What is justification?
This is God’s declaration that a person is innocent and that the law has nothing to say against him/her.
Where do we find this in Scripture?
We can see it in Proverbs: He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 17:15)
The Two Covenants
What is Paul’s teaching in Galatians 4 regarding Hagar and Sarah?
We find this teaching beginning in Galatians 4:21 where Paul asks the Galatian people to consider Abraham’s two sons, and especially each son’s mother.
Why is this important for our understanding of Justification?
Because Paul speaks of two ways of relating to God, only one of which really brings the favor of God.
What are these two ways?
Paul teaches us these two ways by using the picture of the two sons of Abraham. Ishmael was a slave, while Isaac was a free-man. The reason for this is because Ishmael’s mother was a slave and Isaac’s mother was a free-woman. The operating principle here is that the children of a free-woman are free people, and likewise the children of a slave-woman are born as slaves. Now these two women represent these two ways of relating to God.
What are these two ways of relating to God?
The first way is mentioned by Paul: “Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?” (Galatians 4:21)
What does it mean to be “under law?”
Being “under law” here means being a child of Hagar and thus born into slavery. Paul says that Hagar is a picture of the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai, and Hagar’s children represent those who relate to God based on the terms of this covenant. In this context, Paul understands this covenant to be a covenant of works. Being “under law” then, means relating to God on the terms of the covenant of works. Now the terms of this covenant are that God gives His favor only to those who earn it. It is a merit-based covenant.
What is the other way of relating to God?
This is to be a child of Sarah and thus a free-person. Paul writes: “But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.” (Galatians 4:23) We might paraphrase this as, Ishmael was born to Hagar as a human attempt to bring to pass what God had promised Abraham. Isaac, however, was born to Sarah as a result of God’s action only. We know that Isaac was born as a result of God’s action since Sarah was far too old to have a child when she gave birth to Isaac. (Genesis 18:11, 12) Isaac’s birth was purely a miracle of God’s doing.
What does this teach us then, about this second way of relating to God?
It shows us that there is another way of relating to God by which we do not earn God’s favor but we receive it as a free gift of God’s grace. The Westminster Confession writes in chapter 7 about God’s covenants with men. In the first place, the Confession describes Hagar and God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai:
The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.
Then it describes Sarah and God’s covenant with His people in Christ:
Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [Hagar or Mount Sinai], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.
What advice does Paul give the Galatian people in regard to these two ways of relating to God?
Paul exhorts the Galatians to cast out the slave-woman and to have nothing to do with her. (Galatians 4:30) By this he means that we should give up any attempt to please God by our own actions and take refuge under the terms of the second covenant which is made sure to us in Jesus. Only in this way, are we made right with God and can hope to live a life that is glorifying to Him. If we try to serve God under the terms of the first covenant, then we make ourselves to be slaves.