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Summary: The Apostle Paul spent a lot of his life trying to earn his own salvation.

Are You an Ishmael or an Isaac?

Galatians 4:21-31 01/02/05

Paul says to these Galatian believers who were in danger of going back into bondage, having been set free by Christ. Now false teachers have come and they are going back into bondage.

The Apostle Paul spent a lot of his life trying to earn his own salvation. When Paul had a miracle experience with the Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road. He found out that his salvation depended on the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins, and the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, to give us power to live the Christian life. It was the best news Paul had ever heard in all his life. It set him free. He came to understand that he was saved not because of anything he did, but rather because of what Christ did on the cross. Paul preached that everywhere he went. He preached salvation not by works—what we do. He preached salvation by grace—by what Jesus Christ did on the cross. It was good news to these Galatians. They had been brought up in the bondage of their pagan religions.

There are only two views of what salvation is. All religions in the world fall into one of two categories. It is either a system of works or it is a system of grace. All pagan religions teach a system of works. You have to earn or work for your salvation.

When these teachers came to Galatia and began to preach that they had to keep the law in order to be saved, they were in danger of falling right back into a system of bondage. There is something about sin embedded in the human heart that causes us to want to do something to deserve salvation. We feel like we need to work a little bit for it. We need to earn it. We need to deserve it. So it was the easiest thing in the world for these people in Galatia to fall for the teaching of legalism and law-keeping which these teachers from Jerusalem had come teaching.

So Paul is arguing the case for grace. In the first two chapters he has given his own personal experience—the fact that God had revealed to him from heaven salvation by grace through faith.

In chapters 3 and 4 he is setting forth that their own Scriptures had been teaching this all along and they had missed it. Their own Scriptures had taught that you couldn’t earn your salvation by keeping the law. He points out that the purpose of the law was not as a vehicle to take us to heaven. The purpose of the law was to show us that we couldn’t work our way to heaven. That’s what he’s talking about.

He’s trying, now to clinch the argument. He’s trying to nail down what he has been teaching them in these two chapters. He begins in verse 21 with a question. “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” In other words—do you really know what you are talking about? Have you studied the law? Do you know what it says?

Then he proceeds to give three basic arguments to prove that we are saved by the miracle of the grace of God. We are not saved by any natural means of our own efforts or our own works.

There are three arguments here. The first argument is the—

I. The HISTORICAL argument.

Beginning in verse 22 he says, “For it is written” (talking about their Old Testament history). For the Jewish people, the Old Testament was their history book. It was not only their book of religion, but it was also the book of their history. It told the story of their history.

When Paul would talk to them about salvation, these who were under the bondage of the law, he would tell a Jew that you couldn’t earn your salvation. You have to be born again. That Jew might reply, “Well, I’m a son of Abraham.” Paul’s answer would be, “Which son of Abraham are you?” That’s what he means when he says in verse 22 that Abraham had two sons.

If you are a son of Abraham, which son are you? Are you a son of Ishmael or are you a son of Isaac? Abraham had two sons—Ishmael and Isaac. You know Abraham and Sarah were on in age before Isaac was born. Ishmael was Abraham’s son but not by Sarah but by Hagar. Ishmael was not the son of promise but Isaac.

That’s the first argument—the historical argument. The second argument begins in verse 24. It’s called—


“Which things are allegories.” In other words, this story he has just told to us is an allegory. An allegory is a true story with a deeper meaning. An allegory is a set of facts that have a spiritual symbolism. He is going to take these two wives—Hagar and Sarah—and he is going to take these two sons—Ishmael and Isaac—and use them in a figurative manner. He is going to teach spiritual truth from this historical story.

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