Sermon – March 18, 2018
Galatians 4:21-5:1 – The Sons of Abraham (mp3)
Many questions surround the text of Galatians 4:21-5:1, from its placement in the letter to the nature of its argument. Why does Paul include something that is so difficult as the last argument in his epistle? The passage is not meant to be difficult but illuminating to both the OT and Paul’s argument in Galatians.
1. Listen to Galatians (4:21)
Having already presented himself as an upset parent (4:19), Paul wants to know if his children are actually paying attention to what he has been saying. There are two ways to approach God – through the law and through faith. The law needs results powered by the flesh, which is a remnant of the old age and in continual slavery. Therefore, it leads only to cursing and death, lacks the power to justify, and leaves one outside the inheritance promised to Abraham. Faith, however, produces justification through Christ, freedom from sin through the Spirit, the marker of the new age. Being found in Christ, you are adopted as sons and heirs.
2. Listen to Genesis (4:22-23)
A simple problem arises from such an argument: the OT. The promises seem to be tailor-made for Abraham’s physical offspring; how can the understanding of Galatians be squared with the narrative of Genesis, let alone the rest of the OT? Paul runs to the fundamental story of the OT to explain himself, and to show that he is not producing a radical new way of understanding how God’s salvation. Rather, this is how God has always dealt with his people.
3. Illegitimate children are made by the flesh (4:24-25)
As the allegory unfolds, Paul reminds us of Hagar, who is used by Abraham to produce an heir. Ishmael will not be the heir, however. Paul believes that this is important and related to the problems in Galatia. If you use the flesh to produce heirs for the kingdom, you are relying on the corrupted world, beset and enslaved to sin, and therefore the product will never be true heirs. Hagar and the law are both earth-bound and thus use the flesh; therefore, they will always bring forth children in slavery to sin who are cursed and cut-off from God.
4. True children are made by the Spirit (4:26-31)
True children, however, are made by the Spirit of God through the promise. To illustrate this, Paul reminds his readers of God’s promise in Isaiah 54. While Isaac’s birth was a miracle, that miracle would be nothing compared to what God was about to do: bring forward children for Abraham with no intervening flesh. This miracle is the working out of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53; Christ’s sacrifice produces Abraham’s children from the most barren of wombs, death itself.
Galatians 5:1 adequately concludes Paul’s argument: Christ has set you free, why go back into slavery? Brothers and sisters, it is only through the Spirit, found through faith in Christ, that you can be set free from your sin. Trust yourself to the promises of God, be born again, and forsake any sinful work!