“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise…“
Paul now takes a story from the Old Testament and turns it into an illustration to contrast legalism and grace (Galatians 4:21-31).
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law,
The Galatians opened themselves to legalism but they had not fully yielded to this false doctrine – at this point, it was still their “desire” to imbibe it. The word “under” indicates authority. They wanted to place themselves under the authority of the law.
The word “law” does not have the definite article to “the” in the Greek. This indefiniteness refers to the principle of law-keeping rather than the Mosaic law, although it clearly involves a misuse of the Mosaic law along with other legalistic rules for living.
do you not hear the law?
Paul takes them to the law to show them they do not want to be under the law as a rule of life! If they truly listen to the law, true perspective on the law will support the grace concept.
For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.
Paul again appeals to the first Jew [Abraham] to argue against the Judaizers. Abraham’s two sons Isaac and Ishmael were born from different mothers. Isaac’s mother was Sarah, a free woman. Ishmael was born to Hagar, an Egyptian slave.
But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise,
Paul draws a contrast between law and grace by an analogy between the births of Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael’s birth was ordinary but came out of fleshly manipulation by Abraham and Sarah. They thought that they could help God along by using a carnal method for obtaining a child, so Sarah suggested, because of her advanced age, that Abraham have sex with Hagar so that he could have a son.
Isaac’s birth, sixteen years later, however, came by a previous promise of God (Genesis 15:1-4). Sarah was too old to bear a child (Romans 4:18-21) yet God promised her a child in the face of her aging years. Similarly, we cannot manipulate our way into salvation or sanctification, for we accept them by faith.
The Christian life is a supernatural way of life with all provisions coming from God.
Christian leaders should be wary of their followers falling into legalism. Such a group will throw away their spiritual lives if their leaders let them. It is like training our physical children in the graces of life, and then they marry some good-for-nothing — “She threw her life away on a jerk,” we’d think all we can do is alert our followers and warn them of the consequences.
The law circumscribes people into bondage. False teachers come along and sell people a bill of goods to descend from the high mountain of grace to the low valley of legalism. If they buy into it, they will take a giant step backward in their Christian lives.
Legalism says that we must do something to please God. “Christians must impress God by their works. They must change their wicked ways,” says the legalist. No one can become a Christian or be spiritual this way. Anything human beings can do to save themselves apart from God’s provision is not the Christian life. Either we operate by grace, or we engage with Satan’s cosmos, his system of values.