Galatians 4:21-26 Believers and leaders must practise self-reflection to understand who they are and discern who they are leading

Galatians 4:21-26 Believers and leaders must practise self-reflection to understand who they are and discern who they are leading

21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.


The Judaizers had infiltrated the Gentile church by sowing falsities that bore the legacy of Hagar. For the Judaizers had surmised that unless the Galatians practise the law, they remain as children of Hagar, the bondwoman. Paul corrected the Judaizer’s allegory by asserting that the Judaizers are in fact the children of the bondwoman, and the Galatians, children of Sarah, the free woman. As in the days of Paul, the legacies of Hagar and Sarah are in the church today. Today’s devotion teaches: Believers and leaders must practise self-reflection and discernment to understand who they are and who they are leading.


For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.

The bondwoman was Hagar, who was a slave of the free woman, Sarah. After God had appeared to Abraham and promised him land and blessing, ten years passed by, and Sarah, Abraham’s wife still had no child. In her unbelief, Sarah took Hagar, her slave and gave her to Abraham to bear them a child. As this was not what God had intended, Ishmael was born out of unbelief (according to the flesh). “According to the flesh” connotes unbelief and dependence on humanistic wisdom. Later on, at the appropriate time, Sarah gave birth to Isaac… this time not out of unbelief but through the promise. “Through the promise” connotes absolute trust and dependence on God’s directives.

This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants.

To speak “allegorically” is to use a piece of history, story or analogy to express a truth. Here, Paul uses allegory to reveal a spiritual truth hidden in the Hagar-Sarah story: The earthly minded (represented by Hagar) may appear strong and prosperous, but they are actually enslaved by the law and the elemental things of the world. On the other hand, the heavenly minded (represented by Sarah) may be barren and weak in appearance, but to them belongs the righteousness and powers of heaven.

From each woman comes their respective legacies: Hagar/bondwoman, the legacy of slavery, and Sarah/free woman, the legacy of freedom. These two legacies of slavery and freedom proceeded from two covenants: the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The Old Covenant is ratified at Mt. Sinai, where men endeavour to fulfil God’s righteousness through human wilfulness… and the end of which is corruption and poverty. But in the New Covenant, the Spirit indwells and regenerates man from within causing him to live out God’s righteousness… the end of which is sanctification and blessedness.

The Judaizers’s allegory of blessing

The Judaizers’ version of the Hagar-Sarah allegory begins with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai and culminating in city of Jerusalem on earth. It features the Abrahamic heritage, the Old Covenant and earthly glory. They surmised that since the promises were given to Abraham’s seed who is Isaac, Gentile believers had no part in the promise unless they submit themselves to the Old Covenant (Mosaic law) that was given to Isaac’s descendants and were circumcised.

Abraham – Sarah, Isaac – Mt Sinai (Old Covenant) – Jerusalem on earth

Paul’s allegory of slavery

Paul’s version of the allegory plays on the contrast between slavery and freedom. Here, Paul sets out Hagar’s legacy of slavery: Hagar was a slave girl, who gave birth to Ishmael out of unbelief, who is driven outside the boundaries of the promised land into Sinai, which is associated with the city of Jerusalem through the Old Covenant. And Jerusalem was where the Judaizers come from.

Hagar, Ishmael – Mt. Sinai (Old Covenant) – slavery – Jerusalem on earth (Judaizers)

According to Jewish traditions, Sinai is in the vicinity of Petra, the dwelling place of Hagar and her son Ishmael, which lies outside the boundaries of the promised land. As such, Hagar has become the designation for Mt. Sinai at the heart of Arabia.

But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

The Jerusalem above, an eschatological concept describes Jerusalem at the end of time (see Psalm 87:3), often in contrast to the earthly Jerusalem in the present. It also epitomises the hopes of Jewish Christians, where God’s kingdom is realised and looked forward by the patriarchs of old (see Hebrews 11:10, 14-16; 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 3:12; 21:2). While the heavenly Jerusalem epitomises divine glory, purity, freedom and eternal life, the earthly Jerusalem epitomises worldly glamour, sin, slavery and death.

Paul’s allegory of freedom

In Paul’s allegory, he sets out the legacy of freedom: Sarah is a free woman, who gave birth to Isaac through God’s promise as God had intended. Followed by Christ, the Seed of Isaac who ratified the New Covenant and believed on by the children of faith who look to the Jerusalem above.

Sarah, Isaac – Christ (New Covenant) – freedom – Jerusalem above (Galatians and Christians)

How is the Jerusalem above, our mother? Jewish literature has often personified the heavenly Jerusalem as “our mother”. Psalms 87 praises Jerusalem (Zion) as the mother of God’s children. Isaiah 66:7-11 describes Jerusalem (Zion) as a mother labouring to bring forth her son. The heavenly Jerusalem is home to the children of “the free woman”, the spiritual mother of the Galatian believers and of all Christians.

In summary, Paul’s allegory presents the Judaizers’ mindset as legalistic, oppressive, materialistic and sensual. They supposed by being descendants of Abraham, they are guaranteed salvation. And having no regard for others, they enslave them by the law while they themselves are being enslaved by sin and death.

The features of Paul’s gospel are apparent: faith, Christ (New Covenant), freedom and heavenly blessing. The gospel mindset is liberating, full of contentment, having a supreme love for God and for others.


Believers and leaders must practise self-reflection to understand who they are and discern who they are leading.

As there are two kinds of legacies in Abraham’s descendants, there are two kinds of people in the church, and also two strains of inclinations in a man.

The two legacies of Abraham’s descendants are: the children of the world and children of heaven. The children of the world live as if they are going to live on earth forever. The children of heaven live with heaven in mind; they sell their possessions and give to the poor so that they may have treasure in heaven (see Matthew 19:21). They fight the good fight so that they may receive the crown of righteousness (see 2 Timothy 4:7-8).

The two kinds of people in the church are: people who are enslaved, people who are free. People who are enslaved are hindered by their sins and vices that kept them from fulfilling their divine calling. They are in church primarily for salvation, not for sanctification. They are enslaved by their love for material wealth, by the pleasures of the flesh and by the love for power. People who are free have divorced themselves from the love of the world and its pleasures. They have laid aside every worry, encumbrance and sin that so easily entangles them, while fixing their eyes on the call of Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 12:1b-2). Such are liberated from their bondages to fulfil God’s call in their lives.

The two strains of inclinations in a man are: inclinations of unbelief and inclinations of faith. Children of unbelief prefer to do things their way and live out their own dreams. Whenever God’s word contradicts with the elemental principles of the world, they believe the latter. But the children of faith live by divine directives while denying their own agenda. They choose to stand with God’s word whenever it contradicts with the expert opinions of the world.

In view of what was discussed, believers must practise self-reflection so that we may have clarity concerning our state of faith and sanctification. The prophet Jeremiah says, “Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the Lord.” Lamentations 3:40. Leaders of churches and organisations must practise self-reflection, so that they may discern the people and shepherd them with skill and integrity. Jesus said to the leaders of the Jews, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5.


Practise self-reflection in the following:

  • Do I often think that I am right and others are at fault?
  • Do I always think about my personal interests, my rights, my plans rather than other people’s interests, rights and goals?
  • Do I often worry about my work, my investments, my endeavours, my health rather than the work of God?
  • Do I often draw pleasure from the flesh (entertainment, food, pornography, nicotine, alcohol) rather than from the Spirit, which is to do God’s will?
  • Do I often make decisions without seeing a clear direction from God?
  • Do I defer to expert advice rather than to divine directives?
  • Do I draw from heaven’s resources to build my own kingdom? Or do I draw from heaven to build God’s kingdom?
  • Am I aware of what God is doing in my church, in my country and in the nations?
  • Am I confident of my salvation by virtue of my religious commitment? Or am I assured by virtue of the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit at work within me?

Dear Lord, open my eyes so that I may see the state of my faith and sanctification. Help me to understand and realise the freedom and the inheritance that I have in Christ. Give me wisdom so that I may understand and discern my children and the people that I am leading. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

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