whytheology

For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

March 20 Reflection, Galatians 4:21-23

Galatians 4:21-23 KJV (NIV Link below)

21Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

22For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

23But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

Link to NIV text

Whose Child are you?

In today’s passage Paul uses the law to prove a point about the law. He makes an analogy between the two sons of Abraham: Ishmael, the son of Hagar, is representative of the Judaizer’s view of the law and Isaac, the son of Sarah, representative of the freedom and grace under Christ. While he will conclude this analogy in tomorrow’s passage, some interesting themes emerge. Abraham and Sarah, looking at their old age, did not think that a miraculous fulfillment of God’s promise could be possible. They decided to do what made logical sense to them, given the situation and culture they were in, and they used another person, Hagar, to achieve what they thought was God’s fulfillment of the promise. It was not until Isaac was born, the miracle child, that they understood they should have believed God’s promise on faith alone.

Paul continues to draw the parallels between the child of human effort being born to slavery and the child of faith being born free. For now, let’s just look at the contrast between human effort and faith. Granted, it was pretty miraculous that Abraham could have any children at all, but it was not beyond the realm of possibility. Sarah’s pregnancy, though, was. Thus, Abraham and Sarah decided to couple human effort together with God’s work. As Paul argued near the beginning of this Galatians series, grace plus anything is no longer grace. Abraham and Sarah did not understand that the covenant God had established was one of grace only. They were completely unworthy of receiving it. In the same way, we are completely unworthy of receiving this covenant under Christ. That is the miraculous nature of it. It is logical that we would become Jewish prior to receiving salvation, especially if the law is not dismissed outright. However, we are made children of the covenant through the fulfillment of God’s earlier covenant with Abraham by the miraculous person of Jesus. It is therefore by faith only. If human effort were required, it would no longer be the miraculous work of God.

What about you? Are you sometimes amazed at what God can do and has done? Have you ever tried to “help God along” by your own efforts to make God fit your mold? In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan, the Lion who acts as a sort of Christ-figure*, notes that Edmund is saved because of the “deeper magic” of which the White Witch was unaware because Aslan had fulfilled the requirements of the “stone table” and become a willing, virtuous sacrifice in Edmund’s stead. In what ways might that be similar to the way that Jesus fulfilled the law to miraculously save not only the Jewish people, but also those outside the initial purview of the Mosaic covenant? Lewis also described Aslan as “dangerous”. In what ways is this different type of covenant dangerous? What does it mean to you to understand your identity as a “child of the promise”?

*Note on C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, of which The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is part: Lewis wanted it to make it very clear that this is not a direct allegory or analogy of the gospel. Nevertheless, there are many analogous themes. Lewis described this comparison thusly: The Chronicles of Narnia describes how he thought God might go about bringing salvation to a world like the one of Narnia (which Lewis created). Thus Aslan is a Christ-figure in that sense, though any comparison should be very carefully done with that fact in mind.

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