Freedom or slavery – An argument from Scripture.

Ds J Bruintjes
Galatians 4:21-31
Preek Inhoud: 

Many view Christianity as an enslaving religion. My response is “why yes, it is, and so is yours.” But there is a slavery that leads to freedom, and a freedom that leads to slavery. In our western culture it is all about choice. You can choose who you want to be, what you want to do. You should have the right to choose your partner, what gender your partner is going to be. You must have the choice to do what you want, whenever you want, however you want. You even have the choice to choose your own identity. The truth of your biological sex does not matter. You can choose from the labels, l,b,g,t,q and beyond.

One person that became a Christians in the 70’s, that was part of the hippie, no rules lifestyle had the following to say, “We were choosing to do whatever he wanted.” He said, “we took what we wanted and then found we no longer wanted what we took. We pursued freedom and found ourselves enslaved.” I am going to be honest up front, Christianity will not tell you to do what you want, Christianity is an identity found in Christ. Christianity will tell you what the meaning of your life is, why we are here, where we are going, and what our purpose is. Christianity is an identity not found in ourselves, but outside of ourselves. Not found in do’s and don’ts, but born out of a Spirit birthed life.

Freedom or slavery – An argument from Scripture.

  1. Historical Situation
  2. Figurative Interpretation
  3. Practical application

Historical Situation

Today we come to one of the hardest texts in Galatians. Paul starts by saying, “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?” Have you all read your Bibles? Do you even know what the law says?

Some people draw things out of the Bible that no one else sees.  Philo, who was a Jewish scholar that lived around the same time, did something like this with the Patriarchs. He says Abraham is a symbol of wisdom or virtue acquired by teaching, Isaac a symbol of wisdom acquired by nature, and Jacob a symbol of wisdom acquired by practice. Which ties into the three basic building blocks of Greek education. I don’t know about you but when you read the chapters after Genesis 10 what Philo says is simply not there. But that is not the case with Paul’s argument here. This is not a matter of weak exegesis. Paul says, what he is seeing is self-evident. So let’s look at what that was.

Verse 22-23 says, “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as a result of the promise.” So let’s go back into Genesis and just remind ourselves of this story. God made a promise that He would make a great nation out of Abraham, but time was getting on, his wife’s biological clock was ticking so to speak. When they gazed at themselves in the desert water they could see the gray hair and the wrinkles on their face.

And as hard as being barren is on a man, it is usually far harder for a woman. Year after year Sarah prayed for her baby, but it never came. Finally, in bitterness, frustration and desperation we read that she says in Genesis 16:2, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant, it may be that I shall obtain a son by her.” The servant – an Egyptian woman named Hagar – conceived and gave birth to a son, Ishmael.

But God had not forgotten his promises. He just doesn’t do that kind of thing. Ever. As we read in Gen 17:15, “I will bless her and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become the mother of nations.” Because of Gods promise, against all expectations, Sarah gave birth at the age of 90, to a son, and called him Isaac.

There were similarities between the two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. They were both sons of Abraham, both had been circumcised. But there were also crucial differences. They had inherited two different legal standings. Ishmael’s mother was a slave, so he was born a slave. Isaac on the other hand was born free, the heir of a free woman. The other big difference was the way in which they were born. Ishmael was born literally, “according to the flesh.” This means Ishmael came in the ordinary way through human initiative.

However, Isaac was born “according to the promise, or according to the Spirit.” Isaacs’s birth was a result of divine intervention. In Genesis 18:11-12 we read, “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah (in other words she had gone through menopause) so Sarah laughed at herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my Lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”

The answer? YES! God gave them the child he promised as we read in Hebrews 11:11, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”

So to conclude this first section we see that this was about more than two brothers just not getting along. When Abraham got Hagar pregnant, he was working under the assumption that God helps those who help themselves. He was trying to take the blessing, rather than receive it. We have heard before, it is not possible to force someone to give a promise.

So from the beginning there was a spiritual difference between the sons, one son was born naturally, the other by promise. One came by word, the other by faith. One was a slave the other was free. So they represent the two approaches to religion we have seen throughout this book. Law against grace, flesh against spirit, self-reliance or divine dependence. Bringing us to point number 2.

Figurative Interpretation

So far it all makes sense: two women, one free, one slave; two sons, one born to the slave woman in an ordinary way, the other son born to a free woman in an extraordinary way. Now he continues in verse 24, “These things may be taken figuratively.” He is saying these pairs represent something more. You see the entire Bible is history with a theological meaning. There is a purpose behind the history that God gives us in Scripture. He does not write something in this book just so we can know what went on thousands of years ago. On every page of Scripture we can ask, what is God doing, what is God saying, and how does this point to Christ? In these stories he shows us that we are all either an Ishmael or Isaac.

He continues in verse 24, “For the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mt. Sinai and bears children who are slaves: This is Hagar.” Remember how in Galatians 3 and 4,  he says the law was like a master that kept them prisoner until faith should be revealed. They were living in slavery under “the basic principles of this world.” They were living under the law. We have seen over and over in chapter 2-4 how the law is a guardian, it is something that puts us under slavery. And in this way the Mt. Sinai where that law was given, is a picture of the slave woman, Hagar.

 When you generally asked an Old Testament Jew how you were righteous, or were saved, they would respond by saying, “by obeying the law.” But then you say, well what about Abraham, and they would respond with Genesis 26:5, “Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." They would say it must have been revealed to him by special revelation. You see they started elevating the law by reading the whole Bible through the lens of the law. It was all about how you respond to the law. We can do that too with a certain doctrine. Read the entire Bible through the lens of what we prioritize as most important, and make it all fit.

What the Jews forgot was that the law showed over and over again that is did not work! At the end of the law, even Moses, the law giver, is not allowed to enter the Promised Land in Deuteronomy. O the law is good, but not powerful. Good, but not transforming. Prophetic, but not able to change the human heart.

verse 25 summarizes for us, “Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.” Like will produce like. Your family identifies who you are. If you are a son of the earthly Jerusalem, a son of Hagar, a son of the Sinai covenant then you are in slavery.  It makes no difference if you are an unbeliever or a legalistic Christian – Paul puts them in the exact same camp. Do you see that? The Gentiles who did not know God, are in the same camp as Jews who said they believed in the Messiah, Jesus, but at the same time wanted to please God through the law. Paul says you all belong to the earthly Jerusalem.

But a Christ follower is a child of Abraham, who by faith “was looking forward to the city with foundation, whose architect and builder was God.” The present city of Jerusalem was built by man – the point here is NOTHING that is built by man will last, unless God is at work. God is the one building a new Jerusalem that comes out of heaven. We see this picture of the two Jerusalem’s throughout the Old Testament too. My wife and I just finished reading Jeremiah where we saw the picture of the earthly Jerusalem, full of sin, filth, disobedience: The Jerusalem that will be destroyed, damned. 

But in other sections of the OT you see pictures of a gloriously perfect Jerusalem. The promise of the other Jerusalem so spectacularly over the top – read the Psalms or look at the end of Ezekiel. And who could forget about the last few chapters of Revelation! There are prophecies there that are out of this world. And that is where God is. Beloved you do not belong to the earthly Jerusalem built by human hands, you belong to the city whose architect and builder is God. As verse 26 says, “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” Remember freedom. You are free to live for God again! Not because you must, but because you love to! So be Glad!!!! Be joyful!

, “Be glad, O barren women, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman, than of her who has a husband.” This quote comes from Isaiah 54. There he is talking about the New Jerusalem – which corresponds to that woman that was barren, Sarah. But we know because of the promises of God, that through Sarah the promise made to Sarah and ultimately to Christ – millions would flood into the gates of that eternal city designed by God, all from a woman who at one time could not bear a single child.

Do you see this grand story starting to form in Scripture, especially the Old Testament? It is so important that when we read the Old Testament we see these grand narratives. These themes of slavery and freedom, of promise and covenant, of temple and sacrifice, the significance of Jerusalem, the land, and the people. Understanding these basic concepts will unlock the glory of the Old Testament for you. Paul is just showing us one instance.

All of a sudden these normal everyday stories gain new meaning in the light of Christ, and his work. They become alive – and Paul shows us these stories of eternal gospel significance. Christ is the key to unlocking both Scripture and history. Because all of history, indeed, all of reality takes its bearing from the unique particular events of his death and resurrection. It is the good news that Paul hears echoing backwards and forwards in history. There are echoes of the gospel in Israel’s history. Well what do we do with this, what are some things that flow out of this? Paul tells us.

Practical Application

First, we read in verse 28, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of the promise.” You are children of the promise. This means, depend on the promises of God. Seek them out in Scripture – underline them. God is faithful – no matter how things may look from a human perspective. Like Abraham, continue to hope even when there is no more hope. All it takes to be a child of the promise is to believe that promise. Stand as children of the promise, fix your eyes on Him, your soul’s reward, till the race is finished and the work is done, walk by faith and not by sight. 

And know that this stand will put you in a line of Fire. You will be persecuted because of it. Again, Paul bases this on history, in verse 29, “At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.” Trust me, to admit you have nothing and you are weak, broken, and depend wholly on Jesus, is not something this world appreciates. Our hearts want to be like God, they don’t want to serve God. As it was with Ishmael and Isaac so it was in Galatians. The sons of Hagar from the Sinai covenant were still persecuting the sons of the promise.

Martin Luther says, “If someone does not want to endure persecution from the sons of Ishmael, let him not claim to be a Christian.” We often think this persecution comes from outside, but it can also arrive from within. In fact, it was people that claimed to be Christians, but were focused on works, that were the ones causing division, and strife! Persecution and division comes from within the church, almost more often than not. When it does come from within, it comes again from two camps. The one says, you are being too loving, you need to be harsher, the other side says you are being too harsh.

And often a gospel centered person will get it from both sides. Look at the Galatian church. What had changed for the Galatians since Paul came and preached the gospel to them? It is their view of the gospel. A form of legalism had crept in. A system that thrives on personal performance, personal supremacy, and sadly, the trampling of others. It relentlessly squashes grace, mercy and humility. Legalism believes the prize is won through personal exertion and sees any who are in the way of the prize not as people to be served, but obstacles to be removed.

A while ago on a major shopping day in the United States shoppers trampled the workers at a Walmart on their way in. One Wal-Mart employee was crushed in the selfish stampede. This is the way legalism functions. It is an environment of competition. We act like there is only a limited number of spots available for us, and so we have to cut others down, biting and devouring one another, in pursuit of our prize. We humans can falsely think that the competition is between us and other people, so we set up rules and tear down others; judging and defrauding one another. That, is legalism  

But on the other hand, you will also get it when you call sin, sin. Wow, they will say, he or she is judgmental. But the gospel believer is able to stay grounded, calling sin, sin, while not being judgmental, because he knows he himself is a sinner saved by grace.

What we must do is make sure there is a passionate love for Christ, and as much as possible stand up against every form of slavery when it comes to the gospel. You can’t domesticate or chain up the gospel, or grace, by adding human regulations. We must eliminate any desire to do so. As he says in verse 30, “But what does the scripture say? Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” It is a not so subtle way of saying kick those false Jewish teachers out of town. Here in this church we are free, and we wish to be passionate about the freedom we have in Christ. Let’s make sure it stays that way.

In conclusion just a few things.

Freedom from slavery, which Paul envisages, is freedom from the law, or anything else religious or irreligious we may see as the ground of our acceptance before God. This includes devotions, or acting like a Pharisee and looking at the guy across the room from you and thinking “Thank you that I am not like that person, or my family does not look like that family.” That type of thinking has no place here. We consider everyone better than ourselves.

This is unlike many in the western world when they are thinking of freedom, where freedom is in a self- chosen or self-constructed identity. It is important to see that this kind of choice issue is the most vulgar and punishing slavery of all, and it damns us. No, the freedom in Christ, the freedom of the new Jerusalem is a transforming freedom that makes our hearts burn within us when we hear the words of the resurrected Christ. And it causes us to yearn for a new master. The gospel is freedom because it is a blessed slavery. This idea has been best caught in some of the old hymns. I’ll will leave you with one.

1Make me a captive, Lord,

and then I shall be free.

Force me to render up my sword,

and I shall conqueror be.

I sink in life's alarms

when by myself I stand;

imprison me within thine arms,

and strong shall be my hand.


My heart is weak and poor

until it master find;

it has no spring of action sure,

it varies with the wind.

It cannot freely move

till thou hast wrought its chain;

enslave it with thy matchless love,

and deathless it shall reign.


My power is faint and low

till I have learned to serve;

it lacks the needed fire to glow,

it lacks the breeze to nerve.

It cannot drive the world

until itself be driven;

its flag can only be unfurled

when thou shalt breathe from heaven.


My will is not my own

till thou hast made it thine;

if it would reach a monarch's throne,

it must its crown resign.

It only stands unbent

amid the clashing strife,

when on thy bosom it has leant,

and found in thee its life.


May this church be forever free.