"Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law 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 according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”
Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does 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.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman."
Paul, The Apostle of Grace
Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to correct a major error which had spread throughout the Galatian churches. This error was the belief that righteousness (God's forgiveness and acceptance) came through belief in Jesus plus behaving according to the Law of Moses (morality and religious activity). Those promoting this belief put more emphasis on behavior according to the Law of Moses rather than on belief in the cross of Jesus.
Paul's correction to this error was this:
Righteousness does not come through a combination of belief in Jesus plus behaving according to the Law of Moses. If it did, then grace would be set aside, meaning Jesus died for nothing! (Galatians 2:21).
Furthermore, Paul said that to pursue righteousness through the Law of Moses would be to fall from grace and cut oneself off from Jesus (Galatians 5:4). Righteousness, Paul taught, comes by faith in Jesus alone, not by following the Law of Moses. According to Paul, living under the law is slavery. However, living under grace is freedom. The problem in Galatia was the people had been convinced by teachers from Jerusalem to live under the Law of Moses, and in doing so had deserted grace (Galatians 1:6).
Since the people of Galatia were very familiar with the Old Testament, Paul used a story about two mothers from the Old Testament to illustrate they should not be living under law but under grace.
One mother, Hagar, represented the old covenant of the Law of Moses which came from Mount Sinai, the mountain of law, which the people of Israel were in slavery to. Abraham and Hagar had a child, Ishmael. Ismael was produced by their own works, the flesh, apart from God.
The other mother, Sarah, represented the new covenant of grace, which came from the heavenly city of Jerusalem, the city of grace. She was the mother of freedom. Abraham and Sarah had a child, Isaac. Isaac was not born by human effort, the flesh, but was born by the power of God...his promise.
Growing up, Ishmael persecuted Isaac. Therefore, God sent Ishmael and Hagar away. So what was Paul's point in this illustration. Paul was teaching the Galatians that their mother is not the Law of Moses but is the grace of God freely given to us in Jesus.
To pursue righteousness through the law is of the flesh, human effort. But to receive righteousness by grace through faith is to rely totally, 100%, on Jesus alone. Paul strongly encouraged the Galatian people to send away from their churches of grace, as Hagar and Ismael were sent away from Israel, those who were teaching that righteousness is a combination of morality, religious activity, and faith, rather than faith in Jesus alone by grace alone.
As one who has come to faith in Jesus, your mother's name, figuratively speaking, is Grace. Your mother's name is not Law.
You do not pursue righteousness (God's forgiveness and acceptance) through morality, religious activity, plus faith in Jesus. To do so would be to desert your true mother, your mother of freedom (Galatians 1:6), Grace, setting her aside (Galatians 2:21), and falling away from her (Galatians 5:4). And, then, returning to your mother of Law, putting you back under slavery. By grace, you have been born into the fullness of all that God did for you in Jesus.
Through faith in Jesus, you have received complete forgiveness and you are totally accepted by God. You are free from having to pursue righteousness by human effort, the flesh, religious activity and morality. You can now, in the freedom of grace, enjoy your relationship with God as your loving Father (Galatians 4:4-6).
To read Brad's other teachings on Galatians, click below.