daily biblical sermons


Those that seek to justify themselves by law keeping are slaves, but those that are justified by faith are free
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, 28th Week of the Year, October 12, 2020
Galatians 4:22-24, 26-27, 31-5:1, Psalm 112, Luke 11:29-32


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“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, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one that does not bear; break forth and shout, thou who art not in travail; for the desolate hath more children than she who hath a husband.’ Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now. But what does the scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 4:21-5:1).

 

 

Today’s reading from Galatians continues the theme of Galatians that we are justified by faith in Christ, because of his atoning death for our sins on the cross, and not by doing the good moral and ceremonial works of the law. Today’s reading is an allegory based on the Genesis account of Abraham’s two sons, one by a slave woman Hagar, and the other by a free woman, his wife Sarah.

 

 

This allegory taken by itself would probably not convince many, for it is only introduced after the arguments from Scripture have already been made in chapter 3. Once one is convinced by these arguments (see my sermons of last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), then one can look at this allegory and see it as a striking illustration of what we have already learned about justification.

 

 

Even Calvin says the same, “Viewed simply as an argument, it would not be very powerful; but as a confirmation added to a most satisfactory chain of reasoning, it is not unworthy of attention” (John Calvin, 1509-1564).

 

 

So, this allegory is meant to illustrate in a pictorial way the fact that those Jews that now reject Christ and the righteousness that faith in him will bring them and rather prefer to try to justify themselves before God by law keeping are like children born of a slave woman compared to children born of a free woman. They are enslaved to a law that they can never sufficiently keep to be justified before God, and they have foolishly rejected the solution that God himself wanted to give them in his own Son who atoned for our sins by suffering our punishment for our sins for us if only we accept him and put our trusting faith in him for our justification.

 

 

These Jews have rejected God’s plan for their salvation which would have liberated them from the weight and burden of their past sins, for which they will be held guilty and for which they will be justly punished after death. St. Paul sees people who do this as slaves, as children of a slave girl, living a miserable life of slavery. Not, of course, that God had condemned them to this terrible state, for he wanted them to be like children of a free woman born to liberty, but they rejected his invitation.

 

 

About these two children St. Paul says, “Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar (Abraham’s slave girl) … She corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children” (Galatians 4:24-25). Then there are the Jewish and Gentile Christians who depend on Christ for their justification, not on the moral and ceremonial works of the Mosaic law.

 

 

The law was not bad. God himself gave it to the Jews, but he gave it to them as a temporary measure, as a custodian or pedagogue to keep them in line until the age of faith so that they could be justified by faith in Christ. But what made the law bad for them was that once the age of faith came and Christ and his gospel were preached to them, they refused to accept it and believe in it. They refused to see the law as a temporary measure, as a custodian to lead them to Christ, and wanted to make it permanent for their whole life and for their whole people forever. This is what constituted them as slaves at the present time.

 

 

So, St. Paul says that these Jews are like Hagar, the slave woman, who “corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children” (Galatians 4:25). The present Jerusalem means the Jews who have rejected Jesus, whom St. Paul calls slaves.

 

 

Then St. Paul speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem as an image of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ: “But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Galatians 4:26). St. Paul says that not only is the heavenly Jerusalem an image of us Christians, but she is a mother, she is like Sarah who was barren and then finally gave birth to the free son of the promise, Isaac. So, for St. Paul, Sarah and her son Isaac symbolize the Jews and Gentiles of his day that believe in Christ.

 

 

St. Paul praises this freewoman who is our mother by applying to her the words of Isaiah, “Rejoice, O barren one that does not bear; break forth and shout, thou who art not in travail; for the desolate hath more children than she who hath a husband” (Galatians 4:27 quoting Isaiah 54:1).

 

 

St. Paul next says, “Now we [Christians], brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise” (Galatians 4:28). We live in freedom. We are not slaves. We live in full hope of salvation, because Christ has paid our debt of suffering and death that we have with God in punishment for our sins by his suffering and death on the cross. When we therefore put our faith in him, God considers his suffering and death to have paid our debt of suffering and death that we have with God for our sins. And so, since we have no more sins to pay for or to be punished for, God declares us righteous. He justifies us by our faith in Christ.

 

 

In St. Paul’s time the nonbelieving Jews and the Jews that wanted to force the Gentile Christians to obey the full Mosaic law with all its ceremonial customs persecuted the faithful Gentile Christians who simply wanted to be justified by faith in Christ. St. Paul also makes an allegory to illustrate this persecution, “But as at that time he [Ishmael] who was born according to the flesh persecuted him [Isaac] who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now” (Galatians 4:29). The point of this allegory is that Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, persecuted Isaac, the son of the freewoman, just as the non-Christian Jews now persecute the Jewish and Gentile Christians.

 

 

So, what does God do about these Jews that reject Christ, prefer to live as slaves, and persecute those that depend on Christ for their justification? To give the answer St. Paul continues the allegory of Abraham’s two sons, “But what does the scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the freewoman’” (Galatians 4:30 referring to Genesis 21:10).

 

 

So, God’s people are those that believe in Jesus and are justified by their faith; but those that stubbornly want to try to justify themselves by their own law keeping (both ceremonial and moral) are cast out. They will no longer be part of the Church. St. Paul concludes by saying, “So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the freewoman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 4:31-5:1).

 

 

So, appreciate your position, O Christians, St. Paul is saying, and do not return to slavery, to a slavish use of the law. Do not misuse and abuse it by making it the means of justifying yourself, which was not God’s intention in giving it. Rather enjoy and stand fast in the freedom that you now have in Christ. You are freed from the law as a means of justification, from your sins of disobeying the law, and from the punishment for your sins after death for disobeying the law. So, “stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

 

 

Then in a grand summary of his whole argument of chapters 3 and 4, St. Paul says, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law [law keeping]; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness [justification]” (Galatians 5:4-5).

 

 

“The plain import of what he [St. Paul] advances is this: That as in Abraham’s family there were two mothers, and two sorts of children, which were differently treated; so, in the visible church, there are two sorts of professors [believers]: some that seek justification by the works of the law, who are in a servile and miserable condition, and shall at last be cast out from the presence of God, and the society of the saints; [and] others that seek justification by faith in Christ, and in the promises of God through him: and these are the free sons of God’s family, and in a happy condition, and shall at last certainly obtain the inheritance of eternal life” (Joseph Benson, 1749-1821).

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