Son and Heir
In this lesson we are introduced to one of
the more controversial aspects of interpreting the Scripture:
the use of allegory. It is a frequent contention of many
evangelical preachers that the Scripture is not to be
interpreted allegorically. Alas, we must put that belief away if
we are to follow what the apostle teaches.
Labored in vain
Gal 4:1-11 NASB Now I say, as long as
the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although
he is owner of everything,
but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the
So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the
elemental things of the world.
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born
of a woman, born under the Law,
so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might
receive the adoption as sons.
Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into
our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then
an heir through God. (8)
However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to
those which by nature are no gods.
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by
God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless
elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?
You observe days and months and seasons and years.
I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
The question: why is the Law no longer
It’s a question the early church had to face. It
is the clear contention of Christianity that Christ’s coming was
prophesied throughout the Old Testament; indeed, that the point of
the Old Testament was to look forward to the Messiah. He has
arrived; but why does that set the Mosaic Law aside?
Paul’s answer is to draw a parallel to a child
with an inheritance. As a young child, he is just as much subject to
the orders of the trustees and guardians appointed over him as a
slave (common in that time) would be. Only when the appointed time
came could he break free of this. Indeed, we would expect the
guardians to so train the child that he would use his freedom
wisely. All depends upon the time appointed.
So it is with the Law. The time appointed has
come; the guardianship is over. That does not mean that the Law is
useless; it’s still a good example. We may extract from it the
wisdom intended, and use it in the freedom given in Christ.
The benefits of Christ
Indeed, like our heir in this, it is to our
benefit to leave the tutelage of the Law. Paul points out three
benefits that the Law could never deliver:
· Deliverance. We are
delivered from the Law – and also the curse on man which
caused that Law to be given to the Israelites.
· Son-ship. Our
relationship to God has changed; He is still the awesome
God; he is also our Father.
· Heirs of the kingdom.
This is no poverty stricken son-ship; no, all the joys of
the kingdom of God are ours, both now and at His return.
What about the Gentiles?
The example seems to break down if we’re not
talking about the Jews. They never had the law of Moses in the first
place. But is it really that different?
· They were enslaved in an even
worse position; they were slaves to “gods” who were not gods
at all. Indeed, Paul assures us that these “gods” are in
· Such “gods” had their own
equivalent law, often bizarre. If it’s good to be released
from the Law of Moses, how much more so the law of demons?
· Worse – if it is evil to go back
to the Law of Moses, how much more evil is it to go back to
the worship of demons?
Paul sees the storm coming in the Galatian
church; but the ship is not yet wrecked. He now makes his personal
Gal 4:12-20 NASB I beg of you,
brethren, become as I
am, for I also
as you are.
You have done me no wrong;
but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached
the gospel to you the first time;
and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not
despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ
Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness
that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given
them to me. (16)
So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you
out so that you will seek them.
But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner,
and not only when I am present with you.
My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in
but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone,
for I am perplexed about you.
The example of Paul
Paul makes an emotional argument to remind the
Galatians where they have been, spiritually. He begins with himself
· He started as one who persecuted
the church – which, as we will see later, is the fate of
those who are spiritual.
· He was a thorough legalist.
· Most important of all to the
Galatians, when Paul arrived there to preach the Gospel, he
was a sick man.
So how did the Galatians deal with this man?
Reaction of the Galatians
Paul recalls to them their reaction. They did not
scorn him; far from it. The bearer of the Good News was treated
· First, he was received despite
his medical problems; indeed, his difficulty only leant
credibility to his words.
· Second, the message was so
precious to them that they sympathized with his ailments –
to the point of organ transplants, if that were possible.
The result of this? Not bitterness, but a sense
of blessing. The Galatians knew they were on the receiving end of
There is a parallel today to which I would call
your attention. In a recent sermon on tithing, our preacher compared
the reaction he gets from those who are sure they cannot tithe, and
those who do tithe. The former, when asked about it, plead how tight
the money is in their household; there is nothing they could give up
that would produce a tithe. The latter, when asked, hem and haw a
bit and begin their explanation with, “Well, God has blessed us so
much…” The one who gives more, is blessed more. God works that way,
Paul now expounds his concerns for his children
First, he is concerned that they will remain “in
the truth.” He fears that they will be suckered into going
backwards. It is instructive to see how this is done, as the method
is still used today.
The method is simple: you create an “exclusive”
club – and demand an entrance price. The price is the abandonment of
grace and the embrace of salvation by works. Make this as attractive
as possible, and it will seem a good thing to join this club – no
matter how much work.
Now, it is a good thing to have people want you
to be with them. But it can be twisted, as in this instance. Satan
still cannot create, only twist.
Second, Paul longs to be with them. He knows that
if he were, his tone of voice would be different – and hopes that
this letter has the same effect.
Finally, he is anxious that “Christ is formed” in
them. The Greek word (related to our verb morph) implies that
the ingredients are there, but the pie is not assembled and baked.
In short, he wants them to shun this temptation and continue to grow
in the Spirit..
Gal 4:21-31 NASB Tell me, you who
want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman
and one by the free woman.
But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and
the son by the free woman through the promise.
This is allegorically speaking, for these
are two covenants: one
proceeding from Mount Sinai
bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.
Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the
present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
For it is written, "REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK
FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE
CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND."
And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.
But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh
persecuted him who
was born according to the Spirit, so
it is now also. (30)
But what does the Scripture say? "CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER
SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON
OF THE FREE WOMAN." (31)
So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the
A Pedagogical Diversion
The ancient church held that there were four ways
to interpret the Scripture:
· First, there is the literal
interpretation. Hagar was a real person, this is what
· Second, there is the allegoric
interpretation: using the literal as symbols for the more
general. In this instance, Hagar represents the physical
Law, the old way of external observances. We conclude that
we are to believe that the spiritual way is the right way.
· Third, there is the moral
interpretation: just what is it that I am supposed to be
doing because of this? In this instance, I would avoid going
back to the ceremonial law, as I have the spirit of One who
is greater than the Law.
· There is also a mystic
interpretation, which asks the question: what should I hope
for, because of this passage? Should I not hope for the new
Jerusalem, the Jerusalem above?
There is an easy way to remember these last
three: faith, hope and love. For the allegory, what should I
believe? For the mystic, what should I hope for? For the moral, what
should I do, doing all things in love?
The comparison here is still one which is valid
today. There is the way of the flesh and the way of the spirit. The
way of the flesh, represented by Hagar and her son, says that (in
this instance) circumcision is required – going back to the old Law.
This method usually emphasizes the physical: what regulations must I
follow, what should I do with my body – in short, focus on things
which are physically visible.
The way of the spirit, represented by Sarah and
her miraculous offspring, also uses a ceremony for entrance
(baptism) – a ceremony with explicit allegorical meanings. The
spiritual emphasizes the heart, encouraging love, but the focus is
on the things invisible.
The choice often looks like this. On the one
hand, there is a hard set of rules to follow – but if followed
completely, there is the reward of being one who is in the inner
circle. Acceptance at last! The spiritual looks much easier – but
starts with the admission that no amount of holy labor will save.
I would bring to your minds three final points:
1. The choice must be made. You cannot
sit on the fence; either the rules are right or the Spirit
is. You cannot do both; to try is to fail at both.
2. The physical inevitably persecutes the
spiritual. There is no more diligent foe of the faith than
the man who follows all the rules and has all the answers.
Paul knew that from personal experience.
3. Count the cost: if you turn back from
grace to a set of rules you can follow, what will the Lord
of grace do about that?