Children Of Promise
Key Verse 4:30
“But what does the 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.’”
The natural man— that is, the unchanged person who is born only of the flesh and is subject to the sinful nature— hates the gospel of God’s grace. He hates it because it is entirely God’s doing, and not his doing, and affords him no glory at all, but gives the glory entirely to God. And that is why he hates it. The natural man, hates the gospel of grace because he finds nothing in it that gives him any self-glory, any personal merit, any thing he can boast about; and the natural man loves to boast in himself and in his own accomplishments. That is why the natural man— the man who is still subject in his natural self to the sinful nature and the ways of this world— hates the gospel of God’s grace. The gospel of God’s grace is the gospel which tells man that he cannot save himself, nor can he contribute even an iota to his own salvation. The gospel of God’s grace tells man that he cannot seek God on his own, nor can he find God, nor can he better himself, nor can he change himself in any way that makes him acceptable to God. The gospel of God’s grace tells me that I am wretched in my sinful natural self, that I am incapable of making myself righteous enough to be acceptable to God, because even in my greatest efforts at righteousness, my righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and does not meet up with God’s expectation and standard.
The gospel of God’s grace tells me that in my wretched state, in my sinful state, in my debauched state, in my utter helplessness to ever be able to cross over to the realm where God exists in his holiness, God himself crossed over, became man and purchased for me what I could never purchase for myself in my natural self; that is he purchased for me forgiveness and salvation and justification and righteousness and more! And then in his ascension and return to glory, he gave me a new life— a life above and beyond this natural self— a life that is entirely gifted me through his Spirit, so that I might grow in my inner person into the spiritual man God intended me to be. The gospel of God’s grace tells me that all I could do in return for all this, is to believe in what he has gifted me with, and put my trust in him, and live by faith now in total reliance on his Spirit. But the natural man hates all this because in it he finds absolutely no room for himself to boast about anything, and he loves to boast in himself about something. The natural man would rather suffer the consequences of his un-righteous soul to receive bits and pieces of human glory and recognition in this perishing world. That is the sad story of the natural man.
The Bible tells us that: “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Rom.8:7) And that is why the natural person hates the gospel of God’s grace, and would rather distort the gospel to his own favor so that he himself might gain some glory for himself. The sinful mind is hostile to God! That has been the case since the beginning of time. The human being who is under the control of his flesh— that is, under the control of his sinful nature— hates the gospel of God’s grace and is hostile towards God and his gospel because it affords him no merits nor glory whatsoever. But here is the antidote! Here is what Paul also says to the Roman Christians: “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” (Rom.8:8) Then who can? So he says: “But the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Rom.8:6) Those who are controlled by the Spirit of God can please him for they have God’s own life in them, and have crossed beyond hostility into peace with him. They welcome God’s grace and are thankful for it and live in it from day to day— understanding fully that it is entirely by God’s own effort and work and by his Spirit that they are forgiven, justified, changed, blessed, and brought near to God— becoming his children and heirs in Christ Jesus his Son. They give all the glory to God, renouncing all self glory and merit, humbling themselves to follow the will of God as he builds up the church and the kingdom he has bestowed on all who believe. This is important to notice here that God does not only save us by his grace, but that he saves us and builds us up as his church and kingdom to serve his purpose and to honor and glorify the Son he loves.
And that is the story of Abraham and his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac summarized in these verses and which Paul uses to describe contrast the gospel of God’s grace versus the law. That is the whole story of why God rejected Ishmael— who is Abraham’s effort at producing an heir, and accepted Isaac— who is God’s effort at giving Abraham an heir. Look at verse 21. “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?” What the Galatian Christians were trying to do is to revert back to obedience to the Laws which God gave the Jews after he freed them from slavery to Egypt. They were trying to revert back to the Law because some false Christians were trying to teach them that God’s blessings cannot be theirs just by believing the gospel of Jesus— that after believing the gospel of God’s grace, they should now follow and obey the Laws of Moses. Why would these Galatian Christians even consider such a thing! It would seem that they should reject such a false gospel. But it is not as clear cut as it may seem. As I have said time and again, the sinful nature is hostile to God, and wants nothing more than to get some glory for itself if it can, even if it has to gain that glory by doing something that earns recognition and praise. Christians throughout the generations have fallen to this trap. We think we are saved by grace alone, but then we take pride in our Christian activities and accomplishments, setting ourselves above others who do not. The message we are sending by that is that you are saved by grace, but you could do better and earn more righteousness from God if you also come to church, study Bible, teach Bible, pray earnestly, avoid the things that are blatantly anti-Christian and such. That is not only a false gospel— distorting the truth about salvation and righteousness and justification, and the work of the Christ and his Spirit— but it is a trap that enslaves us to activities and accomplishments which is as terrible of an enslavement as it is to be enslaved by the Law. There is something worse that also happens here. We lose sight of God who is the giver and sustainer of all things.
Paul says tothe Galatian Christians in verse 21: “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?” Yes it seems that they were not aware of what the Law says. Or perhaps they were blinded by the brilliance of the Law that they could not see the trap they were almost falling into. So Paul gives them an example from the life of Abraham to let them see the truth about God and the way he worked and works and will always work— the truth that one cannot be saved together by grace and Law— that the Law leads to rejection and being far away from God’s blessing— but that grace leads to acceptance by God and the abundance of his blessing. Finally in an effort to rescue them from a false gospel, he summarizes to them what the law he is talking about in verse 21 says. He does so in verse 30 after reminding them of Abraham’s life story. He says: “But what does the 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.’” Honestly and truly, no one can be saved by grace and (plus) law. Our Christian faith rests entirely on what Jesus did for us through his grace alone. Which is also what Abraham learned through a difficult and painful event in his life— an event that matured him into the man of God’s grace, and prepared him to be the vessel through which God would work to bring the world back to himself. That is what I also wanted you to notice in the beginning. Abraham was blessed by God through God’s grace, but not for himself but for the greater work God wanted to do in and through him. God taught him his one sided grace, and prepared him to be the father of us all and the vessel through which God would work to bring others— the redeemed church— to himself. So when we listen to Abraham’s story and understand the truth of grace a little better, we ought to also consider that when God saved us by grace, he did so not only out of his love and mercy, but that he did so in order to make us like Abraham the man of faith, vessels for his greater work of salvation. If we learn this truth, it will keep us from falling into the trap of the flesh which is focused on me and myself, my needs and my desires— and free us completely to live by the Spirit for God and for his purpose and will and desire. It is a great lesson to learn here, because in it we also learn the true meaning of “Freedom” the freedom that Paul is talking about in this letter and which he boldly tells us about in 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Freedom to live by the grace of God, and to let him fulfill his purpose in my life as I submit to him with all the joy of a child of God who knows my place in God’s great plan.
So read verses 22-28. “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”
(In Genesis 12 and on) God visited Abraham one day and told him: “Let’s you and I have an agreement. You are old and childless, and you followed foreign gods (even though they are no gods at all) as did your ancestors. But if you would leave your past life behind and come with me, I will lead you to a new land where you and I can work together to build a beautiful relationship. I know you are childless but don’t let it worry you, I am God and will give you a son, and sons until the whole earth is filled with your children.” But God did not tell Abraham how he will work in his life. He just told him that he would give him children even though his wife was barren. So Abraham agreed to God’s terms and they make a covenant with one another. Then God led Abraham to the land of Canaan and settled him there. He told him that the land is for him and his descendants. So Abraham built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. In other words, he committed himself to God his God. Many events happened after that. Abraham weakened in his faith and went to Egypt to escape form the famine in the land of Canaan, and there he lied about his wife in order to save his own life and to get food for his family. God should have been done with him by then, but he wasn’t. God who makes covenants with us is never done with us. He was just beginning to train Abraham to believe God completely and to rely on him. So God brought him back from Egypt to Canaan and promised him again that he would bless him as he trusted God and only God. And God also promised again that he would give him descendants from his own body. But then 10 years passed and God was not doing anything to help Abraham become a father. It was frustrating waiting on God, not knowing why God was not keeping his promise to Abraham. But what God was doing was training Abraham to trust God completely.
But faith has its limits and its quirks and Abraham thought together with Sarah his wife that certainly God wanted to give them a son, but that perhaps they had to do something to help him out in this. We can understand this very well, as many people erroneously quote this proverb “God helps those who help themselves.” So Abraham and Sarah helped God out to fulfill his promise to them. Sarah had a slave called Hagar and the customs of the times allowed for childless women to give their slaves to their husbands to bear them children. So 9 months later out came Ishmael. He was really a beautiful little kid and Abraham fell in love with him. Of course there were some complications where Sarah was jealous of Hagar her maid, and where Hagar got proud. But that is not the story here. What happened is that they produced an heir by their own effort and work. Yes God is the giver or children, but Abraham had helped God and participated in the production of Ishmael. Needless to say that this was not what God had wanted. God had wanted Abraham and Sarah to become completely unable to bear children, even more so than ever, before he would give them a son. Why? So that they might know completely that the promise of a son was indeed a gift, the work of God alone. It was necessary to do it that way, so that God might teach Abraham what faith and blessing are all about— that the promise is a promise, the gift is a gift, and the blessing is God’s grace alone to guide Abraham and his descendants forever. But of course, Abraham slipped in this and Ishmael was 13 years old before God visited Abraham again.
God visited him one day and told him to walk before God and be blameless. (Gen.17:1) He was not blameless, but blameworthy because he weakened in his faith and did not trust God completely and wait on him. But God was gracious and offered Abraham a new beginning through repentance and renewed faith. And promised him now that a son, not only from his own body (which was dead) but from Sarah’s body (which was even more dead than Abraham’s) [Heb.11:12] God would give them a son. And again Abraham repents and believes and so 9 months later, out comes Isaac. What was special about Isaac is the fact that Isaac was God’s gift of grace to Abraham— the son of promise he could never work for, but which God in his infinite mercy gave him and his wife when they were completely helpless and hopeless. And what did Abraham learn from this? He learned finally that God’s grace is God’s grace, and his blessing is his blessing, that he could not work for God’s blessing nor for his grace at all, but that God’s work is done only by God for his own purpose.
But there was a problem now. They had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Would they both receive God’s blessing and become both of them heirs of the promise in Abraham’s life? No, in this God would not budge. In order to teach the world and the descendants of Abraham that the promise is by faith and the grace of God alone, one of these boys had to leave. God would not work in both. So it happened that Abraham had to send his lovely son Ishmael away. Was it heartless and inhumane to do so? Not at all! As you teach your children to bear the consequences of their behavior and actions, so God is a Father who must teach his son Abraham the consequences of his mistakes in life. And it was not a small mistake. The whole world salvation rested on Isaac being the sole son to inherit the blessing and promise of God. And so Ishmael was sent away. And Isaac grew to become the child of promise, the glorious evidence of God’s grace in Abraham’s life. And through him a whole nation of God’s people were born and grew to become a nation through which God could work to spread his grace throughout the world.
And that is the story of Abraham and his two sons. God will not work his salvation and glory in both grace and law. The son of the slave woman, who is Ishmael, Paul says represents the covenant of law and bears children to slavery. On the other hand, the son of the free woman, who is Isaac represents the covenant of grace. When we add anything to the grace of God, we automatically become slaves of whatever we add to his grace, and grace is nullified and we bear not a blessing but death. It is a serious issue, so serious that Paul explains the consequences of holding onto the two sons— one of them has to go, and clearly it is the son that was born out of human effort, and human will. We have to face that in our own lives as well. Whatever is of God is his promise, and blessing. Whatever is from us, is not part of the blessing nor the promise. Then you say, shall I do nothing? No one said do nothing. You do things not to gain merit nor righteousness nor a better place in God’s kingdom. You willingly and joyfully do things because they are part of your new nature as child of God. When we find ourselves joyless and habitual in our Christian life, it is likely that we want God to bless our Ishmael we contributed along with the Isaac, whom God alone has given. We find no freedom in that, because freedom is joyfully serving God’s purpose in our lives. But slavery is slavery to whatever we think we have to do in order to extend God’s blessing and favor. We can do nothing more than God has done. Ishmael has no place in God’s work and blessing and promise to us, because he hinders the gospel of God’s grace in our lives. He makes us focus on what we do, rather than on what God does and wants to do.
There is one more thing Paul intended to teach these Galatian Christians. Read verses 28-31. “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the 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, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.” Just as Isaac was persecuted by Ishmael, the new Galatian believers were being persecuted by those who would have them come under law. The son born by the power of the Spirit was persecuted by the son born in the ordinary way of the flesh. So they and we should hear God’s word and “Get rid of the slave woman and her son.” God help us to reaffirm his abundant and sufficient grace in Christ and to thank him with joyful hearts for our salvation. We need to study the Bible and pray and struggle to grow, not because we have to, but because we love him and want to draw near to him— until— Christ is formed in us and are living in the freedom that he died to secure for us. This is the work that God does and wants to continue doing in us through his Holy Spirit. Amen.