And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son …”
Genesis 21:9, 10
We’re into our second week of the One Year Bible. Have you been following along? If not, and you still want to jump in, you can either have a marathon reading session today, or just start where we are. There are no rules. 🙂
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Legalism and grace cannot abide together. They may try for awhile, but the enmity between the two is so great that eventually, one must go.
In our reading through Genesis, we’ve seen that Ishmael came about because Abraham and Sarah decided to help God fulfill His promise to them. In other words, either tiring of God’s delay or doubtful of His ability to bring His own word to pass, the two concocted a plan: Abraham would have a child through Hagar, Sarah’s maid.
That’s using your noggin.
Instead of waiting for the child of the promise (Isaac), Abraham and Sarah created a child of the flesh (Ishmael). And Isaac’s children have been paying for that decision ever since, for Ishmael became the father of the Muslims. And is there not still great enmity between the two to this very minute?
God loves the Muslims. He loved them when He reassured Abraham that He had a plan for Ishmael’s life; He loved them when He comforted the weeping Hagar and promised a future for her son; He loved them when brought the boy and his mother water; He loved them when He stayed with Ishmael throughout his life. He loves them still today, and He holds out the offer of salvation to them just as He does to every other tribe and nation. As I learned from an Iranian woman and a Somalian woman in France two years ago, Jesus is reaching Muslims by appearing to them in their dreams. And as I learned from Naghmeh Abedini (wife of Iranian-born Christian pastor, Saeed Abedini, who is currently imprisoned in Iran), more Muslims have come to Jesus in the past ten years than in the past 1400 years. God is at work among those people, as He is all over the world.
Years ago, when Dave was in seminary in Portland, Oregon and we were living across the bridge in Vancouver, we met a Muslim man who used to come to apartment’s clubhouse where I worked twice a week. Dave would come down too and talk with the man while they sat together in the hot tub. After weeks of surface talk, Dave finally asked the man to explain his Muslim beliefs.
“What are the rules of your religion?”
The man listed several, including the rules surrounding Ramadan, a month in which they must fast from sunup to sundown. He told Dave it would be very good for a Muslim to make a trek to Mecca once in his life. He told him about abstaining from pork, and about the ritual washing he must do first thing every morning. And he explained that they must stop what they are doing five times a day, drop to their knees facing Mecca, and pray.
“What would happen if, say, you were sick one day and could only manage to pray four times?”
The man shook his head slowly. “That would be very bad.”
“Because I would not then know if I could get to heaven.”
After those words hung in the air a moment, Dave asked him, “What do Muslims think about Christianity?”
“We think it is too easy.”
That’s what legalism always says about grace. “It’s too easy.”
It’s not just Muslims who believe grace is too easy. It’s anyone who tries to add a single thing to their salvation, or to yours. Any time someone is focused on what we need to do instead of what Jesus has already done, they are looking at life through the lens of legalism.
I once interviewed a retired pastor who had been a hippie in the 60’s (and I suspect was still one at heart). We got on the subject of long hair, and how the church viewed it during the 60’s and early 70’s. With tears in his eyes, and his still long (albeit gray) hair caught in a pony tail, he said of Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, who took in all those hippies and showed them grace, “You don’t now what it was like before Chuck. You’d come to Jesus and think, Well, I guess I should go to church somewhere, and you’d walk into the first church you came to, and they’d either shut the door in your face, or they’d let you in, but a week or two down the road they’d say, ‘We’ll know you’re really saved when you cut that hair.'” Apparently those legalists couldn’t comprehend the righteousness of Christ pouring down on all that long hair. That was just too easy.
Be certain of one thing. Grace may look easy today, but that’s because we’re 2000 years removed from the scene of its purchase. Could we be transported to the bottom of Skull Hill, and have ourselves a glance at the bloody, deformed, thorn-pricked face of God, we would know better. We’d see that the price Jesus paid for our “easy grace” was measured in drops of His own blood.
God’s plan has always been to do it all Himself. Children of the promise accept that; children of the flesh fight against it.
Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow