Paul’s comparisons between Hagar and Sarah, as well as Mt. Sinai and the heaven above make up one of the most controversial claims from all of his letters (see Galatians 4:21-31). This argument isn’t hard to understand if one recognizes Paul’s major subjects like Sarah, Hagar, the Mosaic covenant, and living by faith should be placed in two separate and opposing categories: “by promise” or “by flesh”. Just like Hagar gave birth through natural means to Ishmael, so what is born of through effort trying to keep God’s law always amounts to flesh-based religion, and therefore cannot give eternal life or freedom. In contrast, Sarah gave birth to Isaac through promise and miracle. So in the same way our inheritance in the heavenly Jerusalem only comes through the miracle done in those who trust Jesus by faith. What is provocative about this argument is that that Paul is pitting obedience to the laws of Moses, the covenant given at Sinai, and even the city of Jerusalem which hosted God’s Holy Temple against God’s promises. Certainly most Jewish people of Paul’s day would not take kindly, being children of Isaac, in being told they were actually children of Hagar. No matter, Paul’s entire letter hinges on declaring how God freely gives us salvation before, and even in spite of, the stringent demands of maximum human effort, or superb quality of character are met. Paul insists that God chose to bless Sarah, and through Sarah a people by miraculous promise, even when they didn’t deserve it. More importantly, the heavenly Jerusalem belongs to those who have been born of a better promise, the guarantee bought by the blood of an indestructible life. Since it is only by promise that we are saved, and not by law keeping that we can embrace the truth, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6) Truly, nothing else but faith making itself apparent through our love for God and others matters in the least.

[Message clipped] View entire message