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Sermon from Galatians 4: 21-31

Akhup Serto

00:00 / 38:54

Our True Identity

Galatians 4: 21-31


We are coming towards the end of Paul’s argument against those who opposed his gospel.


Before we get into the passage for our meditation, I want to speak a bit on Jewish culture. You know Jews took great pride in their ancestry. And it is true that they had many great ancestors but the greatest of all was Abraham, the man so revered by all the Jews. In John 8:33 and 39, we read an encounter between Jesus and the Jews who boasted to Christ, saying that We are Abraham’s offspring and Abraham is our father. This idea that We are Abraham’s offspring is what they felt gave them gravitas (a sense of great dignity) in the world and with God.


This idea/sense of the importance of ancestry and hereditary rights was very strong among the Jews. But this does not impress God at all. What matters ultimately is not physical birth. It is not our lineage. It is spiritual birth.

  • Jesus and Nicodemus, You must be born again. Literally, that means you must be born from above. You must be born of God.


In the book of Galatians we see that there are two kinds of people




Judaizers were the Jewish missionaries who advocated work-based righteousness. Primarily, their job was to convert Gentiles to Judaism. They had come to Galatia boasting of their natural birth and heritage in Abraham and seduced the Galatian Gentile believers that they could be adopted into Abraham’s family by way of observing/putting themselves under the law. By doing so they would enjoy all of the covenant blessings.


We read in Galatians 3 that salvation has nothing to do with law keeping. Abraham was declared righteous long before the law was ever given. In fact, Abraham was declared righteous by faith alone before circumcision was given to him. Hence, a person becomes a son of Abraham not by keeping the Law but by being like Abraham i.e. by believing just as Abraham did.


In the closing stage of his argument against the Judaizers, Paul is coming back to Abraham for one last time. Paul explains who is the true son of Abraham out of the two sons he had and how a person obtains the blessings of Abraham.


Based on this, I want to entitle my sermon as OUR TRUE IDENTITY


For those of you who heard my last preaching on Galatians 3:1-14, you will notice a similar pattern with my today’s sermon. In my last sermon, we looked at how Paul reminded the Galatians who they were based on three evidences

  • Experiential Evidence

  • Historical Evidence

  • Scriptural Evidence

And today, I want to leave with us three thoughts again, in fact, three truths concerning our True Identity from Galatians 4:21-31.


The 3 Truths:

1. The Historical Truth (vv. 21-23)

2. The Spiritual Truth (vv. 24-27)

3. The Practical Truth (vv. 28-31)


1. The First Truth/Historical Truth/Illustration (vv. 21-23)

Paul says in verse 21 that the lesson is for those who want to be under law and it is very obvious that this lesson is for nobody but the Galatians. By now, I am sure that we should have thorough knowledge of the crisis that the Galatians had got themselves into. When they first heard Paul preached the gospel of grace to them, they gladly accepted it. However, soon after Paul left, the Judaizers came to Galatia and began to seduce and deceived the believers at Galatia with their work-based gospel. The Galatians were being drawn into that legalistic system of Judaism.


Honestly, I think this is not just the problem of the Galatians but a problem in every generation, even today. Many of us have our own perception of salvation/heaven/what heaven looks like and we try to  build our own highway to heaven by rules and personal efforts.


Paul continues telling the Galatians that if you want to be under the law, then I will teach you a lesson – a lesson from a historical fact. Paul is going back in time in Genesis where we read a story of a very important figure – the story of Abraham.


The story is very familiar to us. Abraham had two sons whose births occurred under very different and significant circumstances.


Abraham’s Timeline:

  • 75 years of age

    • God called him out from Ur (modern-day Iraq). He was childless and his wife, Sarah, was barren. When God called him out, God made a promise with Abraham. And Abraham believed God and obeyed Him. Abraham left his place and came to Canaan, believing the promises of God. Days had passed and years went by, Abraham was still childless.

  • 85 years of age

    • God appeared to Abraham (Genesis 15) and reaffirmed the promise that he had made with Abraham. However, ten years had passed by then and Abraham was still without a child.

    • God had clearly given him a promise but it wasn’t happening. Abraham wasn’t getting any younger. It must have been really hard for Abraham. And it certainly bothered Sarah because she knew exactly why the promise was not happening. She knew what the problem was and the problem was her. She was barren and was way past the child bearing age. As a result, Sarah became very restless and impatient. And so she came up with an idea. She suggested that Abraham marry Hagar, her maid, and try to have a son by her. This act mgiht have been legal in that society, but it was certainly not in the will of God. However, Abraham accepted her suggestion and married Hagar (Gen. 16:1-3)

  • 86 years of age

    • Abraham had a son with his maid servant and named him Ishmael (Gen. 16:4-16).


Take a moment and ponder on how the story of Abraham has unfolded so far.

  • Sarah became impatient, under a lot of pressure

  • Under tremendous pressure she did what she thought was the will of God

  • What she did was like, Let me help God out! What Sarah did not realize was that God does not need our help.

  • Yes, our God is sovereign and he is working everything out according to his plan with perfection. He always fulfills his promises in his way and his time, not ours. We are simply to trust him.


Sarah was at a very critical situation and she gave into that situation. She did what she thought was right and she would regret her decision later. She gave her bondservant Hagar to her husband Abraham and she gave birth to a child.

However, God said this is not the child that I promised. He told Abraham in Genesis 18:14, Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.


In the meantime, there is a tension slowly and gradually developing between Hagar and Sarah. Hagar’s ability to conceive gave her a sense of superiority over her mistress who could not conceive. Hagar is now filled with a sense of pride and joy and she began to gloat. It was insulting to Sarah and it was humiliating. Hagar and her son were a constant thorn in her side and it was a reminder of her inadequacies and inability. This went on for years.


I think Sarah had no one to blame for her plight because this is happening because of her own decision. Funny thing is that she put the blame for this on her husband. Ishmael may be the son of Abraham but certainly not the son of promise. God would not fulfill the promise through Hagar.


  • 99 years of age:

    • God visited him again and changed his name from Abram (Exalted Father) to Abraham (Father of a multitude)

    • God reaffirmed his promise that Sarah would have a son, his name would be ISAAC and he would be the heir, not Ishmael.

    • From human point of view, it is a promise impossible to happen

  • 100 years of age

    • God fulfilled his promise. Abraham was 100 old and Sarah 90 years, God gave them a child promised. His name was Isaac (Laughter) (Gen. 21:1-5).

    • 25 years had passed by the time Sarah had Isaac.

    • Abraham’s story is a reminder for us that God is a God of promise.


Paul reminds the Galatians of their True Identity from the historical truth of the story of Abraham









2. The Second Truth/Spiritual Truth/Interpretation (vv. 24-27)

Secondly, Paul reminds the Galatians of their True Identity from the Spiritual Truth of the Historical facts that he mentions in the preceding verses.


We see that Ishmael was the result of Abraham’s self-reliance while Isaac was the result of reliance on God. Those are the facts from where Paul now draws a lesson. He introduces it by saying this story of Abraham must be interpreted allegorically. What does Paul mean by this?


On the surface, this story appears to be nothing more than a tale of a normal family, but beneath the surface are meanings that carry tremendous spiritual power. Abraham, his two wives and his two sons represent spiritual realities and their relationships teach us important lessons.


Based on the historical events, Paul brings out a spiritual analogy that exposes the inherent weakness of the Judaizers’ legalistic approach to inheriting the promises of God. There will be a chart in the chat box that shows the many contrasts Paul makes between law and grace.
















To Paul, Hagar and Sarah represent two complete different covenants

  • Hagar

    • She represents the old covenant given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

    • She could only bear slave children.

    • In verse 25, Paul continues that Hagar corresponds to Jerusalem, which represents Judaism. Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people. Therefore, it is the center of their legal system; At least it was in Paul’s day. It was the capital of Judaism, of that legal system and like Hagar it can only produce spiritual slaves. So Paul traces out a line of slavery from Hagar to Mount Sinai to the city of Jerusalem and her people for he says, she that is Jerusalem like Hagar, is in slavery with her children but there is another Jerusalem in verse 26, the Jerusalem above and it is free. Paul says she is our mother.

    • Paul likens Hagar and the covenant of the Law with Jerusalem in his day: Politically enslaved to Rome and religiously enslaved to a strict pursuit of legalism

  • Sarah

    • In contrast, the new covenant, symbolized by Sarah, is based on God’s promises, not His law.

    • Christ ratified this agreement on Calvary. He sealed it with his own blood (Heb. 9:11-28). All who enter into the promises of this covenant by faith alone in Christ alone become spiritual children of Abraham and heirs of the heavenly Jerusalem.

    • This Jerusalem above (understood to be represented by Sarah) isn’t very clear.

      • It may be the heavenly Jerusalem in which the redeemed will one day dwell (Rev. 3:12; 21:2) OR

      • It may refer metaphorically to the universal church – all those truly redeemed in Christ – whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

    • In either case, this Jerusalem above represents those saved through faith in Christ, who have been freed from the oppression and curse of the Law.


There are two parallel worlds, one natural and the other spiritual. There is Hagar the bondwoman and Sarah the freewoman. There is Ishmael who had a natural birth. There is Isaac who had a supernatural birth. There is the Old Covenant of the Law. There is the New Covenant of Grace. There is earthly Jerusalem representing slavery and heavenly Jerusalem representing freedom.


Paul amplifies his argument for the superiority of grace over law by quoting Isaiah 54:1, a joyous hymn declaring the abundant fruitfulness of the woman who was once barren (Gal. 4:27)

  • Isaiah’s original words were prophetically directed to the Jewish exiles living in Babylon. With those words, Isaiah had assured them that their bondage would not last forever, that they would one day return to their homeland and become more numerous than before.

  • The Israelites in exile, here are depicted as barren and desolate

  • However, God promises his blessing

  • It is a prophecy concerning the future blessing for Israel

  • Paul takes this quotation to bring out the blessings of God upon Sarah (barren/desolate) in contrast to Hagar (who took pride in her ability to have a child) and shows the fulfilment of this promise/blessings of God happening in the church, specially the Galatian believers who are persecuted spiritually by the Judaizers.

    • They were told that they were not good enough and that their faith in Jesus Christ alone was not sufficient enough to receive the blessings of God

    • However, Paul reminds the Galatians that they were, in fact, the barren and desolate like Israelites in exile. But what matters is, not who they are and what they are but it is the grace of God that matters most

      • If Israelites in exile who were without hope can have future, Yes you can have

      • If Sarah who was barren can have future, Yes anyone can have.

    • It is not who we are and what we are but the grace of God that makes things possible


The whole argument of Paul in bringing out this analogy between Hagar and Sarah is to show the Galatian believers that Hagar and her son represent those seeking salvation by works (i.e the Judaizers) while Sarah and her son represent those receiving salvation by the grace of God (Galatian believers). The question is, Who do you identify yourself with? Paul will address this question in next verses.


3. The Third Truth/Practical Truth/Implications (vv. 28-31)

Third and finally, Paul reminds the Galatians of their True Identity from the Practical Truth of his Interpretation of the Historical Truth.


Now the question is,

  • Who is your mother, Hagar or Sarah?

  • Were you born from above or from below?

  • Was your birth purely human or was it divine?


Paul is reminding the Galatians that their birth is not merely human but of God. For everyone who has put his/her faith in Jesus Christ, he/she has become a child of promise just as Isaac was.


In verse 29, Paul draws a parallel between Isaac and Ishmael that corresponds to the Galatian situation. The Scripture (v. 29) says, But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh (Ishmael) persecuted him (Isaac) who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.


In order understand this passage, we need to go back to Genesis. So in Genesis 21, we read that as the child Isaac grew, he was weaned (WEANING is a time when a child has survived the fragile stage of infancy and can now eat solid food). It was customary for the Jews to wean their children when they reach certain age (somewhere from 18 months to 5 years of age). On the day Isaac was weaned, his father Abraham arranged a great feast. It was supposed to be a day of great joy and celebration. However, there is a flip side to the story. At the feast, Isaac’s half brother, Ishmael, the son of the bondservant Hagar was seen by Sarah, making fun of Isaac. This incident infuriated Sarah so much so that she asked Abraham to cast out Hagar and her son.


We read in the story of Abraham that even before Isaac was born, there was already tension between Sarah and Hagar, her maidservant.

  • Gen. 16:4ff

  • When Hagar conceived, she began to look at her mistress Sarah which Sarah did not take it quite well.

  • So she complained to Abraham and Abraham told her to do as she wished with her maid servant.

  • Sarah mistreated Hagar so badly that Hagar had to run away with her young child

  • However, God intervened and brought Hagar back to Abraham.

  • Everything seemed cool and calm until Isaac was born. Here, we see another tension between the two brothers, Ishmael causing problems for Isaac.

  • There is only one solution to this problem and it is a costly one: Hagar and her son have to go.

  • With a broken heart, Abraham sent his son Ishmael away.



  • Just as Ishmael tormented/persecuted Isaac, the rightful heir of Abraham, Paul says, so also it is happening with the Galatians

  • The Galatians, as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ, are already accepted into the family of God and God has made them heir along with his son Jesus Christ. However, the Judaizers came along and told them that they needed to do more (keep their law) in order to be fully accepted into the family of God.

  • I am sure Paul would not be surprised with such indifferent, contemptuous and oppressive behaviour of the so-called religious people of that time.

  • Because it had happened with our Lord Jesus Christ

    • He was persecuted by the unbelieving religious leaders of his day

  • And it was happening with Paul himself as he writes to the Galatians

  • And it is now happening with the Galatians

  • And I think it is still happening in our churches today.


I think to some extent, there is some sort of discrimination happening to church even today. Believers have indifferent/contemptuous attitude toward one another. I want us to take little time in understanding how GRACE and LEGALISM work. And I want to put the record straight here.

  • GRACE: is the unmerited, undeserved, unearned favour of God. First thing first. We have to clearly understand and get the fact right that we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Nothing else apart from this.

  • We might, then, ask this question, How about all the good things that I am told to do in the Bible? Am I not required to do all the things that the Bible tells me to do if I am saved by grace alone?

  • Yes, there is nothing wrong in doing good things and we are required to do what the Bible tells us to do because genuine believers obey and have the hearts and desires to do things that please God

  • The thing is that we are not doing things to please God per se and gain his favour.

  • We are already accepted in Christ Jesus. Romans 5:6 confirms this.

  • And we have to know that the good things that we are doing do not earn us our salvation but it is the result of our salvation in Jesus Christ and we do them with joy and gladness.

  • Yes, as genuine believers we recognize the importance of the rules and regulations in the Bible. However, what we do not recognize and believe is that these rules and regulations, however good they are, will not gain God’s favour and bring our salvation.

  • Legalism, on the hand, is not the recognition of the rules but a belief that these rules and regulations will help us earn God’s favor. It emphasizes on human effort, more on doing. Legalism says:

    • We do it by rule-keeping

    • We do it by keeping and doing ceremonies and rituals


This is exactly what the Galatians were told to do by the Judaizers. And this is completely contrary to grace. In fact, this is a denial of the Gospel. So Paul says in verse 30, Cast out the slave woman and her son, in a way to tell the Galatians that they should not associate with the Judaizers because they have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.


Paul, then, concludes his argument in verse 31 with this exhortation. He says, So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

  • Believers in Christ Jesus are not under the law. Since the Galatians had already accepted Jesus Christ, they are not under the law. And they do not have any reason to go back to the law. And therefore, they are not the children of the slave woman

  • Just as genuine believers are free from the bondage of slavery under the law through Jesus Christ, Paul is reminding the Galatians that they are free from the law. They are not under the obligation of the law. They are sons of the freewoman and should live their lives as free people

  • However, this is not a license for them to do whatever they want but a freedom to live their lives as holy and pleasing to God.


I can be the most religious person, the most reverent, the most giving person, the most merciful person, you name it but still I can lose my soul if I do not understand how grace works in and through me. And I cannot NOT do good works if I have the true salvation in me.


We, as believers, are called to live a life of joy and satisfaction in Christ Jesus and what he has done for us. Let us continue to do good works, not to be accepted by God but out of joy and appreciation for the things that God has done for each one of us.


May God bless us through the sharing of His word.

Judaizers (pride in their lineage)
Galatian believers
Natural/Physical birth (Lineage)
Supernatural/Spiritual birth
Page 1 of 1
1st Son
2nd Son
Slave Woman
Free Woman
Flesh (Natural)
Promise (Supernatural)
Hagar the bondwoman
Sarah the free woman
Ishmael born according to the flesh
Isaac born according to the Spirit
Old Covenant of law given at Mt. Sinai
New Covenant of grace given by Christ
Earthly Jerusalem
Heavenly Jerusalem
Slavery to the Law
Freedom in Christ
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