"Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers." - VoltairE

Slavery or Freedom? Galatians 4

Posted by Anne Witton on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 Under: Talks
Last Sunday I preached on this rich passage from Galatians. Here's a rough transcript of what I said. You can also download the MP3 (15 mins) and PowerPoint from the church website.

We've looked at 3 main themes in Galatians:

  1. God is saving a family (not just individuals)
  2. Salvation is coming from the Old Testament (through the promised Messiah)
  3. That saved family is marked by the faith of Abraham, not the law of Moses (external religion trying to follow rules always goes bad. Faith in Jesus brings us into deep, transformative relationship).
The story of Hagar and Sarah and its symbolic meaning

This helpful diagram by Mark Barry from Visualunit highlights the rich symbolism in this passage:


The story highlights the contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant (a covenant being an agreement between God and his people). The Old covenant was made with Moses and based on the law (10 commandments) given at Mount Sinai. The law can’t make people right with God because they will fail to obey it. Rather, the law shows up the problem – that no one can meet God’s standards without his help.
New covenant based on the promise given to Abraham, received by faith and fulfilled in the promised Messiah Jesus.
Genesis promise to Abraham: (Genesis 12: 2 – 3)

‘I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.’

So that’s the two covenants that Galatians 4: 24 is talking about.

A tale of two mothers and two sons

God promised Abraham that he would make him into a great nation. What do you need for a great nation? People! The problem was that Sarah (Abraham’s wife) hadn’t given him any children, so Abraham and Sarah decided to take matters into their own hands and Abraham slept with Sarah’s Egyptian slave Hagar and she gave birth to a son called Ishmael. However, God was clear that his promise would be fulfilled supernaturally and he enabled Sarah to have a son called Isaac, through whom his promise to Abraham would be fulfilled. Isaac went on to father Jacob, who was the father of the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. 

So we see the contrast between the slave woman (Hagar) and the free woman (Sarah). The slave woman’s son Ishmael was born ‘by flesh’ – he was an attempted human solution to the problem of Abraham’s lack of children. In contrast, the free woman’s son Isaac was born ‘by promise and the Spirit’. God promised Abraham many descendants and he supernaturally enabled Sarah to get pregnant so that his promise would be fulfilled.

The two women represent two ways of doing things – our way or God’s way. By human effort or by the Spirit.

Earthly places and heavenly places

The places mentioned in verse 24 are also symbolic – Mount Sinai where the law was given to Moses represents ‘present Jerusalem’ as opposed to the ‘Jerusalem above’. Jerusalem is obviously a physical place – the capital city of the land that God gave to his people. It represented his people in the same way that London stands for British people, Tehran stands for Iranians or Abuja for Nigerians. So the ‘present Jerusalem’ are the old covenant Jewish people, whereas the ‘Jerusalem above’ are the new covenant people of God, both Jew and Gentile who live by faith in Christ. They are the Christian church whose life is bound up in heaven.


What do the sons of each mother inherit? A slave doesn’t inherit anything from his or her master, but a son or daughter inherits all the riches. God promises to make Ishmael a great nation too, but the blessing of salvation for the world comes only through Isaac’s line. This is the inheritance. Hebrews 9: 15 helps us here:

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

All the rights of the son (Jesus) are now given to everyone who entrusts their lives to him. The inheritance – the blessing promised to Abraham - is eternal life in Christ and freedom from sin and death. That’s good news isn’t it?!!

So there we see the big picture – lots of symbolism and big ideas illustrated through a family. The story of the family of God illustrated through Abraham’s family.

So what does this all mean for the Galatians?

  1. Paul wants to make the Galatians crystal clear about their identity.

    28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise.
    31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

    The Galatians – and us – are inheritors of the promise given to Abraham which was fulfilled in the Messiah Jesus. We are not born into the line of slavery, but we are adopted into the family of God’s free people. The law made us slaves but we have been freed from slavery to the law by the sacrifice of Jesus who fulfilled all the law’s requirements perfectly.

    Look at what Paul says near the start of this chapter (Galatians 4: 4b – 7):

    God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

    This is the essence of the gospel – freedom from slavery to sin and death and an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father (so close that we can call him ‘Dad’ which is what the Aramaic ‘Abba’ means).

  2. Paul wants to stop them turning back to slavery.

    The Galatians were all too easily forgetting their freedom in the gospel. We saw when we looked at chapter 1 that they were turning away from the true gospel and being deceived by false teachers. Paul reiterates his concern here.

    Galatians 4: 9 - 10
    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!

    They were turning away from the true gospel to external religion – getting enslaved again. Jerusalem-based agitators were persuading them that you had to obey laws like circumcision in order to be right with God. They were saying that the Gentile (non-Jewish) Galatians had to keep the Jewish law to be accepted by God. But as we saw last week, the distinctions between Jew and Gentile have been overcome and we’re all one in Christ through faith and so all heirs of the promise. The Gentiles don’t need to become Jewish to be in God’s family.

    Paul desperately wants them to cling on to the true gospel and embrace their freedom in Christ. As we saw last week, the saved family of God’s people is marked by the faith of Abraham not the law of Moses. Freedom comes from putting faith in Christ. Freedom comes from putting faith in Christ.
What does this mean for us?

  1. Our identity is as children of God. If we share Abraham’s faith in God, then we too are heirs of the promise. The way into God’s family is through faith in Christ. So we don’t need to be born into a Christian family, or know the Archbishop of Canterbury, or have gone through a special ceremony to be a Christian. Believing and trusting in Christ makes us a Christian. We don’t need to convert to another culture. The gospel isn’t British or Western or African or Asian. It’s global and encompasses all cultures so can be expressed in all cultures. As the promise to Abraham makes clear, the gospel is for all nations.

    As receivers of God’s blessing, we are also bearers of God’s blessing to others and in Matthew 28 we see Jesus telling his followers to make disciples of all nations. This is part of our privilege as Christians – to take the good news to others so they can become part of God’s family too. We have a missional identity.

    And we can’t get right with God by making ourselves good – by being a great boss, or a helpful volunteer or a clever scientist. We are not valued according to how much money we have, or our status, or whether or not we have children, or how popular we are. In Christ, we are adopted into God’s family and have his inheritance of eternal life.

    Rules can’t make us good. They can show us how good we are at failing to be good, but they can’t make us good! I quite like rules as they’re clear cut and I can set myself targets and goals on my phone. The problem is that none of it works. The only way to get thoroughly transformed is by letting God do it. So we need to surrender our lives daily to God and let his Spirit make us more like Christ. As we’ll see in Chapter 5, even self-control is a fruit of God’s Spirit and not a fruit of my own efforts! So this week, try starting each day with a conscious invitation to the Holy Spirit to fill you, remind you of your identity in Christ and transform you to be more like him.

  2. We must resist returning to slavery. Not long after Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, the people started complaining and wanting to go back. It seems that they’d quickly forgotten the hard labour, beatings and ill treatment that they suffered for years.

    People who have been in prison a long time often find when they’re released that they don’t know how to be free and they commit another crime so that they can go back to prison.

    This strikes us as foolish, but aren’t we like that too? Sometimes we yearn for the old days of rebellious or reckless living like the prodigal son. Or we get sucked into a resentful religious life like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. Slavery to ‘wild living’ and slavery to self-righteousness are equally damaging. Let’s encourage one another with the true gospel – that real freedom is only found in Christ. The life of Christ is better than anything else! True freedom is only found in living the Jesus way.

    As the classic hymn, And Can It Be says:

    My chains fell off, my heart was free,
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

    Let’s go and do the same.

In : Talks 

Tags: slavery freedom covenant law hagar sarah galatians adoption sonship inheritance 


"loving god' commandment relationship 40th activity acts addiction adoption adultery advent aesop agapé android animation anxiety apologetics app apps argument aroma atheism audio ben folds bible bible characters bible narrative bible study bible trading cards big picture birthday blog body of christ book book review books busyness cat celebration celibacy celtic change charity chart child children christ christendom christmas chronicles church church history climate change coastguard colouring comedy commentary communications communion community compassion conference consumerism contemplation context conversation coronavirus covenant covid-19 creation creation care creativity cross crucifixtion cryptic culture cwtch daily prayer data day of the lord debate devotional diagram dictionary digital disagreement disciples discipleship discussion documentary easter ecclesiastes education effort elder brother emotion encouragement enemies environment environmentalism ethics evangelism event evidence ezekiel fable facebook fact check fair trade faith faitheism fake news father fear feast feeling fellowship feminism fiction film fireseeds flesh flourishing food foodbank forgiveness free freedom freshers fun fundraiser funny galatians game gay gay wedding genealogies generosity gifts giving god god's presence good good news gospel gospreflection grace gratitude great commission green growth guitar hagar health heart heaven hebrews history hoarding holy biscuit holy spirit home homosexuality hope hopelessness hospitality house hub humanism humour hymn identity in individualism infographic infographics inheritance insurance internet interview interviews ios jesus joel joke jonah joseph joy justice kindness kingdom kingdom of god law leaflet lectio divina legacy lennox lesbian levite lgbtq liberty library literal literature liturgy living out lockdown lord’s love lust magazine map mark mark's materialism matthew maturity meal meditation meditations memory mental health ministry mission missionaries moody moral morality move murray music nation new creation new year newcomers news non-fiction north east old testament online outreach palm sunday parable passover peace pentecost persecution perspective philosophy photo photography piano picture this thought podcast poem poetry political correctness pool night possessions post-christendom poverty power praise prayer prayer requests preaching presentation presents priest princess anne priorities prodigal son productivity project prophecy protection provision psalm publicity puzzle questions quiz quotes reading rebellion reconciliation redemption reference reflection relationship relationships relativism religion remembrance repentance rescue resource resources rest restoration resurrection retreat review reviews riches right and wrong royalty rules rush sabbath sacrifice same-sex attraction sarah scholarship science screens scripture scripture engagement secularism seed self esteem sermon sermon on the mount sex sexuality shalom sharing faith shopping showcase significance silence simplicity sin slavery smell social social action social media society software solitude song songs sonship soularium sources speaking spiritual gifts spirituality sproul spurgeon stations of the cross stats stewardship stone story stott student student life students study suffering supper support support discovery talk tech technology temple tft thank you thanksgiving theology time toby tools top trumps trading cards training transformation translation treasure treasure hunt trivia true freedom trust truth unity update utilities value video vine visual walk war wealth website websites wesley witnessing women words world worldview worry worship worth writing wrong wycliffe youtube ywam

Living Out is registered UK Charity no. 1165572
The Baptist Union is Charity no. 249635