Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

Riding the Fence

Galatians 4:21-5:12


To continue Paul?s arguments against legalism he turns again to a story in the Old Testament. This time it is the children that God promised to Abram. The issue is whether you let God fulfill His promise of righteousness in you, or whether you want to take the controls and do it yourself. Paul wants us to think about what that really means if we take it to its fullest extent.

21 ? 30

The story begins back in Genesis 15. God had promised to make Abram a great nation back in chapter 12. But by chapter 15 they had had no children. So Abram asks God about it and God promises that ?one who comes from your own body will be your heir.? (Genesis 15:4).

It is at that point where Abram ?believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.? It is an awesome promise and a wonderful response. Funny thing about those promises of God: we expect them to be fulfilled right away; God seems to be on another timetable.

Ten years later Abram and Sarai are still waiting for a son. Sarai comes up with a brilliant idea?if God isn?t going to come through for us, let?s fulfill His promise ourselves! This happens to us all the time. Our impatience overtakes our faith and we figure that ?God helps those who help themselves? and so we just make it happen.

What happened here should be an object lesson for all who want to hurry God. Abram married Hagar, Sarai?s Egyptian slave, and had Ishmael. Ishmael became the father of all the Arab peoples who have been Israel?s bitter enemy ever since. You?ve got to wonder if Abram might have thought??if I had this to do over again??

Later, when God came to visit Abram by Sodom, he told him that they?d have a child by that time next year?and they did?Isaac. So in verse 23, Abram?s flesh produced Ishmael, but God?s miracle promise produced Isaac.

Paul explains in verses 24 and following that these births also are a picture, as are most things that happened in the Old Testament. This picture is the Law and the promise of God to bring about our righteousness by faith in God?s promise.

Mt Sinai is where the Law was given, but is represented by Jerusalem?the current seat of the Jewish law. ?She is in slavery? (verse 25) Paul says in trying to be good through futile human attempts at righteousness.

Verse 26 promises a New Jerusalem (see Revelation 21)?God?s kingdom on earth. From God?s kingdom comes God?s miracle?our being ?born again.? The reference in verse 27 is from Isaiah 54. It comforted the exiles in Babylon that God would restore them to better things. So too, God has restored to us better things than when we were ruled by the flesh and our abilities.

Verses 28 and following tell the story in Genesis 21 of what happened when Ishmael began to persecute Isaac. Sarai had her and him mom thrown out of the camp. The idea is that Isaac (Christian theology of grace by faith) and Ishmael ( Jewish theology of merit by obedience to the Law) are not going on the same path and so can?t co-exist, which is what the Judaizers were trying to do.


I like how the Holman translates verse 1, using the word ?liberated.? Under sin and the law we were held captive by a tyrant. The flesh pulled us to do evil and the law condemned us when we messed up. Jesus came as a liberator to rescue us from that vicious cycle. So Paul encourages the Galatians not to get sucked back into occupation again. It takes some guts to stand against the tendency to let the flesh complete what the Spirit started?to begin to take control back from God. ?Stand firm? he says and don?t take back on that heavy ?yoke.? Jewish leaders of the day actually spoke of taking on the ?yoke of the law? as this was a positive thing. Somehow, expending much effort in making ourselves look or feel holy somehow makes it worthwhile. It is also a useless endeavor.


?Let me make myself perfectly clear? Paul says?as an Apostle he is declaring that if the Galatians go ahead with what the Judaizers wanted?for them to be circumscribed and follow the Jewish law?it would do them absolutely no good when it came to their relationship with Christ. That?s the choice many of us face as well. We seek to mix Christianity with a sort of ?self-improvement? program of acting good or taking on some sort of yoke. It didn?t do them any good and it won?t do us any good because Jesus already did it all and you can?t add anything by your own efforts.


Just in case anyone missed the point, Paul tells them that to bow to legalism in this case means that you take on the entire law?something he already made clear is a fool?s errand. So in verse four he goes on to tell them just what going under legalism means to their relationship with Jesus.


The way the Greek is written here the sentence should probably read: ?You are alienated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by the law.? You can?t have it both ways. It is either attempts to justify yourself through legalism or justified by the work of Jesus. ?Fallen from grace? doesn?t mean they?ve lost their salvation but have trampled on the means of salvation?grace through faith, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).


In this little verse Paul sums up what our life in Christ means. We wait expectantly for a righteous from God through the Spirit, not from anything we could do for ourselves. Don?t work for righteousness, expect the Spirit to grow it in you?be expectant, eager and open for it.


So Paul sums it up by saying that even while circumcision is not a gateway to salvation, neither is not being circumcised a barrier to it. All that matters is faith in what God has done through His great love.

So now Paul pushes the Galatians to come out of their hypnotic state and get back on track.

7 ? 10

Paul likes the running metaphor. Here the Galatians had started off the race well. They?d believed the gospel and were obeying the truth, which is that God saved us through Jesus and is perfecting us through the Holy Spirit. ?Hindered? there means ?to cut in or detain.? It?s like they had the course plainly in view and had hit their stride when another runner cut in front of them and was leading them off the course. So which runner are you following?

He makes is clear that to go back into legalism is not from God and that if you let a little into your life it will spread like yeast in a batch of dough. Legalism is very enticing because we humans are very prideful and really want to take credit ourselves for something we did not earn nor can maintain on our own.

He expresses confidence that they?ll make the right decision and adds that the ones spreading this false doctrine will not go away free. What penalty? Probably God?s judgment as Jesus said:

Matthew 18:6-7 \"But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me?it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!


To the Jews, the cross was a stumbling block. If Paul simply stopped insisting that Jesus died on the cross for our sins apart from the works of the law then the Jews would have nothing to argue about?as if that was going to happen!


It?s pretty harsh language and Paul means it. If the Judaizers were so zealous and the sign of that zeal was circumcision, why not go even further and make themselves eunuchs? In fact, a nearby cult had some of its adherents castrate themselves as part of a sacred ritual (goddess Cybele). So since Christianity came about, circumcision is no better than a pagan ritual at making one holy.


Which will you be, Ishmael or Isaac? You can?t have it both ways.

We try to strike this balance?ride the fence between grace by faith, and reliance on our own efforts. We don?t go all the way into legalism but our prideful human nature begins to take over for God or want some measure of control if God chooses not to answer. That kind of life reduces God?s power flowing in and through you and you stay weak and untransformed.

So? stand firm against legalism. Be vigilant

And don?t fall into the trap that expending great effort to be good thinking that will earn anything with God (5:1). Put energy into your relationship with God instead.

Legalism works pretty well on behaviors, but not on attitudes or the thought life.

Remember Matthew 23:37? ?Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men\'s bones and everything unclean.? NIV

Psalm 32 ?Don?t be like a horse or mule, without understanding, that must be controlled with bit and bridle, or else it will not come near you.?

That?s what a legalistic life is like. Without the law but also without Christ we are like a wild Mustang, but with the Spirit of God in us we are a controlled horse that doesn?t need to be led towards the character of Christ.

Occupy the time instead of focusing on how long God is taken to answer.

Luke 19:13 ?Occupy till I come.? KJV