Who's Your Mama?
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. Galatians 4:25-28
My mom is Nancy, and she’s a boss. She stomped out an oval shape the size of a small ice rink in her snowy backyard. Then she filled it with layer upon layer of water. Anything for the grand kids.
What if I stopped recognizing Nancy as my mom? I suppose I’d forfeit my skating privileges.
Unless a man has amnesia, he’s not going to misidentify his mom. Yet, the apostle Paul finds it necessary in Galatians 4 to deal with mama misidentification. His punchline is in verse 31, “So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”
To illustrate who gave spiritual birth to us, Paul uses the Old Testament example of Sarah (a free woman) and Hagar (a slave). Hagar was able to get pregnant and give birth by the normal biological process, but Sarah was barren. On top of that she was 90 years old—well past childbearing years.
But then the free woman had a kid! Hagar’s son Ishmael was born according to the normal biological process, but Sarah’s son Isaac was born by a miracle.
Paul is talking about our spiritual birth. What gave birth to the life we have in Christ? Have we been saved by some normal human process, or was it a miracle? If we became Christians according to a normal human process like our works, our will, our reason, or our strength, then we would be children of the slave woman. If we became Christians by means of a miracle, then our mama’s the free woman.
Paul spells it out: “So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.” You didn’t become a Christian by your own works or even by your own reason or strength. As John 1:13 says, children of God were born, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” If you are a Christian today, it’s because a miracle happened to you. God used His Word of promise to bring you forth—to give spiritual birth to you.
It was a word of promise from the Lord that opened Sarah’s dried up womb, and it is a word of promise from the Lord that births faith in our hearts to believe the Gospel (Romans 10:17). That is Paul’s point in Galatians 4:23, “the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.”
Note the difference between “according to” and “through.” Ishmael was conceived and born in line with the normal biological process, or “according to the flesh.” Isaac’s birth was a promise thing, but it wasn’t “according to” the promise, it was “through” promise. Maybe this distinction seems too technical, but it matters. Stay with me.
“Through” is translated from the Greek preposition dia, which in this context means “by means of” promise. How was Sarah’s dry and barren womb opened? In Genesis 17 and 18, God promised Abraham that Sarah would have a son. He could have kept quiet about it and surprised them with a baby, but instead He promised the pregnancy. Galatians 4:23 shows that God’s word of promise to Sarah is the very thing that He used to open her womb.
God has “brought us forth by the Word of truth” (James 1:18). He has born us again through the Gospel word of Promise. You, like Isaac, are a child of promise, not a child of natural human efforts. The grace of God brought you to faith through the means of the Gospel, and the grace of God will sustain you in faith until the end by means of the Gospel (Acts 20:32).
As Paul said in verse 26, “but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” When Paul talks about the Jerusalem above, the heavenly Jerusalem, he’s not talking about something future; he’s talking about something that is a current reality by faith.
In Hebrews 12:22 we read, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” By faith, we are already residents in the kingdom of God, in the heavenly Jerusalem. It’s not flashy and impressive, though. It looks like believers gathered around Word and Sacrament, confessing sins and receiving the ministry of the Word of God as the Law and Gospel expose and forgive their sins.
You, dear Christian, are a son or daughter of the above Jerusalem—of the Church. The Church is simply the body of believers formed by the Holy Spirit who gives life through the word of promise.
To say Isaac was a child of promise is to say that his existence as a child came through the means of the promise. God used His promise of a pregnancy to bring about the miracle of life from Sarah’s barren womb.
And to say that you are a child of promise is the same—your existence as a child of God came through the means of His promise. God used His promise of the forgiveness of your sins on account of Christ’s death and resurrection to bring life to your barren soul.
So who’s your mama? Who has brought you spiritual life? You, like Isaac, are children of promise. Your mother is the Jerusalem above. In her earthly form, she appears as believers in congregations gathered around Word and Sacrament. The Church is your mama because she has proclaimed to you the life-giving word of promise.
In Luther’s Small Catechism, the explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed begins like this: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith.” The Holy Spirit uses the proclaimed Gospel to create and sustain the Church, and the Church proclaims the Gospel to give birth to new children of promise.
The Law is not your mama—it didn't establish you in faith, and it won't sustain you. We are not under the bondage of the burden of the law for earning God’s favor. We are born by the Gospel into freedom from that slavery and condemnation. As children of the free woman, born into spiritual life, we now enjoy freedom from the heavy yoke of the law. We are free to love and serve our neighbors without the suffocating pressure of trying to achieve perfection under the law.
Now that Christ has set us free from the burden of the Law, we freely and joyfully put our hands to loving and serving our neighbors for their benefit and for God’s glory.
The pressure is off. Let’s skate.