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May 16, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’ Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”—Galatians 4:28-31 (NIV)
As we’ve worked our way through Galatians 4, the apostle Paul has been referencing the Old Testament story of Sarah and Hagar to drive home an important point. He’s using the story of the birth of Isaac and Ishmael as a metaphor for two covenants that couldn’t be more different in nature.
Paul likens the birth of Ishmael from the slave woman, Hagar, to the old covenant law given to the Israelites. In contrast, he says Isaac was born as a son of promise and tells the Galatians they are children of the latter, not the former covenant. Why is this significant? Because the truth he desperately wants to communicate is that living under the law is akin to slavery, while true freedom belongs to those who have been born into God’s family and who live under the covenant of grace.
More importantly, Paul also tells us in today’s passage that the two cannot coexist peacefully. We need to get rid of legalism altogether because it has no part with grace. Bible commentator David Guzik puts it this way: “Law and grace cannot live together as principles for our Christian faith. Hagar and Sarah could not live together in the same house (Genesis 21:8-14). We could argue all day long whose fault it was, but that isn’t the point. The point is that God told Abraham to send Hagar away. So also, every Christian must send away the idea of relating to God on the principle of law, the principle of what we do for Him instead of what He has done for us in Jesus Christ.”
Ultimately, the reason we need to do away with legalism is because it is a form of slavery, and if you are a Christian, you’re no longer a slave! Jesus came to give us freedom (Galatians 5:1), and grace is the only path to it. Somebody once said, “The knowledge of good and evil never helped, saved, or transformed anyone. The law is the knowledge of good and evil. It is holy, just, and good, but it doesn’t give you the power to do the good and break out of the evil. Only the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness through Christ can give you the power to do the good you want to do and break free of the evil you don’t want to practice.”
DIG: Do you tend to live according to the letter of God’s law rather than His grace? What has been the fruit of your experience in doing so?
DISCOVER: Why do you think Paul used the birth of Isaac and Ishmael to make his point? How do you think this applies to you today?
DO: If you (like me) tend to fall into the trap of legalism, spend some time re-reading chapter 4 of Galatians and ask God to give you a fresh perspective on your identity as a son or daughter of promise. Then rest in the freedom Jesus came to offer you as His child!
Rob Nieminen is a seasoned writer and editor who has written devotionals for Calvary since 2015. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL. He serves in the Worship Ministry at Calvary Boynton Beach and is an avid reader, an erratic golfer, and an aspiring photographer who loves to cook and spend time with his family.