Conflict Between Law and Grace

Galatians 4:19-31
by Dennis Baker, Brotherhood President

Paul uses a literary device called an allegory to convey hidden meanings through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, or
events, which together create the moral, spiritual, or political meaning the author wishes to convey. An allegory can be defend as a narrative that has a deeper meaning. Paul’s use of the Old Testament story of Sarah and Isaac versus Hagar and
Ishmael gives greater meaning to the conflict between law and grace.

In verse 22, Paul states that, Abraham had two sons. One by a bond maid and the other by a free woman. Verse 23 states
that the son born by the bondwoman was born after the flesh and the son born by the free woman was born by promise. These verses illustrate the two births; the physical birth that makes us sinners and the spiritual birth that makes us the children of God. As we read Genesis 21:1-12 we discover wonderful truths about salvation.

  1. Isaac, Sarah’s son, was born by God’s power. We might say that since Abraham and Sarah had waited approximately twenty-five years and were beyond child bearing age, that Isaac was miraculously conceived. Verse 29, refers to Isaac being “born after the Spirit. The greater meaning that Paul is conveying is that a believer must be “born of the Spirit.” John 3:6-7, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” Abraham represents faith, Galatians 3:9, and Sarah represents grace. Therefore, Isaac was born by faith through grace. Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God…”
  2. Salvation is just the beginning, not the ending. Genesis 21:8 states that Isaac grew and was weaned. After we are
    born again we must grow. To mature as a believer, we must lay aside “childish things.” I Corinthian 13:1, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
    II Peter 3:18, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and
  3. Verse 29, Ishmael born after the flesh persecuted Isaac born after the Spirit. Genesis 21:9 states that Ishmael caused problems for Isaac, just as our old nature causes problems for us. Ishmael caused no problems in Abraham’s home until
    Isaac was born, just as our old nature created no problems for us until the new nature entered, when we trusted Christ. In
    Abraham’s home, we see the same conflict that believers face today. The law only releases the opposition of the flesh and a
    conflict within the believer. Romans 7:19, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
  4. Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, like the law was added. Hagar’s function was only temporary and then she moved
    off the scene, the law was added because of our transgression, Galatians 3:19.
  5. Hagar and Ishmael were cast out and Ishmael was not an heir of Abraham. It is impossible for law and grace, the flesh and the Spirit, to compromise and stay together. It is impossible to mix law and grace, faith and works, God’s gift
    of righteousness and man’s attempt to earn salvation.
  6. The Old Testament story appears to be nothing more than an account of the conflict in Abraham’s home, but the greater
    meaning teaches us tremendous spiritual realities. Salvation is by grace through faith. After being “born again” we
    need to grow in our relationship with God. Believers will face conflict between the old and new nature. It is impossible to mix the law and grace to earn salvation.

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