In Galatians 4:21-31 the apostle Paul speaks of the difference between Law and Gospel in terms of two covenants. To do this, he makes an allegory based on Abraham’s children. By his wife’s bondwoman, Hagar, his son was Ishmael. By his wife, Sarah, his son was Isaac. The first covenant is that which Paul compares to bondage. This is “law,” the things you might do to obey God.
God had made a promise to Abraham, that he would be the father of many nations and that all the nations would be blessed through him. This was a promise to someone whose wife had never been pregnant and had now reached extreme old age. Because the child did not seem to be forthcoming, Abraham made his own effort to fulfill the promise, by fathering a child with Hagar.
Paul calls this a covenant of bondage. He relates it to Mount Sinai, the place where God gave the commandments to Israel. He also compares it to modern-day Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was put to death.
On the contrary, in verse 26, Paul speaks of “the Jerusalem above” (NKJV). This is the place of promise. Jesus, born of the lineage of Isaac, is the fulfillment of God’s promise. Through Jesus all the nations of the world, including the Galatians, to whom Paul writes, are blessed. They are children of promise.
Paul’s caution is that the Galatians should live as children of promise, not as children of bondage. Galatians 5:1 says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (NKJV). Christians are to live as heirs of a promise. We are not able to do anything to earn God’s grace. We are only able to receive it.
By this grace, we receive the life Jesus, the one who lived a perfect life according to the Law, who died as a substitute for sinful humanity, and who was raised from the dead to new life, gives us. It is entirely through trust in God’s promise, fulfilled in Jesus.
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