Galatians 4:21-5:1

We receive many blessings from our parents—hopefully, more than any curses they may pass along. Their cooperation makes our birth possible. If it were not for the demonstration of love by a man and woman, we would not be here.

In the ideal home, parents supply every need of their children. They provide food, clothes, and a place to stay. They send them to school where they receive an education. They even provide much more than the necessities of life. Some grow up in homes with well-to-do parents who can give them a great deal. Others don’t have as much.

Hopefully, children experience love from their parents. We inherit traits from our parents. Our personality is probably similar to theirs. Parents should be there for their children during life struggles. Many parents save for their children’s college education—or pay for it. Children usually inherit things from their parents when they die. Things they worked and saved most of their life for.

In like manner, there are some wonderful results that come from being a child of God—or a spiritual child of Isaac, according to the allegory Paul uses in these verses. In these verses, he reaches back into the Old Testament and uses a story to give an analogy. It is not an allegory in the sense that there is some hidden meaning in the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, and Ishmael. Rather, he speaks figuratively.

The reason Paul uses this story for his analogy is to further enforce his teaching that salvation is by the grace of God, not our works. He warns the Jewish Christians to look closely at the law they were placing their faith in for salvation.

WE CAN EXPECT GOD’S GUIDANCE

Paul tells the story of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael. Ishmael was born as a result of a plan by Abraham and Sarah to hurry up what God seemed to be taking too long to do. Hagar was Sarah’s Egyptian slave. Ishmael was not the son of promise. He was the son of the flesh. Isaac was the son of promise whom God promised to Abraham and Sarah.

After using the story as an analogy, Paul explains how the heritage of the line through one mother, Hagar, is spiritual lostness, while the heritage through the other mother, Sarah, is salvation and freedom.

God had called Abraham to leave his homeland and go to a land far away. A land he had never seen. In that land, God would make him and his descendants great. God promised a son to Abraham through whom these descendants would come. Many years passed, however, and the son was not born. Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands.

Before we judge Sarah for her over anxiousness, remember the many times when we have run ahead of God. Abraham was 86 years old and Sarah was 76. They were long past the time of bearing children. Abraham feared his chief servant, Eliezer of Damascus, would be his heir. Abraham cried out to God expressing his fear. God assured him that Eliezer was not his heir. One from his own body would be that heir.

Several years passed, and Sarah still did not conceive. To help God along, she persuaded Abraham to take her servant, Hagar, as his wife and bear children through her. This was perfectly acceptable according to the custom of the day. If a woman could not bear children, she could have her servant have them for her through using her husband. The children after birth were considered hers.

Abraham followed Sarah’s bad advice and married Hagar. She soon conceived and bore a son whom they named Ishmael. His birth, however, was according to the flesh, not a promise. God promised Abraham a son, but it would not come this way. Sarah was to have the son of promise, but their current situation wasn’t in God’s plan. Finally, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, she conceived and bore a son. They named him Isaac, and he was the son of God’s promise.

As a spiritual child of God, we have the privilege of having his guidance. Abraham was not unique. God dealt with him no differently than he deals with us. We may not have the same type of experiences, but God will guide our life if we allow him. So often we make the same mistake Sarah and Abraham did. We run ahead of God, feeling we know what is best and when the best time is for God to work. When we do this, we commit the same error Sarah made and pay the price for our anxiousness as she did.

We must be patient as we wait for God to work out his plan in our life. It may seem as if he takes a long time to answer a prayer or to do something else we have asked, but we must depend on his wisdom and not our own ingenuity. He guides us through prayer, his Word, his Spirit, others, and his church. God’s children have his guidance if we will only search for it.

WE CAN EXPECT PERSECUTION FOR OUR FAITH

Isaac represented the child of faith, for it was the faith of Sarah and Abraham that trusted God to fulfill his promise. When we read the story of how Sarah reacted when she heard that she would bear a son in her old age, we may not think she had much faith, but the writer of Hebrews saw it differently. He said; “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised” (11:11).

This did not happen until after she and Abraham tried on their own. Abraham had already married Sarah’s servant and had Ishmael. After Hagar bore this child, she hated Sarah. In Paul’s analogy, Isaac represented what is spiritual and Ishmael what is not. Sarah appealed to Abraham for help. He told her to do as she pleased with Hagar, and Sarah sent her away to die. If not for God’s help, Ishmael and perhaps Hagar would have perished.

Later, when Abraham held a feast to celebrate Isaac’s weaning, Ishmael mocked him. Not only did Sarah receive persecution but so did Isaac. Sarah saw this and told Abraham to send Hagar away. Though Abraham did not agree with the decision, he sent Hagar and Ishmael away.

In Paul’s analogy both of them represent the spiritual being assaulted by the unspiritual. And history has revealed the discord between the descendants of these two boys: the Jews and the Arabs.

Keeping with the analogy, the descendants of Ishmael, representing the ungodly, will persecute the descendants of Isaac, representing godly. The Galatians were perfect proof of the truth of  Paul’s analogy. They were persecuting those who accepted Paul’s message of salvation through the grace of God. They were telling them they needed to add their good works to the salvation process. Paul was saying that would never work. The analogy is a picture of unbelievers persecuting believers.

Jesus himself faced persecution at the hands of those who claimed to be the most religious people of the day but who were, for the most part, unbelievers. He said to those who boasted of being Abraham’s children, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do” (John 8:39).

The pages of church history and the Bible are filled with believers who suffered for their faith. Jesus said people would hate us even as they did him, but we do not do what we do to gain approval from people but from God. The early disciples rejoiced when persecuted for their faith. They did not have a martyr complex, but they went about doing what Jesus commanded and naturally suffered for it. When we are on mission for God, we can expect persecution of some sort. People may simply ridicule or shun us, but the persecution will come.

WE HAVE AN INHERITANCE WAITING

All that we face on earth will be worth it when we receive our heavenly inheritance. Sarah told Abraham to cast out her servant for her son would not be an heir with Ishmael. Isaac would be the heir.

Keeping with the analogy, this means unbelievers will not inherit what believers will. The persecutors may and will persecute now, but the day is coming when they will be thrown out. The persecuted will receive the inheritance of our Father in heaven. No one outside God’s covenant of grace will receive anything from him but his absence and his punishment.

In his illustration of the sheep and goats representing the judgment at the end of time, Jesus said of the goats placed on his left hand who represented unbelievers, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

Believers are joint heirs with Jesus Christ and heirs of God. All our heavenly Father has, which is everything, is ours because of our relationship with his son. Everything Jesus inherits, we will inherit also. Our inheritance certainly makes it a blessing to be a spiritual child of God.

WE HAVE THE POWER TO LIVE FAITHFULLY FOR GOD

Not only do we have the power to live for God faithfully, but it is our responsibility. Paul reminds us that it was for freedom that Christ set us free. With that in mind, he warns us to stand firm in our freedom and not subject ourselves to the yoke of slavery again. The yoke of slavery is our efforts to earn our salvation, just as many of the Galatians were now trying to do.

Christ sets us free from the guilt that comes from trying in our own strength to obey him and yet failing. He saves us from that and then we can live the life of faith through his strength and not our own. In speaking to the Romans, Paul wrote; “That though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness . . . so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Romans 6:17).

When Paul tells us to stand firm in the faith, it carries the idea that we are to continue standing in the faith. The animal that receives freedom from the harness or yoke binding them certainly does not enjoy being bound again. Neither should the Christian want to once again hook up to what never worked in the first place: trying to earn our salvation.

Being a child of the King of Kings is a wonderful privilege. Because of our position, we receive his guidance, we experience persecution, we receive an inheritance, and we have the strength to live faithfully for him.