Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 13, Isaac And Ishmael Compared To The Promise And The Law

The Galatian Christians have a deep longing to feel included. This is why it has been easy for false teachers to confuse them about their salvation. The Galatians know Paul preached the gospel of grace to them, but at the same time they feel drawn to the law of Moses because they think following it will make them feel more like a part of the family of God. For centuries they were considered unclean by the Jews, and rightly so because they lived in idolatry and immorality. The Lord commanded the Israelites not to mingle with or intermarry with the Gentiles because He knew the Gentiles would be a a bad influence on them. The Galatian Christians are no longer in a position to be a bad influence now that they have turned from idols to the one and only God, but they are having trouble letting go of their feelings of inferiority. So they have fallen for the lies of those who have said, "You believe in the living God of Israel since you heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? That's great but you still have a long way to go to be acceptable in the eyes of God and to be equal with your Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ. If you want to be approved by God you need to learn and follow the law of Moses."

The people of Galatia already struggle with insecurity, and this false teaching plays on their emotions. I feel a lot of sympathy for them. I think Paul does too, but at the same time he knows he must take a strict and authoritative tone with them for their own good. Today he illustrates the difference between law and grace by using the sons of Abraham as an example. Abraham's son Isaac was the son of promise, so he compares Isaac to the grace we have through Jesus Christ---the Promised One. Abraham's son Ishmael was the son he fathered by his own efforts, outside of the will of God, according to an acceptable legal practice of the time in which a barren wife could give her husband permission to father a child through a surrogate mother. This child would then become the legal son and heir of the married couple. Paul wants his readers to understand that the promise (the gospel of grace) is far superior to the law.

First he has harsh words for the false teachers, "Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you." (Galatians 4:17-18) Why did these false teachers want to turn the Galatians away from the teaching of the apostles and to their own corrupted brand of Christianity? It appears to have been for personal gain; whether that gain took the form of status and popularity or whether it took the form of monetary compensation I can't say for certain. The only thing I can say with any confidence is that having the Galatians follow them satisfied some kind of desire that the false teachers had. Paul says they wanted the Galatians to be zealous "for them", which indicates to me that they wanted the Galatians to follow them more than they wanted the Galatians to follow Christ. This is in sharp contrast to what the apostles wanted, for they considered themselves merely the messengers of the gospel. The apostles pointed everyone to Christ, not to themselves.

"My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!" (Galatians 4:19-20) Paul taught these Gentiles the gospel when he stayed with them during his illness. It was his understanding that the young church of Galatia, like the young churches of other cities he had visited, were capable of growing and thriving after his departure. Instead they've fallen into confusion. They haven't held fast to what he taught them, so he is laboring again on their behalf. He uses childbirth as an example of how he feels right now. A woman's labor is finished after she delivers her child; she doesn't have to go into labor again at some later date for the same child. Yet Paul feels like that's what he's going through. He did all the work necessary to help the Galatians to understand and accept the gospel while he lived with them, but now he feels like they've fallen so far from the truth that he must do all the work over again.

Since he's on the subject of childbirth, he now moves on to the subject of the two sons of Abraham, one of which was born according to God's promise and one of which was born according to the efforts of man. "Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise." (Galatians 4:21-23)

He asks, "Do you want to live under grace or under the law? The Lord promised Abraham a son, but instead of allowing God to perform this miracle through His grace, Abraham took matters into his own hands. He attempted to get what he wanted through works, which is what you will be doing if you place yourselves under the law. You can't make yourselves righteous by the works of the law because you can't perfectly keep the law. No one can, so how is righteousness obtained? Through grace by faith! It didn't work out so well for Abraham when he obtained a son by his own efforts, nor did it work out well for his wife Sarah, his slave Hagar, or his son Ishmael. Nothing worked out as Abraham thought it would. His plan achieved the siring of a son, but it didn't achieve the blessing and happiness he sought. The law won't bring the blessing and the happiness you seek either. The law will cause you to focus on your own efforts and not on the efforts of the Lord. The law will make you legalistic, frustrated, and depressed."

Paul compares the gospel of grace to the son of Abraham who was given by the promise of God, saying, "The real joy of Abraham's life was his son Isaac, the son he obtained not through his own efforts but by a miracle of God. I'm comparing this fulfilled promise to the fulfilled promise of a Redeemer. Your salvation in Christ doesn't depend on your own efforts but on what Christ has already done for you. This is freedom. This is relationship, not religion. This is grace, not law. You didn't do anything to earn your salvation because there's nothing anyone can do to earn his or her salvation, just as there was nothing Abraham could do to father a child by his wife Sarah. The Lord did all the work for you, just as the Lord did all the work in giving Abraham a son by Sarah. This doesn't mean you have the freedom to sin, but it does mean that when you mess up (as we all do) you can go to the throne of grace on the basis of your relationship with Christ and obtain forgiveness and restoration. Now, do you want to live under grace or under the law? Do you want to live as a free people or as slaves?"

Legalism is the enemy of a satisfying Christian life. We are to work at building a relationship with Christ, not at checking off a list of good works that we think will make us look better to ourselves and to God. Do we want to be slaves or free people? Christ has done the work of redemption for us, and there is nothing we can add to it. Living in close relationship to Him will help us to naturally live more honorable. But when we mess up (and we will, because everyone makes mistakes), belonging to Christ gives us the right to approach the throne of grace for mercy. When our holy God and Judge looks at us, He sees the blood of His Son applied to our lives, and His judgment will pass over us because Christ has paid the penalty for our sins."

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