Born in Captivity

Passage: Galatians 4:1-11

Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection

Sermon Overview

In Galatians 4:1-11, Paul describes the “state of captivity” the Galatians (and all of us) were born into, and how to be set free from it.  He does this because he sees the Galatians’ desire to return to living under the law as a return to the very slavery that they had been rescued from, and it agonizes him. 

First, then, we need to understand that we are all born into a certain kind of “captivity”.  Paul reminds the Galatians of the days before they knew Christ, when they worshipped idols, arguing that in these former days they were “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (4:3), and “enslaved to those that by nature are not Gods” (4:8).  The Galatians believed that these “elementary principles” (earth, wind, fire, water, etc) were the essential elements that made up all of life, and that to have these elements working in their favor, they had to appease the various Gods who represented them.  Doing all of this amounted to slavery because they were always beholden to, and at the whim of their idols.   

Though we may not worship literal idols in the same way today, we still make idols out of many things in our life—family, career, success, our bodies—paying our dues, and offering our sacrifices to them, only to find ourselves enslaved by their demands.  Religious practice offers no way out of this slavery, either, because it too can enslave us.  In fact, when Paul chastises the Galatians for “observing days and months and seasons and years” (4:10)—elements of Jewish ritual religion—he was saying that the Galatians were merely coming under the slavery of a different kind of “elemental principles” (religious ones, rather than pagan ones) and were therefore just as enslaved as when they were pagans! 

How do we get set free from this slavery, then?  Only through adoption.  Paul reminds the Galatians that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (4:4-5).   Anyone who has been adopted by God is “no longer a slave, but a son” (4:7).  Just as in the ancient world, when we are adopted, all the privileges and possession of the firstborn son (Jesus) become ours—all the justification, redemption, eternal life, future glory—all of it is ours.  When we give up on our old, self-trusting way, trust in Christ, and receive adoption, we no longer need to pay offerings to the old idols that have always enslaved us, because we have all we need in Christ. 

 Lastly, God sends us the Holy Spirit so that we can experience that adoption, and rest in the full confidence of all we have in Jesus: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (4:6).  The Spirit, then, helps us relate to God as Father in the deeply personal way we were made to, and when we do this, we will find the chains of our former slavery melting away.  Praise God!   

Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide:

Re-read the passage(s): Galatians 4:1-11

We Are All Born into Captivity (4:1-3; 8-11)

1) Re-read Galatians 4:1-3 and meditate on these verses together.  Consider:

  • Who are the “guardians” and “managers” that Paul is referring to?  In what sense is a child who has not yet come of age “no different than a slave”?  What is Paul illustrating here? (vs. 1-2) 
  • What are the “elementary principles” Paul is referring to here?  What would the Galatians have understood them to be, and how were they enslaving? (vs. 3) 

2) Re-read Galatians 4:8-11 and meditate on these verses together.  Consider: 

  • What does Paul mean when he says that the Galatians are now “observing days and months and seasons and years” (4:10)?  How was it enslaving to do so? 
  • Why was Paul afraid he had “labored over the Galatians in vain”? (4:11) 

3) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby explained how before the Galatians had heard the gospel, they were enslaved by their idols…always having to appease them, placate them, etc.  While we may not worship literal idols of wood and stone today, we too can become “enslaved” by the things we idolize—family, wealth, success, career, etc—and burn ourselves out making “offerings” to these idols.  When you think about your own life, can you think of something you’ve idolized recently?  How has it “enslaved” you? 

4) By mentioning “days and months and seasons and years”, Paul is making the bold claim that our religious practice can be just as idolatrous, and therefore just as enslaving as anything else.  What are some concrete examples of how seeking to practice our religion can turn idolatrous and enslaving?  What are some warning signs that this is happening in our life? 

We Are Set Free Through Adoption (4:4-7)

5) Re-read 4:4-7. What does it mean that Christ “redeemed” those who were under the law? Why did this have to happen in order for us to be “adopted as sons”?

6) In Galatians 4:7, Paul concludes: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” How does being a “Son” of God, rather, than a “slave”, transform the way we approach:


Obedience to God?

Trust in God?

7) What are some symptoms that in a particular area of life, you’ve been relating to God more as a “slave” than as a “son”? Is there an area of your life where you’re doing this right now? What would it look like to respond to God’s invitation to come to him as a “son” in this area?

How We Experience Our Adoption (4:6)

8) Re-read Galatians 4:6.  What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to help us cry “Abba, Father!”? What does this communicate about how God desires to relate to us, and us to him?  Is there a specific area of your life right now where you long for God to personally communicate his Fatherly love and assurance?  (If so, you might share that with your Small Group, and have them pray for you.)

 Additional Application Questions

Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?

Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?


Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.