Description / Transcription
This morning we come to the book of Galatians, Galatians chapter 4. Hopefully you have a Bible and you can turn there. You can find a Bible in the pews. If you are a regular here, you’ll notice right away that we are in Galatians instead of in Genesis, for two reasons. One, last week as I was studying the passage, what I had originally divided into two weeks I decided to put into one, so when you get those bookmarks that lay out the schedule from time to time, as I’m studying I realized, well, this ought to be divided a little different. So I put two weeks into one because I thought all of chapter 21 fit together. That meant there was a week open.
But more importantly, as I was working on last week’s sermon, there was this connection point to Galatians chapter 4 that I didn’t really have time to unpack, and so I thought what better way than to do all of 21 last week and to set aside this week to look at Paul’s inspired interpretation, at least one spiritual lesson to draw from what we saw last week in Genesis 21.
And so we come this morning to Galatians 4, verses 21 through 31. And if you’ve been here, you’ll recognize right away that we are back into the story of Abraham and Hagar and the child by Hagar and Sarah and the promised child Isaac from Sarah, and what it means and what spiritual importance there is for us as God’s people.
Verse 21: “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: 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 who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”
Do you remember when you were a little kid and you would get separated from your parents, maybe in the mall, at a restaurant, a park, at church. I remember it happening it often at church. Why are you still talking? And when you’re perspective on life is about knee-high, and you misplace your parents, you go looking for them. You may recall finally finding the pant leg or the hem of the dress of your mom and grabbing onto that leg finally and you look up in desperation only to see that woman look down at you and you have no idea who this person is. [laughter] It’s happened to me, when I was a kid. It’s happened to me as a parent, sometimes I’ll see a young child of mine wander off and think, mmm, that’s the wrong leg, and it’s happened to my leg, O bless you child, that’s not the person you’re looking for. And as a child, you want to scream, and maybe you do scream, “You’re not my mom!”
This passage in Galatians is a complicated passage. Many commentators think this is the most difficult section in Galatians. But at the heart of this passage is a very simple question: Who’s your momma? Do you know who your mother is?
There is a less than edifying genre of comedy called “yo momma” jokes, and I will not regale you with any examples, but the idea is basically your momma is so this and that, and it’s an insult. You don’t like to have your mother insulted, I hope not. Now you don’t like to have your father insulted, either, but there’s something especially bad about insulting your momma.
For one thing, we ought to be instinctively protective of our mothers as they were protective of us and second, there is a sense, I think, deep in the human psyche, if you insult my mom, you’re insulting me. Now, of course, some of us had great moms, some of you had not so great moms, but yet you should feel as a child an instinctive sense of protection and in a larger sense that you do not understand me if you don’t really understand who my mother is.
And what’s true of an earthly family is even more true of our spiritual family. That’s what this passage is about.
Now we’re going to get into the weeds of it and try to understand all of the various analogies that Paul is heaping upon each other, but the conclusion is very straightforward. Look at it in verse 31: So brothers, and that’s an inclusive for men and women, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. That’s what Paul is driving at, addressing his fellow Jews and reminding them in Christ who their spiritual mother is.
Why? Why was that so important in Paul’s day? Why is that so important for you, to know who your momma is?
Well, that’s the conclusion. Let’s go back up to the top and see Paul’s argument. Look at verse 21, because it’s really important to understand to whom he is speaking. Who is he addressing here? Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, that’s who Paul is speaking to in this section. Those who desire to be under the law.
Now, you look back at verse 12, he says there, brothers, I entreat you, become as I am. So Paul is one who is a Jew by birth and yet he does not desire to be under the law and he wants the Galatians to experience that same freedom, but they want to be under the law.
What does it mean to desire to be under the law? This is apt to be misunderstood. We must say first of all his concern is not that somehow their desire to be holy or obedient to God is mistaken. So don’t hear, oh, they take holiness seriously. That was a bad thing. No, we see elsewhere as we get to chapter 5, verse 13, “for you were called to freedom, brothers, only do not use your freedom as opportunity for the flesh.”
Verse 14: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
So in that sense, yes, you are people obeying the law. The law as it’s summarized and its general moral precepts, love God and love your neighbor.
Look at chapter 5, verse 16: “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the flesh.”
Or you see in verse 25: “Live by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit.”
So Paul is not giving them an excuse to be indifferent to God’s commands or to holiness. That’s not what he means.
So what is the concern? What does it mean a desire to be under law? Understanding Paul’s doctrine of the law is one of the trickiest things and most difficult things in theology and in New Testament interpretation, but I think we can simplify it by thinking of two words, regulations and reliance. That’s what it means to have a desire to be under the law.
One, that you want the regulations of the law. What do I mean? Well, you have your Bible open to Galatians. Look at chapter 2, verse 11. Here’s an example: “When Cephas,” that’s Peter, “came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from janes, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?””
Peter had embraced his freedom in the Gospel and that Christ broke down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. No longer did they have to be a people set apart from one another. No longer did God require in order to be His faithful people that you kept certain observance of days, that you kept certain food regulations, that you kept yourself unstained from Gentiles, and Peter had fully embraced that. And there he was, yukking it up with the Gentiles, having BLTs, whatever he was doing, and then some people came in who said, “tsk, tsk, I don’t think so, remember, that’s now what we do as God’s people,” and so he got nervous and Barnabas got nervous and they all backed down and said, “Okay, we’re not going to eat like the Gentiles anymore, we’re not going to eat with them, and in fact, yes, yes, to be a real good Christian you do need to keep these things.”
And Paul says, “Well, you’re being a hypocrite. You weren’t keeping those regulations yourself, and now you’re insisting that in order to belong to God you have to keep all of the laws regulations.”
So Paul says in chapter 4, “You who desire to be under the law, okay, you who think that you need these certain regulations…” Now he’s not throwing out the whole law, but these certain ceremonial regulations that had to do with purity and ritual observance of days, and keeping yourself unstained from certain peoples, these regulations, that’s what it means to desire to be under the law. You want a nice list of things that you do or don’t do and there you can set aside and you’re right and they’re wrong.
The other word is “reliance.” Look at chapter 3, verse 10: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” They relied on the law.
Here’s a homely illustration, actually a homey illustration. The difference between the law as adorning the Gospel and the law as reliance instead of the Gospel.
So if you’re building a spiritual house, what do you, those 2 x 4’s or 2 x 6’s, as you frame the house and then you put the brick along the exterior, what keeps you safe? Well, it’s not the hangings on the wall, it’s not the color the paint or the plush carpet. What keeps you safe and secure, you rely upon the framing, the wood, or in a large building the steel, and the brick. That’s what you rely on.
Now what do you do inside the house as you’re safe and secure? You adorn it, you put up pictures, you paint it, you make it look nice.
So to rely upon the law is instead of using obedience to adorn the Gospel, to make people say, “Ah, look at the Gospel, the Gospel changes people, the Gospel is something I want in my life.” Instead of adorning the spiritual house with obedience, you rely on it. And you think the studs in the wall that keep you safe are not the studs and the frame of the Gospel, but of your law-keeping. That is to rely upon the law.
Now you might say to yourself, “I don’t want to be under the law. Who wants to be under the law?”
But remember, before you quickly set aside these Galatians and say, “Oh, you foolish Galatians,” remember these were people who believed in Christ. They believed Jesus was God’s Son, they believed Jesus was the Messiah, they believed Jesus rose from the dead.
You see that Paul at the very beginning of the book, he’s writing to the churches of Galatia. He’s not writing to the synagogues of Galatia. He’s writing to Christians. Now they may have so misunderstood the Gospel they’re in danger of not being Christians, but they are at least in churches, they are professing Christians. He says, “Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” These are people who said “God is my Father, Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is my Lord.” They have known something of the grace of Christ, chapter 1, verse 6. So let’s understand that these were people like us.
Is it possible that you desire to live under the law?
Take those two words. Now, likely not Jewish regulations, you’re not saying “I wish I could keep kosher foods and I wish,” well, almost everyone here, we are Gentiles, so it’s not the Jewish regulations, but isn’t it the case that some of us would like to boil Christianity down to a few manageable commands, a few regulations that we could get right? I don’t cheat on my spouse, I don’t cheat on people, I go to church, and not every week but you know, twice a month when it works, when the weather’s not too nice but not too bad, I go to church, and I say yes, sir and no, ma’am.” I mean, we’re not Yankees, okay? We know how to speak. [laughter]
So I just have a few regulations. Some of us would like a Christianity like that. Some of you may think of Christianity, basically that’s what you want. There’s four or five things. I do ’em, if you do ’em, you can be good. I do ’em, I’m good.
Or maybe take the other word, “reliance.” Most of you would know better than to say “I’m earning my salvation,” but think what really is your confidence in this spiritual house in which you live. What keeps you safe from the storm winds of God’s judgment. What do you think is on the other side of that drywall? Those 2 x 4’s? Is it your obedience?
Now there are people who come here this morning who are very confident and people who are not confident. If you’re a confident person, generally you feel good about yourself, good about life, keep your head up high. Ah, where is that confidence? Is it really in your accomplishments? Throughout life you’re always just tended to come out on top or toward the top. And your GPA and your test scores, maybe your athleticism, maybe you’ve been one of the good-looking people, maybe your natural abilities in some area, maybe you feel like you’re very cultured, you travel. Maybe you have a position. Maybe it’s in your family. You have a certain confidence about you.
Now what if you’re not the person who’s confident? You may think, “Surely, I’m not one who desires to live under law.” But think about it. That unconfidence is also often the same desire to live under law, you simply don’t feel like you’re very good at it. You’ve disappointed someone. There’s something very dark, painful in your past. You’ve not lived up to other people’s expectations. You never felt like you could please your mom or dad. Or your house doesn’t seem to be on the level of south Charlotte or your family doesn’t seem to be acing it.
Whether you’re here generally feeling good about yourself and pretty confident or you’re feeling deep down like you’re not making it and you’re not measuring up, it is quite possible that both sets of people are actually relying on works of the law. One thinks, “You know, of course I believe the Gospel, yada yada yada, but I kind of am nailing it.” And then the rest think, “Of course I believe in the Gospel, but I know how much I’m not nailing it, and that’s why I just don’t feel like a very good Christian.”
Either because you think you are scoring well compared to others, or because you’re not scoring well compared to others, but in both cases you may actually be relying on the law, and you may desire deep in your heart to be back under the law.
So Paul, yes, in one sense, he’s addressing people unlike us who are having these particular Jewish controversies and these Jewish regulations and these Jewish debates about the Torah and the Mosaic covenant, and that’s by and large not us.
But when you get to the spiritual heart of it, it is a predicament of the human condition that we keep running back to live under the law. Give me the regulations that I can pass, let me rely upon my achievement of these good things.
Paul is going to argue strenuously against, that’s why he addresses back in chapter 4:21, “You who desire to be under the law. Do you not listen to the law?” So what he’s going to do is take us now back to the law, back to the Old Testament, and say, “If you want to live under the law, before you make that mistake, why don’t you listen to what the law says.”
And he proceeds along three lines. Historically, allegorically, and personally. I get those three from John Stott. When you see John Stott’s three points, they’re almost always right. Historical, allegorical, personal.
Look at the historical argument. He says, “It is written Abraham had two sons.” Now you have to remember one of the proudest and loudest boasts of the Jews was that they were children of Abraham.
Matthew 3:9: Jesus says, do not presume to say we have Abraham as our father.
John 8:39: They boast Abraham is our father.
It was one of the chest-thumping retorts: But we are children of Abraham.
And Paul says, “Not so fast. Remember, there were two family lines descended from Abraham.”
And notice he points out two differences. They were born by different women, and they were born in different ways. So you can see that, verse 22: One was born by a slave woman, Hagar, one was born by a free woman, Sarah. So you say you’re a child of Abraham, but who’s your mother? Which line are you descended from? Hagar or Sarah? So born by different women.
And then born in different ways. Look at verse 22 [sic]: The son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through the promise.
It’s easy to skip over this verse. It sounds very spiritual Christian sort of language, flesh and promise, but don’t miss the vital argument that Paul is making. What’s the difference between how Ishmael was born and how Isaac was born?
Ishmael was born according to the flesh. Now Isaac was flesh, Isaac came from a woman who was real flesh, so what does it mean “according to the flesh”? It means according to the way of the world. According to the normal, natural process. Abraham got together with Hagar and she was a young woman, and young women usually have babies. And so according to the flesh. Very naturally. It happened with all of the biological function between a man and a woman, that child was born. Natural.
How was Isaac born? Not natural. Supernatural. All of the regular biological functions that work when a man and a woman come together were long since gone for Abraham and Sarah, and she had not had children her whole life, and now when she was very, very old this would happen. Not according to the natural way of things. Not according to human effort, but according to the promise.
Do you see the argument that Paul is making? Why it’s so different which line from Abraham you descend, because there’s one way in which you say you know how we’re going to do this? You know how I’m going to be right with God? It makes sense. We’re going to work at it. We’re going to be smart about it. We’re going to be wise people, just like Abraham said, “Ah, I know how to do it. I know how to have the kid we haven’t been able to have. I got a, you have a young slave, a young servant girl. This’ll work.” That’s according to the flesh. That’s not the way of the Gospel.
The way of the Gospel is not the way that says, “Ah, here’s how we do it. We’re smart enough, we’re good enough, we work hard, we put it together, we think there’s a great plan.”
The Gospel is according to the promise. This should not have worked. You had nothing to contribute to it. It was solely by a supernatural miracle of God’s grace.
With Hagar, Abraham worked. He took matters into his own hands. He tried to be his own deliverer, his own promise-keeper. He attempted to do what God meant to do. And that’s the way of Hagar and Ishmael.
The way of Sarah and Isaac is to say, “God, only You can do it, and I can’t work it out. I can’t make it happen. I cannot be a self-savior,” and it is the default of every human person to want to be a self-savior.
Two different women, two different ways. That’s the history, the biblical history.
Second. He makes an allegorical argument, verse 24: “This may interpreted allegorically.” Now that sets us on edge a bit, makes us nervous. Paul, are you going to pass your exegesis class in seminary? We don’t do allegories.
Well, let’s understand what he means and doesn’t mean by this term.
Here’s what he does not mean. He does not mean to take spiritual lessons divorced from history, or to make history say something that it doesn’t mean, or to tell stories that have no basis in history. This is not a sort of Aesop’s fable, and here’s a story about a scorpion or a snake or a frog and we just take these stories about animals that we make up and then we draw some lesson for it. That’s not the sort of allegory.
Or it’s not like, as some of the church fathers did and tried to draw very ingenious allegories like saying the two coins that were given to the innkeeper in the parable of the good Samaritan represent the two sacraments that Christ gave to the Church, [sound effect], mind blowing. No, that’s not a good explanation.
It’s better to think of Paul’s use of allegory here as analogy, figure of speech, spiritual lesson, an illustration.
So yesterday was 9/11 anniversary. I think if someone was interpreting the history of 9/11 and said the two towers that fell in New York, that represented George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. You’d say, “Um, not exact, how did that? That’s just pulling things out.” But could you draw lessons and say, “Those towers represented American freedom and American prosperity,” or capitalism and American ingenuity. Yeah, you could draw, and lots of people drew those sorts of lessons. What did those towers at the heart of Manhattan, what do they symbolize?
So there’s a right way and wrong way to draw figurative analogies or illustrations. The rabbis often drew these kinds of spiritual lessons from the Old Testament. And though we must be very careful in doing it ourselves, we must not fault Paul for drawing these kinds of lessons.
Essentially what he says is here in our church day is a similar sort of situation that we see analogously in the Old Testament. So he draws a series of contrasts, analogies, figures, illustrations. Two covenants, two mountains, two cities. You can see this. He starts heaping them up upon each other and so it gets a little confusing, but really that’s what he’s doing. He says these women are like two covenants, so the Mosaic covenant and then the new covenant, and the new covenant is really the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of promise. So there’s two covenants.
And then he said two mountains. So the one is Mount Sinai, of course the 10 commandments were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and that’s in Arabia, almost sort of suggesting that’s outside of Israel today actually. That’s somewhere else outside of our borders, down in Arabia. But there’s Mount Sinai, and then he never mentions the second mountain, but the implied mountain is Mount Zion. We see this spelled out in Hebrews chapter 12. The author there makes a contrast with the two Jerusalems, which we’ll see, and with the Mount Sinai and with Mount Zion.
Two covenants, two mountains, and then two cities.
So there’s the present Jerusalem, we might call the Jerusalem below, and then there’s the Jerusalem above. So the Jerusalem below is earthly Jerusalem, representative of all these regulations and of reliance upon the law, and then there is the Jerusalem above, the heavenly city, which is free.
Two covenants, two mountains, two cities.
And he brings this to a head, this allegorical argument, in verse 27. He quotes from Isaiah 54:1. Now the context in Isaiah 54, the prophet is speaking to the day when Israel will be in captivity in Babylon. And he’s comparing Jerusalem in captivity to a barren woman, because God’s people have been taken exile off to Babylon and the capital city, the holy city of Jerusalem, is empty. It’s barren. But Isaiah predicts that there will be a day when the children of the desolate one will be more. In other words, there is coming a great day, a resurgence, a revival, in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be rebuilt, that’s the promise.
Paul’s using it here to make a connection with Sarah, that just as Jerusalem in the captivity was the barren one, so Sarah was that barren one, unable to have children. And yet in the midst of that physical impossibility, God said there’s going to be a day when her spiritual children are going to be more than the children of those who went the earthly route.
It’s not a mathematical formula about how many people are going to be saved or not saved, it’s simply making the point that you should not rely upon earthly means. You should not rely upon the earthly city. You should not just look,,, if you were there, if you were there in Abraham’s day, and you want to say where is Abraham, the great nation, going to come from… You got his 90-year-old wife, you got this young servant girl, and he’s going to sleep with both of them. You’re all going to say, you know, she’s had a whole lifetime and hasn’t had any children, and now we all know it’s impossible. Where’s this great nation coming from? Well, it’s going to come from Hagar.
And Paul’s reminding them but it didn’t. That’s now where it came from.
And so the spiritual lesson he’s drawing is this: Take confidence in that which you cannot see, in that which you cannot fathom. And then, drawing it back to those who desire to be under the law, he says you may think that your works amount to something, you may think, well, all I have is promise and faith and grace and what’s that? That’s some ethereal thing. I actually have something I can build on. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m getting some things right, and I’m being a good person, and I’m giving to the church, and I’m being the best husband that I can, and I’m being a good wife, and I’m working hard at my job. I got something.
This analogy from Isaiah 54:1 tells us they looked to be fruitful, they’re barren. They will not get you where you need to go.
But over here, what looks to be desolate, what looks to be nothing, nothing to show for yourself except the empty hands of faith, that is going to prove supernaturally fruitful.
Sarah, the barren one, had a future. Even with your works that seem to be barren, “I got nothing. Okay, easy for you say, Pastor, you’re a pastor, you’re probably just a minor sinner or something. You’re probably still a pretty good person. But my works, you don’t know where I’ve been, you don’t know what I’ve done. It’s barren.”
Well, the good news of the Gospel is God says rejoice, O barren one. You have a future. The very ones who desire to be under the law and have confidence in their own efforts, are the ones without a future.
And he brings this home finally, historically, allegorically, personally.
“Now, brothers,” verse 28, “you, like Isaac.” He doesn’t have to convince his audience that Isaac is the good guy. They know that. If you’ve been around the Church, you know that. Isaac or Ishmael? Well, obviously we want to, we’re with Isaac.
Okay, Paul says, got it.
Two sons, you’re with Isaac. What does that mean?
Well, he gives two things that that means.
One, it means we will be persecuted like Isaac. Verse 29: “Just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.”
If you were here last week, we looked at that. That was Genesis 21, verse 9. And there is that word translated “laugh” that Ishmael laughed at young Isaac, and there was a little footnote in the ESV that said “or mocked,” and we said that Paul interpreted it to be a kind of mocking disdain, persecution.
What exactly did Ishmael, who’s a teenaged young man, say to 2- or 3-year-old Isaac? We don’t know, but we might speculate he sort of laughed derisively and said, “You know who the first born son is? You know who’s been loved by our dad longest? You know who’s going to be the heir? It’s the first born son. Welcome to the world, Isaac.”
We don’t know exactly, but some sort of derisive mocking word, perhaps claiming his privileged place in the family.
Ishmael did not persecute with the sword, but with words, with disdain, with mockery, with scorn. It doesn’t mean that we’re always the good guys in our stories. Sometimes we’re not. But there is a spiritual lesson here, that there is always going to be a sense in which those who think they have something to show for themselves lord it over those who don’t have something to show for themselves, that there is an uncomfortability with unmerited, lavish grace.
Have you ever made the connection in the story of Joseph, Joseph, his father loves him. He loves him embarrassingly so. And you say, “Ah, you’re making the other sons feel bad.” The coat of many colors and heaping upon him all these favors. And of course his brothers hate it and they’re jealous, and they are going to kill him but then instead they sell him off. They sell him off to Ishmael-ite traders, a caravan of Ishmael-ites.
And many ancient commentators made the connection, selling him off, the child of the promise to the descendants of Ishmael. And even here looking at Galatians 4, it’s not a strain to make a connection that there was something as they sold him off to the Ishmael-ites, of course, it was God’s people there, the descendants of Isaac even, who sold him off. But you work with the analogy. They sold him off. Why? Because they could not look upon God’s lavish favor. They could not embrace a father loving his child so much more than he deserved. And when you can’t stand that, you send him off to the Ishmael-ites.
There are always people who want to boast in something other than grace, and they will look down on those who say it only always, all of the time, depends on grace.
So that’s the first thing. You will be persecuted.
And then second, and here’s his great conclusion: If you’re Isaac, we all get it, you want to be Isaac, you want to be on Team Isaac, then you are children of the free woman. And he quotes in verse 30, interestingly in Genesis 21:10 it’s Sarah who says this, but here he quotes it as Scripture because what Sarah says Scripture says, it has that authority. Now it’s a little troubling to us because Sarah was in many ways in the wrong by wanting to just cast out Hagar and Hagar we feel sorry for, but Paul is not trying to adjudicate that dispute. He’s simply quoting from Genesis 21:10 for this specific point. He’s reminding them of what they already knew, that the descendant from Hagar was not to be the heir. That was not the one who would inherit. Rather, it was the one who was born of the promise.
We are Abraham’s true children. But Paul reminds us you can be related to Abraham in two ways, but only one way makes you an heir and that’s the way of the promise, that’s the way of grace, that’s the way that does not rely on superhuman ingenuity but on supernatural mercy. That’s the way of Jesus, that’s the way of the cross, that’s the way of the Gospel.
And so the question for them and for us is whether you are living as a free man, a free woman. Maybe you’re happy to live in that freedom and you make others live in bondage. Your kids, your parents, your spouse, your fellow church member. It happens too often in our hearts: “God, thank you for the life I have by Your promise, undeserved mercy. I love to live as a free child, but I’ll be you know what if I’m going to let them live as anything other than a slave.”
How often do we sing of being justified by grace, and we make our children, we make our spouse, we make our fellow church members, be justified by works?
Who is your mother?
Calvin says in his commentary there are two mothers in the church. He calls them legal and evangelical. The legal one leads you to bondage, meaning if you want to do this by the law, if you think you have it in yourself to make this work.
I was over in the eastern part of the state yesterday, sort of between Fayetteville, did I say that right? I don’t know. Fayetteville and Wilmington. I was doing a relay race here with Evan and his friend, and we were each doing a part of it. So we were out there. So I was done, not because I was fastest, I just did the short part, and I was waiting for the race, everybody to get in, and I was sitting in a chair under a little awning and a man comes up to me, maybe in his 60s, and I’m sorry that I can’t do a very good authentic, North Carolina accent, but he says something to me like, “So what you got going on here?”
I said, “Well, I’m waiting for my friend to finish.”
“Well, you doing something?” I said, “Well, I did. I did the first part of the race and now I’m waiting and when we all get done I’m going to get a picture, see how we did, and then I got to head home.”
“Oh,” he says, “Where’s home?”
I said, “Well, back in Charlotte.”
“Oh, so you’re not from around here.”
I said, “No.”
And then I’m thinking, trying, feebly, maybe I’ll just see if there’s an open door to say something about the Gospel, so I just ventured and I said, “Yeah, I got to get back to Charlotte because I gotta go to church tomorrow morning.”
And he wasn’t nibbling too much. He said, “Oh, going to church. Well, probably a pretty good idea for you to do that.” [laughter]
So I thought I’d try again, and go a little farther. I said, “Well, I got to be back for church because I’m the pastor.”
And he said, “Well, if you’re a pastor, I imagine then you’re a pretty good sinner.”
And I said, “Well, my wife would probably agree with that.” [laughter]
And then he said, and this is almost an exact quote, he said, “My daddy always told me never eat food from a skinny cook and never listen to a preacher who don’t know anything about sinning.” [laughter]
So I said, “I do know something about sinning.” [laughter]
Turns out that pastors sin, too. Your preachers sin, your missionaries sin, your elders sin, your deacons sin. And it doesn’t do me any good to say, “Well, I’m one of those preachers who doesn’t know anything about sinning.” And you know what? It doesn’t do you any good, either, to act like you don’t know a thing or two about sinning. I don’t mean just safe, nobody’s perfect, everybody says that. I mean real, honest-to-goodness, God-defying sin. You do it. I do it. We’ve all done it, and we might as well admit it, because you will never find the joy, the forgiveness, and the freedom you need by doing things the Hagar way, the legal way, depending on your own effort. You may say all of the right things doctrinally, but in your heart you don’t want to admit that you’re a sinner, and you don’t want to believe that you cannot contribute anything to it and you only always must rely on the promise, grace.
Everything today is about identity. Come back tonight, we’re going to talk more about identity. You identify with a sports team, you identify with your skin color, you identify with your language, your ethnicity, today you identify are you on Team Mask or Team No Mask, or vax or no vax.
Brothers and sisters, this is the identity if you belong to Christ and the Gospel, you are not children of the slave, but of the free woman. Do not run back under law. Brothers and sisters, do not forget who your momma is.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we want to be of the evangel, of the Gospel, of Your grace. We confess it, we read it, we sing it. May we enjoy it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.