Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians - The Two Covenants

Galatians 4:21-31
This story about Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac might be new to some of you, but this story wasn't new to the Galatians. What is new is the way Paul uses this story. The Galatians, they thought they knew the moral of the story: That the Jews were all descended from Isaac, the child of the promise. But here Paul turns this story around by saying that Hagar, the Egyptian slave woman, she represent the covenant of the law that Moses received from God on Mount Sinai. This law that the Jews are so passionate about, and which is now what the Judiazers are telling the Galatians to return to. And here comes Paul and says that anyone that does that, who again relies on law keeping will be like Abraham when he took things into his own hands and had a child with Hagar, and they will be just as much a slave as Hagar and Ishmael.

And then he goes on to say that Sarah on the other hand represents a different covenant, and the covenant Paul refers to is a covenant that goes further back than the one on Mount Sinai, this covenant is what we call the Abrahamic covenant. We can read about this in Genesis 15. And I've always loved the way this covenant was sealed. Of all things this covenant was sealed while Abraham slept! In any covenant between two parts, both parts are involved. In the covenant from Mount Sinai, the covenant that Hagar represent, the Israelites sealed their part of the with their words; all that the Lord has spoken we will do. But here, in the covenant with Abraham only God sealed it, Abraham couldn't - he slept through it. You see, the Abrahamic covenant is an unconditional covenant. The responsibility to fulfil that covenant rests entirely on God. And just as Paul says that just as anyone who relies on the law, will find themselves being slave like Hagar and Ishmael, anyone who relies on God and his grace, will be a child of promise just as Isaac.

Isaac was a result of God's promise, while Ishmael was a result of Abraham and Sarah trying to help God out, doing it their way. And how easily can't we fall into the same trap? How easily don't we take things into our own hands. It might even be things that we have already given to God, certain areas of our lives where we have given God the control, we have said we just want His way. But then just like Abraham we come to places in our lives where we can't see how God is working, or even if He is even working at all - and we end up taking the control back again. Abraham did believe God when he said he would give him a son - but then it just took too long before the promise was fulfilled, and in the meantime Abraham took things into his own hands, somehow figured God could need some help in fulfilling that promise, and that's how Ishmael came to be. But that was not God's plan was it? And I'm thinking that if we look at our lives most of us, maybe even all of us, we will see times where we've done similar. Stopped trusting God and tried sorting it out ourselves instead.

And how can I say that I think most of us will recognise ourselves in Abraham? Because that  is the human way - to do it ourselves. If you listened to my sermon from this week you'll have heard me telling a story from when I was a school evangelist and we would get the kids to create their own religion as an illustration of how upside down Christianity is.

In creating this new religion, without fault, in every single school we would go to, the kids would come up with things we had to do to have a relationship with God. And that is where we would explain that Christianity is so upside down to any human thought pattern. With Christianity, we are not the acting figures, God is. Christianity is not about what we have done or can do - no it is all about what He has done. And this task of creating a religion would often be an eye opener for them to see that only God could come up with the idea of Him doing it all. No human thinks like that. The natural thing for us is to think that we have to do it - that is how we are wired up. Human attempt is easier for us to grasp than grace is. And maybe that's why we keep falling back into this trap of doing it ourselves.

So how do we avoid falling into the same trap as Abraham? By constantly reminding ourselves about who God is - about his faithfulness and greatness. By reminding ourselves of his promises knowing that we can trust him to keep his word. By reminding ourselves of the things He has already done in our lives, situations where we have clearly seen his faithfulness. But I also think there's another key to this hidden in the passage from today. Look at the last part of verse 29 where it says; 'just as Ishmael, the child born by human effort, persecuted Isaac, the child born by the power of the Spirit.'

I pointed this out in my talk as well, but I'll point it out again. In the earlier verses Paul is talking about one child born according to human effort and one child born according to the promise, but here the one according to the promise is described as the child born by the power of the Spirit. The difference you see between Ishmael-types and Isaac-types is the work of the Spirit. And this is key. Learning to live our lives filled by and led by the Holy Spirit in us. Living in that constant flow of the Spirit. In any decision we take, ask the Holy Spirit to guide us. If Abraham had just been seeking God before deciding to have a child with Hagar. Learning to every day, and throughout the day pray that prayer; Fill me with more of you Holy Spirit, lead me, guide me, show me which direction I should go. Direct my steps, speak to me and help me to listen. Let me live in the flow of your Spirit Jesus, just as you promised; whoever believes in you, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7.38).

We are the children of the promise, as Paul so clearly tells us here, the ones born of the Spirit. And our lives have to flow out from this; build on the foundation of grace and trust, and moved by His Spirit in us.


  1. Do you find it easy or challenging to give God control over all aspects of your life?

    If there are certain aspects of your life you find challenging to hand over to Him, spend some time this week talking through this with Him while meditating on 1. Thessalonians 5.23-24

  2. Peter 1.4 says; 'And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.'

    This week, spend some time with God asking Him to speak His promises into different areas of your life or for people you are praying for. Write down the promises He speaks to you and start praying these promises into and over these different situations.

  3. Now spend some time reminding yourself and praising God, thanking Him for what you have already seen of His faithfulness in your life.


Dear God, thank you for your faithfulness, thank you that I can trust you and that the safest thing I can do with my life is to surrender myself completely to you. Show me God if there are any areas of my life where I still don't trust you 100% and help me God. Help me to trust you, help me to hand over the control and to never take it back. And I will say like the Psalmist;  Who is like you, LORD God Almighty? You, LORD, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. (Psalm 89.8) Thank you that this is true.

This Everyday Devotions was written by Elisabeth Radtke, who is a Deacon at our Croydon Plant.

Elisabeth unpacks these themes in more detail in her sermon message this week on our website, YouTube Channel and at our Online Church Services.

This Everyday Devotions has also inspired a devotional video that you can watch on our YouTube Channel.