“Having begun in the Spirit, can you be so stupid as to end in the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3, NJB). The apostle Paul understood that the Christian life begins by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, not the result of a preacher’s persuasive sermon or moving music or a hand raised or prayer prayed. Similarly, the Holy Spirit brings believers to a successful end of the Christian life, not the result of keeping the Ten Commandments or daily devotions or church attendance.
Jewish Christians were trying to convince the Galatia churches otherwise. Yes, faith in Christ. But to succeed in this life as God’s people a Gentile must be circumcised and adhere to Jewish law. Paul was furious and wrote this letter to call these new believers back to faith in Christ crucified working through the Spirit. This next section of Galatians divides into three parts headed by a summary question . . .
How can you go back to slavery?
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted” (4:8-11).
For Paul, law-submitting is slavery. Who can keep all God’s laws all the time? No one. And “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them” (3:10). How can these new believers go back to that? Faith alone in Christ alone saves and keeps saving to the end.
Have I become your enemy?
The heretical teachers not only drove a wedge between Paul’s gospel and theirs; they also drove a wedge between Paul and the people. “What has become of the goodwill you felt?” he asks. “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Paul is pained . . .
Friends, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong. You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What has become of the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them. It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you” (4:12-20).
TV preachers have more charisma than our pastor. More clout. More success. More power. (After all, they’re on TV!) Beware! 99% of the time the TV preacher’s a heretic and our ordinary pastor has the truth.
What does the Scripture say?
Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married.” Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman” (4:21-31)
This is an allegory, says Paul.—“a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life or for a political or historical situation” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). This is not the normal way of interpreting Scripture. Paul uses it here to make his point. Hagar, Sarah’s slave-maid, had a son, the result of Sarah wanting a child and urging Abraham to produce one with Hagar. Hagar, in Paul’s allegory, is like “present Jerusalem” still in slavery, trying to live under law. Sarah, had a son as a result of God’s promise. She is like “the Jerusalem above.” When Paul writes, “Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac”, he is saying that believers in Christ are descendants of Abraham, right with God by faith.
The child born according to the flesh (Ishmael and his descendants) persecuted the child born according to the Spirit (Isaac and his descendants). So it is now, says Paul. “But what does the Scripture say? . . .Drive out the slave and her child”. Kick out the false teachers!
How are we to apply this passage?
- Trust that ” . . . he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). In the new earth we will praise Jesus for saving us, for keeping us, for sanctifying us and, ultimately, for glorifying us. We’ll know then that all was of grace and nothing was of us.
- Don’t treat the TV pastor or popular book author as your buddy while giving less credence to your pastor. The Lord has set your pastor in place to study and pray over and serve you his Word. Don’t be awed (and misled) by the “superstar”.
- “Kick out” the false teacher. More often than not, the really popular guys preach a popular gospel, not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t watch them on TV. Don’t buy their best-selling books. “Kick ’em out”. Be a good student of the man God has placed in your church. And feed daily on the bread of God’s Word.