Monday, August 12, 2013

Results of Being a Spiritual Child by Martin Wiles

GALATIANS 4:21-5:1
When we stop to think, there are many blessings we receive from our parents. It is the cooperation of the parents in the first place that makes our birth possible. If it were not because of the demonstration of love by a man and woman, you and I would not be here. In the ideal home, the parents supply every need of the child as they grow. They provide food, clothes and a place to stay. They send us to school where we receive an education. They even provide much more than the necessities of life. Some of us grew up in homes with well-to-do parents who could give us a great deal. Others did not have as much. We hopefully experienced love from our parents. We have inherited traits from our parents. We can find characteristics in us that were passed genetically from our parents. Our personality is probably similar to theirs. They were hopefully there for us in our struggles as we grew. Many parents save for their children's college education, or if they do not they pay for it anyway. Many children inherit things from their parents when they die. These may be things they worked and saved most of their life for. When we stop to think about it, there are many advantages of being children of our respective parents.

In like manner, there are some wonderful results that come from being a child of God or a spiritual child of Isaac according to the allegory Paul uses in these verses. Paul continues to contrast the one who tries to work for their salvation with the one who accepts the free grace of Jesus Christ. In these verses, he reaches back into the Old Testament and uses a story to give an analogy. It is not an allegory in the sense that there is some hidden meaning in the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael. He speaks figuratively. It is an analogous system that Paul uses.

The reason Paul uses this story for his analogy is to further enforce his teaching that salvation is by the grace of God and not our works. He warns the Jewish Christian to look closely at the very law they were placing their faith in for salvation.

Paul tells the story of Abraham and Sarah and their child Isaac and also of Hagar and Abraham and their child Ishmael. Ishmael was born as a result of a plan by Abraham and Sarah to hurry up what God seemed to be taking too long to do. Hagar was the Egyptian slave of Sarah. Ishmael was not the son of promise. He was the son of the flesh. Isaac was the son of promise that God promised to Abraham and Sarah.

After using the story as an analogy, Paul explains how the heritage of the line through one mother, Hagar, is lostness while the heritage through the other mother, Sarah, is salvation and freedom. You will remember that God called Abraham to leave his homeland and go to a land far away that he had never seen. Here God promised to make him and his descendants great. God promises a son to Abraham through whom these descendants would come. Many years passed, however, and the son was not born. Sarah decided to take matter into her own hands.

Before we judge Sarah for her over anxiousness, let us remember that there have probably been many times when we have run ahead of God. Abraham found himself 86 years old and his wife 76. This was long past the time of bearing children. He feared that his chief servant, Eliezer of Damascus, would be his heir. Abraham cried out to God expressing his fear. God assured him that Eliezer was not his heir. One from his own body would be that heir. Several years passed, and Sarah still did not conceive. In order to help God along, Sarah persuaded Abraham to take her servant, Hagar, as his wife and bear her children through her. This was perfectly acceptable according to the custom of the day. If a woman could not bear children, she could have her servant have them for her through using her husband. The children after birth were considered hers.

Abraham followed Sarah's bad advice and married Hagar. Sure enough, she became pregnant and bore a son whom they named Ishmael. His birth, however, was according to the flesh not a promise. God promised Abraham a son, but it would not come this way. Sarah was to have the son of promise. They did not follow God's plan. Finally, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, she conceived and bore a son. They named him Isaac, and he was the son of God's promise.

As a spiritual child of God, we too have the privilege of having his guidance on our life. Abraham was not unique. God dealt with him no differently than he will deal with us. We may not have the same type of experiences, but God will guide our life if we allow him. So often we make the mistake of Sarah and Abraham. We want to run ahead of God. We feel we know what is best and when the best time is for God to work. When we do this, we will commit the same error Sarah made, and we will pay the price for our anxiousness as she did. We must be patient as we wait for God to work out his plan in our life. It may seem as if he takes a long time to answer a prayer or to do something else we may have asked, but we must depend on his wisdom and not our own ingenuity. He guides us through prayer, his Word, his Spirit, others and his church. It is a wonderful blessing to know that God's children have his guidance if we will only search for it.

When Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, God gave them the child of promise. He represented the child of faith, for it was the faith of Sarah and Abraham that trusted God to fulfill his promise. When we read the story of how Sarah reacted when she heard that she would bear a son in her old age, we may not think she had much faith, but the writer of Hebrews saw it differently. He said; “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.” (11:11)

This did not happen until after she and Abraham tried on their own. Abraham had already married Sarah's servant and had a child whom they named Ishmael. After Hagar bore this child, she hated Sarah. In Paul's analogy, Isaac represents what is spiritual and Ishmael what is not. Sarah appealed to Abraham for help. He told her to do as she pleased with Hagar, and Sarah sent her away to die. If not for God's help, Ishmael and perhaps Hagar would have perished.

Later, when Abraham held a feast to celebrate Isaac's weaning, Ishmael mocked him. Not only did Sarah receive persecution but so did Isaac. Sarah saw this and told Abraham to send Hagar away. Though Abraham did not agree with the decision, he sent Hagar and Ishmael away. In Paul's analogy both of them represent the spiritual being assaulted by the unspiritual. The physical and spiritual descendants of Hagar and Ishmael have persecuted and opposed the physical and spiritual descendants of Sarah and Isaac. From Ishmael come the Arabs, many of whom are Muslim. From Isaac come the Jews and Christians. If you are at all familiar with history, you know that the Jews and Muslims have a long history of persecuting one another.

Keeping with the analogy, the descendants of Ishmael, representing the ungodly, will persecute the descendants of Isaac, representing those who are godly. The Galatians were perfect proof of the truth of  Paul's analogy. They were persecuting those who accepted Paul's message of salvation through the grace of God. They were telling them they needed to add their good works to the salvation process. Paul was telling them that would never work. It is a picture of unbelievers persecuting believers.

Jesus himself faced persecution at the hands of those who claimed to be the most religious people of the day but who were, for the most part, unbelievers. He said to those who boasted of being Abraham's children; “If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” (John 8:39)

The pages of church history and the Bible are filled with believers who suffered for their faith. Why should we think we are any different. Jesus said people would hate us even as they did him, but we do not do what we do to gain approval from people but from God. The early disciples rejoiced when persecuted for their faith. They did not have a martyr complex, but they went about doing what Jesus commanded and naturally suffered for it. When we are God's serious people on mission for him, we can expect persecution of some sort. It may be that people will simply ridicule or shun us, but the persecution will come.

All that we face on earth will be worth it when we receive our heavenly inheritance. Sarah told Abraham to cast out her servant for her son would not be an heir with Ishmael. Isaac would be the heir. Keeping with the analogy, this means that the unbelievers will not inherit what the believers will. The persecutors may and will persecute now, but the day is coming when they will be thrown out. The persecuted will receive the inheritance of our Father in heaven. No one outside God's covenant of grace will receive anything from him but his absence and his punishment.

In his illustration of the sheep and goats representing the judgment at the end of time, Jesus said of the goats placed on his left hand who represented unbelievers; “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)

Let us remember as Paul has already taught that believers are joint heirs with Jesus Christ and heirs of God. All our heavenly Father has, which is everything, is ours because of our relationship with his son. Everything Jesus inherits we will inherit also. Our inheritance certainly makes it a blessing to be a spiritual child of God.

Not only do we have the power to live for him faithfully, but it is our responsibility. Paul reminds the Galatians as well as us that it was for freedom that Christ set us free. With that in mind, he warns us to stand firm in our freedom and not subject ourselves to the yoke of slavery again. What is this yoke of slavery Paul speaks of? It is our efforts to earn our salvation just as many of the Galatians were now trying to do again.

Christ sets us free from the guilt that comes from trying in our own strength to obey him and yet failing. He saves us from that and then we can live the life of faith through his strength and not our own. In speaking to the Romans, Paul wrote; “that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” (Romans 6:17)

When Paul tells us to stand firm in the faith it carries the idea that we are to continue standing in the faith. The animal that receives freedom from the harness or yoke that binds them certainly does not enjoy being bound again. Neither should the Christian want to again hook up to that that never worked in the first place; trying to earn our salvation.

It is indeed a wonderful privilege to be a spiritual child of the King of kings. Because of that, we receive his guidance, we experience persecution, we receive an inheritance and we have the strength to live faithfully for him.

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