Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 14, Two Covenants

In contrasting and comparing the law and the gospel of grace, in yesterday's study Paul used the sons of Abraham to illustrate his point. Today he illustrates the same point by using Sarah and Hagar as examples, along with using Mount Sinai and the New Jerusalem as examples.

It may seem like Paul is laboring over his point for a long time, but his entire purpose in writing the letter to the Galatians is to help them get back on the right track. They were saved by believing the gospel message, and yet they have a desire to submit themselves to the Mosaic law as if this will make them feel more worthy of being included in God's family. So we find him coming at the same point from a variety of directions because he wants to make certain his readers understand what he's saying. The theme of this letter is that the promise of a Redeemer was made prior to the law, that the promise is better than the law, that grace is better than the law, and that faith is better than works.

Yesterday Paul spoke of the sons of Abraham. Abraham's son Isaac by his wife Sarah was the miraculous son of promise. His son Ishmael by his slave Hagar was the son gotten by his own works. We can clearly see that only one of these situations brought honor and glory to the God who can call into existence things that do not exist. It was humanly impossible for Sarah to have a son, but God gave her body the ability to have a son anyway. In the same way, it was humanly impossible for us to do enough good works to save ourselves, but God provided us with a means of salvation anyway.

Abraham's relationship with the surrogate mother Hagar symbolizes the law. It was legal, according to the customs of the times, for Abraham to do what he did so long as he had his wife's permission. The law of Moses did not yet exist, but there were secular laws in the society of those days, and those laws allowed a married couple to obtain a child in the manner in which Abraham and Sarah obtained Ishmael. The carrying out of this plan depended entirely on man's ability. Abraham, since he was evidently not sterile, was easily able to father a child by the young woman Hagar. Was there any glory for God in this? No. Was there any real happiness for the parties involved? No. Did this situation turn into more of a curse than a blessing? Yes. So Paul compares this situation to the law, which depended entirely on man's efforts and which became more of a curse to man than a blessing.

Today Paul picks up with Sarah and Hagar, the mothers of Abraham's children, and then he moves on to the subject of the two covenants which are represented by Mount Sinai and the New Jerusalem. "These things are taken figuratively: 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." (Galatians 4:24-25) At the time of Paul's letter Jerusalem was in political bondage to Rome. Jerusalem also was, for the most part, in spiritual bondage to the Mosaic law. Even a lot of the citizens who had come to faith in Christ still struggled with the idea of grace. This is why some of these teachers have confused the Gentile Galatian believers by insisting they must now follow the law, for they themselves are having trouble giving up on their own efforts and accepting that Christ's efforts were enough.

"But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother." (Galatians 4:26) The Jerusalem that is above is the New Jerusalem we find in the book of Revelation. Paul compares it to Abraham's wife Sarah---the free woman---because freedom from bondage is found in Christ and in the new things He is doing and will continue doing for those who are His. Paul is saying, "Hagar the slave (the law) isn't our mother. Sarah the free woman (the gospel of grace) is our mother. We were begotten into this new life by faith, not by works."

"For it is written: 'Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.'" (Galatians 4:27) The apostle quotes the words of Isaiah 54:1 and is making the statement that this prophecy has been fulfilled. The sons of the free woman (those who have accepted the gospel of grace) were in Paul's day beginning to far outnumber those who were living under the law. This is still true today as Christianity spreads to all corners of the world. Sarah's son Isaac was a forefather of the Redeemer; if she had not borne the son of promise then the "Son Of Promise"---God's own Son---would not have come.

In this next section we want to take note that once again Paul refers to the Galatians as his "brothers and sisters". He does this all throughout the letter and I think he's doing it for a specific purpose. He is a Jew and a former Pharisee. He knows the law inside and out. Yet he is not insisting that the Gentiles follow the law. He considers them his equals and his brothers and sisters in Christ. His purpose is to help them to see themselves not as inferior to the Jews, but to understand that they too are a chosen people of God. "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." (Galatians 4:28-29) At a celebration held for Ishmael, Sarah saw him mocking her own son Isaac who had been born by that time. (Genesis 21:9) We don't know exactly what Ishmael may have been doing to Isaac that was considered persecution, but in Paul's day those who clung to legalism were persecuting the Gentile believers by making them feel as if they were inferior and "less saved" than the Jewish Christians. As we said yesterday, legalism is the enemy of a satisfying relationship with Christ. Legalism says that acceptance in the eyes of God depends on what we can do for ourselves. But grace says that acceptance in the eyes of God depends on what Christ has done for us. Just as Ishmael (the son born by the works of the flesh) mocked Isaac (the son born by the promise of God), the legalistic believers are mocking those who believe their salvation stands on faith alone.

"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 4:30-31) In Genesis 21:10 we find Sarah saying to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." By using this example Paul is saying that the new covenant has done away with the old covenant. Grace has replaced law. And as Paul said earlier in this letter, the true sons of Abraham are those who live by faith, for Abraham's righteousness was not through works (he didn't always behave very honorably) but through his faith in the Lord. Just as Hagar and the son begotten through the works of the flesh were done away with, the old covenant of the law has been done away with. Just as God made a promise for a son for the free woman Sarah and kept it, God has also kept the promise He made to Abraham about the Redeemer who would come from his family line and through whom all nations of the world would be blessed. This is the new covenant.

Paul is asking his readers to take time and think about why on earth they would want to exchange grace for law. Why exchange liberty for bondage? Why exchange the new covenant for the old? Why exchange faith for works? When Abraham depended on works to get what he wanted, he ended up distressed, disappointed, and unhappy. Trouble came along with what he attempted to do through human effort. But there was nothing but happiness in what God's efforts did for Abraham. The heir the Lord gave Abraham through his legal wife Sarah was nothing but a blessing to the two of them. In the same way, the Lord is offering us blessing through the gospel of grace. The things He does for us will always be better than anything we do for ourselves. We can never do enough good works or keep enough laws to make ourselves righteous in the sight of a holy God, so why cling to legalism? Why not reach out for the grace the Lord is offering to us? The Lord provided the "Son Of Promise" so that we could be free of the old covenant of bondage to the law and so we could live in the liberty of the new covenant of grace. That's a better deal than we can find anywhere else, and it's a better deal than we deserve. We would be foolish not to accept it.

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