You Don’t Want To Be Under The Law
This week, Pastor Matt takes us through the BIG IDEA: You don’t want to be under the law.
- You were born of promise, not human effort (4:21-23)
- You belong to Jerusalem above, not Jerusalem below (4:24-27)
- You listen to Scripture, not false-teachers (4:28-31).
Tom Schreiner’s commentary and ESV Study Bible
A couple weekends ago, Andrea and I, along with some of the other Citylight staff, took our kids to an indoor water park. It was so much fun. Since Sage isn’t the magic 48 inches tall yet, she and I spent some good time in the massive kids complex slide area. If you’ve ever been to one of these kids play areas at a waterpark, then you know that they always seem to have the same ridiculous feature: The massive water bucket. These kids’ areas always have the massive bucket that stands two stories up, is repeatedly filled with water, and when it’s full, the bucket tips over and drops a completely irresponsible amount of water on any poor passerby. The force of the water is enough to take an adult off their feet and we think, “kids play area?! Perfect! I’m sure the three year olds will love it.” When I’m at these water parks, I instinctively want to keep saying to little kids, “you don’t want to be under that, you’re going to get obliterated! That dang thing is deadly. You don’t want to be under that.”
“You don’t want to be under that” is God’s message to us this morning through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Listen to how Paul begins our passage. Galatians 4:21 – “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?” “Tell me, child who wants to stand under hundreds of gallons of dropping water, have you seen what that does? You don’t want to be under that.” In a similar way, Paul says to the Galatians, “tell me, you who began the Christian life by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone with nothing to offer but Christ, but now want to change directions and go under the law, do you know what the law does? God’s law slays and condemns us, but it can’t give life. You don’t want to be under that.” And that brings us to the big idea of our passage this morning: You don’t want to be under the law. You don’t want to be under the law.
It’s pretty obvious when a child puts themselves under the massive water bucket. It can be less obvious when we, as followers of Jesus, go back under the law. What does it look like when we go under the law? First and foremost, going under the law looks like judging our ok-ness with God or our ability to draw near to God by how we’re doing rather than by what Christ has done. Tell-tale sign: adoption loses its wonder. A tell-tale sign that we’re going under the law is that the thought of being God’s child begins to not mean much to us. Theologian J.I. Packer once wrote, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayer and his whole outlook on life, it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all.” Going under the law looks like judging our ok-ness with God by how well we’re doing rather than enjoying being God’s adopted sons and daughter through what Christ alone has done. It’s such a burden. You don’t want to be under the law.
But going under the law isn’t an exclusively vertical reality. If you’re not trying to be right in God’s sight, you’ll try to be right in someone’s sight. You will live by some law to achieve it, probably their’s. Tell-tale sign: fear of man. That’s why fear of man and being more consumed by what people say than what God says in his word is a tell-tale sign that you’re living as though you’re still under the law. It’s such a burden. You don’t want to be under the law.
And if you don’t try to be right with God or people, you’ll still try to be right in your sight. And you will live by your own law to achieve it. And that’s such a burden because you don’t even measure up to your own standards. Tell-tale sign: beating yourself up or excusing yourself. Constantly beating yourself up or incessantly excusing your sin are both tell-tale signs that you’re living under the law. It’s such a burden. You don’t want to be under the law.
And “under the law” is the burdening mantra that the whole world influences you to live by. From exercise gurus to therapists, from bosses to career coaches, from well-meaning parents to narcissistic influencers, nearly everyone is trying to give you laws and techniques that you just have to live by if you’re going to be right with God or the truest you. Tell-tale sign: I need a technique to make life work. It’s such a burden. You don’t want to be under the law.
So, why is going under the law so tempting to us? For me personally, being under the law because I hate loose ends and ambiguity. It’s so tempting to create a standard by which I can be sure that I’ve done enough for God to be ok with me, other people to approve of me, and for me to love myself. I don’t naturally want to trust my ok-ness with God, others, and even myself to Christ. I don’t want to have to tuck all the loose ends of my sins into faith and trust that Christ will forgive me. I am tempted to go under the law because, as Pastor Mike from Citylight Church Center City often describes the disposition of our hearts, “God, I want you to give me a manageable standard so that I never have to trust you.” I don’t know all the reasons why you want to be under the law, but I do know that your temptation is common and deadly. It’s the temptation in Galatians. You don’t want to be under the law. Word to non-Christians.
So, let’s take it in three steps. Our passage this morning will give you three unique reasons why you don’t want to be under the law. As you’ll see, contrasts dominate Galatians 4:21-31. Each reason why you don’t want to be under the law presents two ways to live. You don’t want to be under the law. Why? 1. You were born of promise, not human effort (4:21-23) 2. You belong to Jerusalem above, not Jerusalem below (4:24-27) 3. You listen to Scripture, not false-teachers (4:28-31).
YOU WERE BORN OF PROMISE, NOT HUMAN EFFORT (4:21-23)
The first reason why you don’t want to be under the law, with all its burdens, is because you became a Christian by receiving God’s promise of eternal life through Christ. You did not become a Christian through human effort. And to help us see it, Paul takes us all the way back to the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and a man named Abraham. Galatians 4:21-23 – Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.
When Abraham was about 75 years old, and his wife Sarah 65 years old, the Lord promised to make Abraham the father of a multitude. It was an extraordinary promise because they had no children and had struggled with infertility their entire marriage. Still, they believed God’s promise. But then day after day, month after month, and year after year passed and Sarah never conceived. God’s promise wasn’t coming true. After about a decade of waiting on God’s promise, Sarah decides to take matters into her own human hands. Seventy-five-year-old Sarah approached eighty-five-year-old Abraham and says, “I have an idea for how we can get a child. Go into my servant Hagar and conceive a child for us through her.” Abraham followed Sarah in her breach of faith in God’s promise, slept with Sarah’s servant Hagar, and she conceived and gave birth to Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. But Ishmael was not the child born of God’s promise. Ishmael was the child of human effort. But God in his grace and kindness was not done with Abraham and Sarah. About fifteen years after Ishmael’s birth and twenty-five years after He first made His promise to them, the Lord gave Abraham and Sarah the miraculous child that he promised them, Isaac. The son of Hagar was born of human effort, but the son of Sarah was born of promise. Ishmael was born of Abraham and Sarah taking matters into their own hands. Isaac was born of Abraham and Sarah receiving God’s promise with the empty hands of faith. And Paul makes his point clear in verse 28: Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
And that’s why you don’t want to be under the law – it doesn’t fit who you are. You are children of promise, not human effort, so you relate to God by His promise, not your effort. You weren’t born into God’s family by your law keeping. You weren’t born into God’s family by your effort. You’re not children of human effort. You are not like Ishmael – his birth was totally explainable. No, you’re like Isaac – his birth was a miracle of God’s promise. You can’t be explained by natural means. So keep your eye on the promise, keep looking to the finished work of Christ for your ok-ness with God, others, and yourself. You’re not the product of human effort, therefore, you don’t want to be under the law. Second reason…
YOU BELONG TO JERUSALEM ABOVE, NOT JERUSALEM BELOW (4:24-27)
The present Jerusalem, just like the Jerusalem of Paul’s day, is full of people enslaved to God’s law because they cannot keep it. You don’t belong to that Jerusalem. You don’t want to go under the law. You belong to the Jerusalem above that is free from the curse of the law. Galatians 4:24 – Now this (Hagar and Sarah) may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Paul says that Hagar and Sarah represent two different covenants. NT scholar Tom Schreiner writes, “a covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other.” A covenant is more than a contract because a covenant is relational. A great example of a covenant is marriage. A man and a woman enter into a marriage relationship willingly by making binding promises to one another – until death parts them. The storyline of the Bible is held together by God entering into covenants with his people (Noah, Abraham, Israel, David, New Covenant). And Paul says that Hagar anticipates or corresponds to one such covenant – the covenant that God made with Israel when he gave his law to Moses at Mount Sinai. Hagar anticipates the Mosaic covenant of the law. Why do Hagar and Mount Sinai correspond to one another? Hagar bore Ishmael – a child born for slavery. Similarly, the law bears children for slavery because all who are under the law are slaves to sin because you can never measure up to its standard. Hagar and the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinia with its law both produce slaves. You don’t want to be under the law! It will make you a slave because you can never measure up to its standard.
Now, Mount Sinai isn’t the only place that Hagar corresponds to. Hagar anticipates God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai because both produce slaves. Hagar anticipates Sinai and Sinai anticipates present day Jerusalem. Galatians 4:25 – Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. Hagar, the mother of the slave, corresponds to Sinai and present Jerusalem because the Jews of Paul’s day and the Jews of our day in Jerusalem are enslaved under the law. Though the standard Jewish view is that the law liberates, Paul writes and the Old Testament bears witness that the law actually enslaves because it demands obedience but does not grant any power to obey its precepts. As Tom Schreiner writes, “the law slays but doesn’t grant life.” You don’t want to be under the law. You don’t want to go back to judging your ok-ness with God, others, or yourself by your standard keeping. That’s living as though you belong to the present Jerusalem and are her slave children. You don’t belong to the present Jerusalem here below. She’s not your mother.
You belong to the Jerusalem above. Galatians 4:26 – But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. If you’ve received Jesus as your only hope in life and in death, then you have dual citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem that will one day come down to earth.
(1) renewal of heart; (2) regeneration; (3) complete forgiveness of sin; (4) new exodus, forgiveness of sins, and a new David; and (5) reunification of the people of God. Schreiner
Revelation 21:1-4 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” You belong to the Jerusalem above. And the Jerusalem above just keeps receiving new children as the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Jesus spreads to more people. Galatians 4:27 quotes Isaiah 54:1 – “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” You don’t want to be under the law. Your mother is the free Jerusalem above, don’t go back to the slavery of relating to God by law that you’re powerless to keep. Your mother is free. Spread the message of liberation. You don’t want to be under the law. You were born of promise, not human effort. You belong to Jerusalem above, not Jerusalem below. Lastly and briefly, you don’t want to be under the law because…
YOU LISTEN TO SCRIPTURE, NOT FALSE-TEACHERS
Galatians 4:29-31 – But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. You don’t want to go under the law because you listen to Scripture. You know that the law was a temporary arrangement. God instituted his law at Sinai to show us our sin so that we would stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting his promise of eternal life in Christ. You don’t want to go under the law because you listen to the Scripture, which says that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. You listen to the Scripture that says that we are children of faith not by our merit, but through the perfect merit of Christ, not through law, but through promise. You listen to the Scripture that says God so loved the world that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
And since you listen to Scripture, you know to not listen to those who influence you toward Jesus + and try to put you back under the law. Galatians 4:30 – “But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” Hagar’s son Ishmael persecuted and troubled Sarah’s son Isaac. Therefore, Hagar and Ishmael were cast out. Similarly, false-teachers were troubling the Galatian churches with Jesus + law Christianity. Paul says, cast them out. And friends, there are false-teachers everywhere inviting you to go back to the law. There are pastors, therapists, gurus, influencers, and motivational speakers everywhere telling you that Jesus is fine, but what you really need to be ok with God, ok with people, ok with yourself is something more, something in addition to Jesus. Whether they know it or not, they’re inviting you to go back under the law. You don’t want to be under the law. You listen to Scripture, not false-teachers. So cast out the slave woman and her son. Remove from our church, your Citygroup, your feed, or your earbuds anyone who is tempting you with Jesus + law to be ok. It’s such a burden. You don’t want to go under the law.
Covering Sage when the water comes down. The best defense against going under the law – keep going back to the gospel of grace for covering.