Galatians 4:21-31 … Scripture is filled with allegory, which is a kind of metaphor or analogy intended to aid our understanding. Sometimes the allegory involves real people and places, making the example even more graphic, and that’s what we have in these verses: an allegory involving real people of history. The Galatians were in danger of slipping into a false sense of security, that of following the law in hopes of creating a perverse sense of obligating God’s respect and benevolence. Many people today are under the same kind of delusion. You hear it expressed this way: “I’ve lived a pretty good life; I’ve never hurt anybody.” In other words, that kind of thought is predicated on the unstated proposition that, since I’ve been good, God somehow owes me. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact the notion itself is prideful and denying of personal sin. Following the law leads to that kind of delusion. That’s what Paul is arguing against here and he does it by revealing that the historical story of Ishmael and Isaac is a living allegory. Ishmael was the son of Abraham through Hagar the maidservant who Abraham and Sarah used to gain a son when they became impatient waiting for God’s promised son. And so Ishmael came into the world. But he’s not the son of the Abrahamic Covenant and he’s not God’s promised son. Because he is the son of Hagar, who was a bondservant, Ishmael is also a bondservant. In this allegory, he represents being enslaved to the law. But Isaac is the son of the promise, God’s free gift, and represents the freedom believers have in the grace of God. Salvation is not earned and cannot be earned. It’s God’s free gift, by grace, to believers. So the message of Paul to the Galatians (and to us) is that salvation is God’s free gift. No one should ever try to substitute anything for God’s gift; certainly not your own effort, which is inherently sinful. The word Scripture uses to tell us that our sin is completely taken away in Christ is: justification. And justification comes by grace, God’s free gift. Our response to God’s grace should be eternal praise and thanksgiving to our Savior.
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