Bondage Verses Freedom


In the Epistle for today we read:

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:

Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-33)

Saint Paul is fighting with all his might in Galatians to expose the teaching of the Judaizers for what it really is: slavery. For Paul, the experience of freedom is not icing on the cake of Christianity. Freedom in Christ IS Christianity. It is a matter of eternity.

Again we read Verses 22-23: For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, and the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman, was born according to the flesh: but he of the free woman, was by promise.

In Genesis 15:1–6 Abraham is discouraged because he and Sarah have no children, no heir to fulfill the promises of becoming a great nation (12:2). There is only Eliezer the slave. But God says in verse 4, "This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir." God's intention was to give Abraham a son and an heir when it looked humanly impossible so that Abraham would have to rely solely on God.

But in Genesis 16 Abraham and Sarah weaken in their faith for a time they devise a plan by which they will use their own resources to help God fulfill his promise. Sarah gives Hagar, her handmaid, to Abraham so she can bear him a son (16:2). And in Genesis 16:15 it says, "Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son whom Hagar bore to him Ishmael."

So when Paul says in Galatians 4:23 that Ishmael was born "according to the flesh," it means that he was the product of self-reliance. Abraham ceased to rely on God's power to fulfill his word and instead relied on his own power and ingenuity to get a son.

Then, 14 years later, in Genesis 17:16 God says to Abraham that his wife, Sarah, will have a son. God intends to fulfill his promise in a way that removes all ground for boasting. In verses 17–19 it says, "Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, 'Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah who is ninety years old bear a child?' And Abraham said to God, 'O, that Ishmael might live in thy sight!' God said, 'No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.'"

God rejects what Abraham was able to produce on his own and promises again that in spite of Abraham's age, he will have a son by his own wife. So in Genesis 21:1 it says, "The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised." Isaac was not born according to the flesh because his birth was the result of God's supernatural intervention in fulfillment of his own promise. Abraham had learned his lesson.

The only acceptable response to God's merciful promise is trust in that promise, not works of the flesh that try to bring down God's blessing with our efforts.

So Galatians 4:23 sums up the story: "He who was of the bondwoman, was born according to the flesh: but he of the free woman, was by promise."

John 1:17 says that “the law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

Exodus chapter 20 is where we read about when the law was given. But if you remember, God told Moses to gather the people together, and to sanctify them, because He would be appearing unto them the third day. The people were to gather outside and around the mount, and Moses was to go up into the mount. There God spoke to His people. They heard His words, they heard His laws. And we know the scene that is set there: Mount Sinai, a place of trembling. There was a place of thundering, there was a fire on that mountain, and the Bible says that the people exceedingly feared and quaked as they heard the words come forth from the mountain. Well, this is the way the law came by Moses. It had its effects on the people, there when they heard it, and down through the centuries, after they heard it, that law had its effect upon people.

The Bible says grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

What a different way grace and truth came! Here He comes, just like everybody else. He humbles Himself, fulfills all manner of righteousness, is baptized of John in the river Jordan, and the Spirit of God descends upon Him. Then out into the wilderness He goes, He comes back, He’s seated there speaking to the people; and what is the ministry of grace and truth but to bind up the broken hearted, to minister grace to people, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to loose those who are bound? This is the way grace and truth came. When John described it he said “We beheld his glory.” It was beautiful! It was the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. That’s the testimony we have of our Lord Jesus! He was full of grace and He was full of truth!

Grace—that is the divine influence and power of the grace of God working on the heart of an individual. And truth—that is the divine revelation of the mind and will of God.

We read in the scriptures that our Lord Jesus was full of both of them. He was full and running over of the grace of God, the divine power, the unction, the strength that was needed to live the way He needed to live. And He was also full and running over of the truth of the Word of God. That was our Lord Jesus. The Law came by Moses, but it came in a very different way than the coming of grace and truth.

As our Lord Jesus begins to manifest Himself and His ministry upon the earth, the people marvel at the grace filled words which come out of His mouth. Words like these:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28-30) This is very different than the law which came on Mt. Sinai.

There is a difference between the effects of the law and in the effects of grace upon our lives. There is a difference in the attitudes that flow out of a life which is controlled by the principles of law, as compared to those that flow out of a life which is controlled by the principles of grace. There are those who live by the principles of law, and there are those who live by principles of grace. The influence of the principles of law is very far from the influence of the principles of grace in someone’s life.

Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians saying: “You are our epistle, written in our hearts, which is known and read by all men: Being manifested, that you are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, and written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

Notice the difference there again, the effect of the principles of law, compared to the effect of the principles of grace. One is only written on a table of stone, or a piece of paper, or a book somewhere, but the other is written on the fleshly tables of the heart. This is a very big difference.

And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

There again we see the difference between the principles of law and the principles of the spirit of grace: one kills, and the other gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministration of condemnation, the ministration of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. ( 2 Corinthians 3:7-9)

Now let me explain just a little bit what the word “ministration” means. It’s basically the same word as ministry: that which flows out—out of a life, out of a family, out of a congregation.

We have a ministry: the ministration of your life, the ministration of your family, or the ministration of a church. Now if the ministration, (that which flowed out), of condemnation be glory, (praised, extolled, magnified) how much more doth the ministration (that which flowed out) of righteousness exceed in glory, (praised, extolled, magnified)! You see, the law was given as a ministration of condemnation, so that its effect and its influence would bring condemnation. It would bring death. It would bring someone to a place where they realize they cannot do it, and only then turn to Christ, where they can find the grace of God to do it. That little verse there is saying that the ministration which produces and fosters righteous living exceeds in glory.

Continuing in verse 10 of 2 Corinthians 3, “Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.” (2 Corinthians 3:10)

The ministration of righteousness is so much more glorious than the ministration of condemnation. It just crowds it out of the way.

For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:11-17)

Freedom means power to do the will of God.

Let us remember this little phrase: where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom or liberty, or power, or grace, or strength, to do the will of God.

So, when we ponder this whole matter of the effects of the principles of law compared to the effects of the principles of grace, surely we want to live on the grace side because where the Spirit of the Lord is there is the freedom, that is, power to do the will of God.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, as in a glass are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Let us look at some differences between Law and Grace, Bondage and Freedom.

1. The spirit of the law demands. It allows no excuse, it must be this way, and no other! You'll do this, and you have no choice, no excuse! This is the way it must be, this is the way you must do it. The spirit of grace encourages. It comes alongside and encourages you in the direction of holiness and righteousness. “Go this way! That's right! That’s good! Keep on going! Keep your heart open! Just keep going! This is the way to go.” One is the spirit of law; the other is the spirit of grace. They have a tremendous effect on how we relate to people.

2. The law condemns. Grace convicts, enlightens the heart. It is that still small voice, that sweet prompting of the Spirit of God inside of the heart of God's people. The gentle Spirit comes along side, and enlightens the heart: “You know, you shouldn’t have done that.”

3. The law brings bondage. The word bondage means just what is says: Bound. The spirit of law brings bondage, it binds, it hinders. If you're moving under the principals of law, you're probably failing in your Christian life. You probably try, but fail, and try, but fail, and try, but fail. But the spirit of grace brings liberty. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. That is, power to do God's will. Liberty: Emancipation Proclamation. You are free! You can do what you want to do now, you can do the will of God, you can serve the Lord, and you can have victory over your sin in your life!

The spirit of grace gives liberty, freedom, or emancipation to do the will of God. The other brings bondage.

4. The spirit of law is never good enough. Did you ever feel that way? It’s never good enough. You always fail under the spirit of law. The principal of law is always never good enough. You always fell short of it. You maybe got it here, but you lost it here. You gained a little here, but you lost down here. But the spirit of grace is always excited by each step that is taken. The spirit of grace is acceptance, encouragement, praise. The spirit of grace is an encourager, it’s always excited by each step that is gained. When you take even a baby step in your Christian life, the grace of God is right there to say, “That's good! That's right! You're going the right way! Keep on going! Don't quit now! Keep on going!” But the spirit of law, when you take one step in the right direction is right there to say, “That's not good enough. You could've done better than that. Why didn't you do it this way? What about your motives?” The spirit of law and the spirit of grace are very different one from another.

5. The spirit of law: Curses. You’ve failed. Judgment is coming! There's a payment due for that which you did wrong! You failed! But the spirit of grace blesses, and shows the way to victory, even in total failure.

6. The spirit of law is critical, always finding something wrong. The spirit of law is critical. It’s always finding something wrong. But the spirit of grace gives the benefit of the doubt. I thought of these verses over in 1 Corinthians 13 where it’s giving a definition of love, and it says of love (among other things): “Love hopeth all things, and believeth all things.” Love gives the benefit of the doubt. Love believes in the other. Love hopes the best of the other. The spirit of grace gives the benefit of the doubt, rather than looking for something wrong, trying to find something to put a finger on it, and being critical.

7. The spirit of law exposes sin, and then leaves you there. That's all the law could ever do. But the spirit of grace comes along side, and forgives and covers, where we're willing to deal with it. The grace of God will come along side and encourage you to repent, to be forgiven, and to cover it, so that it is gone, so nobody else finds out about it.

8. The spirit of law is rejection. And the spirit of grace is acceptance. Law drives you away. But the spirit of grace is acceptance. It says: “Come! Come to God! Come the way you are! Come and be forgiven! Come and be cleansed!”

9. The spirit of law has no mercy. When you have failed under the spirit of law, there is no mercy. But under the spirit of grace: there’s complete mercy. Total mercy through the blood of Jesus Christ.

10. Under the spirit of law the highest goal is performance. Under the spirit of grace the highest goal is a relationship. If we are living our lives to perform, and we’re basing our acceptance on performance, when we don’t measure up we don’t feel God’s acceptance. Or if we base other’s acceptance on performance, when they don’t measure up, we don’t accept them. Because the highest goal is how you perform. With the spirit of grace the highest goal is relationship. O Lord, help us to see that one.

As I pondered this message, I had to think of many of the traditional Catholic Churches, and how they are so much on the performance side. If you come among them and you don’t look quite right, there is this silent, mysterious wall that comes up. It comes up because of the theology of performance, and you didn’t perform right so things don’t go right. But let the grace of God come over our hearts as individuals, and as a church with relationship as the highest goal, a relationship with the God of Heaven, a relationship with God’s people, and a relationship with a lost and dying will see that there is a big difference between the spirit of law and the spirit of grace. People will see a difference in our traditional parishes. When they come and visit a parish like that!

I had to think this point comes pretty close to home when you begin to ponder our children. I think we need to have some performance in our minds, I am not against that. But let number one be relationship.

I don’t know anything that motivates a child to do what Mom and Dad say more than a sweet relationship with Mom and Dad! But oh, the burden of a little child whose father and mother move under the principals of law, and sets up the rules of performance, and withdraw their acceptance, and their blessing, and their encouragement when the performance isn’t what it ought to be. That child’s view of God will be very mixed up.

11. The spirit of law tends to details. The spirit of grace tends to flexibility. What do I mean by that? A good way to put it is: The Letter of the Law vs. The Spirit of the Law. You know letter of the law. We can follow the Pharisees, and study Jewish history, and it doesn’t take us long to find out what the spirit of law does if you leave it by its self. It will make up 5,000 Sabbath rules over the course of about 200-300 years, of things you should do and shouldn’t do. It’ll make a thick book to read so you can learn how to behave on the Sabbath! But in the spirit of grace is the principal, and in principal is flexibility.

12. The spirit of law tends to be negative. The spirit of grace tends to be positive. If you’re one who struggles with being negative I would encourage you to take a study of the Gospels and study the Pharisees. Do a study on the Pharisees in light of this whole matter of negative, doubtful, unbelief. You’ll find an answer to your need. Because the principal of law tends toward the negative, that’s just the way it is. Because you can never measure up, and there’s no faith where there’s law. They can’t dwell together! Where there’s a spirit of grace, there’s this positive, faith-filled, encouraged, up-lifted look toward the God of Heaven, trusting Him in the circumstances of life.

13. And last of all, we said it already but I think its worth making it a point. The spirit of law is like a Pharisee. The spirit of grace is like Jesus. Consider this: the Law creates rebellion, stirs up the flesh, and drains spiritual life. Read it there in Romans 7. It’s supposed to! God gave it so that it would create rebellion, so it would stir up the flesh, so that sin would be revived, so we could see our evil condition.

But if we’re in the grace of God, if we’re children of promise, if we are no long children of the bonds woman, if we’re no longer walking after the flesh but after the Spirit, we should have no part with any of that which the law does, but rather the spirit of grace working in our heart to produce a holy life.