Barren

Galatians 4:21-31

No one can validate themselves. We all look to certain people or things to convince us that we are significant. What are the things you attach your significance to?

Whatever they are, they will have some sort of law, i.e., list of expectations. And if the salvation of one’s ego and identity is hinged upon them, we will respond in deep guilt if we fail to measure up, or in deep anger if someone gets in the way, or in deep anxiety if our success is threatened, or in major drivenness since we must measure up, or in despair if we fail completely.

Interestingly, followers of Christ, who look to God for their significance, obey the law of God with the same fevor – but they don’t RELY on the law.  They don’t hinge their salvation to their efforts.

It’s what sets Christianity apart from other other religions and philosophies.  Our “god” lived the life that we could never live FOR US through his son Jesus. And he offers Jesus’ perfect record in exchange for ours.  This substitution – received by grace through faith – the faith not even of ourselves but a gift from God – is the ultimate cosmic leveler.  The Jewish Christians were now no more favored than pagan converts.  Their spiritual experience, and background, and heritage was moot when it came to God’s approval.  Still, the Jewish Christians, acted pretentiously as the “older brother” (think of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son). And the older brothers gave their younger “pagan” brothers a hard time.

The Pagan converts were known for their dark past and thus were easy targets.  Despite having exchanged their moral record with the perfect record of Christ –  the Jewish converts, like Satan in the garden, took advantage of their baby confidence and child-like trust they had in God’s goodness, and enticed them with the power to take righteousness into their own hands.

Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1, which declares that “the barren and desolate woman will be more fruitful than the woman with husband.”

Originally this prophetic word was for the Jewish exiles in Babylon. The remaining Israelites thought their national life was over, that they would never return home, or have their own country again. They seemed like failures, weak and helpless (their exile was a punishment), while other nations seemed strong and able. But God says to them, through Isaiah, “Now that you are helpless you will see that it is the weak in whose lives my grace works!  The strong are too busy relying on themselves. I will make you numerous and great.”

The prophecy of Isaiah looks back to Genesis 16, in which God looks down on two women, one beautiful and fertile (Hannah), the other barren and old (Sarah) and he chooses to save the world through the barren one. Through her, all the peoples of the world are blessed.

Paul takes this prophecy and applies it to the Galatians. It’s hard to trust God period – especially when you are feeling spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and morally “barren.” The shame and guilt of our past makes it tempting to grasp for the “fruit” (rely on ourselves) rather than rely on God’s goodness and promise.

The Gospel is a double edged sword in this sense. It’s good news, but it’s also bad news.

It’s an affront to those who feel “fertile” with hope in themselves to make the right decisions. It’s an infringement on their sovereignty.  It’s good news to those who feel “barren” of any hope in themselves to make the right decisions. God will enable them to choose and do what they can’t choose and do for themselves.  ~Pastor Ed