Galatians 4:28-31 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
When Paul writes that we are children of promise he is referring to the household conflict in Abraham’s family. He is looking back to the birth of Ishmael and that of Isaac. Ishmael, whose mother is Hagar Abraham’s slave, represents slavery and law. On the other hand, Isaac, the son of Sarah Abraham’s barren wife, represents freedom and grace. God gave Abraham the promise that he would be a blessing to all mankind. In that promise, God was speaking of His Son, our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ! We are children of promise, not slavery.
Paul began his debate with the Galatian Christians by asking a question because…
The Galatians were turning back to the law. Let’s go back to Galatians 3:2-3. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
The experience of the Galatians agreed with Paul’s teachings. He wanted them to understand that there is no middle ground between law and faith. They had become conscious of the presence of God in their life by God’s grace through faith! Just as it has always been from the very beginning. Long before there was any kind of law men were simply required to believe God and it would be credited to them as righteousness. They had begun by the Spirit and now they were turning back to human traditions that did not serve the purpose of providing them with salvation.
They had been taught better. Let’s move ahead to Galatians 3:10-11. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Everyone who relied on works was under a curse. Indeed, since the law given by Moses at God’s command makes those under it subject to a curse, how much more will the laws and traditions of man fail to produce salvation? If we want to avoid the curse we must claim Abraham’s faith. It has always been so, and always will. We can only receive this blessing in Christ Jesus. The blessing was given to Abraham over 400 years before the law was given. We are justified by faith now, just as Abraham was justified by faith then. We see Paul developing this teaching that…
The promise was given to Abraham before the law. Let’s move forward to Galatians 3:17-18. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
The covenant that God entered into with Abraham is the basis of all salvation throughout history. Paul wants us to understand that the covenant with Abraham was confirmed by God himself. We will talk more about the purpose of the law in a few minutes. If the law could save us God would have given it before the promise or, at least, at the same time. When Paul writes “430 years” he is talking about the written law. He simply wanted to be clear that faith came long before regulations. The promise of God leads us from God’s wrath to God’s grace — from sin to righteousness and from death to life! The promise comes from heaven — God’s throne! The law comes from the earth and the failures of man. God gave the promise before Abraham was born long before there was any law. How did the promise come to Abraham?
The promise came to Abraham by faith. Let’s look at Romans 4:1-3. What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Before he was given the name “Abraham”, Abram lived in Ur near the outlet of the Euphrates River. He did not have a line of Bible. In fact, we are told that Abram’s ancestors, I assume that includes Terah, served other gods. How did Abram turn from the false gods to the living creator of the universe? We have a record of that very moment in Abram’s life! It is found in the 12th chapter of Genesis. The Lord said, “Go”, and Abram went. He was 75 years old when he received the promise. In obedience to God Abram moves through the land of Canaan with his family and possessions. Whenever God spoke to him he set up an altar and worshiped. This time God promised what Abram could not yet see. So, what was the purpose of the law?
The law was a guardian or schoolmaster. Let’s go back to Galatians 3:24-26. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
The law was put in charge with a single primary purpose — to lead us to Christ!
I remember a picture of an ancient vase which had a scene portrayed on it. The picture showed a teacher standing in front of a couple of students obviously teaching them. As the teacher taught there was a man sitting behind the students and he had in his hand a long stick with a knot on the end of it. Presumably, if the student nodded off, or was not appropriately attentive, the man in the background would thump him. That is the very purpose of the law. It is not there simply to cause pain but instead to focus attention! The rules and regulations of man drive us to the conclusion that it is impossible to keep those traditions.
God, working through Paul the apostle, wants us to understand that human traditions — including the law of Moses — cannot give us salvation. It is impossible to be justified by the law. All the law does is condemn us and without God’s grace through faith, we have no hope of anything beyond death and hell.
The Jewish people believed that they were justified by keeping the law of Moses. Jesus confronted them with this issue and the confrontation is recorded by John the apostle. When the Jewish leaders responded to him, “Abraham is our father”, Jesus told them, “If you were Abraham’s children you would be doing the works Abraham did,” (John 8:39). The works of Abraham was believing God. Not believing about God or even believing in God but simply believing God.
The law that the Galatians so readily were returning to could never provide justification. Yet the law had to be satisfied. What could not be done by man was effectively done by Jesus.
God fulfilled the law in Christ. Let’s go forward in Galatians 4:4-5. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
At the right time, God intervened in history. He sent his son to set free the people living in bondage to sin. This son, Jesus, was able to bear the sins of the entire world because he had no sin of his own. Having no human father he was born of a woman. He was free from Adam’s sin and the curse that it brought to mankind. He was born under the law so he could free those who were in slavery to the law.
Jesus made himself subject to the law even though he was the Lord of the law. The law had no right over him but in order to deliver mankind from the bondage of the law, he had become man even though he was God. When he was crucified the demands of the law were met and defeated. He suffered all these things in order to redeem those under the law. Jesus, conceived by God without a beginning and born of a virgin at the right time came to set us free from the law because…
The law represented slavery. Let’s read farther in Galatians 4:21-22. Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.
Paul calls on his readers to consider the fact that Abraham’s two sons represented different aspects of man’s relationship to God. Ishmael, born to the slave, was born in the ordinary way. Ishmael knew nothing of the promise and the word of God. Isaac, however, was not only born of the free woman but also born as a result of a promise. In Romans chapter 9 we find this clarification, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” (Romans 9:6-7)
Ishmael had not been promised by God to Abraham but instead was the result of human reasoning. He was only a physical son. On the other hand, when Sarah was long past the age of childbearing, God told Abraham, “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call his name Isaac” (Genesis 17:19). Isaac was clearly designated by God as the promised offspring through whom the world would be blessed. The traditions of man represent slavery…
The promise represents freedom. Let’s read on Galatians 4:30-31. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
Abraham was grieved that his son Ishmael would be passed over. At first, he struggled with the idea. But then God spoke directly to him. The son of the flesh would have to be put aside to make way for the son of the promise. However, God gave his friend, Abraham, special dispensation. In saying, “I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also because he is your offspring.” (Genesis 21:13) so Paul assures us that we are not children of the slave. We are children of the free.
Since that time, the children of the slave have persecuted the children of the free. We can take comfort in the fact that we are free from the law.
Paul wanted his Galatian brothers and sisters to remember that they had been saved by grace through faith. He wanted them to see they had been taught that they had received the Spirit the same way Abraham did. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham who is the father of all the faithful. Now, instead of exercising faith, they were trying to gain by human effort. Human effort has always failed. God sent his son into the world so that the world through him might be able to have eternal life. If you do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior. If you have not been forgiven of your sin. Then you can confess your sin and turn to Jesus. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, believe that God raised him from the dead and the Bible says you will be saved.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.