21 Tell me, those of you who want to be under the law, don’t you hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and the other by a free woman. 23 But the one by the slave was born according to the impulse of the flesh, while the one by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. 24 These things are illustrations, for the women represent the two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai and bears children into slavery—this is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
God does not change His mind, but He does create two separate covenants with mankind – the first covenant, often referred to as ‘old’ provides the Law and for a long time, mankind lives under this Law. The second covenant, often referred to as ‘new’ provides the Grace and from that point on, mankind lives under this Grace. Once Grace arrives, the Law is no longer needed. In fact, the Law is nailed to a tree and is essentially fulfilled in the Life and Body of Jesus Christ, once and for all!
Putting oneself back under the Law once under Grace is like going back into Slavery once Freedom is obtained. Who does that?
Paul wearies over the church at Galatia, even saying he remains in labor pains until Christ is formed in them. He wonders how it is that they’ve lost their joy, covering themselves with once-removed burdens. He wants to change his tone, but he is bewildered and hurt that they’ve returned to Slavery unnecessarily.
Don’t make this mistake. Our mother is not Hagar but Sarah; and she is Freedom.
Exasperated, Paul wonders at the Galatians’ desire to place themselves back under the yoke of the Law. He worries over them as they fall victim to Judaizers who wish them circumcised, observant of certain days and specific customs. Paul says “it is always good to be enthusiastic about good;” but he also says he is “suffering labor pains for you until Christ is formed in you.” Paul strongly suggests to the church at Galatia that observing the Law does not and can not make them any more Christ-like!
15 What happened to this sense of being blessed you had? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They are enthusiastic about you, but not for any good. Instead, they want to isolate you so you will be enthusiastic about them. 18 Now it is always good to be enthusiastic about good—and not just when I am with you. 19 My children, I am again suffering labor pains for you until Christ is formed in you. 20 I would like to be with you right now and change my tone of voice, because I don’t know what to do about you. 21 Tell me, those of you who want to be under the law, don’t you hear the law?
Paul then tells them a story. He reminds the Galatians of the children of the free woman, Sarah and the slave woman, Hagar. Both children come from Abraham, but only one is the true heir.
Rid yourself of the yoke of slavery and take up the cloak of freedom in Christ.
One of my all-time favorite movie titles is “LOST IN TRANSLATION” written and directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johannson. This title — and the film — say so much about communicating meaning from one language to another. Take Paul’s statement here in his letter to the Galatians:
“[Forsooth, brethren, ye be called into liberty only; give ye not liberty into occasion of flesh], but by charity of [the] Spirit serve ye together.”
The Wycliffe translation — as it often does — provides two different meanings of the same verse. The big difference is the location of the word “only.” In one version, “only” is placed after the semi-colon; in the one I’ve chosen to quote, the “only” is placed before the semi-colon, indicating that Christians are called to freedom only. We are not called to any sort of bondage! We are not in bondage to the law, nor are we to be in bondage to “the flesh.” Rather, we are called to liberty in Christ. In this freedom, we are called to “serve together” “by charity of the Spirit” according to Paul.
Look at the King James Version of the same verse:
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”
Here the “only” is placed after the semi-colon, rendering it as emphasis not to use freedom “for an occasion to the flesh.” Additionally, the Spirit is missing completely from Paul’s statement. Rather than the power of God, love is emphasized. And instead of serving together, we are called to serve one another.
No wonder we sometimes get a little lost; a little defensive of our views; a little wary of a different viewpoint. Yet, God calls us to unity. He also calls us to love. And, He calls us to freedom.
“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” Paul identifies the law as “our guardian until Christ came.” (Galatians 3:24) This guardian kept us under lock and key, safely shut up in a cell. Once Christ arrived, we became “sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26) Having been made new, and given our freedom; we “are no longer slaves, but sons, and if sons, then heirs through God.” (Galatians 4:7) We are suddenly able to “put on Christ” and step out of the purview of the law. (Galatians 3:27)
Once you leave the law behind you, once you throw off those chains that once bound you; you don’t usually “desire to be under the law” again. (Galatians 4:21) You are not of Mount Sinai, but of the Jerusalem above, says Paul. “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. So, brothers we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:30-31)
“For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
“For it is the will of God that by your good conduct you should put ignorance and stupidity to silence. Live as free men; not however as though your freedom were there to provide a screen for wrongdoing, but as slaves in God’s service.”
Don’t do wrong in your freedom. As you conduct yourselves well, you silence ignorance. Not only that, but “who is going to do you wrong if you are devoted to what is good?” asks Peter. “And yet if you should suffer for your virtues, you may count yourselves happy. Have no fear of them: do not be perturbed, but hold the Lord Christ in reverence in your hearts.” (1 Peter 3: 13-14)
Don’t live in fear. “Be always ready with your defence whenever you are called to account for the hope that is in you, but make that defence with modesty and respect. Keep your conscience clear, so that when you are abused, those who malign your Christian conduct may be put to shame. It is better to suffer for well-doing.” (1 Peter 3: 15-17)
Don’t live in anger. “If Christ’s Name is flung in your teeth as an insult, count yourselves happy, because then that glorious Spirit which is the Spirit of God is resting upon you.” (1 Peter 4: 14)
“All things work together for good,” says Paul. Paul does not say that only some things work together for good, but all things. He includes those events which, on the surface, appear and feel terrible – the death of a loved one, the abandonment and betrayal of a spouse, the loss of employment, the straying of the heart, the end of good health. None of these happenings are welcome. No one seeks them.
God is the ultimate weaver, taking the broken painful bits of our lives and weaving these in with the less broken, even joyful bits to make a beautiful tapestry. Through all things, He perfects us.
We who belong to Christ are “led by God’s Spirit.” (Romans 8: 14) As His sons, “[we] do not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but [we] receive the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ ” (Romans 8: 15) Because God calls us “according to His purpose,” we know that He foreknows us, predestines us, conforms us to His image, justifies us, and glorifies us. (Romans 8: 28 – 30)
Since God does all these things for us, what have we to fear? asks Paul. Nothing. We have nothing to fear for God is on our side. “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus sets [us] free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8: 1 – 2)
We are free. Jesus says that He is the truth, and that as the truth, He sets us free.