“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.” —Galatians 4:29
Previously childless, Abraham now had two sons: Ishmael, the older son, born to Hagar; and Isaac, born to Sarah. There was nothing biologically unusual about the conception of Ishmael, but Isaac’s conception was humanly inexplicable.
Ishmael can be explained in terms of what Abraham did for God, but Isaac can only be explained in terms of what God did for Abraham. Paul writes, “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” (Galatians 4:22-23). The point Paul is making is that the things which can be explained by our own activity are nothing more than our own activity, but that which has its origin in God can only be explained as its substance being in God and bringing forth fruit.
The birth of Ishmael was well-intentioned, but sincerity does not make up for the fact it was done in the flesh, humanly motivated and accomplished. That which does not have its source in God will attack that which does, and Paul tells us Ishmael fought against Isaac. The two brothers were never at peace, and to this day, their descendants engage in ongoing conflict. We can look at this historically, but Paul says, “It is the same now.” There is an ongoing battle within our hearts where the flesh constantly fights against the Spirit. In Romans 8:8, Paul says, “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” He is not writing to unbelievers, but to Christians who live by their own agendas and abilities.
There is an old hymn that has these lines:
If I tried to live for You Lord today;
If I tried to walk in your wonderful way,
Then all of my life would be me and not You,
And none of your glory would ever shine through.
The pull of the flesh never leaves us in this life. Like Ishmael and Isaac, it continually wars against the Spirit, but the Christian life is designed to be lived in complete dependence on the indwelling life of Christ. To grab hold of this is to realize the utter sufficiency of Christ. Dependence on anything else will only produce Ishmaels.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am weak and prone to temptation. I ask for a deep work of Your Spirit to help me combat the desires of my flesh. Thank You, Lord.