Two Ways to Live: Slaves or Children

Passage: Galatians 4:21-31

Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection

Sermon Overview

In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses an allegory to describe two basic approaches people take towards life. It is worth considering these two approaches, and which one we’re living, because the implications are vast: one way leads to freedom and adoption, and the other to slavery and exclusion.

What are these two ways, then? The first way is the way of human striving and fleshly effort, and this way is illustrated by Hagar (referencing Genesis 16). Because Abraham and Sarah didn’t trust in God’s promise to provide them with a child, they took matters into their own hands, conceiving a child, Ishmael, “born according to the flesh” through Sarah’s “slave woman” Hagar (4:23-23). This incident with Hagar, then, represents a whole way of life where we strive for God’s blessing on our own efforts, convinced we need to wrestle God’s gifts out of his hands. This way of life is inherently enslaving.

The other way is the way of trusting in and receiving God’s promises. This is illustrated by God’s supernaturally giving Sarah a child, Isaac—the child “born through promise” (4:23). This way of life leads to freedom, rather than slavery, because it is all about receiving God’s gift of grace to us, though we are undeserving. Paul wants us to understand, then, that if we have come to know Christ as our Savior, through the new birth, then we “are children of promise” (4:28)—that is, our spiritual lineage can be traced to our reception of a free gift, not to our fleshly effort.

The implications of this are many. For one, we need to know that being a “child of promise” is not opposed to our hard work or effort. God’s grace energizes us and spurs us on to good works. What grace is opposed to, however, is earning—any sense that we deserve our place before God. We also need to understand that Paul is not contrasting religion vs. irreligion…or being a “good” person vs. being a “bad” person. If anything, Sarah was the least moral person in the story, and yet the promise came to her! Indeed, striving in the power of our own flesh often takes on a very religious manifestation.

Finally, we need to discern ourselves, and what’s motivating our living. We can test this by who we “persecute” (4:29). That is, we need to ask ourselves if there’s a certain kind of person we frequently find ourselves looking down upon, mocking, writing off in our minds and hearts. If someone comes to mind, then it may be a sign that we’re trying to build a righteousness based on our own morality and efforts, rather than on receiving the promised gift of Christ.

Ultimately, Jesus was the true “son of promise”, the one who truly lived out the freedom of being God’s child. He was relentlessly persecuted by the “sons of slavery”, the religious leaders—even to the point of death on a cross. And yet all of it was so that we could receive the promise of God, become his children, and know true freedom. How incredible!


Sermon Outline

Two Ways to Live our Lives (4:21-31)

The Implications of the Two Ways (4:21-31)

Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide:

Re-read the passage(s): Galatians 4:21-31

Two Ways to Live our Lives (4:21-31)

1) First, read Genesis 16:1-6, then read Galatians 4:21-26. Consider:

  • What kind of approach to life does Ishmael’s birth through Hagar represent? Why is Ishmael described as being “born according to the flesh” (4:23)?
  • What kind of approach to life does Isaac’s birth through Sarah represent? Why is Isaac described as being “born through promise” (4:23)?
  • Why do the Galatians, who “desire to be under the law” (4:21), particularly need to hear about this allegory of Hagar and Sarah, and the lesson it teaches?

2) Re-read Galatians 4:24-27 and meditate on these verses together. Consider:

  • Mount Sinai was the mountain where Israel received the law from Moses. How do you think the original readers would have responded to hearing Mount Sinai compared to Hagar in verse 25?
  • Why is Mount Sinai—i.e. the way of life that relies on keeping the law—described as “bearing children for slavery”? What is naturally enslaving about this way of life?
  • What truth about God and how he works is Paul trying to illustrate by quoting from Isaiah 54 in verse 27?

3) Re-read Galatians 4:28-31 and meditate on these verses together. Consider:

  • What does Paul want to remind the Galatians about their spiritual lineage (see vs. 28 and 31)?
  • What does Paul want to remind the Galatians about what kind of reception they can expect as “children of the free woman”?What warning does Paul have in verse 31 for those who rely on their own efforts (i.e. those who are children of the “slave woman”)?
The Implications of the Two Ways (4:21-31)

4) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby explained how the way of life represented by the story of Hagar is the way characterized by “human striving” and “fleshly effort”.

  • What is so enslaving about this way of life? Is there a particular area of your life where you’ve relied on your own efforts, rather than trusting in God and receiving his gifts? What would it look like concretely to walk as a “child of promise” in this area?

5) What are some “warning signs” in our lives that we’re living out of our own efforts? How can you start to discern this?

6) Where is an area right now where you need to trust in God’s promise? How would doing so bring freedom in your life?

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.