Two Paths

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons . . .”—Galatians 4:21-22a (NKJV) 

False teachings about the Jewish Law’s place in the Christian life were spreading fast among the Galatian believers. Left unchecked, the truth and transforming power of the gospel would be totally neutered. So Paul launches an attack on this misplaced emphasis on the law by enlisting Abraham to illustrate the law’s limitations and faith’s place in God’s purposes. The apostle points out that Abraham had two sons: “The one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise” (Galatians 4:22b-23 NKJV).

A little history lesson here: From the Book of Genesis, we know Paul is referring to Ishmael and Isaac. Both were sons of Abraham, but there’s an important contrast between them Paul wants us to know. Ishmael was born through Abraham’s union with Hagar, who was a bondwoman (or servant) in Abraham’s camp. 

If you go back and read Genesis chapter sixteen, you’ll find that this pregnancy was the result of compromise. God had promised Abraham he would have a son, even though he and his wife, Sarah, had been never been able to conceive. Sarah took matters into her own hands and suggested Abraham impregnate Hagar. It was a natural move, one that didn’t require any trust in God’s promise, and Ishmael’s existence represented this.

The other son, Isaac, was conceived under completely different circumstances. He was the son God had promised to Abraham and Sarah despite their barrenness. Isaac was the son whose existence seemed impossible in the eyes of man, but who was born according to the promise of God. Isaac’s existence represented God’s faithfulness and power to deliver on His promises—promises that must be received and realized through faith, not natural effort.

Paul is eventually going to bring this illustration full circle, but for now we need to understand there are two possible paths in life. There’s the path that results in Ishmael, where we don’t really put our trust in God, we take matters into our own hands, and we try to live life by our own strength and efforts. But then there’s the path of Isaac, which rests and relies on God to fulfill His promises, however impossible they may seem. 

May we recognize this difference in our daily decisions and choose the path of Isaac by trusting the Lord to do what He’s promised and what only He can do.

DIG: Why does Paul point to Abraham’s life here in Galatians?

DISCOVER: What does each son of Abraham represent?

DO: What two possible paths are open to us in life and why is one preferable to another? In light of this, think hard about which path you’re truly on. Are you on the path of Isaac or Ishmael? 

About the Author

Pastor Dan Hickling

Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.