon themselves to create an offspring for Abraham. Sarah had Abraham impregnate, and take as his wife, Hagar (Sarah’s slave/servant). Hagar and Abraham had a son whom they would name Ishmael. However this was not God’s plan, Abraham and Sarah did this of their own abilities and through natural means – subverting God’s ability to act through supernatural means. God would then later confront Abraham and remind him that His promise would be held true – but not through Ishmael, through the son of Abraham and Sarah who would be named Isaac. 

After Isaac had ‘been weaned’ (so somewhere between 2-4 years old), we read that Ishmael – in some form or another – was verbally assaulting Isaac and laughing at him. This (understandably) created distress for Sarah who then begged Abraham to kick Hagar and Ishmael out of their camp and to send them into the wilderness. Abraham, seeking to appease without losing his firstborn son and second wife, sought God’s counsel. God, however, agreed with Sarah and reminded Abraham that Ishmael would not be the heir of Abraham’s lot. Ishmael would have his own path and future – but only Isaac was the child of promise.

For more on this narrative – see Genesis 16:1-4, 17:1-5, and 21:8-14.

Now, we return to Galatians 4:21-31. We see that Paul reminds the Galatians and their false teachers that Abraham had two sons – one with the slave woman (Hagar – Ishmael) and one with the free woman (Sarah – Ismael). He states that Ishmael was born of the flesh, through natural means and the effort of mankind, while Isaac was born of promise, through divine intervention. 

Now, Paul steps into allegory to suppose that Hagar and Sarah were representative of the Covenant of the Law and the Covenant of Christ. Of Hagar, Paul says that she bears her children into slavery for she herself lives in slavery. This slavery is a result of the Law poorly understood and lived. For if the Law and its commands had been understood properly they would see it as a pathway to relationship with God – not as a line in the sand for those who are allowed to talk to Him or attend the Temple gatherings. 

Now it is important in our attempt to understand Paul’s writing here not to villainize the Law, for it has done nothing wrong! The Law allowed Israel to come before the Throne of God and develop a relationship with Him in spite of their lack of a true and lasting payment for their sin nature. But we, who have a true payment in Christ, need to cling to Him – not the Law. We must be subservient to His Will for our lives, not simply try to live a ‘good’ life or simply try to do more good than bad. It isn’t about balancing the spiritual scales, it’s about living sacrificially for the One who purchased us from slavery. 

For more on this particular note: Galatians 3:21-24 and 4:4-7.

Of Sarah, Paul references Isaiah 54:1 (of which it is helpful to read through v.5) to extrapolate that Sarah is the mother of those who would have citizenship within the heavenly Jerusalem (also known as Heaven!). For those who would grow in relationship with God would be able to do so in the same manner as Isaac – through the promises of God freeing the broken of their enslavement to sin. Paul then concludes that there is no room in the heavenly Jerusalem for those who are not subject to Christ. 

To conclude this allegory, Paul reminds the readers of his original focus of the allegory by setting them on the right path with full diligence. He opens this section of scripture by asking why anyone would desire to be subject to the Law – and closes by making clear that we must be children of promise and be subject only to Christ. 

We can look at Galatians 5:1, the transition between this allegory and Paul’s next thought, as a good focus for the modern Christian. We are no longer slaves to anything but Christ – not to the Law, not to our past, not to our addictions, only to Christ. So with this freedom in mind, and the promise of citizenship in Heaven alongside our Creator – stand firm on the Word of God! Make it your dwelling place, lean on Him in times of trouble, develop the lifestyle that brings Him glory rather than seeking to appease yourself or others. Live in the freedom He provides and cultivate a heart that desires to use this freedom for His glory.

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