Galatians 4:21-31 We are Children of Promise

Galatians 4:21-31         We are Children of Promise             WC McCarter

In Genesis 15:1–6 Abraham is sorrowful because there is no heir to fulfill the promises that God had made in Genesis 12. There is only Eliezer the slave. Yet, God renews the promise to Abraham that he would have a son.

In Genesis 16:1-4, 15-16 Abraham and Sarah weaken in faith and rely on their own human effort. They trust themselves to fulfill God’s promise.

Then, 14 years later, in Genesis 17:15-22 God says to Abraham that his wife, Sarah, will have a son. God will fulfill His promise in a way that will not allow any room for Abraham or anyone to take credit. The fulfillment will not be dependent on any man. God rejects what Abraham was able to accomplish on his own by taking another woman as his wife and having a son by her. That is not what God intended. Abraham and Sarah were old, they could not have kids, and so what would be accomplished would be completely dependent upon God. It would be miraculous.

So, in Genesis 21:1-3 we are told that Sarah conceived and delivered a son. Isaac was not born according to the flesh because his birth was the result of God's supernatural intervention in fulfillment of his own promise. Abraham had learned his lesson: the only response to God's promises is to trust that He will be faithful to His promises, not works of the flesh, that is, human effort.

Galatians 4:23 sums up the story: "The son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise."

One more passage that we should review is Genesis 21:8-13 which says that Ishmael persecuted Isaac, and Abraham was required to send Hagar and Ishmael away. The Lord promises to take care of Ishmael, but the covenant promises would continue through Isaac.

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History (21-23)
Paul speaks sharply to the Galatians who were either thinking of submitting to the Law or maybe already had. There is a bite in verse 21 as he states the irony of their situation. Some of them desired to be under the law, but they were not listening to what the law has to say. Well, the apostle will tell them what the law has to say. He does so by pointing their attention back to Abraham’s narrative in Genesis. This was the great ancestor of the Jews. Abraham was literally the father of their nation. Abraham was their father, their founder, and their hero. So, what does Paul do? He strips the Judaizers of their leading man. He contrasts Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, and uses them as symbols.

Symbolism (24-27)
Charting out Paul’s thought here is very helpful. I have filled in some of the contrasts to help us see the whole picture.
                           Two Sons
                       Two Covenants
            Ishmael                                Isaac
---------------------------------        ---------------------------------
Law                                |        Faith
Bondwoman                    |        Freewoman
Flesh                              |        Promise
Mt. Sinai                        |        Mt. Zion
Arabia                            |        Heaven
Jerusalem Now               |        Jerusalem Above
Bondage                         |        Free
Hagar                              |        Sarah
---------------------------------        ---------------------------------
“according to the flesh”             “through promise”/”according to the Spirit”

The primary contrast is between the origins of the two sons. Ishmael was instigated by Sarah and Abraham and fulfilled by the effort of Abraham and Hagar while Isaac was instigated by God and brought about by God.

“Sarah is never designated as a ‘free’ woman in the OT,” so it is Paul who, “is the one who has brought the language of ‘freedom’ into the story” (Moo, 294). What is Paul wanting to accomplish? He has been laying the groundwork for his main point here: those legalistic false teachers are all about human effort which only brings about slavery, while the Gospel is all about the promise and work of the Spirit which leads to freedom.

Lastly, Paul quotes from Isa 54:1, “about the reversal of fortunes experienced by a barren woman in verse 27” (Moo, 292). What this illustrates is the work of God. Sarah was a barren woman. She could not have kids all of her life. God made the promise to make her descendants as numerous as the sky’s stars.

Contemporary (28-31)
Paul puts the Galatians, using the word “we,” in the category of the children of promise (and all Christians by extension). Remember that Ishmael mocked or scoffed at Isaac. Paul says that Ishmael persecuted Isaac which is the same thing that the he and the Galatians were enduring. “Cast out the bondowman.”

Verse 31 concludes Paul’s argument here. He has taught that, “. . . it is not biological descent from Abraham that marks the true children of Abraham but descent through the line of promise” (Moo, 293). You can be a son of Abraham one of two ways, according to the flesh or through the promise, that is, according to the Spirit. What does Paul say that the Galatian Christians are? They “are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.” We have been born through the promise and by the Spirit.

Conclusion and Christian Application

(1) You will be persecuted, even from within the “church.”

(2) Your status and Christian progress are due to the work of God and not the effort of man. Your status was ensured by the promise of God, and your new birth came about through the work of the Holy Spirit.

(3) Note, again, that freedom is a key component of the Christian life. We are not enslaved to the elements of this world, this present wicked age, the guilt of our sin, any kind of rules and regulations, we are not bound to religious performance, and we are not enslaved to the fear of Judgment Day. We are free!