These small group studies of Galatians 4 contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Galatians 4 Bible Study Guide – Sons and Heirs of God
I. Adopted as sons (1-7)
II. Do not turn back to become slaves again (8-11)
I. Adopted as sons (1-7)
• What is Paul’s main point in this passage?
• How does it relate to what Paul has been teaching in the first three chapters?
• How is an heir like a slave when he is still a child?
• In this illustration, who would the guardians and managers be?
• What are the elementary principles of the world that enslave people in verse 3?
• What can you learn about God from the phrase “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His son”?
• How did Jesus’ coming change His followers’ status?
• What happens when a person becomes a son of God (verse 6)?
• What is a believer’s relationship to God described as?
• What should a good son do?
• How are we heirs? What are we heirs to? What should an heir do?
Romans 8:17 – And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
1 Peter 1:4 – To an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
Titus 3:7 – So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Romans 8:15 – The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.
Romans 6:22 – But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. The heir is no different from a slave until he comes of age – In the last passage, we learned that every person in Christ is equal, Jew or Gentile. The Jews believed that they were heirs of God by birthright. But Paul made it clear that only those in Christ were legitimate heirs. Furthermore, every person in Christ, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, is Abraham’s offspring and heir of the promise.
Here, Paul makes it clear that being an heir doesn’t really mean anything until a person “comes of age” by personally trusting in Christ. A child who is an heir of a vast estate is placed under the care of guardians and managers (and also a tutor, Galatians 3:24). These supervisors have complete control over the child. He must obey them in everything. They tell the child heir when to get up, when to eat, what homework to do, and when to go to bed. He needs to ask for permission to do anything. For all intents and purposes, he is like a slave!
This subordinate role to the guardians will last until the date set by his father, the date of coming of age when the heir receives his title and estate. Only then is he set free from the control of these guardians. Only once the date set by the father has passed will he not function as a slave anymore.
2. In the same way we were enslaved to the elementary principles of this world – Here, Paul brings his point home. Believers, like the slave heirs in his example, were enslaved until they came of age by receiving Christ.
They are slaves of the elementary principles of the world, which is man-made religions. In Bible school, I did a brief survey of over fifty religions worldwide. Every single one of them (except for the gospel of Jesus) teaches a works-based salvation of some kind. Why are the religions all the same? They are the same because they come from the mind of man.
Wherever you go in the world, people follow the same basic logic. That logic is simple. You have to do something good to compensate for the wrong you have done. Many believe that there is something like a giant scale. Your bad goes on one side, and your good on another. If the good outweighs the bad, then you can make it heaven, or whatever variation of that your own religion believes.
This is the elementary principle of the world. Jews who tried to attain salvation by following the works of the law obeyed it. Gentiles, who by their own nature tried to diligently keep their rules-based religion, followed it.
Make no mistake. This exact deception is still widely believed today. I often ask people a question like this, “If you were to die today and face God and He asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?” A large percentage of Western people would answer in some variation of, “I am a good person.” They believe that their goodness, religion, and adherence to a set of rules will save them. It will not.
Works-based religion offers only slavery. It offers a burden that no person can carry, and a standard no person can achieve.
Man-made religion cannot save. It cannot take away your sin. You cannot compensate for the wrong you have done (James 2:10). God is 100% holy, but you can never be no matter how hard you try. Therefore, man-made religion offers a two-fold slavery. First, you are still a slave of sin. Second, you are a slave to the system of rules, which you can never wholly follow.
3. When the fullness of time had come – God has His perfect timing. From the very beginning, God’s plan of redemption was to send His Son into the world to save sinners by dying and rising again from the dead. It wasn’t a plan B. However, His plan was progressive. Throughout the Old Testament, He was preparing people for Jesus to come.
The Old Testament demonstrates people’s total depravity and complete incapability to reach God’s standards. It reveals that a perfect sacrifice is necessary if we are to be saved. And in the Old Testament, God prophesies that He will do this so that we can know it is of Him when it happens.
Then when the religious and political climate was exactly right, God sent His Son to this world. Jesus was born of a woman and born under the law. Being born under the law, He followed the law, and He fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17).
God’s timing is perfect. Often, we cannot understand God’s plans. Why does He wait? Why doesn’t He act now?
God always has a reason, and His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). When the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they prayed to God for help. God answered their prayers, and Moses was born. But they had to wait eighty more years for deliverance! In those eighty years, the people become a nation.
Application: Are you waiting for God to act or answer a prayer? Write down any reasons you can think of that He might be making you wait. Then, whether or not you could think of any reasons, pray to God and tell Him that you trust in Him and are willing to wait for His timing.
4. To redeem those under the law – Jesus was born under the law to redeem those under the law. He fulfilled the law for all of those who tried but could not. At the same time, He also redeemed those who were not under the law.
5. You are no longer a slave, but a son and an heir – This is the good news of this passage! We do not have to be slaves of this world, nor do we have to be slaves to the burden of the law. Jesus frees us from all of that. He adopts us into His own family as His children (John 1:12).
As God’s children, we have a special and personal relationship with Him that we could never have otherwise. And that is what salvation is about. It is not about following the works-based rules of a man-made religion. Salvation is about having a relationship with Jesus, which is what sets the teachings of the Bible apart from every other religion in the world. It is about relationship, not rules and religion.
Our relationship with God is sweet and precious. Verse 6 says we can call Him “Abba, Father.” “Abba” is an Aramaic term of endearment, which means “Daddy.” I love it when my kids call me “daddy.” It shows the close bond of love which we have. When they call me this, I know that I am more to them than an authority. I am more to my kids than someone who hands down rules to obey and chores to do. I am their friend, and we have a deep love for each other.
We can have this same relationship with the King of Kings. Kings do not allow access to just any person. If you try to force your way in to talk with a monarch, you will be arrested. But you know who has access to a king? His children. While the most important nobleman might have to wait outside until he receives a special invitation, children are allowed in. There was once a son who ran up to sit in the king’s lap while he was at a council. Some nobles stared at the boy in surprise, but he simply answered, “He is my dad.”
God does not promise to answer everybody’s prayers. If a child in our neighborhood comes up and asks me for something, I may or may not give it to him. But when my own child asks me for something, it is different. We have a relationship. If it is good for my son, I will give it to him.
God will stop at nothing to give good gifts to His children.
Application: What an amazing thing that we can be called sons and daughters of God. Spend some time in prayer and thank God for this special relationship you can have with Him.
II. Do not turn back to become slaves again (8-11)
• What does it mean to be “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods”? Who are these “not gods”?
• What is the difference between coming to know God and being known by God?
• What does this subtle difference show us about God?
• What are the “weak and elementary principles of the world”?
• In what way can a person be a slave of these things?
• What is the Galatians’ problem in this passage?
• Is it good or bad to observe “days and months and seasons and years”? Why?
• What can you learn about legalism and the law from this passage?
• What can you learn about freedom?
• Why was Paul concerned that he labored over them in vain?
• What are some modern-day traditions or rules that could enslave believers?
Romans 1:23 – And exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
John 6:44 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
John 15:16 – You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
1 Corinthians 8:3 – But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
Nahum 1:7 – The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. You were enslaved to those who by nature are not gods – The Galatians were enslaved before coming to Christ. Most likely, they were enslaved to idol worship and following the traditional Roman religion.
1 Corinthians 10:19-20 – Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.
Paul teaches that idolatry is demonic. Demons are behind the system of idol worship. Satan himself sends these demons to ensnare and enslave people. They enslave people to sin. And the demons enslave people to rules and religious rituals which do not save. The more a person commits himself to these idols, the more he becomes a slave to them.
So it is with anything apart from God. Whenever a person pursues meaning or happiness apart from God, he will find that he is a slave of the very thing that he is chasing after. In the modern world, many people are slaves of money, lust, alcohol, and every type of addiction. Demonic forces are behind these things just as much as they are behind graven images. Satan promises freedom right up until the time he snaps on the chains.
2. Now you have come to know God or rather be known by God – Now the Galatians’ lives are to be different. They are changed. Note that Paul emphasizes that it is God who takes the initiative to reach out to us (John 6:44, John 16:15). He chooses us. He loves us first.
Application: What does this mean for us? Here are a few implications:
• Be humble. Our salvation is 100% God’s work in our lives.
• Be thankful. He loved us when we were unlovely.
• Be assured. If God loved you and saved you when you were unlovely, He still loves you now. He will not abandon you or cast you out of His strong hand.
• Be like Him. You should then be like Him to love others when they are unlovely.
3. How can you turn back again to the weak and elementary principles of the world? – From above, we saw that this is man-made religion that emphasizes works-oriented and rules-based salvation. From the whole letter of Galatians, we see that they were tempted to abandon salvation by faith and instead rely on the works of the law. And that is a return to the weak and elementary principles of the world.
You might say, “Wait a minute. They were idol worshipers before salvation. How can they then return to Judaism?” The answer is that rules-based Judaism and rules-based idol worship are the same to God. There are, in fact, only two roads. You can take the broad way that leads to destruction or the narrow road which goes through the cross. Both rules-based Judaism and rules-based idol worship are the broad way. Every single religion in the world except the true gospel of Jesus is the same–all of them teach self-reliance and good works.
Therefore, abandoning salvation by faith to pursue circumcision and the law was a return to the weak and elementary principles. It is the principle that people of all cultures across the world have always gravitated to, and that is doing good to compensate for wrong. It doesn’t work, and it never has.
Application: You were not saved by good works. Therefore, do not trust in them. And do not become prideful when you do good deeds. Depend every day on Christ alone.
4. You observe days and months and seasons and years – Jews were commanded in the Old Testament to observe numerous different festivals, which were set on specific days of the year. But the church was not commanded to follow them. A person can choose to observe these as a way to remember God. But it is not required. And no one should legalistically attend these as if doing so could in any way merit favor before God.
Many Christians today remember two major festivals, Christmas and Easter. A number of people only attend church on these days. Many think if they faithfully go to church on these festivals, they are good Christians. God looks at the heart. He is looking at you all year round, not just on Sundays or on special holidays. God is not like a divine attendance counter who looks down and takes roll call on some special days of the year. God wants your whole devotion all the time (Romans 12:2).
5. I am afraid I have labored over you in vain – Paul invested time and energy into sharing the gospel with the Galatians and helping form the Galatian church. But if they departed from the gospel to follow the Old Testament law, it would have been for nothing. That fear drove Paul to do everything he could to encourage them in the right way.
We can see his love and care for them. Paul didn’t share the gospel and then leave. He followed up with them to try to help them stay on the path.
Application: Do you have this same passion for people? You should share the gospel with others. Doing so is awesome! But how about after they believe? They will encounter obstacles. You should follow up with them. Ask them how their spiritual life is going. Pray for them, and pray with them. Ask them to meet and study God’s Word together. Encourage them when you see them struggling. Think of a person you have reached out to before. What can you do this week to follow up with that person? Is there someone you can ask to meet regularly with to study the Bible?
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