Casting Out Legalism1
Pastor Benny began his message on Sunday by saying these are difficult verses because of how radical Paul’s message was. The Galatian churches were being affected by “men from James,” the Jerusalem church that James led. The Judaizers, whom James did not agree with, were saying, it’s fine and important to become a Christian, and yes, Jesus is the Messiah. But to become a Christian you have to become a Jew under the law.
That is another gospel. Anytime you add anything to the gospel it becomes about the “anything” you’ve added. Paul is asking two questions to the Galatian church: “What happened to your joy?” And to the Judaizers and those who follow them: “Aren’t you aware what the law says?”
1. Old Testament Background (vv. 21-23)
In Genesis 15, God made a promise to Abraham because of his faith. Not because Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, but because, at 75 years old, he believed God’s promise to give him descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky. Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Sarah was barren, a failure in the eyes of her society, in which a woman’s only worth came through childbearing. So she told Abraham to take her servant, Hagar, and sleep with her to produce a family. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Then, at 99, Sarah had a child, Isaac. So there are two sons: one born of the flesh and the other born of promise (born of the Spirit in verse 29). They have been at war ever since.
In our passage Paul is using allegory to tell a story about law and grace; how God changed the equation. Sarah, in the natural, would have been the mother of the Jewish nation; Hagar, the mother of the Arabs. You know the ongoing battle, struggle and hatred between these two families even today. Nothing was more offensive to a Jew than to say, “You are a child of Hagar.”
2. Interpretation (vv. 24-27)
Paul is saying Hagar, the young and fertile one, represents the old covenant, Mt. Sinai and Jerusalem. He is saying to the Jews that God has raised up sons of Abraham from these people not born of our (Jewish) heritage. They (the Galatian Gentiles) are the promised ones of Genesis 15 because they are born of the Spirit. Yet by following the Judaizers they are placing themselves into old covenant law-keeping.
Sarah, old, barren, 99 and a societal failure, represents the new covenant, the new Israel from God, the new faith: the followers of Christ. Heritage, ethnicity, male or female, slave or freeâ€•these don’t matter. The question is not who is your father (Abraham), but who is your mother. She who was desolate is the mother of a multitude.
In verse 27, Paul draws on Isaiah’s joyful promise to the exiles in Babylon to point to the coming ingathering of people from all nations. God placed his electing love upon you because that’s the kind of Father he is.
3. Implications (vv. 28-31)
a. The gospel is grace to the barren. Through the weak God’s grace lives and works. God chose the old, barren woman to display his grace. We are not blessed because of our heritage, but chosen in our weakness. Likewise, God chose a virgin, Mary, to carry out his redemptive plan.
b. The gospel is grace to disappointed failures. Sarah’s identity crisis was so in-her-face that she gave a slave woman to her husband to try and forge a family. The barren, poor and marginalized can be more fruitful than the young and fertile if we understand our lives have value and meaning in Christ alone.
c. The gospel promises persecution. In verses 28-29 we see the son born of the flesh will persecute the son born of promise. Ishmael mocks Isaac. We can expect to experience mockery from the society around us as we talk about sin and the need for a savior.
We need to hold onto the freedom of the gospel. Legalism robs us of the promise of God. It’s choosing to go back and live as a slave. It will kill you.
There are four side-affects of legalism:
a. Ignorance of the gospel of grace. You and I are no longer bound by a system that condemns us. We are free in the Son of God.
b. Man-pleasing fear. When we are bound by others’ opinions of us, it can affect how we communicate the gospel. We don’t want to offend others, so we alter the message. Paul says you can live and eat with those you’re trying to witness to, but don’t change the gospel.
c. Hypocrisy. Don’t live with your identity wrapped up in external things. Legalism puts us into that trap because it makes us responsible to perform to merit righteousness, to obey God. Legalism is bondage.
d. Loss of joy. In verse 30 it says “Get rid of the slave woman and her son.” Literally, it says to “cast out,” to repent from a self-focused way of relating to God and allow the power of the Spirit to fall upon you. Recognize that we are free.
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