Very often, when I speak with Muslims and identify myself as a Christian, they will tell me that we are the same. I’m not sure where they have gotten this idea, whether they have been told to say this, or there is some YouTube video of an Islamic teacher that says that they should say it, but it happens so frequently that I think that there must be some sort of teaching that happens within Islam that says that they should say this. I need to find out about this…
In any case, I usually don’t reply to this statement, but instead ask if I can share something with them. Normally I will share the Gospel with them, although if there has been some other line of conversation, I may use a story about Jesus from the Bible.
In any case, the irony is that my Muslim friend will typically be the first one to tell me how we are not the same, that Jesus is not the Holy One of God but instead a prophet. Typically, they argue that he was a messenger, not the sacrifice that God provided on our behalf. And many times, they will explain to me all of the religious things that we must do to please God.
Back to Isaac and Ishmael
I was reminded of this as I read in Genesis 21 of the conflict between Sarah and Hagar and between Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac had been born in the time that God had promised, even though Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90. It is an incredible story of fulfillment of God’s promise of the child that God would give to Abraham. Ishmael had been a fulfillment of the promise in man’s way, but Isaac was the fulfillment of the promise in God’s way.
But the conflict between Sarah and Hagar, and now between Ishmael and Isaac had grown to a breaking point, such that Sarah could no longer stand to have Hagar and Ishmael in their house with them, so she tells Abraham that they should be sent away.
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”Genesis 21:8-10
Abraham’s sin in Egypt continues to haunt him. Even greater conflict is arising than what had happened previously, and now has come the time of the unthinkable for Abraham. Sarah wants him to send Hagar and Ishmael away as a result of Ishmael’s mocking of Sarah’s son Isaac.
Slave versus Free
At this point, we see a clear distinction between Sarah and Hagar. Despite the fact that Hagar became Abraham’s wife, she is still a slave. She is still a servant to Sarah, and Sarah is the one wife of Abraham that is recognized before God. So as I was thinking about these things, I looked back to Galatians to what Paul said to those churches about this distinction. Here is what Paul said:
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”
Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.Galatians 4:21-31
The Galatians have a problem and Paul is calling them out on it. They have accepted Paul’s Gospel of freedom from sin through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God made Jesus to be a sacrifice for their sins to allow the Galatians, and all of the rest of us who believe, to be set free from the punishment for our sins.
The Galatians, though, after Paul had left, had listened to the Judaizers who were telling them that they needed Jesus, and in addition, they also needed to follow the law of Moses, which would include being circumcised in order to be considered to be God’s people.
Paul gives the Galatians a choice. Do you want to be like the children of the slave woman, like the children of Hagar? In that case, they would be children of the one who takes orders, who follows the rules that have been laid out for them, who doesn’t do what they want to do.
Or will they be like the children of the free woman, like children of Sarah? They are born free and are able to live freely.
You see, Paul is providing this distinction so that through this example, we can understand our relationship with God. He has made us to be his children, his free children. We shouldn’t be a people who submit to the slavery of a lie as my Islamic friends do. We shouldn’t be a people who submit to the slavery of a lot of religious actions in order that God might be pleased and thus owe us paradise because we have been good people.
Those are all lies of Satan, our enemy, who wants anything except that we would be free. He wants to ensnare and enslave us, but Christ came that we would be set free. Like Isaac, the child of the promise, we are made to be free. Not living under the slavery of religion and rules, but living under the freedom that Christ gave us through his death, and even more through his resurrected life!