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Writing to the Galatians as they drift away from grace and back to the law, Paul, having appealed to their reason, experience, relationship and emotion, cites an Old Testament story to illustrate the futility of acceptance-based performance. The centuries-old conflict between Sarah and Hagar and between their sons Isaac and Ishmael should prove to them - and to us - that God never intended for us to be heirs of slavery and bondage but of hope and promise.
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Why be a Servant When You Can be a Son?
Why Promise is Better than Performance. And Why Moses Doesn't Trump Abraham.
Five Piercing Questions, a Prominent Example, and Perfect Truth
A Right Response to a Wrong Way of Thinking
Why Men Love Religious Systems and Why God Does Not
Are You Crazy Enough to Fight for, Talk About and Live for the Gospel?
The Life that Commends a Man and a Ministry - And the Voice of Truth that Confirms It
If you have not been with us, we're working our way through a little book called Galatians, and it's one of those books you kind of hear, and you kind of go, "Galatians, Schmatians. What in the world? What does that have to do with me? It's a letter written 2,000 years ago to a bunch of folks in Turkey (what we call Turkey today). What does this have to do with us?"
These are a group of people who other folks were coming in alongside of after they had heard what God had to say through Paul about what Jesus had done and what he had accomplished by dying on the cross for the sins of the world. There were some folks who came back alongside of them and said, "Hey, it's great that you love Jesus. We're not really mad at Jesus. We don't have a real problem with Jesus, but you have to make sure you still do these things for God to accept you," and this little letter is just Paul's response saying, "Look! No, no. The reason Jesus died is because there's nothing we could do to make God accept us…nothing. It's impossible!
What you have in the little section that we're studying this week is Paul's last-ditch effort to make it abundantly clear that, if you leave Jesus…if you leave a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and faith in him…you are moving back to a system that will not work and back into bondage away from inheritance and promise and hope and life. Why would you want to do that?
I mean, Paul has gone through a lot of stuff. He has used reason. He has used experience. He has used his relationship with these friends. He has used emotion. He has used Old Testament references. He has talked about New Testament work. He has called out apostles. He has called people who belief otherwise apostates. I mean, he has been all over the map passionately making a case for this thing…now here comes a big term…this thing called justification by faith.
In other words, you will never be considered the way you want to be considered by God until you realize there's nothing you could ever do to make God consider you worthy of his love and acceptance. There's no way to justify yourself before God, either by your excuses as to why you're not all that you want to be or by your expert living, because God is perfect, and the only thing that impresses him and is acceptable to him is perfection.
Listen, this is why Christianity is unique among every other (and I hate even to say we're this) "religion." Christianity is not a religion. Religion is what men do and devise in order to work their way to some acceptable level where some higher being will accept them.
Christianity has nothing to do with us trying to earn God's favor. It's us being individuals who go, "We could never meet that standard," so we say, "Unless God chooses to give us something we don't deserve…" That's what the word grace means; the Greek word for grace is charis. If you were like me and you read it, you'd go, "Oh, it's ch-aris." Well, that's not how you say it in the Greek, but the bottom line is we do get a word from charis. Guess what the word is…ch‑arity. What's charity? Something you get out of kindness.
So what we believe is that God, out of his incredible kindness in a way that doesn't make any sense to us, has taken his abundant riches and has expressed his love for us. Now the reason this had to happen is made abundantly clear. In fact, the whole purpose of the bulk of the Old Testament is to show you that nobody…no matter how much God tells them what it is to be righteous…nobody can live that way, so it is drive you to your knees so that you just go, "Lord, we are a people who are in a world of hurt without excuse and without hope before you."
Then God comes crashing on the scene: There is one who has come who has always been with God who always was God, and we're about to see who he is. He is a lover who will give his life to provide for people what others can never provide for themselves. The very first word that God speaks when he comes is, "Blessed," which means happy. The word is "Macarena," in a sense. All right? Hey, Macarena!" The Spanish get the idea: "Hey, man! This is something to be happy about! You can dance!"
Well, why would people who are guilty and worthy of being judged dance? Because there is a divine gift-giver who wants you to have something you could never get on your own, and it'll make you dance, so, "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit." In other words, not folks who stand before God and go, "Hey, Dude! Lucky you! I'm going to choose you. I'm going to be on your team! Here's my resume. Here's why I'm more impressive than all these other suckers (who, by the way, if I were you, I'd be ticked at them, too), but me, I'm all right!"
God says that kind of person is not the kind of person who he says is going to have a relationship with him. The kind of person who is going to have a relationship with him is one who is poor in spirit, "…for they shall see God.""Blessed are the meek…" Strong but realize that, unless God does something in them and over them, they will be a wild horse who will do nothing but run to their own destruction and exhaustion."Blessed are those who mourn…" Who weep over their state. " …for they shall be comforted."**
Do you see that? Bless those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. They know they can't get it on their own, that they'll be satisfied. That's the very first words out of his mouth, and what Paul is doing is, when you have people who are given this great gift who leave that gift to go back to a system of works and performance, he's going, "Why would you do that? Works and performance wear you out, and they don't work."
He has spent four chapters begging us through every means of argumentation possible to just love Jesus, to love God. Now when you love Jesus and love God, you want to do what you can because you love him, not to earn his acceptance but to show that you love him, so there is still an incredible morality. Think of it this way. My wife and I have a relationship. I am not doing anything to keep the ring on her finger. She is covenant with me. She's committed to me, but because I'm so grateful for that, I want to go, "How can I please her?"
I live a moral, responsible life in response to her love for me. When I do things that hurt our relationship, I go, "Hey, this was wrong, and again, if it weren't for your grace and commitment and acceptance towards me, I ain't got a chance, but I'm so glad that your unending, unwavering love is there for me."
This is why the guys did the best job of keeping the law in the Old Testament… Jesus said to them something that was very incredible. In Matthew, chapter 5, verse 20, this is what he says, "…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." When he said that, everybody went, "What? Are you kidding me? Well, what's the use? Why even try?" Jesus goes, "Exactly. What you ought to do is cry, mourn over your impossible state, but what is impossible for man is possible to God because I will give you what you cannot get on your own. I will provide for you what you lack." That's the story.
Paul said, "That's what Jesus has come to do, to provide for you what you could not provide for yourself." Now we've gone over the reason this is such a huge gravitational forcefield, this idea of religion that keeps sucking us back towards it and stealing the life that God wants us to have and the freedom that comes to a relationship of love before, and I wanted to set this up as we wrap this up because there are a pretty little interesting 10 to 11 verses that we're going to look at today.
At first you're kind of like, "Oh my gosh! What in the world does that have to do with me?" Understand where it comes in the context of defending how you are made right in God's eyes by faith and why that is, but here, I'm going to walk you through this again. About six weeks ago, I showed you this. People like law. They like old religious systems. Why?
First, we like it because it makes us feel like we are in control. We love control! "If I do these things, I'm golden." Secondly, it feeds their pride. They believe that they're not so bad that they can't do something to save themselves. We don't want to believe that we are helpless, in need of mercy. We want to believe that we can work our way out of this hole and out of this ditch, so it keeps sucking us back.
Thirdly, it allows us to feel no obligation to anything or anyone other than the system that we've invented. "If I bow five times to the east, if I make a pilgrimage to Mecca, if I get my child baptized, if I get married in that church, if I baptize for the dead, if I share door to door, if I faithfully attend a certain service every day at a certain hour…pick your system…I'm golden, and then, after I do that, I'm free to do what I want to do, so I'm cutting you out."
When you have a spiritual, secular distinction in your life, you are not a believer. If you ever say, "Hey, I pay my tithe. Hey, I go to my mass. Hey, I go to my church. Hey, I do my works. Hey, I go to my temple (whatever it might be), so leave me alone over here. That has nothing to do with this," then you don't believe, and you don't have love.
Fourthly, it is acceptable to others. "You come up with your system. I'll come up with mine, and we'll just both get along and have our own systems and just leave each other alone." It's why we keep going back there.
Finally, it is because it is familiar, and we're going to go back to what seems right to us, so this great gravitational pull for those five reasons is always sucking us back to this thing that Paul is saying, "This thing doesn't really work. It doesn't give you hope because you're not… You're creating a god who has a lower standard than the real God has." Now coupled with the fact that we want to gravitate back there, there are religious leaders who love when you gravitate back there. Why?
Here's why. First, because it validates the systems that they told you, you need. If you agree you need a system, they'll come up with your system that they've always given you, and they won't need to apologize to you that all their control over you, all their calling that you do certain things…attend their services, do these certain things that they alone can be the mediators of grace to you…they won't ever need to tell you, "You know what? Yeah, we were just trying to control you and give ourselves power;" no need to apologize.
Secondly, religious leaders like systems because it continues to give them power and position over people. "There's no need for you to look for somebody to give you what we can't give you because we're giving it to you," and men love power and position. Let me just tell you something. I don't ever want to be your pope, your bishop, your cardinal, and if I'm your pastor, it means I am your servant.
I am not one whom you should look to as a means through which grace can come, and that's why I'm always so humble when you say, "Oh, Pastor, if you would just pray for me…" I want to go, "Hey, I'd love to, but you realize anybody who has a relationship with Jesus Christ has the exact same authority before God that I do. You don't need to light a candle to me when I'm dead. You don't need to hope that I'm told by somebody else that I've risen to a certain level so if you appeal to me I'll help you out.
You have a relationship with Jesus; you have everything you need, but because I'm your brother, because I'm on this journey with you, because we know each other, I'd be thrilled to pray for you, but I have nothing ahead of you." It says, "The [effective] prayer of a righteous man availeth much," but a righteous man is not a man who does what I do for a living. A righteous man is somebody who is in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Okay?
Thirdly, the reason that Paul wrote this book and the reason he hates religious systems is because they affect the glory of God, the deity of Christ, and the sufficiency of the cross, and he says, "I can't stand for that. Whenever you come up with a religious system that says you can earn your way to God, what you're saying is, "Your God isn't perfect. Your God doesn't need perfection. Your God's character and nature can be compromised."
Paul says, "May it never be. Let God be God!" Jesus was God. He paid the perfect sacrifice. An eternally perfect sacrifice satisfies an eternally perfect God's sense of justice. The cross is enough, and don't ever tell me the cross isn't enough because that means that what Jesus did was unnecessary and foolish, or it wasn't enough for God to die for the sins of man."
Fourthly, it affects the destiny of men. When you start to tell people, "Trust in what you do," even if it's Jesus plus what you do, you're not trusting in Jesus alone, which is what he says. "I am the way. I am the truth. I am life. No one comes to the Father except through me…not me plus…me. Do you know who I am?" Then, lastly, it affects the joy and freedom God wants men to have now. He wants you to realize how much you're loved so you can live in a love relationship and then have your life controlled by love not by fear.
That's worth writing a book about. Well, guess what? Paul did, and so for four chapters, he just shares it with you, and now we're closing up this chapter with one last argument. Why would Paul argue so much? Because he wants you, because he is a follower of God who loves you, to experience life, and the long arm of religion, the law, what you must do, is just sucking it out of you and giving you a false hope.
Chapter 4, verse 21. Here we go. "Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?" What he's here to say to these guys is, "Look, you guys who are being sucked back to this Old Testament understanding that was even a misunderstanding of the Old Testament… The Old Testament never said you were saved by works. The Old Testament was to show you that you needed grace. That's why, even within the law that Moses gave, there was a provision of grace. It was faith in the provision that was there for a while until the ultimate provision came, but it was always faith. Don't you read the law?"
You know one of the things that Jesus said a number of times when he was talking to the leaders of religion was, "Have you not read…?" What Paul is going to do is go back as, "Haven't you looked at what it is that you're being sucked back into? You want to be under the law? Well, go read the law, because the law will tell you, 'Don't hang with me.'"
Now what he's going to do is tell you an interesting story, and he's going to go back to the Old Testament. He's going to go back to Abraham who is the father of Judaism…interestingly, the father of Islam. All three great monotheistic…mono being one and theistic being god, believing in one-god faith systems in the world…religious systems trace themselves back to Abraham, so he said, "Let's go to Abraham. I'm going to tell you a story from Abraham's life."
What Paul is going to do in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit is he is going to take the literal story of Abraham, and he is going to show you a spiritual truth wrapped up in it. Now this is some interesting stuff. What I'm going to do is I'm going to read you all the way through this chapter, and the reason I want to do that is because I want you to go, "Oh my gosh! What in the world does that mean?" and then I want to come back and show you, with a little time, you can glean a lot from God's Word.
"For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother." Right now is when you're going, "This is why I don't read my Bible." Okay? I just want to tell you, "I get it." Hang in there, though. Watch.
"But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written, 'Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband.' And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.
But what does the Scripture say? 'Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.' So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."
Motivated? Or are you kind of going, "What in the world?" All right. Understand why this was written. It is the closing argument by Paul who has already applied reason, emotion, experience, relationship…everything he can…to show you why the law is not something to trust in, and he is going to go back now and talk about Abraham's life, and he's going to use an illustration from Abraham's life, allegorically speaking, which is to say, "I'm going to come alongside…"
Allegory is a word in our English which is again a transliteration. Trans means across. Okay? Transcontinental flight: across continents. Transliteration: across literally, which means we take a word from that language and we literally bring it across. Taco…transliteration. All right? What he says allegorically is coming from two Greek words; allos meaning other, allēgoreō which is to speak publicly. So, "I'm going to speak publicly in a different way about this than I have before." That's what an allegory is.
The story is still real, but there's symbolism he's going to bring out, so what he's going to do is take the story of Abraham. You have to go back and look at Genesis 12 through 21 because what Paul does right here in Galatians from verse 22 down through verse 31 is summarizes Abraham's life from Genesis 12 through Genesis, chapter 21, and shows you a great truth in it. That truth is…guess what? You were meant to be the son of your father's wife, not the son of your father's mistress.
The son of the mistress is an illegitimate son. That woman was never meant to have a son by that man. That was the foolishness of the man, the sin of the man, the worldly thinking of the man that this was the way to get a son. It wasn't the way God thought you should bring a son. Here we go. You have to walk through and understand a few things. I've already read the scripture to you. Let me just unpack it for you.
In Genesis 12 through 21, what you have is a number of things. First of all, when Abraham was 75 years old, he was given a promise by God that he would have a son. Now I'll tell you what. I've always read the story of Abraham and Sarah, but it was just this week that it really hit me: Abraham twice lied about the fact that Sarah was his wife because she was so drop-dead gorgeous, but both of those stories about Abraham's wife being drop-dead gorgeous…
Let this encourage my wife and those a few laps around the track ahead of her. Sarah was deep into her 50s or 60s when Abe said, "Look man, this babe is so hot I have to lie about her, or they're going to be all over her in Egypt." That ought to encourage you ladies this morning. That right there was worth coming to church for. Sarah was this good-looking older woman, and when Abe was 75, you know, God said, "Hey, I'm going to give you a son." He said, "Great! I'm not sure how that's going to happen, but we'll go with it."
Well, 10 years later, Sarah kind of knocks on Abraham's door and says, "In case you haven't noticed, Big Boy, that promise you mentioned would happen, you're now 85, and you know, you ain't exactly firing in all cylinders there yourself, Frisky. I didn't do so well in the first 70 years we ran at this thing, so why don't we do this: Since your God wants us to have an heir, how about Hagar over there? All right? Take her. I give you my blessing. In fact, I'm encouraging you. Let's get some descendants. God said he wants to bless our descendants. It ain't happening. Go over there."
Abraham, being the strong leader he was, said, "You want me to sleep with another woman? Fine. Anything you want, Honey. Great. Off we go." He's 86. Hagar gets pregnant. Ishmael is born, and then we get to 99. Twenty-four years later from the initial promise, God comes to Abraham and says, "Hey, Abe, glad you got yourself a 14-year-old little illegitimate son over there. Way to go! Good thing I'm all about grace, Knucklehead! But I promised you that I was going to give you a son, and when I told you I'd give you a son, I've got this one-man, one-woman thing working. It's going to come from Sarah." Twenty-four years later…
God wanted to make it really clear, "This isn't about you Abraham. It was never about you. You were some pagan idolator in Babylon. I called you out by grace. I told you I'd give you a son, and you are good as dead, Abraham, but guess what, it isn't up to you. It wasn't up to you to begin with. It's not up to you now."
Now let me just say this. There is nothing in the world today that is as much of a conflict as the conflict between Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, and the Arab nations, also the physical descendants of Abraham. There are two family trees that go forward from Genesis 12 through 21. One is the family tree of Isaac; see also the race of Israel, Jewish race, and then there is Abraham and Isaac and an Egyptian slave and this Arab man have an Arab son. That is the lineage of Ishmael, and there has been…
Next time you get discouraged with the spats you're having with your little sibling rivalry, just take a look over there. You'll feel a little better about yourself. Like, this has not worked out well, and there's a major application from what you see in this. There is a way which seems right to man. I don't blame Sarah. If I'm 85 years old, you know, and I look over at my husband who hasn't been giving me a child and I want the child to come, I'm going to say, "There's no way for this to happen."
There's a way which seems right to man, but in the end, it is the way of death. I'm going to tell you something. This is one of Paul's major points. Hey, Ishmael and Isaac have always been at each other's throats. They are warring. They are tearing each other apart. They will not get along. The two are incompatible. When you…
You're going to find out that Ishmael represents works. Isaac represents faith. Ishmael represents the ideas of men. Isaac represents the blessings of God, and you can never wed those two. Works and faith don't go together as systems of deliverance. Spirt and flesh do not go together as ways to control life. You either are being controlled by the Spirit, or you're being controlled by the flesh. That's part of his illustration here.
Then what happens, a little bit later in Abraham's life when he's 100, Isaac is born, and then when he's 103, there's an event that would happen in that culture when the child was weaned. At 3 years old they would always be weaned, about the time, you know, little Isaac could say, "Hey, Mom, I'm hungry. Unbutton." It's about time. You'd go, "All right, we're weaning that one right there." About 3, that child was being weaned, and there was always a big celebration. Sarah was happy, and the child is moving now to his next stage.
At that celebration, Ishmael, who was 17, mocked Isaac, said something to him that set Sarah off. Hagar and Sarah were always at each other's throats. They especially got all upset whenever the two sons were involved because Ishmael, who was loved by Abraham, all of a sudden had some competition. Now it was Isaac. The son of the wife did come. The promised one did come, and Ishmael is like, "Hey, I thought I was getting that. This kid is interrupting my way."
I'll just insert this here for two reasons: first, so we can all pray and, secondly, because it's cute and really reckons itself to this little story. First, this week our good friends, Blake Holmes and Rebecca… They have three kids, Avery, Ellie, and then Gage. Gage is a little 4-1/2-year-old fun little guy.
We found out Wednesday night that Gage has leukemia, so you know, obviously, he has been in the hospital since then. He started radical chemotherapy on Friday and had a little Port-a-Cath put in, and for the next 3-1/2 years, he is going to be undergoing all kinds of help from all the medical folks that we can get to help him so that God might use that as a means to which he is delivered and healed, if that's what he wills.
Before that…it was interesting…my family and I went up on Father's Day to the office, and we were up their playing because it was a rainy day, and Blake happened to be up there. I go, "What are you doing up here by yourself on Father's Day," and he said, "Well, I've got a meeting that's coming up," he said, "but I've had a great week with my family, especially with Gage. He and I have had great Daddy-Gage time this week," he told me.
My wife reminded me of that when we heard this about Gage, but it was interesting because Rebecca is pregnant with their fourth, due in September, and I was sitting on Gage's bed with him on Thursday talking, and I said, "Well, Gage, what do you think this fourth one is going to be?" and he goes, "I don't know what it is, but I know what I want it to be, and I go, "Well, what do you want it to be?"
Now listen, you have two sisters…an older sister and a younger sister…then you have this other one coming. What do you want if you're a little guy? You want your brother to play catch with, right? Not Gage. He goes, "I want it to be a girl." I go, "Why?" He goes, "No competition." More Daddy-Gage time. At 4 years old. Right? I go, "That is perfect." So he is like, "I don't want anybody cutting in. The girls can go do their nails, you know?"
Dad's looking around for a buddy, and I'm like, 'Ain't got no options. Come on over here, Abe. It's me and you.'" Well, 14 years into running that offense, all of a sudden comes along little Isaac, and Ishmael didn't like it. He was bitter, and so about the time that Isaac was weaned, becoming even more of a man, more of an individual that is now fun for Abe to grab and throw on his camel and go riding off to get a Slurpee, Ishmael mocked him and said something about this child of promise, and Sarah said, "That's it! Out, Hagar. Go!" God said, "Listen to her, Abe. I'm going to take care of Ishmael. I'll still bless him in some ways but get him out because these two cannot coexist."
Paul is saying that there's an illustration here that he doesn't want you to miss. Now watch. He's going to go through, and he throws in some other stuff, Jerusalem here, Mount Sinai, Arabia, but I've put a little chart for you that will help you understand basically what's going to go on at this particular moment. All right? Now, like always, anything that's up here we've also put up on the web.
Here's the deal, Hagar and Sarah… He's going to go through and show you a couple of things. First of all, Hagar is the Hebrew word for forsaken. That's what the name means. That is why, if you'll go to some of those baby-naming sites, there are not a lot of kids in your daughter's class named Hagar, because you don't go, "What should we name our kid? Well, how about Forsaken? Good one!"
You know, she was from a slave family, and so Mom and Dad said, "Oh, here comes a child. We know what this child is born into. This child is born into bondage, born into servitude. This child is forsaken out of the womb," so that's why she got the name. Guess what Sarah means? Any Sarahs here in the crowd? What's Sarah mean? Go ahead and say it. I know you know. "Princess! Sarah means princess." You'll never meet a Sarah who doesn't know what their name means.
Here we've got a forsaken mama and a mama who is a princess, which, if you are the son of a princess, what are you? (Forget Charles, all right?) What are you? Man, you have it going on! You are headed in a good direction, and so why would you want to go have a slave for a mama, which makes you a slave, when you could have a princess for a mama, which makes you a coming king?
Hagar and Abraham, through the workings and the efforts of man and the reasoning of man through the flesh, were going to bring forth something, but here's the Spirit of God at work and promise. This is the ideas of men. This is the ideas of God. This is a slave. This is a free person. This is somebody who is eventually cast out. This is somebody who is welcomed.
This is the Old Covenant at Sinai. That was to show you that you don't have what it takes. This is the New Covenant, which says, "I love you. I'm going to give you what it takes." This child is a child of judgment. This child is a child of grace. This child is a child of works, efforting through his own schemes and designs to get what he was not given. This is a child of faith.
This is the earthly Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the epicenter of Judaism, the epicenter of a system of works that men thought would make them acceptable to God. Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness surpasses the guys who are the king workers, you will not get into heaven." It is a city of bondage. It is a city of law. It is a city of tradition. It is a city of fear, that you might not fulfill the Sabbath and do everything that you were supposed to do.
This is the heavenly Jerusalem. Jerusalem means city of peace or city of God. The city of God was to be a holy place, but it was holy to show you, you aren't holy enough. This is the very holy place of God that you are welcomed into because you are his son by grace, so I don't care if you have a city called Dallas that teaches you a system of works…it is death…a city called Rome that tells you that you can become righteous through works…it is death…a city called Salt Lake City…it is death…a city called Mecca…it is death.
Why would you want to go to these earthly cities when you can be a part of the City of God? Judaism, Christianity or any world religion or system not rooted in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone with a gift of grace. Religion…relationship. There it is. Throughout this entire little section, he just unpacks that in the verses I've already read to you.
Let me just show you a couple of little things here inside of it. When he gets to verse 27, he goes in there, and he mentions a section of scripture from Isaiah, chapter 54, verse 1. Isaiah was writing to the exiled Israel who had not lived the way God wanted them to live, so there was consequence, judgment. They were sent away as slaves when they were supposed to be free. While they're over there as slaves, this word comes from Isaiah, "Sing!"
Well, why would you sing when you're a slave? Guess why? Because grace is coming. "Rejoice barren woman who does not bear…" See Genesis 11:30. "Sarai was barren…""But Sarah…rejoice, because God is going to show up and offer you promise. Israel in bondage…rejoice, because God is going to set you free, just like he did the last time from Egypt, but then you weren't obedient, so there is consequence." The whole purpose of the Old Testament is to show folks if you try and earn your relationship with God, you're always going to fail; you're always going to be individuals who incur judgment.
He says, "Rejoice, barren woman…" Now here in Isaiah 54, he is talking about exiled Israel, but he is applying it in Galatians 4 to people who've trusted God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. "…break forth and shout, you who are not in labor…" In other words, you who did not go through the pain of bringing forth this child of hope. God did it for you. You didn't do it. "…for more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband."
There were about 2 million Jews that came out of Egypt that were wed to God to go into the Promised Land. There were some 40,000 Jews that returned from Babylon to go back to Jerusalem during the time from return from exile, and what he said is, "But you guys are going to come back. I'm going to bring you a Savior through no work of your own. A child will come forth who will be a child of hope who is long expected, who is long promised, and when you embrace that child, that child will give you a group of descendants that are even more numerous than the descendants who came out of Israel whom I was wed to."
What Paul is going to say is God says, "You think Israel had a lot of people coming out of bondage; just wait and see how I multiply folks who have a relationship who were previously barren and without hope in this world as they come into a relationship with me through Jesus Christ, the long-anticipated child, who you won't bring forth. I'll bring him forth. I'll bear the pain of this child's coming. I'll bear the pain of this child's loss so that in grace I can give you what you could never earn on your own." Do you see that?
Paul has taken an amazing verse here that was a great promise to the nation of the Israel and showing it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Why would you leave him? Why would you go back? When you take a look at who Isaac is and who Ishmael is, think about Isaac, someone who was born of God's power, not through man's effort. He was a child of promise. That's who you are. You were born by God's power.
That was the entire deal in John, chapter 3, when Nicodemus said, "Hey, I'm a Pharisee, man. I don't get it." Jesus says, "You can't do it. Unless God does something in you, you'll never make it. You must be born again." Nicodemus, thinking as a man, goes, "Well, how can I crawl back into my mother's womb?" He goes, "You don't get it. Go to God. Ask him to remake you, not through the spirit of law and fear of performance, but let God remake you through the Spirit of promise and grace and love and transform you in a way that will allow you to be, if you will, made new."
Isaac brought joy. Ishmael brought war and curse. Isaac grew. Isaac was weaned, became an adult and mature. He was persecuted by those who were sons of works. Let me just tell you this. Some of the folks who are most critical of people who really trust the Lord and want to radically follow him in a love relationship are going to be our half-brothers; religious people, folks who believe that this is what you do to get into a relationship with God but don't take this love relationship with God too seriously.
There are folks who have been so critical of us lately…you know, people who used to hang out with us who'd just go, "Look, this doesn't make sense anymore to trust God. When you want me to trust God in this circumstance, that's crazy! Don't tell me his Word is trustworthy. That is nuts!" and so they run away, and they come over here and do what's right to man. I want to promise you. The people who have the hardest time (you go back and look in history) with salvation by grace through faith alone have been religious institutions of men. You will be persecuted if you are a child of promise.
The world hates Christians because they say, "What you do isn't good enough," because we're just representing a holy God, that their system of works will leave them wanting and we're stripping institutions of men and powerful systems that men have entrenched over the centuries and saying, "You don't need those men. You don't need those mediators. You need one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ," and they hate you for that. They hate you for that.
I'm just going to tell you. Isaac was all those things, but Isaac was persecuted, and he is going to be persecuted, and you will be persecuted. "Indeed,** all[those]who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."** How do I want to wrap this up? I'll wrap it up by just saying this as a major application. Okay? Here's the deal. Trying to help God out never helps the situation.
In fact, you look at the biggest conflict in the world today, and it all started because man was trying to help God out instead of trusting in the promise. It is going to be the same with you. Don't help God out. Fearlessly, shamelessly, recklessly, trust the promise. Don't go, "You know what? This just doesn't seem right to hold onto this hope. It doesn't seem right to trust this Word." When you do that, it is going to lead to death in your life. I know it seems right to you, but it's going to lead to death.
You cannot bring Sarah and Isaac into a relationship with Hagar and Ishmael. It won't happen. Works doesn't go with faith. Flesh doesn't go with Spirit. It doesn't go together. You're going to find out, when we come back to Galatians after some months now, chapter 5 really begins to talk about, "Are you going to now live as a fleshly person or as a Spirit person?" and what Paul is saying is, "Look, the law and obedience to it never brought you the Spirit. The promise of the Jesus Christ crucified for you and the new covenant that came with him brought the Spirit of transformation into your life, the Spirit of love."
Now he is saying, "Be controlled by the Spirt. Yield to the Spirit, for the works of the flesh are…" and he'll list them out in Galatians, chapter 5, but "The works of the Spirit are…" and what he goes onto say is, "Look, the works of the flesh…performance and law; the works of the flesh, licentiousness and lust…they lead to death, but the works of the Spirit…love, surrender…lead to life. Don't go back. Stay in a love relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and this is the fruit of it."
Do you see that? You have to ask yourself continually, "Am I being controlled right now by the love of God? Is what I'm doing right now being controlled by the love of God? Am I speaking this way, investing this way, living this way, thinking this way, watching this because I love God or because I think I can get away with it or because I think the consequence won't be that bad?" That is law! How many of you guys have done that? "I think here no one will check my history. I think here this isn't really adultery. It's not too bad in our legal system if, on my own, I do this." How'd that work out for you?
Other times, you're over here going, "You know what? No one may ever know I'm going to do this, but I love my wife. I love my God. He says this is won't be healthy for me, so even though I'll never get caught, this is not about not getting caught. That's the law. This is about love." Do you see the difference?
That's why Paul is going to say to you again and again and again, "Keep going back to thinking this way. Am I expressing a right response to a God who died for one such as me and loved me this much?" If you go, "Is this what a person who loves God would do?" you'll never screw up.
"Jesus, what's the greatest commandment?" "Well, there are two. First, love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is just like it because, if you love God, you're going to love what he loves, so you're going to love your neighbor as yourself."
You see? But you won't ever live like that unless the Spirit controls you, the Spirit which comes when you surrender yourself to Christ and embrace his perfect provision, Jesus, and you go, "I'll never get over this guy's love for me." Helping God out never helps the situation, and wherever you are following the laws of men or lust of the flesh, you are a slave. That's really what I just unpacked.
Whenever you follow the laws of men or the lust of the flesh, which are you two options if you're not going to follow the Spirit…God's Son, God's Spirit gives life. Everything else leads to death, and that's why Paul wrote this book. Will you just love him? Will you accept his love for you as evidenced through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ, and will you sing, "Rejoice, barren one?" See, that's why we get together. We go, "Guess who we are? We're a bunch of imperfect people who deserve judgment."
July 4th is coming, and we're going to sing the song, "Battle Hymn of the Republic." You know, "Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on." Do you know what that song is? Listen to the words. "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." and then it goes on to say he comes to stomp out the grapes of wrath. You know, judgment that's been stored. That's not how it goes, but something like that. Right?
He is saying, "Hey, judgment is coming. It is marching." Then you go, "Well, hey, Bro. Why are you singing?" "Because don't you deserve judgment?" Because what we always do is, we think somebody else deserves judgment. God says, "No, you all deserve judgment." The reason we're singing is because we have been taken out of judgment into life.
We are barren, guilty, dead men who go, "God has given us a gift we could never earn, and so we sing, and so we let that love rule our lives," and the people of the world look at us and go, "Who are these people who are ruled not by law and fear but by love and joy?" They are sons of Isaac, sons of Abraham, sons of God, followers of Jesus. They are his people. Let us sing!
Father, I pray as we gather now just to close, we sing, and we just don't get over your grace that you've given to us, and I pray that, as we just go through this incredible little book, Galatians, that is just talking about this idea that we are justified by grace through faith alone, that we're free, but Lord, we don't want to use our freedoms and opportunity for the flesh. It's for freedom's sake that you've set us free. It's the freedom to love. It's the freedom to have a relationship with you.
Because our hearts have been captured by this love now, we can gladly, not out of bitterness, tithe but out of joy, give…not out of fear don't act, but out of love pursue the right thing. I pray that that Spirit, Father, would so rule our lives that the world would go, "I just can't explain you people." They wouldn't see a leash on our neck. They would see a love relationship where we heel at your side with a wag in our tail, and it would cause them to say, "Who is your Master?" and we would tell them of your love for us. Let us sing! Amen.
Look, anybody can sing in here, and what a life of worship is all about is what we do when we come out of here. We come. We remind ourselves. We come, and we commune together to spur each other on, to look at this thing and go, "Of course, man, we're Isaac! We had nothing to do with being born. It's a miracle that we are right with God." That is it. We are people who have been redeemed by the grace of God and our faith in his perfect provision. May we never get over it. May we quit looking with arrogance at others who aren't as smart as we are.
We're not smart. We're children of grace. We ought to be the humblest people on the face of the earth. We ought to never get over it. He loves me! Why wouldn't I live for him? The reason you wouldn't is because you don't think you're that unlovable, and you just haven't seen the depths of the glory of God.
You have dumbed down his perfection, and you have heightened your goodness, and your religion meets, and you think you're all right. You don't know God. He is holy, and he wants you to be holy. You're not? Guess what? Grace…Jesus…the cross…bridges that gap. Trust in it alone.
If you've never received that gift of salvation by grace through faith, man, we'd love to talk to you about it now. We'd love to talk about it with you this week. Just check a box in the privacy of a room that you can choose. We'd love to have that conversation with you.
If you know Jesus and the love of God expressed through him, then sing, man! Sing with your life! Sing with the way you love. Sing with the way you ask for forgiveness for not singing very well. Sing with the way you make everything you do ruled by the Spirt of love which God has given you through Christ.
What makes the Christian faith like no other? Its bold claim that we are accepted by God - not because we "follow the rules" - but only because of Christ's sacrifice. Yet how many of us, if we're honest with ourselves, are still trying to earn God's love!Having previously established the church in Galatia, Paul continues to boldly proclaim Christ and maintain that the law's sole purpose was to make us aware of our great need for God's grace. He warns against striving to merit God's acceptance by following strict religious practices. Doing so is an exercise in futility and a rejection of Christ's sacrifice.The message for believers today is clear: Relying on performance to earn God's love sets us up for bondage to legalism, pride and hardness of heart. Join Todd Wagner on this walk through the book of Galatians where you'll discover the danger of performance-based acceptance and learn to walk in the freedom offered through a relationship with Christ.