CHILDREN OF FLESH, CHILDREN OF PROMISE
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. Galatians 4:28-31
THERE are two religions in all of the world, the religion of human works and efforts, and the religion of Jesus crucified. Now if you were to enroll in a religious studies class at one of our secular schools, they would say that there are hundreds of religions in the world, or at least dozens. You would go on to study Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, secularism, etc. etc. One of the things that the modern intellect prides itself in is seeing the "complexity" of a thing, but when we look closer we see that all the major so-called world religions are simply a variation on a theme -- the theme of man's ability to do well -- to be good enough to reach some sort of eternal good reward. Every religion but Christianity puts the ball in the court of mankind. Some say kick, others throw, some say hit, but each says "do." Every other religion says "work" while Jesus says, "believe."
St. Paul outlines these two religions in the Epistle reading from Galatians, and he does it by talking about two children, two covenants, and two Jerusalems -- these correspond to the two religions.
The two children are Ishmael and Isaac, the sons of Abraham. You remember the story, the Lord told Abram to get up and go to Canaan, and that from his seed would come nations -- children as numerous as the sand and the stars; and that from Abram's seed would also come the Messiah who would deliver His people from their sin. Well Abram was old, and he kept getting older, and the Lord kept promising him children and the land, but no child came, and after ten years it seems like Abram was getting nervous, and certainly his wife Sarai was doubtful. Abram was 85, Sarai 75, so Sarai gave Hagar, her Egyptian maidservant, to Abram saying, "See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her." [Genesis 16:2]
So Ishmael is born, who according to St. Paul, is born according to the flesh. This is not the promise that Abram had been given by God. Ishmael was the result of the plotting and scheming and working and adultery of Abram and Sarai and Hagar, and this son is born of a slave, born into slavery.
Yet there is another son coming. Thirteen years later the Lord would come to Abram and call him Abraham and will say, "The son I promised you has not yet been born. He will be born from you and your wife, called Sara," and 99 year old Abraham wondered deeply, and 90-year-old Sara laughed, but God had promised, and so it was. The feebleness of the flesh and the closed womb cannot stand in the way of God's promises. He always tells the truth. Isaac was born a year later, the child of the promise, and the child of the free woman, so we have the contrast between the child of the flesh and the child of the promise, the slave and the free, works and gift, Law and Gospel.
These two serve as a picture, says St. Paul, of two covenants. [Verse 24-26] "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."
Mt. Sinai is where Moses took the Israelites and there received the Ten Commandments. It is the birthplace of the Law, and it gives birth to slaves. There is no freedom on Mt. Sinai with the law. God's Law always demands, always calls for more, always accuses, and always kills. The law cannot save. It shows us the holiness that the Lord requires, but it cannot provide that holiness, or give it, or make the path to it.
This, says St. Paul, corresponds to the present Jerusalem, the religion of the Pharisees with its legalism and moralism, but we have another mother, another covenant, another Jerusalem. We are born from the Jerusalem above, the heavenly Jerusalem, that is, the church. We have been brought forth not in slavery, but in freedom, for freedom, dear saints, is not found in protected borders or democratic governments or in a strong military defense (as good as these are), or in patience or tolerance. Freedom is found in the forgiveness of sin. This is how we are born again in the church: our sins are forgiven.
Let this be heard very clearly: we are free when we are forgiven. We are slaves when we are not!
How, then, are we born from the free woman? By being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit for the remission of all of our sins. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. This is the washing of regeneration, of rebirth. In your baptism, you were born of the free woman, the heavenly Jerusalem, the church.
You are part of the New Testament, given in Jesus death, His blood of the new testament (covenant) was shed to wash away all our sins. His body was broken under the weight of our sin, crushed by God's wrath, and given into our mouths to set us free. We are no longer crushed under the oppressive weight of the two stone tablets under the coercion of the law. You are not given this status by works or by the flesh, but by the promise of the Gospel. "You, like Isaac, are children of the promise." [4-28]
Yet remember (and this is what St. Paul wants to warn us about), just as Isaac was persecuted by Ishmael, so it is now. For these two religions in the world, the religion of works and the religion of the promise do not get along peacefully with each other. There is a constant fight and battle with the two. We see this first of all when the devil gives us trouble, when he tempts us to unbelief, despair, or other great shame and vice, and we see this in the world, where there is this sense that to declare oneself to be a Christian is an act that brings shame or even worse as can be seen in the rape, plunder, displacements and murders taking place under the Islamist who enforce their religion of works to attain Allah's approval. Meanwhile, some leaders preach patience and tolerance as the antidote. Furthermore, there is this battle between the flesh and the promise even within ourselves, for though the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are also throttled with the sinful flesh, and these two are engaged in a daily and deadly battle.
There is sin inside and out, every which way we look. It lurks at the door, but you are not slaves. No longer are you a slave to sin, a slave to your sinful flesh, and a slave to the coercion of the law. You are not children of the slave woman, but of the free; [4-31] free because you are forgiven by God's only begotten Son. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!
There are two religions in the world, the religion of human works and efforts, and the religion of Jesus crucified. One leads to death, the other to life; one to slavery, the other to forgiveness; one to hell, the other to heaven. Praise be to God that He has us in His kingdom of life and light, the kingdom of His Son. Amen
~ Rev. Fyler