How God Kept His Promises to Abraham – Galatians 4:21-31
Life is filled with contrasts, especially the contrasts between the choices we have before us and the consequences of what we actually choose. I was once the foreman of a sad civil case that was, in some ways, a tale of two mothers. As the case developed, it became clear that the stepmother was the responsible one and the birth mother was the one whose choices were causing dramatic and disturbing behavior in 10 year old son. These included pulling a knife on the father he clearly loved and encopresis (soiling the pants). In end, we had to make a difficult decision to remove the boy from his birth mother.
In Galatians 4, St. Paul provides us with the contrast between being the children of the bondwoman – of man and his works – and that of being the children of the free woman – of God and His promises.
Abraham, in his life, had a choice to make, and he himself presents a contrast of choices. God had clearly promised Abraham a son, but how and when would he do it? Ishmael was the consequence of Abraham trying to bless himself. Taking Hagar, the servant, as the mother of his son, he produced Ishmael, who was not the son of promise. Later, Abraham chose to let God bless him: the result was a miracle and the son of promise being born through Sarah, as promised.
These women and children are representative of the choice we have before us, on which Paul has spent nearly the entire letter of Galatians: the bondage of the Law or the liberty of Christ. We can choose to follow the bondwoman and a life of slavery. The physical, earthly Jerusalem that is represented by Hagar was very limited nationally and geographically. They lived by sight and were limited by what could be seen, in terms of the nation-state of Israel. The Old Testament is a history of the failure of Israel to be faithful, a history of the insufficiency of the Old Covenant.
This Jerusalem was born of the flesh and of the bond woman (verse 23). It began with Eve going her own way and proceeded through Abraham and the Galatians and into our own lives. This way of life, of choosing, is bondage to the flesh: it is not free (verses 24-25). It is also our natural condition and lot in life, before the Lord chooses us. We are born as slaves to self and sin, and we are in bondage to our self and selfish wills. Abraham tried to bless himself; and we try to save ourselves. But it doesn’t work. It’s like a drowning man trying to grab and save himself.
We’ve all heard the saying that someone “pulled himself up by his bootstraps.” This, too, doesn’t work. I know: I’ve tried it. Well, not actually up by my bootstraps but at least by the sides of my high top sneakers. It’s a ridiculous enterprise unless you have some solid frame of reference outside of yourself.
Yet it’s precisely what we attempt to do if we rely upon anything but the grace of Jesus Christ to save us. We’ve all heard these false gospels before: “man does not need saving;” there’s no such thing as original sin; “man is good enough;” man can choose God before God chooses Him; “there are many ways to God and heaven;” and trying to be good.
But have you ever noticed that if all you do is focus on your sins and try to reform – it doesn’t work? Something is missing, and that something is Jesus Christ and His grace. All of these false gospels, and many others, have one thing in common: they are all man-centered ways. They are the way of disobedience and disinheritance – and of death. The result of following such gospels is that we would remain being children without inheritance of God, children not of the promise.
BUT there is another woman Paul speaks of: there is another way. It is the way of the heavenly, new Jerusalem, which is the Church (see Hebrews 12:22-23). This Jerusalem is not limited by ethnicity or race or geography or even by time. It covers the whole earth and reaches into heaven. It is born of the Spirit (verse 29), born from above, and born free. It is the work of God, born not of human will but of God (John 1:13).
As Christians, we are born of the free woman, the Church for whom Jesus Christ died to truly set the captives, those in bondage, free. Jesus Christ sanctifies His Wife, the Church, by His marriage union with her. As St. Cyprian said, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.” The Church is the object of God’s grace and His instrument of grace in our lives. If, therefore, you are born above, through Jesus Christ and into His Church, the new Jerusalem, you are therefore free indeed.
In Christ, therefore, we are born again, born of the free woman, and we are made the children of promise (verse 28). All of God’s promises made in the Old Covenant and unfulfilled until Christ are fulfilled for us through Him. God promised Abraham a son, and he received Isaac. But to us He has given His own Son, Jesus Christ. God promised Abraham a Promised Land, a land which his heirs held in peace in its entirety for only one generation (Solomon’s reign). But to us He has given the true Promised Land of heaven. To David, God promised a throne, a throne that was eventually carried away. But to us He has given a share in an eternal and heavenly throne so that even now we reign with Him in His everlasting kingdom. To Abraham, God promised that all nations would be blessed through Him, and through Jesus Christ and His Church this is now true.
God has promised to make you His sons and daughters, if you have been baptized into Christ Jesus and have put Him on. Like that 10 year old boy in the court case who had a choice of mothers, you, too, have a choice of mothers. You can continue as a son or daughter of Eve and continue to go your own way. You can be the son or daughter of a slave woman, continuing to be enslaved by your sins and wanting to do things your own way.
Or you can choose to be born into and mothered by the Church, the Body of Christ. You can choose to have life and have it more abundantly if you choose salvation by Jesus Christ and by Him alone.
This choice, by the way, is not only an initial choice, but a weekly, daily, and momentary choice we must make. If you have made the choice to be free before, then you must continue to make it today as well.
Prayer: Lord, help me to rejoice with the Jerusalem that is above and free, to be glad with her and love her as You love her. Feed me and satisfy me with the consolation of her bosom, that I may feed deeply and be delighted with abundance of her glory which is Yours. Amen. (Isaiah 66.)
Points for Meditation:
- In what ways am I still in bondage? Ask the Lord to free you.
- Meditating on the grace of God and His promises, take time to rejoice in Christ, especially as He dwells in His church.
Resolution: I resolve to find one specific way to choose Jesus Christ today. What is the one way God has been asking you to be free from bondage by doing His will and not your own?