by Mike Ratliff
1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. (Romans 9:1-8 NASB)
I just spent the last several days traveling from Kansas City to the Washington D.C. area and back. While it was merciful to get away from this dreadful heat wave and drought that has persisted since May 29th, I looked very hard for God’s people in the D.C. area, in Baltimore and Annapolis. I saw lots of church buildings, but I’m not sure I came across a lot of Christians. We ate in a restaurant in Georgetown on Saturday night and there were three men and a woman at the table next to us in a very long and serious discussion. They looked very distinguished. In between the serving of the courses they went over a very formal document in which they attempted to define what the terms “Born-Again” and “Evangelical” meant and how it would be handled by whatever “organization” that document defined. My wife and I discussed it later and she succinctly stated that I could have settled all of their confusion very quickly with some direct preaching from the Word.
21 Tell me, those desiring to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it has been written, Abraham had two sons, one of the maid servant and one of the free woman. 23 But the one of the maidservant has been born according to the flesh and the one of the free woman through the promise. 24 Which things are allegorized, for these are two covenants: one from Mount Sinai, bringing forth to slavery; who is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, fore she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27 For it has been 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 THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.” 28 But you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But as then the one born according to flesh was persecuting the one born according to Spirit, so also now. 30 But what says the Scripture? “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.” 31 Therefore, brothers, we are not children of a maidservant, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-31 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
Yes, I know it is natural for us to desire to be under the law, but Christians, real Christians, are children of the same promise given to Abraham in which he believed and it was accounted to him as righteousness by God. Those who submit to the law are enslaved to it and are not children of the promise, but are actually born of a religion that is according to the flesh and it does not save. Religiosity that we use in order to please God and try to earn his favor is no different than the religion of those whom Paul is talking about who are the children of Hagar. The Judiazers whom Paul is talking about here sought to bring the Galatians back into bondage to the Mosaic Covenant, but these were Gentiles saved by grace and had never been part of that.
As I translated Galatians 4:21-31 the parts that stood out to me so vividly was the contrast Paul was making between those born of the promise and those born of the flesh. Look at v29. Nothing has changed. Those who love the man-pleasing comfort zone of legalism will always persecute those born of the promise who have nothing to do with their attempts at enslaving them to their man-made religiosity. I’ve seen it even in churches where the gospel was preached. There was always that “yeah-but” afterwards to those who wanted to join the fellowship after “walking that aisle, getting baptized, et cetera.” That “yeah-but” had to do with works. Now, I know that I was gifted by God to serve the Body of Christ and walk in the good works he has ordained. However, the works I’m talking about went something like this, “Mike, yes, we know you are a teacher and leader, but as a deacon we need you to ‘work’ in other areas to prove you are genuine.” What? Like what? “Oh, you know, areas outside of your giftedness…” I still don’t know what they wanted from me.
As children of the free woman, works righteousness must be an abhorrence to us. I also know that many of you, as I did, will find, and are finding that process to be quite difficult. We want so much to work our way to Heaven. My brethren, God has gifted us all to serve the Body of Christ and we must do this for this is our calling and how we obey our Lord as we abide in him. I am in no way advocating antinomianism. We are to be subject to the Holiness of God and we are to love the brethren and obey our Lord’s commandments, but we are never to become enslaved to the law as means of salvation, for that is to prove one’s membership in the wrong covenant.
Soli Deo Gloria!