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Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
“Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,
burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs;
for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous
than the children of the one who is married.”
Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Clear as Mud
After reading these verses from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, I remembered my first interview for a full-time minister job in a real-live church. It happened at the end of my last year of seminary. A nominating committee had come up from North Carolina to interview a few students, including me. And as I recall, the interview was going O.K., not great but O.K., when one member of the committee asked if I was a conservative or liberal. And as I was thinking about how I should respond, I remembered something one of my professors had said, “If you’re ever asked a question like that, just say that you’re orthodox, because you adhere to the same faith proclaimed in the Bible and practiced by Christians for almost two thousand years.” And so that’s what I did, and I included the explanation just in case he hadn’t heard it before. But when I asked him if I’d been clear in my answer, he looked me right in the eyes and said, “Clear as mud.” Of course, I didn’t get the job.
And I’ve got to tell you, I felt the same thing reading Paul allegory. I’m not sure I get it. For me, this particular explanation is about clear as mud. But we’re really fortunate that it’s not the only explanation he offered for something that’s truly amazing. You see, for Paul, through Jesus Christ, we will be saved, not through our effort or obedience, rather through God’s gracious choice. And because we’ve been chosen, we’ve also been set free, free from a past that can no longer bind us and free from having to earn our salvation. You see, whether he explained it by applying grace to our own experience or by creating the kind of complicated allegory we see here, Jesus has both redeemed our past and assured our future, which leads to freedom right now. And praise the Lord, for us, this reality is much clearer than mud.