Long ago, God promised Abram and his wife Sarai that they would bear a son. God promised Abram that he would be the father of a great nation and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. God gave Abram a new name, Abraham, which means father of a multitude, and he gave Sarai the name Sarah, which means princess and tells her that she will be the mother of nations.
As Abraham and Sarah grew older and older, and Sarah didn’t bear any children, they became impatient. Because of their impatience, Sarah told Abraham to take her slave, Hagar, and have a child by her. Abraham listened to Sarah, and then he and Hagar had a son named Ishmael. However, God tells Abraham and Sarah that they will have a child through Sarah.
Eventually, Sarah does miraculously give birth to Isaac in her old age. Isaac means laughter because when the angel told Abraham and Sarah that they would have children, she laughed that such an old woman would give birth.
When writing to the Galatians, Paul creates an allegory contrasting the two families that descended from Hagar and Sarah.
The birth of Ishmael to Hagar represents slavery and human effort while the birth of Isaac to Sarah represents freedom and the work of God. When Abraham and Sarah decided to hurry along God’s promise through Hagar, they were doing so through human effort: the flesh. However, Isaac was miraculously born through the promise of God. Abraham and Sarah did not have Isaac as a result of their own effort. They simply had to receive his promise.
Paul says that we, as Christians, are children of the promise. Our birth into the family of God is through the will of God, not the will of the flesh. This echoes what John told us in his Gospel about how we have been born of the will of God, not of blood, nor the will of man or flesh. We are not born under slavery; we are miraculously born into freedom through the will of God.
Some Practical Considerations
- Remember that we each became a part of the family of God through grace alone. The virgin birth, like barren Sarah giving birth, reminds us that is is through the fulfilled promises of God that we are born again into the family of God. It is not by the work of the flesh
- Remember that if our family is birthed in grace, it is sustained by grace. We do not deserve our place in the church or the family of God, and it is only through the sacrifice of the Lamb that we are joyfully accepted by God day after day.
- That grace and peace that unites us with God should also unite us as brothers and sisters. The grace we’ve been shown should overflow out of each of us into the space between our relationships with one another. We should have much grace on one another.