Galatians Part 9: Who’s Your Mama?

The hope of “One World” is a myth.

In the Seinfeld “Pool Guy” episode, George reveals he has two distinct personas: Relationship George and Independent George.  Independent George can’t bear the thought of Relationship George’s female friend meeting Elaine, Jerry and Kramer.

In one of his better-known lines, George whines loudly, “Jerry, two worlds are about to collide!”

Galatians is about two colliding worlds:

(1) Rules world. God is a judge, and life is a courtroom.  Compassion matters, but rules matter most.  Rules trump compassion.  The judge says, “I care about you.  It troubles me deeply to sentence you to death, but I have to stick to the rules, uphold the law, no matter what I feel.”  For someone who is not born again, God is a Judge.

(2)  Grace world. God is our Father, and life is a family.  When we are born again, we get a new nature.  We are re-gene-rated.  God becomes our Father, and there is no judgment for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is our brother, and we become co-heirs with Christ.  Rules matter, but love matters most.  God says, “Be faithful.  Be righteous.  But I love you no matter what.”

Slave World and Freeman World

In Galatians 4, Paul introduces another image to explain these two worlds:

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Remarkably, Paul’s concern here is not with the slavery of sin, but the slavery of legalism, the slavery that sets in after we become children of God, the slavery that says God loves us, but we have to keep the rules, because his love is somehow conditional.

The “weak and miserable forces” are the paper tigers of religious observances, “when you are intimidated into scrupulously observing all the traditions, taboos, and superstitions associated with special days and seasons and years.”  Paul adds, as it’s expressed in The Message, “I am afraid that all my hard work among you has gone up in a puff of smoke!”

Paul’s hard work, of course, was getting people to understand that salvation is by grace alone from beginning to end.  I agree with Paul, that’s it’s hard work to teach grace, because in our performance-driven world, we are not inclined to believe that God’s love and blessing are totally condition-free.  Understanding grace and living by grace are counter intuitive.  No matter how clear in our heads we are about unconditional grace, we inevitably lean back into what we think we have to do to please God.

And mostly we know God is not easy to please.

But it’s not about what we know.  It’s about whether or not God knows us.  And he does.  And he did.  Long-before we were born, he knew us (Jeremiah 1:5), and in spite of what he knew, he chose us to be his own.  Paul suggests this when he says, “You know God—or rather are known by God.”  We love God because he first loved us, loved us when were were enemies.  Running from him.  Straying like sheep.

God doesn’t wait for us to love him.  Yes, he loves it when we love him, but our love for him is not a deciding factor in his love for us.  His love for me, though, is a deciding factor in my love for him!  My love initiates nothing in God.  His love initiatives salvation in me.

Thus, Paul writes,

12 I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

The apostle is reminding his listeners of their passionate interest in Paul’s message–and of their extraordinary love for him personally.  Yet he wonders, “Have you forgotten those amazing times?  Everything was going so well for us in our journey of grace.  What happened?  How can you set aside the gospel of freedom?  Having found unconditional love and acceptance in the finished work of Christ, how can you go back to the slavery of legalism?  And now it feels almost like we’ve become enemies over this.

Paul continues,

17 Those people [the legalists] are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

Two wives, two sons

21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

In this passage, Paul introduces the rich spiritual meaning of Abraham, his two women Sarah and Hagar, and their two sons, Isaac and Ishmael.  If you don’t know the story, Abraham (formerly Abram) was childless.  A old face in the crowd, God singled him out to be the father of the Jewish nation–and many nations.

Barren and years past her capacity to bear children a thing of the distant past, and Abraham probably needing a v-pill, an angel of God shows up and happily announces they’ll have a child.

LOL.  That’s what Sarah did.

But the angel wasn’t joking.

Still, Abraham couldn’t believe it, so he had sex with Sarah’s handmaid, a younger woman, and she bore a son she named Ishmael.

And then it happened.  Sarah got pregnant, too!  It wasn’t exactly a virgin birth, but as Paul describes it, their son Isaac was born “as a result of the promise of God.”  In other words, for Abraham and Sarah to have a son in the old age was humanly impossible.

Like salvation.  Which is Paul’s point in all this:  Just like having a child was humanly impossible for Abraham and Sarah in their vintage years, the new birth in God’ s family by human effort is impossible. Note that John says much the same thing in the first chapter of his Gospel:

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

In contrast, Ishmael was born “of human decision” and “a husband’s will.” Ishmael was conceived  because Abraham did what men do.

Isaac was conceived because God worked a miracle.

Paul explains further,

24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

In other words, as a spiritual symbol, Hagar represents Mount Sinai, the birthplace of the old covenant, the law, which for Paul is a symbol of salvation by human effort.  Paul is also telling his readers that Hagar and Mount Sinai point to the earthly Jerusalem still living under the old covenant  So like Hagar, she is in slavery.

Ouch.

Paul, you’re not mincing your words.  It’s no wonder, Paul, that you didn’t have a lot fans in the deeply religious Jewish community.

So who’s your mamma?

26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother [emphasis mine]  27 For it is written:

“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”
28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise.

Galatians 4 ends with a paragraph about how grace-people and rules-people treat one another:

29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Read again verse 29 and think about this:  people who live by rules are the ones who persecute those who live by grace.  Always.  As I’ve written in my comments on Galatians 2, when you believe that your relationship with God depends on Jesus plus something, it’s the “something” that will always draw a line between you and others.  It’s always the “something” that stands between you and me.

My daughter’s neighbor has a dog and no fence.  At least it’s not a fence you can see.  Their dog, though, wears a collar that gives the black brute (his name is Coal) a shock in the neck every time he tries to cross that line.

Jesus+something is like that line.  Yes, people tell us, you have to believe in Jesus, but … (finish the sentence).  Like Coal, running madly toward the street because he forgot the line was there … zing … YIPE! … love, acceptance and forgiveness come to a screeching halt at that line.

The children of the slave woman always persecute the children of the free woman.  It’s never the other way around, because a revelation of grace strips you of every reason to judge or reject someone else.  It’s why Paul writes in Ephesians 4:32,

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Yet in all the years I’ve tried to be faithful to the teaching of grace as Paul presents IT in Romans and Galatians, I’ve had countless encounters with angry people.  All of them good Christians who are somehow offended by the way I teach grace.  None of them, new Christians, or Christians who are doubting their relationship with God because they think they aren’t good enough.  For them, grace in Galatians is such good news.  Indeed, it’s gospel.

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