Online Bible Commentary
Stand Fast in the Liberty
Galatians 4:28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is writing to believers in southern Galatia likely from his home city of Antioch, Syria in 49 A.D, prior to attending the Jerusalem Council meeting which occurred that same year. Paul has just completed his first missionary journey in which he and Barnabas planted churches in southern Galatia at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This letter is the first of Paul’s letters.
The new believers in Galatia, influenced by Judaizers, have already turned from Paul’s Gospel to a false gospel of a mix of works and grace instead of grace alone. Judaizers claimed that Christians must also follow the Old Testament law, including circumcision. So Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to direct them back to the true Gospel of salvation by grace and not a combination of grace and works.
Paul begins this passage by addressing the “brethren”, the Galatian Christians, “as Isaac was”, as “children of promise” (v. 28). Isaac was the son of Abraham and Sarah and, as such, was the rightful heir of the unconditional “promise” that God made to Abraham known as the Abrahamic Covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant is found in Genesis 12:1-3. It ends with “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”, a reference to the blessing of salvation by grace through faith. The promise was fulfilled by Christ’s crucifixion.
Paul then contrasts Isaac with Ishmael, the illegitimate son of Abraham and his slave Hagar. Ishmael and all those who are not Christians, not children of the promise, was born of “flesh” (v. 29a). Isaac was born of Spirit, the Holy Spirit, as are all Christians (v. 29b). Those born of the flesh, beginning with Ishmael, have always “persecuted” those born of the Spirit, Christians, even until “now” (v. 29c).
Next, Paul backs up these statements with scripture from Genesis 21:10 (v. 30). “The bondwoman and her son” is Hagar and Ishmael. ”The son of the freewoman” is Isaac, son of Sarah. Non Christians are not heirs to the promise made to Christians. They are “cast out” from receiving that promise of salvation by grace through faith.
Again Paul addresses the “brethren”, the Galatian Christians, and writes “we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free” (v. 31). “Children” of Hagar are enslaved, as was Hagar, while “children” of Sarah are “free”. Paul is making a distinction here between the law and grace. Those who choose to live under the law, the commandments of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) are in bondage to the law. In contrast, those who choose to live under grace, as Christians, are not in bondage but are free.
Paul summarizes this passage by exhorting the Galatian Christians: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (v. 5:1). This is a positional statement. As Christians we are by position free from the curse of the law.
Prior to the crucifixion, followers of the God of the Bible were Jews who continually strived to obey the law, but constantly failed. They did not have the strength to obey and were condemned to be cursed. When Christ died on the cross for our sins everything changed.
Followers of the God of the Bible are now Christians who are free, not living under the bondage of sin. By God’s grace and through their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior they are free from the curse of the law.
Paul’s exhortation to the Galatian Christians applies to all Christians. We should all stand fast in the liberty by which Christ made us free. We should not try to work our way to Heaven, for Heaven is already ours by the grace of God. Doing good works does not get us to Heaven. Instead, we should do good works to show our gratitude for what Christ has already done for us.