Our Confirmation of the Gospel
May 14, 1997
Here we have Paul’s last argument of biblical evidence that faith is superior to works in his opposition to the Judaizers. They thought God’s work with the Gentiles was incomplete if it didn’t have both a component of trust in Jesus as well as a commitment to the Mosaic law. His point is the truth that acceptance with God involves only trust in Jesus. The time of Moses is past. His final argument is from the Law and complements his other three arguments from OT texts (3:6-14), from covenants (3:15-25), from sonship (3:26-4:20). Paul sets his argument upon the patriarch he considers most important: Abraham and not Moses.
Paul now effectively ends his address with an illustration that he began with a question in 3:1-5. This illustration is a unique interpretation of OT truth about Hagar and Sarah and the children they bore. It is both allegory and typology in that there is hidden meaning with direct application. Allegory is not generally acceptable in Bible interpretation today (we look for plain meaning) but Paul used it as a reverse method of turning what the Judaizers were trying to teach back on their own heads. They may have argued that Abraham’s descendants were his fleshly descendants, namely Jews, and that the Galatians then needed to become Jews. Paul is here arguing the reverse, that Abraham’s true fleshly descendants are actually in the line of Hagar and Ishmael, not Abraham. The real seed of Abraham is Christ and his people.
I. The Question: Do you really know what the law says? (v. 21)
If Paul is responding to the Judaizer’s own use of the Sarah-Hagar story, he is here setting out the real meaning of it - that Hagar is connected in the OT with flesh and that flesh is opposed to Spirit. Those who wish to be under the law need to learn to read the law in light of what God has done in Christ.
II. The Biblical Material: What the law says is stated - Abraham’s relationship with two women form the basis of how the whole law is constructed which involved either promise or flesh. (vv. 22-23)
The story of Hagar and Sarah is found in Gen. 16, 21, and 25. To use a female slave to bear children was evidently culturally acceptable at that time (Gen. 3:3-13), but this action was not from faith so the child was not representative of faith. (We may have some current cultural misguidance that is also not of faith.) Ishmael was not the child of promise that Isaac was and has been contrasted (Arabs) with those of faith ever since. Paul uses this comparison to wake them up to the fact that outside of faith in Christ alone they are no better off than Ishmael who was born in the natural way of man and not of the power of God. Arabs and Jews are then classed together in opposition to Christ by Paul just as he classed pagans and Jews together in opposition to Christ in v.8-10.
Why did God allow the Arab nations to come into existence? It is an historic picture of truth. We have seen more and more Islamic militance opposed to Jews as well as to Christians. Their opposition will be soon be shown by Paul (and the Jews are tossed into this mix) to confirm the gospel message to Christians. But ultimately their opposition to Israel will confirm God’s grace to the Jews when He saves them at the middle of the tribulation. Opposition offers us a choice and often makes the choice clear even though it may be difficult. It separates out those who want to make a clear choice. That is what Paul offers here. Charles H. Dyer says on page 167-168 of his book, World News and Bible Prophecy,
“Many have marveled over the odd assortment of allies in Ez. 38-39. From Israel’s perspective, the nations span the points of the compass as they unite from all sides to attack God’s chosen people. The leader comes from the north, and he controls the nations concentrated around the Black and Caspian seas. Today these nations include Turkey and several republics of the former Soviet Union. This leader of the northern coalition joins forces with his allies to the east, south, and west -- Iran, the Sudan, and Libya -- and leads these combined forces against Israel.”
It is Islam which will unite all this. And this resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism coincides with the collapse of the Soviet Union. More than 50 million Muslims live in six former Soviet republics. Turkey is losing its grip on being a secular state, losing to the Islamic fundamentalists. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are working feverishly to replace Moscow as the dominant influence in the region. It will be a northern coalition of nations united by a common religion in hatred of Jews. Will the Jews finally choose to be children of the promise? A promise will be all they have to hang on to.
III. The Interpretation: Hagar and Sarah correspond to two covenental arrangements with God - one a promise covenant and the other a flesh covenant. (vv. 24-27)
Here Paul clearly equates the place and act of the giving of the law (Sinai) with a covenant of slavery as seen in Hagar, and he even equates it with the present earthly Jerusalem. But the covenant of the promise is equated with spiritual Jerusalem which Paul connects from Gen. 11:30 (Sarah barren) to Is. 54:1 (Sarah rejoicing)in which we see the abundance of spiritual fruit of the children of promise. Their blessings are more numerous than the children of flesh. In Is. 54 we see spiritual restoration of Zion following Is. 53 which is the work of Christ. Believers in Christ are the true Jerusalem (freedom/fulfillment).
IV. The Application: Those who are being persecuted now correspond to those who are being persecuted then, and so if the one then was the son of promise so also are those who are being persecuted now. (vv. 28-31)
Just as Isaac was persecuted by Ishmael (Gen. 21:9) so believers in Christ are persecuted by the ‘Moses plus Christ Judaizers.’ In other words, you can figure out whose side you are on by figuring out who is being persecuted and who is doing the persecuting. Paul says the Judaizers are wrong because they are persecuting. Even at that time he says, “It is the same now.” And it is. His pastoral advice (command) is to get rid of the persecutors (Gen. 21:10). We are not to complicate our freedom with slavery. This concludes Paul’s arguments from evidence. The law need not be adopted to be a son of Sarah. He goes on next to practical applications of it all.
Hagar Covenant Sarah Covenant
Ishmael (flesh) Isaac (promise)
Children - Slaves Children - Free ones
Mount Sinai Mount Zion/Golgotha/Heaven?
Earthly Jerusalem (slavery) Heavenly Jerusalem (freedom)
Old Covenant New Covenant
Can we always assume that those who persecute are wrong and those who are persecuted are right?
What does it mean to be persecuted?
Persecution is opposing a Christian for either obeying God or for declaring God’s will and truth.
Is it theoretically possible to follow Christ and not suffer persecution? (rare)
What types of persecution might we expect?
The minute a Christian is willing to state his case for the truth of the gospel, at that very moment persecution of some kind will frequently appear. Sometimes the most difficult persecution to deal with is subtle. The fear of being disapproved and talked about is strong and so we fail to speak up and to be faithful. We must rid ourselves of this thinking and of this fear. If we stand up for the truth of the gospel we will find the truth of Paul’s words that those who follow Christ will suffer persecution. The experience of opposition becomes a confirmation of the truth of the gospel. But the experience does not confirm it, the gospel confirms itself through opposition.
But let us beware lest our desire for acceptance overpower us. The spirit of the age is pluralism, tolerance, political correctness. Let us get rid of fear and compromise since it is we who are children of the promise. We are free to act.