Slave or Free? (Galatians 4:21-5:1)

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 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.

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. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 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.”

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

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (New International Version)

Get your hermeneutics together, man

First of all, I want to say that I have little tolerance for Bible readers who insist on an exclusive literal interpretation of Scripture – because it’s downright nonsensical.

Today’s New Testament lesson is one of many biblical passages which really ought to put a wooden stake to the heart of such a misguided hermeneutic. The Apostle Paul himself uses an allegorical or figurative approach to interpreting an Old Testament story.

Holy Scripture interprets itself in many ways. It is, at the least, hubris to believe one has the corner on biblical interpretation through a single mode of literal Bible interpretation; and it is, at the worst, damaging to other’s souls to restrict them in their reading and reflection – not to mention destructive whenever a literalist (who is typically also a legalist) brings their judgmentalism forward to condemn the other approaches.

Okay, I feel better now, getting that off my chest. But, unfortunately, we’ve still got to deal with legalism – which is what Paul set out to do with his writing to the churches in the region of Galatia.

Let go of the legalism

There can be something oddly comforting about law. Having clear black-and-white no-nonsense rules can give a sense of security. You always know where you stand. You’re either in or you’re out, either pure or sinful. 

Yet, here’s the score on the law: it is meant for the immature and is designed as a guide to lead us to maturity. 

If we live by law, we are bound by law. Law can only take us so far in our walk with God. A slavish commitment to rules must, at some point, give way to the greater virtues of grace and love. 

The Galatian churches wanted a religion they could see and hold in their hands. But Paul would have none of it; he was dogged about the devotion to a life of grace. Since Christ has set us free, we are truly and really free. So now, we are to embrace the freedom and never go back to being slaves to the law again – which is closely akin to relapsing into spiritual immaturity. 

We (hopefully) expect a kid to be a kid. When the kid grows up and is an adult with adult responsibilities, we expect him to speak and act like an adult, not a kid.

What’s more, we ought also to expect the adults in the room to treat one another like adults. Layering a bunch of rules and regulations on grown-up people is nothing more than handling them like they’re kids. It’s a nonsensical approach to dealing with each other.

Embrace your freedom

Freedom means that we have no obstacles in expressing grace, love, and hope to others. We are free to bask in the forgiveness we possess in Christ. 

If our Christianity is reduced to a point system or following a list of juvenile rules, then we have missed what the law was all about in the first place. The law is meant to lead us to Christ, and it must, at some point, give way to the larger law of love.

The law has its place. Yet, if we are perpetual slaves to it and never outgrow it’s intended purpose for us, then we need to move onto maturity and embrace the freedom we have in Christ. 

To live in freedom doesn’t mean we can simply do whatever we want, as if there’s no consequences to our words and actions. It’s not “anything goes.” Rather, Christian freedom is a life attuned to the Spirit; an awareness of living for Jesus through the fruit of the Spirit. It doesn’t break laws; it fulfills them. 

All Christians must grow up and become spiritual adults. That means leaving childish ways of the law behind and embracing the freedom of the Spirit. 

So, where are you in your Christian life? Are you a slave to Law or a free person to Love?

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