Legalism versus freedom: Ishmael or Isaac? Galatians 4:21-31
Tell me now, you who have become so enamored with the law: Have you paid close attention to that law? Abraham, remember, had two sons: one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. The son of the slave woman was born by human scheming; the son of the free woman was born by God’s promise. This illustrates the very thing we are dealing with now. The two births represent two ways of being in relationship with God. One is from Mount Sinai in Arabia. It corresponds with what is now going on in Jerusalem—a slave life, producing slaves as offspring. This is the way of Hagar. In contrast to that, there is an invisible Jerusalem, a free Jerusalem, and she is our mother—this is the way of Sarah. Remember what Isaiah wrote:
Rejoice, barren woman who bears no children, shout and cry out, woman who has no birth pangs, Because the children of the barren woman now surpass the children of the chosen woman.
Isn’t it clear, friends, that you, like Isaac, are children of promise? In the days of Hagar and Sarah, the child who came from faithless scheming (Ishmael) harassed the child who came—empowered by the Spirit—from the faithful promise (Isaac). Isn’t it clear that the harassment you are now experiencing from the Jerusalem heretics follows that old pattern? There is a Scripture that tells us what to do: “Expel the slave mother with her son, for the slave son will not inherit with the free son.” Isn’t that conclusive? We are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
The stories of these two boys is found in Genesis
Ishmael’s birth is in Genesis 16. Isaac’s birth is in Genesis 21. You should read the stories now as a reminder of what Paul is talking about here.
Ishmael (and Esau) became the Arabs
Isaac became the Jews
All of our present problems in the Middle East were foretold in Genesis. Israel is the Chosen one—by God. You need to be clear about that. God’s blessing is still attached to Israel and that will never change.
This is one of those convoluted Jewish theological reasonings that they are so fond of. Paul makes an analogy that seems very strange to us, but there are some things here we need to talk about.
The idea is that Ishmael represents the Law because he was the result of trying to get spiritual blessings through works. Sarah and Abraham attempted to take God’s promise into their own hands. This is what legalism always does.
Isaac represents salvation by grace and promise. He came by the work of God as a gift. Here we are not limited to our own efforts. We can never say “we did it!”
Legalism hates the Holy Spirit
You need to get it straight in your mind that people who base their life on rules, behaviors, and the like hate and oppress those of us who take our lead from the moment by moment direction of the Spirit of God.
Does your church give the Holy Spirit control?
This is the key. It is Jesus’ church. If the leadership refuses to do that, it is not your job to rise up against them. Ask the Lord if this is your area of ministry. He may well be calling you to minster to those that ask you for help. If this is the case, be fruitful. If it is not, go find the church the Lord has for you to work from.
We see this whole issue very strongly in the Gospels. Who did Jesus come against so strongly? Legalists! We know them as Pharisees. The church today is full of Pharisees. How can you identify them in your daily life so you can be prepared?
- They usually teach almost entirely out of the Old Testament: but not the Psalms and the Prophets. They are looking for rules of living
- They talk a lot about acceptable behavior
- They talk about using spiritual laws: to get what you want from God because He has to honor his own laws
- They base their victories on the application of spiritual principles: they have discovered in the Bible
- They like to have set rules and regulations: These are often over and above the Ten Commandments. Some churches, for example, do not allow musical instruments, forbid dancing, or watch movies. Some do not allow their women to wear makeup or jewelry,
Are these people evil? NO! They are simply misguided.
In most cases, they are not even heretics. You may or may not be given an opportunity to help them through it. This takes real wisdom and maturity on your part. The Holy Spirit is the only one with the wisdom to pierce that darkness.
It is not your job to crusade against them. Pray for them and their blindness. But do not talk against them. They are still God’s children—not yours. Your goal remains the same—be a light in the darkness, a source of love, joy, and peace.