In this next section ‘’Hagar’’ represents the Old Testament law, and Sarah stands for the new covenant of grace. The challenge for the Galatians lay in this: would they return to slavery, trying to be made right with God through works of the law; or would they maintain the freedom of trusting in Jesus alone for salvation? Would they substitute human effort for faith? There are at least two key ideas here
- Promise (23, 28): We might say that Abraham ‘worked’ for the son he had with Hagar, ‘’the slave woman’’. Ishmael was born because of human reasoning and effort. ‘’The son of the slave woman was born by human connivance…’’ The Message. On the other hand, Abraham ‘believed’ for the son he had with Sarah. It was biologically impossible for him and Sarah to have a child, but he believed God’s promise that they would, and they did! (Romans 4:18-25). A son was conceived and born ‘’by the power of the Spirit’’ (29). Christians are Abraham’s true children because they also believe God’s promise that they will have a right standing with God if they put their trust in Jesus. Through faith in Him the impossible happens: we are forgiven our sins and made right with our Maker. So ‘’like Isaac’’ we ‘’are children of promise’’ (28). We can try to get saved and fail, or trust for salvation and enter into it. Hagar (and Abraham) represent trying; Sarah (and Abraham) represent trusting. Paul saw clearly that to go back from trusting to trying was a return to religious slavery. That really should not be seen as a viable option for anyone in Christ (30). We want to put distance between ourselves and any form of slavery (30; see 5:1; Genesis 21:10, 12-14). As Abraham ‘got rid’ of Hagar, Paul says the Galatians should rid themselves of the Jewish false teachers (and their teaching) who were wanting to take them back to the law and bondage.
- Persecution (29): The persecution of Isaac by Ishmael was a foreshadowing of the difficulties (in Paul’s day) created for true believers by the Judaizers (those with a message of ‘works righteousness’.) Paul taught ‘believe and you will receive’. Salvation is by faith in God’s promise. But his opponents taught the need for human effort for salvation. Faith alone was not enough. It had to be supplemented with certain good deeds, such as circumcision. So the Christians were experiencing this painful antagonism: ‘’Isn’t it clear that the harassment you are now experiencing from the Jerusalem heretics follows that old pattern? The Message.
‘’God’s promise – that is, His word – is powerful. It is a living word. It gives life. Through God’s word Sarah gave birth to a child, Isaac, even though she was ninety years old! In the same way, through God’s word of grace, THE Galatians have been born by the power of the Spirit (verse 29). They too are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, the true offspring of Abraham, not by natural descent but by the grace of God. Why should the Galatians now turn back and seek to live like children of Hagar the slave woman?…Let us not throw away the grace of God by putting our faith in the works of any law or any religion. Let our faith be in Christ, and in Christ alone.’’ Tom Hale: ‘The applied New Testament Commentary, p. 715. ‘’…to live by grace, through faith, gives one a free and fulfilling Christian life…you and I need to beware lest Ishmael and Hagar have crept back into our lives. If they have-let us cast them out.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘The Wiesbe Bible Commentary’ (NT), p.570.
Prayer: Thank you Lord that our salvation does not depend on works. We could never know if we had done enough good works. I am so grateful for the freedom that simple trust in Jesus brings.