Thoughts on Galatians 4-5

by Eric Ryan, Pastor of Leadership Development
Hello Wildwood Family!

If you're like me, your thoughts and emotions have been all over the place as the brokenness of the world could be seen everywhere in our nation this week. This morning I was reading in Galatians 4, and beginning in verse twenty-one, Paul refers to the story of Hagar allegorically (v. 24) as a way of fleshing out more of his message to the church in Galatia. His message being that redemption is found in the cross of Jesus and not the works of the law (primarily circumcision) because if we could be saved by the law, Christ died for nothing (2:21). 

He opens this allegory by essentially saying, “If you love the law so much, why do you not listen to it?” Then he jumps back to a story found in the law: Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, or as Paul says it: one to a slave woman, and one to a free woman (See Genesis 16-21). In a fairly direct manner, Paul says, “...these women are two covenants.” Hagar, he says, is Mt. Sinai. Why Mt. Sinai? Mt. Sinai is where Moses received the Law after the Red Sea. In Paul’s allegory, Mt. Sinai represents the people’s attempt to earn their redemption from Egypt (though never God’s intent for the law- see Rom. 7). 

But Isaac is referred to as the “child of promise” here, and the Christians in Galatia are reminded that they, in Christ, are also children of the promise. Meaning their heritage lies in the promise of God to Abraham and Sarah, and not the works of the flesh, or Abraham and Hagar’s attempt to fulfill the promise of God on their own. 

Then, to the church in Galatia, he quotes Sarah talking to Abraham in Genesis 21 by saying, “Cast out the slave woman and her son…” What is Paul charging the church to do? Cast off the burden of the law and do not submit to the “yoke” of the law for your salvation (5:1). In other words, stop running back to rules! 

What is the application for us? We, even as believers, are often tempted and lured by the yoke of the law. Our hearts naturally stray away from trusting the promises of God for our salvation and often move toward finding works in an attempt to justify ourselves.

In 5:18, Paul tells us if we are led by the Spirit, we won’t act out the works of the flesh (speaking of going back to the law), but what’s interesting is in verse 22, he doesn’t charge us to “do” something else. Instead, he refers to the fruits of the Spirit in us. Why didn’t Paul say, “Don’t envy, because God told us not to covet?” I think it’s because that solution would completely undermine his entire charge. Rather, he reminds them of what the Spirit will produce in believers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. He concludes: “...against such things there is no law.” 

Here is what I think Paul is getting at; we tend to attack sin and brokenness with rules and law. We want to toe the line all the time and stay in the safe zone, but the foundation of that is a heart that believes it can earn its way to God. What would it look like, if when faced with decisions on how to respond or behave, rather than look for rules or guardrails, we rehearsed the fruits of the Spirit?

The death of George Floyd and the preceding protests and riots have brought to the surface many questions in the hearts and minds of American Christians. Often when something like this occurs, we look for the fence line. We search the Scriptures for the X’s and O’s of what to do. But what if all that searching is our way of seeking something we can do, so we can check another box in an attempt to do right by God? What if it is just another form of slavery to the law?  

What if instead, we asked ourselves:

  • “How would the love of the Spirit respond to my neighbor here?” 
  • “What does the joy of the Lord look like when it interacts with a deeply hurting population?” 
  • “Would the peace of God be inactive or active? If it’s active, what does that look like?” 
  • “If I allowed the patience of God to fill my heart when I am frustrated with how others are behaving, how would I behave differently?” 
  • “If I walk the line, but don’t show kindness towards others, am I walking by the Spirit?”
  • “How can I point those who are hurting towards the goodness of God when their days are so dark?”
  • “Lord, please, show me what actions I must take to display your faithfulness to those around me. Show me how to point them to your faithfulness to them, in Jesus Christ.”
  • “Lord, help me to be gentle toward the vulnerable the same way you are gentle towards me.”
  • “Spirit, as I interact with neighbors, watch the news, and post on social media, grant me self-control to engage in the same way you would.”

Why aim at the fruits of the Spirit rather than rules or law? Because against such things there is no law! Worried about offending God or misstepping? Walk by the Spirit, and it’s guaranteed you won’t overstep the law because there is no law against the fruit He will produce in your life. However, when we try to “preach” the law to ourselves or others, we often end up suppressing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives because there is simply no way to keep the entire law. Friends, in these dark days, walk with the Spirit and ask Him to grow His fruit in you. Don’t turn back to Mt. Sinai.
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