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Lesson 10: The Two Covenants *

Introduction: What started our Galatians discussion about the extent to which Gentiles should have to adopt Jewish theology in order to become Christians? Wasn't it circumcision? See Acts 15:1. This causes many Christians to say that the "law" to which Paul constantly refers in Galatians is the "ceremonial law," and not the Ten Commandments. Of course, a logical problem with that argument is that circumcision was not given as part of the ceremonial law. It was a command given long before to Abraham. Genesis 17:9-10. Our study this week is the clearest statement that when Paul refers to the "law" he includes the Ten Commandments (as well as the ceremonial law and circumcision). Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and learn more about this clear statement!

  1. What the Law Says

    1. Read Galatians 4:21. What question does Paul ask? (Do you know what the law says?)

      1. What would you need to know to answer to this question? (It depends on what Paul means by the law. If he means the Ten Commandments, it says something different than the ceremonial law or the law of circumcision.)

    2. Read Galatians 4:22-24. What is the covenant (contract) given at Mount Sinai? (Read Exodus 31:18.)

      1. Were promises exchanged with the Ten Commandments? (Read Exodus 19:3-9. Yes! Just as we have been studying for several weeks that the "contract" between Abraham and God was that Abraham would trust God, and God would credit it to him as righteousness, so there is a contract here that God will make the people of Israel His treasured possession if they obey.)

    3. Read Exodus 32:1-4, Exodus 32:15-16, and Exodus 32:19. How long did God's people keep their side of the contract? (They broke their promise before Moses even returned with the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments!)

      1. Re-read Exodus 19:5. The Hebrew word translated "obey" in the NIV is "listen carefully," or "listen intelligently." Did God's people even listen to Him? (I think God is saying, "Pay close attention to our agreement and follow its terms." What we see instead, is that before the people even read or heard what the Ten Commandments said, they were off worshiping an idol.)

  2. Hagar's Story

    1. Read Genesis 16:1-4. Why did Sarai (Sarah) tell Abram (Abraham) to sleep with Hagar? (She said "the Lord has kept me from having children.")

    2. Read Genesis 15:4-6. What had happened in the chapter of the Bible immediately preceding the Hagar story? (We have God's promise to Abraham of a huge number of descendants, and "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.")

      1. How do you account for Abraham accepting the advice of Sarah? (The two of them thought that God needed some help in fulfilling His promise.)

    3. Read Galatians 4:25. What is the "slavery" that Hagar represents? (Review what we studied two weeks ago: Galatians 4:1-5. Those who have not accepted by faith what Jesus has done on our behalf (lived a perfect life, paid the death penalty for our sins, and arose to eternal life) are in slavery to the law. Hagar represents those who believe that by obedience to the law they can be saved. Hagar is the poster child for those who think God needs help!)

  3. The Son By the Promise

    1. Re-read Galatians 4:22-23. Who is the son "born as the result of a promise?" (Read Genesis 17:15-19. Isaac is the son of the promise. If you read the context, it shows that circumcision was instituted as part of this promise. Thus, you can see why those who argued in favor of circumcision could misunderstand what is meant by faith alone.)

      1. What other "covenant" could God be speaking of in Genesis 17:19? (The Genesis 15:4-6 covenant, trust God and He will credit that as righteousness.)

    2. Read Galatians 4:25-28. What parallel does Paul make between Hagar, slavery and "the present city of Jerusalem?" (Paul is telling us that those who are pushing righteousness by works (the Jerusalem people)are trying to make us slaves.)

      1. What parallel does Paul make between Isaac, the free son, and "the Jerusalem that is above?" (Those who believe in the promise of righteousness by faith are "free" and are aligned with heaven.)

      2. Which would you rather be, a slave or a free son? Would you rather be associated with the Jerusalem on earth or the New Jerusalem in heaven?

        1. Do you agree that the choice is between righteousness by obedience to the Ten Commandments and righteousness by faith?

    3. Let's circle back to where we started this discussion. Re-read Galatians 4:21. We did not get to Paul's question because I immediately asked you "How can we say what the law says if we do not know which law Paul is talking about?" I think we have now seen that the law Paul is talking about is, at a minimum, the Ten Commandments. What do you think Paul is really asking when he says, "are you not aware of what the law says?" (Are you not aware that righteousness by works makes you a slave, just like Hagar? Are you not aware that righteousness by faith comes as a result of a promise, and if you accept that promise you become a free son of God, just like Isaac?)

  4. The Conflict Between the Sons

    1. Read Galatians 4:29 and Genesis 21:8-10. Why would Hagar's son (Ishmael) mock Isaac? (It would be a natural thing because he is being displaced by this new son.)

      1. Does this mocking still take place? Do those who promote salvation by works mock those who believe in righteousness by faith?

        1. If so, why do you think this is happening? (I do not know about all cultures, but many cultures value hard work and success. If you work hard and earn something valuable, you are praised. This is contrary to righteousness by faith, in which you cannot earn anything with regard to your salvation. It is all the result of God's work. Thus, it seems natural that the "hard workers" should mock the "slackers.")

    2. Before I move forward, I want you to notice a phrase in Galatians 4:29. How does this say that Isaac was born? ("By the power of the Spirit.")

      1. Is that how your new life of grace is powered? (Exactly! We are not depending on our hard work, we are depending on the power of the Holy Spirit.)

    3. Read Galatians 4:30. If you read the story found in Genesis 21:11-18, it is rather distressing when you consider the human emotion involved. Why is Paul stressing that part of the story?

      1. Are we to "get rid of" those in the church who promote righteousness by works? Or, is Paul suggesting that we should "get rid of" righteousness by works thoughts from our minds?

      2. What is Paul's point in saying "get rid of" and "the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son?"

    4. Read Galatians 4:31. Whose child are you?

      1. If you are the son of Sarah, the son of the promise, are you acting like it? Or, are you acting like the son of Hagar?

      2. Consider another aspect of this. One of the sad things about the story of Hagar and Ishmael is that neither one of them had any choice in the matter. Did Isaac have any choice in his birth as a son of the promise?

        1. Is there a spiritual point in this? (We did not create the cosmic battle between Jesus and Satan. Those who want to be saved by their works will come to realize that they really do not have much control over their situation. That is why it is so much better to simply accept the promise of God. Just accept His free gift.)

    5. Read the words of Jesus in John 6:28-29. What are the "works" that "God requires" of you and me? ("To believe in the One He has sent.")

    6. Friend, if you do not believe, why not make that decision right now? Why not go from being a slave to being the free son of God? Why not trust God by believing in Jesus?

  5. Next week: Freedom in Christ.
* Copr. 2017, 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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