n chapter 3, Paul provides the first three of his arguments to prove that salvation comes by grace and not by law. He provided the personal argument (3:1-5), the scriptural argument (3:6-14), and the logical argument (3:15-29). Here he finishes with three more arguments for the same.
We know that our first enemy is the flesh, and Satan would prefer to render us ineffective by getting us to pursue our own lusts and desires. If that fails, the world as our second enemy is employed to tempt us with the material things and relationships of this world. But when these fail, Satan becomes our direct, third enemy employing deception. He tries to get us to reinterpret and apply God’s Word in a manner other than originally intended. Paul spends so much time on the topic of grace vs. the law because it is one of Satan’s leading and repeated deceptions in every age of the church to this very day.
Read verses 1-11
Q: What does the phrase “dispensational truth” mean?
A: It reflects the fact that God, at different times, deals in different ways with different people. “Dispensational truth” describes the truth of God’s Word as related to His program for the ages of the Jews, Gentiles, and the church.
Q: So how is Paul providing a dispensational argument proving salvation comes by grace and not the Law?
A: The Jews were in their “spiritual childhood” under the Law. The rules and rituals of the Law were the “religious ABC’s”, so to speak, which they had to learn before they could graduate into their full inheritance. This legalism was bondage to the Mosaic system, what he calls “elemental things of the world”. This dispensation of law ran its course, having prepared the way for Christ to set us free.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ…If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees…
— Colossians 2:8, 20
Point: Christ was born at the right time, in the right manner, and for the right purpose to set us free.
Q: What was Christ’s personal relationship with the Law?
A: He was “born under the Law”, obeyed the law, and fulfilled the Law both in His life and death. This not only set the Jews free from their legalistic bondage, but opened the door to fulfillment of the promise of salvation for everyone through Abraham.
Q: What would have happened if Israel as a whole accepted its Messiah?
A: The nation would have transitioned into spiritual adulthood and the blessing would have flowed out to the Gentiles through Israel fulfilling the Abrahamic promises.
Q: But what came about as a result of Israel’s collective rejection of its Messiah?
A: God in His grace provided the blessings to both Jews and Gentiles alike on an individual basis. The Gentiles were not saved through the rise of Israel, but its fall. [See Romans 11:1-12]
Point: Now individuals are adopted as mature, grown-up children in God’s family. Believers are sons – not servants – enjoying their full inheritance in Christ.
Q: So what is Paul’s conclusion to his dispensational argument?
A: Why do you want to go BACK into bondage, into a kind of second childhood? Leave the ABC’s and enjoy the full inheritance provided in Christ. Don’t continue as slaves, but become sons.
Read verses 12-18
Q: Why might Paul’s fifth argument be called “the sentimental argument”?
A: It’s extremely personal, the appeal of a loving spiritual servant or concerned father addressing his spiritual children.
Q: What is Paul highlighting as one of the chief differences between himself personally and the Judaizers?
A: Paul has a past history, a personal relationship with them based on love. Their past mutual concern was concerned with each other’s personal welfare. Just because Paul is now having to correct them with the truth does not mean that his love for them has changed. In fact, it should be all the more reason they listen to him and reject the Judaizers.
Point: One of the primary purposes of false teaching such as placing an adverse emphasis on the law is to bring division both to the truth and personal relationships. It will test the bonds of Christian love.
Read verses 19-31
Q: In using the example of Abraham’s two sons (see Genesis 16 and 21), what kind of argument is Paul making to show that the new covenant of grace has superseded the old covenant of the Law?
A: Paul makes an allegorical argument. He uses an event that has an additional spiritual meaning beyond its literal meaning.
Q: How is the old covenant of the Law represented?
It’s symbolized by Hagar the “bondwoman”, the slave-girl. (v.22)
Ishmael, a son “born according to the flesh”. (v.23)
It represents Jerusalem in Paul’s day, still in spiritual (and political) bondage. (v.25)
Q: How is the new covenant of grace represented?
It’s symbolized by Sarah, “the free woman”. (v.22)
Isaac, a son born miraculously “through the promise” of God. (v.23)
It represents the heavenly Jerusalem which is “free”. (v.26)
Q: As Christians, whose children are we according to this teaching?
A: We’re like Isaac, the children of promise, and therefore children of spiritual liberty. (v.31)
Point: God promised Abraham a son long before Ishmael was born. Ishmael was added just like the Law as explained in 3:19. He was the son of the flesh, a slave’s son. The old covenant was never God’s final plan for Israel. Like Ishmael, it was added and brought bondage and sorrow. God’s commandment to Abraham was to cast out Ishmael and Hagar, a representation of the fact that law and grace, faith and works, promise and commandment, can never live in the same household. Essentially what the Judaizers wanted to do was invite Hagar and Ishmael back into the family again.
Q: What is Paul’s point for the Jews in quoting Isaiah 54:1?
A: Just as Sarah was barren and had to wait for many years for her son, so the Jews had to wait many years before God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled.
Q: What is Paul’s point for the Gentiles in quoting Isaiah 54:1?
A: The deeper meaning of joy in the church in spite of its persecution and suffering. (v.29)
Point: Paul shows that proponents of false teaching where grace and the Law is concerned are not actually God’s liberated children of promise, but slave-children to the world. They may represent themselves as being more “spiritual”, but in reality they are the ones operating in the flesh.
The danger Paul saw in Galatia is alive and with us today. The flesh loves and craves “religious excitement”, religious experiences, and feels gratified when it can keep religious law. There’s nothing wrong with church traditions in and of themselves which are tied to Scripture and magnify Christ, but we must constantly be aware of the danger of inviting Hagar and Ishmael back into the family. There can be no mixture of law and grace.