Do-It-Yourself Religion
Seventh in a Series
(March, 2003 POL)

Topic: Grace
Text: Galatians 4:31Galatians 5:1

In my message today, I will endeavor to articulate one of the most profound truths and four principles of that truth contained in the Bible.

Let me start off with some light whimsy to loosen things up a bit before we stretch ourselves with this biblical teaching.

On the first day God created the cow. God said, “You must go to the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer. I will give you a life span of 60 years.”

The cow said, “That’s a kind of tough life you want me to live for 60 years. Let me have 20 years and I’ll give you back the other 40.”

And God agreed.

On the second day, God created the dog. God said, “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. I will give you a life span of 20 years.”

The dog said, “That’s too long to be barking. Give me 10 years and I will give you back the other 10.”

So God agreed. (Sigh)

On the third day, God created the monkey. God said, “Entertain people, do monkey tricks, make them laugh. I’ll give you a 20-year life span.”

The monkey said, “How boring. Monkey tricks for 20 years. I don’t think so. The dog gave you back 10, so that’s what I’ll do too. Okay?”

Again God agreed.

On the fourth day, God created man. God said, “Eat, sleep, play, have sex, enjoy. Do nothing, just enjoy, enjoy. I’ll give you 20 years.”

Man said, “What? Only 20 years! No way, man! Tell you what. I’ll take my 20, the 40 the cow gave back, plus the 10 the dog gave back and the 10 the monkey gave back. That makes 80 years. Okay?”

“Okay,” said God. “You’ve got a deal.”

So that’s why for the first 20 years we eat, sleep, play, have sex, enjoy and do nothing. For the next 40 years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next 10 years we do monkey tricks to entertain our grandchildren, and for the last 10 years we sit in front of the house and bark at everyone.

We are a do-it-yourself people by nature. As this story shows, we bargain the best deal for ourselves, even when it turns out not to be the best deal.

Today’s theme of this passage is Paul’s major question to the Galatians and to you and me: Will you have it God’s way, or are you determined to do it yourself?

Remember, Galatians 3Galatians 4 is the doctrinal section in which Paul ruggedly addresses the issue of Grace and the Law.

You remember his arguments? The first was the personal argument in Galatians 3:1-4 in which Paul queries the Galatians to recall their personal experiences with Christ when they were first saved.

Second was the scriptural argument in Galatians 3:6-14 in which Paul refers to Abraham being justified by faith, not works, and he quotes six passages out of the Old Testament to prove his point.

Third was the logical argument in Galatians 3:15-29 in which Paul reasons with readers on the basis of what a covenant is and how a covenant works.

Fourth was the historical argument in Galatians 4:1-11 in which Paul explains the place of Law in the history of Israel.

Fifth was the sentimental argument in Galatians 4:12-18 in which Paul appeals to the Galatians to remember his love for them and their happy relationship together. He first preached the Gospel in their midst.

Today we come to the sixth argument. This is the allegorical argument in Galatians Galatians 4:19-31 in which Paul goes right back to his close reasoning, basing what he says on the life of Abraham and his relationship with Hagar and Sarah.

Again, remember what the big question is: Will you have it God’s way, or are you determined to do it yourself?

Frankly, do-it-yourself religion is very appealing. Just as the Galatians were irresistibly drawn to it, you and I also can find it very appealing.

In a way, it’s appealing the same way as red hot coils on an electric stove are appealing to a little child who reaches out to that bright red coil.

Let’s look at four principles that will help us understand what is involved in do-it-yourself religion as contrasted to doing it God’s way.

Principle one: Do-it-yourself religion is to choose the “ordinary way” versus the “extraordinary way.”

Paul writes:

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 in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. (Galatians 4:21-24)

The key phrase in this passage is found in Galatians 4:24 when he writes, “These things may be taken figuratively. . . .”

Some of the translations translate this,”. . . which things are an allegory.”

An allegory was a popular style of teaching among Jewish rabbis. Paul seldom used it. Paul had the very highest regard, almost a sacred regard, for the actual history of his Jewish people. He was aware of the quaint tangents in which allegorical teaching and preaching could take a person. Allegorical preaching is dangerous because you can read into the text.

Whole sermons are preached and theologies built around allegorical interpretations of the ten toes of one of the kings mentioned in Daniel, finding them to be ten nations of the European common market. Then there’s a problem when that European common market is expanded beyond the number ten to include more nations. Numbers are played with and whole sermons are preached about five foolish virgins and the five wise virgins in the New Testament, making the text say much more than Jesus intended for the text to say.

So Paul, himself, with this high respect for the Old Testament Scriptures, is quite cautious in making an allegorical interpretation.

But in this case, he is quite emphatic to illustrate the emphasis he is making between the “ordinary” way of the Law versus what we are calling the “extraordinary” way of Promise.

The allegory he refers to here is not in any way meant to deny the historicity of these characters. What he is saying is that there is a religious meaning that goes far beyond the literal account.

To understand what Paul is talking about here, you need to be familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah as it is outlined in Genesis 12Genesis 21. As you know, Sarah and Abraham were without children. It became clear that Sarah was barren. Yet God had promised them that they would have a son. This son would continue the line of Abraham into what would become a great nation. As you check back in the chronology of events, you realize that Abraham was 75 years of age when he was called by God to go into Canaan, and he began to receive the tremendous promises that we read about in Genesis 12:1-9. The years click off. By now, Abraham is 85, and the promised son has not yet arrived. Sarah becomes impatient. She comes up with a scheme that was ethically acceptable at that time. She suggests that Abraham marry Hagar, the maid, and try to have a son by her. Although this was legal in that society, this was not in the will of God. This is a “do-it-yourself” approach to help God accomplish what God was going to do not in the “ordinary” way but in His miraculous “extraordinary” way. So Abraham follows Sarah’s suggestion, and he marries Hagar. You can read about this in Genesis 16:1-3. Hagar gets pregnant, and, as you might imagine, Sarah gets jealous. It becomes so difficult at home that Sarah throws Hagar out. God intervenes and sends Hagar back, promising to take care of her and her son. When Abraham is 86, the son is born, and Abraham calls him Ishmael.

Fourteen years later, God speaks to Abraham and promises him again that he will have a son by Sarah. He tells him to call this son Isaac. God even appears and reaffirms this promise to Sarah as well. Much to their amazement, with Abraham at 100 years of age and Sarah over 90 years, Sarah becomes pregnant, the son is born, and they name him Isaac.

Now they have a problem. Ishmael has a rival. For 14 years, Ishmael has been his father’s only son and very dear to his heart. It is the custom for the Jews to wean their children at about age three and to plan an event to celebrate the occasion. At this feast, teen-aged Ishmael starts to mock Isaac and to create trouble at home. This added to the jealousy Sarah already feels toward Hagar and makes for an impossible situation. Sarah demands that Hagar and Ishmael leave. She says to Abraham, “‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son, Isaac'” (Genesis 21:10).

Paul takes this historical event and begins to plead with the Galatians to understand who they really are in Christ Jesus. He uses this allegorical, figurative approach to tell them a story of who they really are. They are not sons and daughters of Hagar, the slave woman, of which clever, human scheming of a do-it-yourself nature has brought about their salvation. Not for a moment. That way failed for Abraham and Sarah. They thought they needed to help God out, that somehow God couldn’t follow through on His own promises. These two wonderful persons of faith had succumbed to doing what you and I so frequently do. They had figured that God needed help. God wasn’t capable of fulfilling His promise without their taking the process into their own hands. This boy, Ishmael, born in the ordinary way to the slave woman, Hagar, was not what God had in mind.

What God had in mind was the son, Isaac, born to the free woman, Sarah, in the extraordinary way, that would fulfill the promise of God.

So now he is saying to the Galatians, “Look, you are doing what Abraham did. You are trading in God’s extraordinary provision for you by reverting to a human way of doing things that denies God’s extraordinary activity accomplished on your behalf in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.”

Look now to Galatians 4:28-31 where Paul brings this part of his allegorical argument to a conclusion. He says:

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the 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, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:28-31)

When Abraham did it the ordinary way, he failed. When Abraham did it God’s way, he succeeded.

When you and I think we are smarter than God, we fail. When you and I trust in Jesus Christ alone, we become the inheritors of His promise, His extraordinary provision for us.

Principle two: Do-it-yourself religion is a buy into the Old Covenant versus the New Covenant.

Paul continues his allegorical approach by making a whole set of contrasts:

Old Covenant




Human Scheme
Divine Scheme
Mount Sinai/Jerusalem
Heavenly Jerusalem
Ordinary Way
Divine Way

Are you catching Paul’s argument as he builds it?

He is making an allegorical statement, bringing to the front history, geography, people, theological concepts and putting them in clear juxtaposition to each other, distinguishing between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

He is not, for a moment, trying to say that Ishmael and Hagar were not historical people for whom God had care. The fact is that God made provision for them. It wasn’t that God didn’t like slaves. Paul is simply saying that if you had your choice, which would you rather be, a slave or a free person? At Mount Sinai God gave the law to Moses. In Jerusalem, the holy city of promise, it was very significant within the context of the Old Covenant. What Paul is trying to get across is that we now have a New Covenant. Take your pick! Would you rather be part of the Old Covenant or part of the New Covenant? Would you Gentiles rather become Jews and be part of Israel, functioning in the Old Covenant, or be part of the New Covenant, part of the church of Jesus Christ?

This study in Galatians has been transformational for me. For many of the words that I have used, especially at the communion table, have come alive with new meaning.

Every time, as your pastor for the last 25 years, as I have stepped behind the communion table, I have held the bread, broken it, poured the wine into the cup, and quoted these words of Jesus as recorded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25: “‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'”

Now, does the phrase “new covenant” leap out at you with greater significance than it ever did before?

If not, I suggest that, later today, you read Hebrews 7Hebrews 10. This passage of Scripture will take on fresh, new meaning for you as you see it in the context of what Paul is writing to the church of Galatia. We do not know for certain who the writer of Hebrews was. But we do know that he was addressing the letter primarily to Jewish believers in Jesus Christ, whereas Paul was addressing his words to Gentile believers in Jesus Christ. In some ways, the writer of Hebrews had a more formidable task to keep very clear the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. He writes at length, describing the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, even quoting at length from Jeremiah who, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, wrote: “‘The time is coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:31-32).

The writer of Hebrews goes on to distinguish between the Old and the New Covenant, declaring that ” . . . without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 8:22). Both covenants have the shedding of blood. In the Old Covenant, there were the continual sacrifices, anticipatory of the New Covenant in which Jesus Christ would be the all-sufficient Sacrifice. The writer of Hebrews describes what God has done in the New Covenant in these words of Hebrews 9:23-28:

It was necessary then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Are you beginning to see the distinction between the Old and the New Covenant?

Principle three: Do-it-yourself religion is in some ways easier, for there is not as much persecution.

Do-it-yourself religion is easier, at least for a while, in that it puts you in charge. You make the rules. You can run broken field. You are in charge instead of God being in charge.

Every so often I am talking with someone and they critique those of us who hold to the historic, biblical faith of the New Covenant. They will say something like this, “The God I worship would never allow anyone to go to hell.”

Or they will say something like this, “So, you believe in God. If your God is so powerful, why then is there evil in the world? And if you believe that your God can heal, why didn’t He answer your prayers? Why did your daughter, Suzanne, die of cancer?”

Those comments go on and on, don’t they?

What is this person saying? This person is saying that they want the right to be God, or at least take on the privilege of defining just who God is and should be, based on their own criteria. Don’t disturb my notions by dragging out the Bible, telling me who the Bible says God is. No, they would rather be free to come up with a humanly devised notion of who God is and then worship that notion. This is what Paul wrestles with in the first chapter of Romans when he describes idolatry as being the creation of our own gods and bowing before that which is creature instead of that which is Creator.

Do-it-yourself religion is a bit easier, isn’t it?

There is not as much persecution.

As I have shared with you, we, as a program staff, have been functioning as you have in your covenant groups, taking 45 minutes or so each week to discuss the Galatians passage of the week. In Galatians 4:29, Paul writes, “At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.” He is describing how Ishmael taunted Isaac. Even today, those born in the ordinary way still persecute those born by the power of the Spirit. Have we asked ourselves, is this true? Are we persecuted for our biblical faith, for our commitment to Jesus in the New Covenant?

One after another, my colleagues shared the kinds of persecutions they had experienced.

One said, as he took his faith in Jesus Christ seriously, he “lost an entire set of associations.”

Another said that when he came to Christ, his life was dramatically changed, and as he followed God into a career change, he noticed “that people shied away, except for those who wanted to make fun of him.”

We discussed how people who claim even to be Christians, but have not really given their lives over to Jesus Christ in a commitment to the authority of the Scriptures, get upset at the fact that some of us take this so seriously. I was talking with a fellow the other night. He said, “I am a Christian, just not a born-again Christian.” He was startled when my response was, “Is there any other kind of Christian than a born-again Christian?” He looked at me, so surprised, and said he would have to think about that.

I remember when I was trying to make my decision as to whether to go into politics or the ministry, a Presbyterian elder said to me, “Only the losers go into the ministry. You are not a loser, John. It is clear you should go into politics.” God actually used that comment to anger me, that a Presbyterian elder would have that perception of pastors, dismissing this calling as somehow an inferior profession for inferior people.

In the study workbook we are using I wrote down that the greatest persecution I feel in my life is the attack I receive for holding to my commitment to biblical authority in three specific areas: (1) the human sexuality issue; (2) the abortion issue; and (3) the fact that there is salvation only through faith in Jesus Christ. If I would just loosen up on my commitment to biblical authority and be a bit more “politically correct,” life would be much easier. And, at the other extreme, I am attacked by those who don’t want me to be so loving toward those with thom we disagree. They want all-out warfare, forgetting that the mark of the Christian is love, even to one’s enemies. Don’t be surprised when you face persecution for your faith.

Principle four: Do-it-yourself religion is in most ways more difficult because you don’t live with access to the promise of freedom in Jesus Christ.

Yes, there is some persecution. Granted, in some ways it would be easier to loosen up and flow with the contemporary, cultural mandate, whatever that happens to be that tends to redefine God as different from the God of the Old and New Testaments.

But, ultimately, those of us who have repented of sin and put our trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live according to the Scriptures, we have ultimate freedom. Paul includes this dynamic juxtaposition of Law and Grace with these words from Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

You and I have been given the inheritance that comes from the testament of promise made 4,000 years ago to Abraham and fulfilled in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In very practical terms, this promise of freedom in Christ equips us in two ways.

First, it equips us for this life. We are given the promise of forgiveness. Nothing we have ever done is unforgivable except to refuse the gift of God’s grace, purchased at such a price on the cross by Jesus Christ. It promises meaning to understand where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going. It promises us the strength to live empowered by the Holy Spirit, one day at a time, and not have our heads turned by success, or our life destroyed by persecution and difficulty. Believers in Jesus Christ, through the centuries, have been able to face life, with all of its challenges, with the perspective of the promises of the New Covenant.

And, we are equipped for the life to come, where we are privileged to claim the promise of heaven. That means heaven for us. That means a reunion with our loved ones who have died and gone to be with Jesus Christ. We are able to talk about life and death in a way that is not morbid but that sees life beyond this life is even better than life in this life. We will be free of sin, of brokenness, of sickness, of animosity. Thank God for this!

I am reminded of two brief stories with which I will conclude.

One is of an Afro-American man, who must have been over 100 years old. He was carried on the shoulders of a group of young men, active in the 1950’s at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. They were taking him up the steps of a courthouse in a southern town to register to vote. He had been born a slave. And, although technically free, he had remained a slave even after the Emancipation Proclamation. Unable to vote, subjected to the rigid discriminatory demands of others, he was kept in subjection. Now he was free. The look on his face showed his joy. He was going to express his freedom, his release from the humiliation of being a second class citizen, by registering to vote. He could have understood Paul’s words. In fact, he, and others like him, sang often during those days, “Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!”

Paul was pleading with the Galatians in his day, and you and me in this day to accept the freedom that is ours, not be reshackled into the bondage of the law, being sons and daughters of slavery.

Years ago, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the great preachers in London, learned of a poor woman in his congregation who was having much difficulty in paying her rent. He called at her door, planning to pay it for her. She heard his knock but did not respond, thinking it was the rent collector, not realizing that it was Spurgeon who had come to pay her bill.

Jesus Christ knocks at the door of your and my life. How often that door is left closed when Christ comes to give that quality of life, that freedom. Some of us think we can do it ourselves. This freedom is our inheritance! How often are we so busy with the problems of life that we never hear the knock at the door when the Executive of the estate has come with a check for our inheritance! We live in our do-it-yourself religion, thinking somehow we have to earn what has already been paid in full on the cross!

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