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Lesson 10: The Two Covenants *

Introduction: In the last several weeks we learned that God's promise to Abraham of righteousness by faith existed alongside Abraham's knowledge of God's commandments. The reason the two (grace and law) existed side by side, we found, was because they had different purposes. This week Paul brings women and children into the discussion. Will this give us a clearer insight into our choice between relying on the law and relying on grace? Let's jump into our study of Galatians and find out!

  1. The Law Speaks

    1. Read Galatians 4:21. This question is addressed to those who believe that we must obey the law to be saved. Anyone here believe that? Even if you do not, for purposes of discussion let's say that we believe it. So, Paul asks, what does the law say? (The law says a lot of things. I've often heard it said that the law "is the transcript of God's character." That has to be good!)

      1. Is Paul really asking for a response from his readers as to what the law says? (No. He suggests his readers are not aware of what the law says, and he is going to tell us what it says.)

    2. Read Galatians 4:22-24. What does Paul suggest the law says? (It says, "I am Hagar and her children.")

      1. Wait a minute! No where do I see that written in the Ten Commandments. Where does Paul find this written? (Paul says "these things may be taken figuratively." The Greek word translated "figuratively" is "allegoreo" - an allegory, a parallel, an illustration. Paul tells us that the story of Hagar is the story of the law.)

  2. Hagar's Story

    1. Let's turn to Hagar's story. Read Genesis 15:2-6. This is the text that we keep coming back to: God promised Abraham many descendants, Abraham believed God, and that belief caused God to "credit" righteousness to Abraham.)

    2. Read Genesis 16:1-2. Did Sarai(Sarah)believe God? (She believed in God - for she thought God had kept her from having children.)

      1. Was Sarah disobeying God? (I went back and looked at the promises made to Abraham about having many descendants. These are promises to Abraham, not to Sarah. Sarah was just helping God along.)

    3. Let's discuss this a moment. Paul tells us that Hagar is a parallel or story about the law. Hagar entered the picture because of decisions made by Sarah and Abraham. Let's see what we can learn about this parallel:

      1. Was it wrong for Sarah to have the goal of getting children for Abraham? (No.)

      2. Was it wrong for Sarah to actually help Abraham get children? Shouldn't a wife be helpful?

      3. Was there anything wrong with what Sarah did? (Sarah decided to do God's work. I understand that the custom of the time held that Hagar was Sarah's property, much like she might own an automobile today. Sarah might very well have considered God's promise to Abraham to be a promise to her because in God's eyes a married couple are one (two become one - Genesis 2:24). Since she owned Hagar, she could reason that she was not violating the "two become one" marriage command since Hagar was her property. Thus, she would work out God's will.)

        1. Is this a parallel, a picture of those who keep the law? (Yes! This is exactly the situation. Instead of believing God (as Abraham did) and letting God fulfill His promise, Sarah was busy doing what God had already promised that He would do. If she had just believed God, that would have been enough.)

        2. Do we have a bit of a logical problem here - the Bible ( Galatians 4:24) says that the "women represent two covenants." Hagar represents the law, yet it is Sarah who did the wrong thing. How should we understand this? (We need to look at this from Abraham's point of view. God promised children to him and it would be in accord with the Bible if they came through Sarah. Sarah changed this by bringing Hagar into the picture. Thus, Hagar represents salvation by human works.)

    4. Read Galatians 4:25. Why is Hagar compared to Mount Sinai and Jerusalem? (Sinai is where the Ten Commandments were given. Jerusalem is the source of those arguing that the law must be kept to be saved. Hagar and her son are slaves. Those under the law are slaves to a death sentence.)

      1. Is there a huge, salvation by works religion, connected with Arabia and Hagar?

      2. Despite the animosity between Islam and Judaism, is there a parallel view between them on salvation? (Every religion today, except Christianity, believes in "salvation by works.")

    5. Read Galatians 4:26-27. Who was living in the Jerusalem in heaven at that time? (Jesus! Jesus, having fulfilled the requirements of the law for us, is now in heaven. That is our true spiritual home, not the Jerusalem on earth that rejected Jesus as the Messiah.)

      1. Notice that verse 27 is a quote from Isaiah 54:1. Who is the "barren woman?" (Sarah!)

        1. Who is the woman "who has a husband?" (Remember that Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham. It was Hagar who now "has a husband." Paul is still talking about the two women.)

        2. How is it accurate to say, "more are the children of the desolate woman?" (Sarah would, in the end, be the one to bear Isaac, and thus become the mother of the Jewish nation and ultimately, the Messiah.)

  3. Isaac's Story

    1. Read Galatians 4:28. How are we (those who believe in righteousness by faith alone) like Isaac?

    2. Read Romans 4:18-21. What are the important points of Abraham's faith? (That what was promised was humanly impossible. Yet, Abraham believed God's promise and gave glory to God.)

    3. Read Romans 4:22-25. Now answer my earlier question, "How are we like Isaac?" (Isaac came as the result of the faith of his father in God's promise. God our Father promised us Jesus. We have life through Jesus. Just as Abraham was credited with righteousness because he believed in the promised Isaac, so we are credited with righteousness if we believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf.)

  4. Conclusions

    1. We have seen that Sarah's goals for Abraham were essentially the same as God's goals for Abraham. What does that teach us about those who believe that works are necessary to earn salvation? (Good works are good! Doing good is essentially God's plan for our life. The problem is not the goal, but the method. If we follow Abraham's method and believe and trust God, our method is sound. On the other hand, if we are looking to our own deeds, then our method is not only destined for failure, it is sinful.)

    2. Read Galatians 4:29. Paul tells us that those who believe in righteousness by faith are persecuted by those who believe in righteousness by works. Why? (Do you like it at work when you are the only one putting in an honest day's work? No! You are jealous of those who are worthless and lazy. If you believe your works will save you, then you are jealous of those who claim they are saved by grace. Our (or at least my) natural heart believes in working hard because I am by nature a hard worker. Accepting the free gift of salvation is contrary to our natural heart.)

    3. Read Galatians 4:30-31. Recall that the workers naturally look down on those saved by grace. What does Paul say we should do with the righteousness by works people? (Get rid of them!)

      1. Whoa! Wait a minute! I thought that we agreed with the goals of the workers? That obeying the Ten Commandments was a good thing? Why should we be tossing "good" people out of our fellowship? (Read Galatians 5:1-4. This is a very grave issue. Those who deny righteousness by faith alone deny the work of Jesus. They deny the most fundamental part of the gospel. They are alienated from Jesus and they are destined for eternal death because they must keep the entire law.)

    4. Friend, do you see how serious a question this is? If you rely on your works for your salvation, you are lost. You have denied Jesus. Why not today confess your sins, accept by faith Jesus work on your behalf, and then rest in the glorious knowledge of your salvation by grace alone!

  5. Next week: Freedom in Christ.
* Copr. 2011, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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