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This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
Imagine these two pictures:
- The first picture is of a person working hard to keep their balance as they walk across a tightrope.
- The second picture is that of a beautiful path, framed in by lush green trees
Where is it that you experience the most growth in your walk with God? We all could probably make long lists under each picture - wide path experiences where God’s ways were sweet, tightrope experiences where following God’s ways make us sweat. The walk of faith is not always easy is it?
This past Sunday we talked about these two pictures, and how they represent some of the tension we experience in following Christ.
Text: Galatians 4:21-31
The question that is raised in our text (v.21) should be fairly straightforward to answer if you have been tracking with us through Galatians. Short and simple, the answer is: the law does not save anyone, and it doesn’t matter if you are Jewish, God has no grandchildren. Faith in Christ is accessible to all people and is the determining factor of whether you are God’s kid, PERIOD.
However in answering that question again in v.21-31, Paul reveals three tensions we will live with as we seek to follow in God’s superior ways.
1. “I cannot do this”( corresponding to the tightrope) vs. “ I can do this” (corresponding to the path) v21-23
Ever been in a situation where what God has called you to do, or be, is impossible, and you feel like saying (or actually say) “ I cannot do this!” Our text gives us a historical example of a current day tension we live with at times in following God.
Most of us know this story. God makes a promise to Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation, and have many descendants. The only problem is, as Hebrews 11:12 tells us, he is as good as dead, a real blow to his manhood. 75 is an old age to start having kids. On top of that Sarah has been barren. This certainly seems like a “I cannot do this” kind of scenario. That is exactly what Sarah and Abraham said and they went for the other option, “I can do this”. which was for Abraham to have sexual relations with Hagar. This was culturally acceptable and a normal way of overcoming barrenness. Not sure it did much for the marriage though.
Note in this section of Scripture how these two ways are referred to. There is ordinary way - that is according to the flesh or nature - what is normal, acceptable, or common. Then there is the “unordinary” way - a result of a promise. In other words, in a way that is unusual.
The tension and temptation Abraham and Sarah experienced is exactly what we are often confronted with in following God.
The superheroes of the Jewish faith had fallen into the same temptation the Judaizers and Gentiles had fallen into.
The religion of Ishmael is a religion of nature, of what man can do by himself without any special intervention of God – law-keeping (“I can do this”). The cross is not necessary or at least not sufficient. “I can help God out by improving on his work - I will add the Mosaic law to the equation of salvation.” “I’ll take things into my own hands.” “ I will help God be more efficient.” Interesting that Islam comes out of the line of Ishmael. As I understand it, Islam does not understand the grace of God.
Isaac -this is a religion of grace, of what God has done and does, a religion of divine initiative and divine intervention, for Isaac was born supernaturally through divine promise - this is a place of total dependence.
Questions to ponder
Have you stepped outside of God’s plan because you thought you had a better one?
Is there a step you are failing to take, an action you’re failing to follow through with, an issue you’re not dealing with because you are saying “I cannot do this”?
Do you feel like your faith walk has stalled because you have set up a barrier with the words- “I cannot do this”
Here is the next tension we live with as we follow God.
2. “ This makes no sense” (Tightrope) vs. “ “This makes sense” (path) v24-27
Read Isaiah 55:8,9; Proverbs 3:5-7
Many scholars believe that Paul is allegorizing this section because that is what his counterparts are doing. So he uses their form of logic to prove them wrong. Essentially in this section he is saying that Hagar represents a way of relating to God out of the law - the result is slavery. The Law does not allow someone to earn God’s grace. Mount Sinai is where the law was given through Moses. Note in v.25 this all corresponds to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, from which the Judaizers came. Paul is saying that the Jews may think they are excelling and pleasing God because they are law keepers and because they are Jewish, but in actual fact they are not, they are slaves. They are stuck in man-made religion, man’s logic and reasoning. In other words, they were following the path that said “This makes sense.” They are guilty of exactly what Sarah and Abraham were guilty of. Many Jews had said that Hagar represented the Gentiles – outsiders - now Paul turns the tables and says that Hagar actually represents them- they are outsiders.
But notice there is another way of thinking and living –v.26- the new Jerusalem which is above. It reflects not the thinking of man- the Jerusalem on earth but the thinking and ways of God- a new covenant - grace, freedom – the teachings of Jesus.
Can you imagine what the Judaizers were thinking “Paul is crazy”. He is not crazy but is demonstrating the crazy love of Jesus that, to these Judaizers, was outside their box, paradigm, and categories. They insisted on sticking to categories they were used to, familiar with - man made religion. Paul is saying that 0when you live that way, you are slaves - stuck.
While much of Christianity can appeal to logic and reason, there are certain steps in the Christian life we will never take, places we will never go, and heights we will never attain unless we submit our logic to God’s higher ways. At times God will ask us to go in the direction of “This makes no sense”
Questions to ponder
Do you agree that there will be times God will call us to obedience and our logic will resist the wisdom of God?
Do you agree that while much about faith does make sense- there is an aspect of faith that is beyond reason?
Have you ever faltered, got stuck, because your head wouldn’t let your heart take the next step in obedience to God’s word?
Have you ever in your Christian experience been surprised how God went about doing His work?
Here is the final tension of this text regarding following God.
3. Mockery (Tightrope) vs. Applause (The Path) vs. 28-31
Choosing to follow God and accept His grace can lead to being persecuted. Note (v.28) in this text that those who have faith in Christ (brothers are Gentiles who have placed their faith in Christ 3:26) - not the right genes - are like Isaac and are children of promise. In other words, you might be able to say Abraham is your father but without the right mother, Sarah (symbolic of the promise) you are not a child of God.
Just like in the original story when Ishmael mocked Isaac, so today the same happens. Paul is clear on what needs to happen. We need to oppose such teaching and be prepared to be attacked.
The reality is that sometimes God will call us to walk a path, head in a direction where all we will get is persecution. Mocked or laughed at. Ostracized, excluded. It might not be because of the exact same issue as in this text- grace vs law but other issues.
Questions to Ponder
Who is the laughing, mocking voice that belittles your faith?
What acts of obedience in your life might bring the mockery, laughter of others? i.e. Choosing to wait- sexual purity, choosing to forgive, choosing to be honest, choosing to.....
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There is no evidence that the verse Paul now quotes (Isa 54:1) was ever associated with the story of Hagar and Sarah and their children; nevertheless, it is highly appropriate. The verse is a prophecy of Jerusalem's restoration following the years of Babylonian captivity and involves the thought that the blessing of the latter years will be greater than that enjoyed formerly. The pre-exilic Jerusalem and the post-exilic Jerusalem correspond, then, to Paul's distinction between the earthly and heavenly Jerusalems and the promise itself to the blessings of God to Israel under the old covenant as contrasted with the greater blessings to the church under the new covenant. The one element common to these verses is the supernatural intervention of God in order to establish Christianity. The new element is the suggestion, soon to be fulfilled, that the numbers of Christians will outnumber those within Judaism.
(Resource: The Expositors Bible Commentary) - Commentary on v.27