By Christina Fox
As we continue in our study of Galatians, we come across a passage that may seem confusing at first glance. After all, what does barrenness; Ishmael, Isaac, Hagar, and Sarah have to do with the gospel? Paul is concerned that the Galatians have forgotten the truths of the gospel — salvation comes not by works but by grace through faith. In this passage, he continues to make his point by using the story of Sarah and Hagar allegorically.
Genesis 15 records the promise God made to Abraham that he would become a great nation. Yet, both he and Sarah were old and had no children. In Genesis 16:2 Sarah said to Abraham, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Sarah’s slave Hagar then bore Abraham a son, Ishmael. Later, Sarah did have the son God promised, Isaac. Paul uses this historical story figuratively, comparing Hagar’s son to those who seek salvation by works and Sarah’s son to those who rely on salvation through God’s grace. That is, Ishmael was born through reliance on human effort and Isaac was born by faith in the promise of God.
This one little section of Scripture is a rich gospel reminder of where our salvation lies—in the grace of God and not ourselves. How often do we as Christians fall into the same problem as the Galatians, living out a grace plus works salvation? How often do we look at the down and out, the spiritually infertile, the seriously flawed, and think that salvation cannot come to them? How often do we live life in our own strength, not trusting in the plan of God for our lives? And how often do we trust in anything else but God to fulfill our deepest needs, including children, money, and work?
Tim Keller puts it like this “Religion and philosophy in general say that God and salvation are only for those who are good. That’s an exclusive message. Now, the gospel is also exclusive. It says that God and salvation are only for those who know they are not good. But the gospel has a far more inclusive exclusivity! Anyone can belong to God through the gospel, regardless of record and background, regardless of who you have been or what you have done or how weak you are. Rule-keeping religion is for the noble, the able, the moral, the strong, but the gospel is for anyone.” (Galatians for You).
Paul comforts the Galatians who had been led astray by false teachers and he comforts us as well. The gospel of grace is for all of us. It is needed by all of us. It is for those fertile Hagar’s who think they have it altogether. It is also for the barren Sarah’s who feel like failures. In fact, the gospel of grace is the only way to salvation. The gospel is indeed, very good news.
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