Until Christ Is Formed In You
Key Verse 4:19
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
Let me repeat what I said last week and the week before that. The reason we resist fully putting our faith in Christ and entirely trusting his work in our hearts and lives is because faith requires that we put to death our “flesh”, the “Self” so that Christ might live in us instead. Faith requires that Christ Jesus become the supreme ruler in our hearts while we fade away in the background, until only he shines through and we don’t. Faith requires that we gain nor tolerate any self glory, so that all the glory goes to our Lord. The sinful nature— the “flesh”— the “self” of us— loves the recognition of others. We love to be praised by others. We— our “Self”— desperately seeks some form of self glory. That is why false doctrines and teachings— that oppose and contradict pure and simple faith— find their way into our lives and easily entangle us in their snares. That is how some false teachers— who promoted Christ, but who also promoted following the law— were able to entice these Galatian Christians. They appealed to their sinful nature— to the “self”— to do something they would be recognized and praised for. “Be a good Christian”, they said, “do the right Christian things that will guarantee your inner maturity as a Christian as well as would gain you God’s approval”. So they were tempted through their love for a little glory for the “self” to obey laws and regulations that gained them recognition and praise from one another. Paul had already told them, “if you do that, you would become slaves again and no longer sons.” Justification is by faith. And the Christian must live by faith from first to last.
In our passage today— Galatians 4:12–21— Paul intensifies his effort to rescue the Galatian Christians from the heresy of these false Christians. What he says to them in this passage is both heart breaking and honest and sincere, but most of all, what he says to them is a remarkable lesson in true Christian faith. His emphasis in this passage can be seen in verses 12 and 19. Let’s read verse 12. “I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong.” Now real verse 19. “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” In verse 12 Paul tells them, “Become like me, for I became like you.” He encourages them to become like him as he had become like them. What does he mean when he says, “For I became like you”? How did he become like them? He was once a Jew who lived by all the laws of the Jews because through the laws of the Jews he had thought he was righteous in the sight of God. There was a time when he despised the Gentiles who lived by their own laws of immorality and senseless freedom. He snubbed the Gentiles as if they were a disease to be avoided. But when he met Christ personally Paul changed. He understood the gospel of our Lord Jesus, the gospel of love and grace. He understood that God loves all people and would receive all people back to himself through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus. So Paul became an apostle to the Gentiles. In serving the Gentiles with the gospel, he broke every law in the Jewish Bible. He mingled with them, ate with them, fellowshipped with them, served them as he would his own family. In that way, Paul became like them in every way. When Paul told the Galatian Christians, “For I became like you” he meant that he had put aside his Jewishness and the Law in order to win them over to faith in Christ.
Now he tells them, “I plead with you…. become like me.” What does he mean by that? He is talking about becoming free in Christ. He is talking about the “freedom” which results from Christ living in them, manifesting his grace and truth in its fullness. But this freedom is not the kind of freedom that licenses them to do as they wish, and to live according to their own desires. Many Christians have taken “freedom” out of context and used it for their own purposes. Rather if we are to understand Paul’s meaning more fully, we ought to look at verse 19, where he says: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” Become like me, means: “Let Christ be formed in you.” Let me explain what that means as well. In Galatians 2:20 Paul gave them his testimony, the way he views his own freedom in Christ. He had said: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” When we think about his words here, we can see what he meant by “become like me.” In other words, he is telling them, “You ought to die as I died to sin and to the law— and live by faith in Jesus— through the Spirit of God— so that Jesus’ life in you might mold you in his likeness, until you become like him and can manifest him in and through your life.”
Ultimately, “Christ lives in me [you]” must lead me to grow the in the likeness of Christ Jesus. That is the highest goal and glory of a Christian— to grow in the likeness of our Lord Jesus. As Paul puts it in other places, growing in the likeness is the “hope of glory”— your glory. He tells the Colossian Christians: “… Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col.1:27) He says the same thing to the Roman Christians: “… And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2) Again he tells the Roman Christians: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Roans 8:29) He tells the Corinthian Christians a similar thing when he says: “And we, who… reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness … which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:8) We who are Christians are all being made in his likeness. That is our glory. That is our highest aim. “Become like me” Paul says to the Galatian Christians— like me free in Christ as Christ lives in me, and the Spirit works in my heart and life to make me more like him. That is true freedom, the kind of freedom neither Biblical Law nor Christian activity nor human effort, nor religiosity nor spirituality can ever offer you. Paul had put aside all things in order surrender himself to the work of the Spirit, through simple and trusting faith in Jesus. Jesus who set him free from sin and death, is the same Jesus who lives in him to finish the work.
Paul was to them a mother and a father and a servant in every sense of the word. Look at verse 19: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” Paul’s whole ministry among them was like a mother who is in labor pains— like a mother struggling to give birth to children— being molded in the likeness of the Lord Jesus. But at this moment they were like a child being aborted by invasive methods. That is what Paul was struggling to tell them. “Become like me” and let “Christ be formed in you.”
This is not what the false Christian teachers had in mind. Their motive is exposed here by Paul’s insight in the Spirit of God. He tells us why these false Christian teachers were so eager to promote their own false gospel. Sometimes we have sympathy for those who carry false gospels, and we feel a sense of duty to let them know the error of their ways. But not all false teachers are innocent, though some are blinded by the influence of others. At the root of their work is Demons, as Paul tells us earlier in his letter. Let me be clear on this: Demonic preaching does not necessarily mean that they are preaching sorcery and witchcraft. But “demonic” means that they are preaching doctrines that contradict the gospel. How do they preach their doctrines? The apostle Peter tells us that they “secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). In verses 8-11 Paul points out that such doctrine are demonic in nature. But here in this passage, he tells us why they operate. They operate through the sinful human nature. As we said countless times, the sinful nature, the “self”, craves recognition, and is thirsty for self-gory. We want to gain some merit for what we do. So the temptation of “doing something to help God” or on “relying on the law” is very appealing. For the Jews it was circumcision and the observance of special seasons months and years, (4:8-10) all based on Jewish Laws that made the Jews feel righteous and better and more spiritually worthy. It made them feel as if they were doing something that would please God. That was for them! But for us, the heresy is different. We are Christians who know the gospel. But if the devil can make us add certain conditions to salvation other than faith in God’s promise, we stumble and fall. We begin to think that all the Christian “things” we do— church going, bible study, mission work, prayer, testimony writing, fishing, serving— are part of our Christian faith for growth and salvation. We begin to think that surely these things bring us blessings and make us true children of God. But in truth, when we think this way, all it does is deceive us into self-righteousness.
The judaizers were able to reach the Galatian Christians through their innate desire to glorify the “self”— to give the “self” some leverage, an identity and some security that others do not possess. Paul tells us that that is not faith at all. It is not righteousness! Neither are we justified through Law and works. True righteousness comes through faith in Christ. You are righteous if you put your faith in Jesus. You are a child of God because God has granted you the gift of righteousness and has sealed you with his spirit. His spirit gave you new birth. And his spirit will purify you and enable you to grow in his image in his likeness if you rely on the Spirit and walk in him— if you continue in your faith in Christ. And when you do Christians “things”— Bible study, church, mission, prayer, service and all— you do them because his love compels you— because you are growing in his likeness and as He did these things out of his love for God and for others, so do you. It is all the work of the Spirit in you that does that. No one can add to their righteousness and no one can improve it.
The Judaizers were able to deceive the Galatian Christians because they were young and eager to do something for the glory of God. “Doing” something is always more appealing than depending on Christ, because depending on Christ shifts all the glory to Christ, while depending on yourself or on the Law to live the Christian life shifts the glory to you. Anyway, that is one reason they were so successful in trapping these young Christians. But why did they do this? Of course, we cannot neglect their evil motive to corrupt the gospel and to diminish from the glory and work of Christ. But Paul tells us something else here.
In verse 17 Paul uncovers a selfish motive in the Judaizers. Read verse 17: “Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you [from us], so that you may be zealous for them.” See! Their motive is all wrong. They care noting for your soul. All they care about is that they receive human praise and recognition. They want you to root for them. They want you to stand on their side so that they may boast in you. They want to be able to say that they had won you over. At the heart of all this is pride. They are proud and self-motivated. I have always been suspicious of those who boast in their church too much, because at the heart of it is some dark motive to bring members of other churches to their church through deception— by insisting that they are missing something the other church does not have. They appear very zealous for God and the church. They are in fact so zealous that when you observe their works it makes other Christians seem as if they are doing nothing for the glory of God. In that way, they make young believers doubt their own salvation and at times even the work of God in their own lives. They seduce those who are still young in their faith to join them tempting them with self-glory. But Church is the body of the Lord! It is all one body of believers that belongs to Christ. Church belongs to no one. It belongs to the head who is Jesus. He is the head of the church and the church belongs to only Him. As long as the church honors Christ Jesus and gives him all the glory, it is a legitimate body of believers and no one need steal them away from it.
Paul says “Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you [from us], so that you may be zealous for them.” In Galatians 6:13 he also says about them: “Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.” There you have it! Their true motive exposed! They want to boast in your flesh. They want to be able to say, “we circumcised them.” “We baptized them.” “We anointed them as part of our fellowship.” “We added more to our numbers.” All this is “flesh” and belongs to the sinful nature and has nothing to do with the Spirit of God— who alone is to be honored and glorified because He is the Spirit of Christ.
In verse 19 we can tell what Paul was interested in. He says: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” He was only interested in Christ being formed in them. He was a good shepherd after the heart of our Lord Jesus who laid down his life for the sheep. “I am in labor pains with you”, he says. It shows the extent of what a shepherd goes through for the sake of God’s people. He would not rest until Christ is formed in the hearts of those whom God entrusted to him. That is the essence of doing the work of God. God is the one who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13) But it is the shepherd who prays for God’s sheep to grow mature in the gospel of God’s grace— until Christ is formed in them. And this is not a small responsibility. Paul did not know if he would lose the Galatians or not. He did not struggle with his own sensitivity as to why they were deserting him. He was a mature servant whose only interest is to show them the truth of God and to have them live by the truth of God.
Look at what he says to them in verses 13-16. “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” He reminds them of their early days when he first brought the gospel of God’s grace to them. How they were not concerned with appearances, even though his appearance may have discouraged them. But they received him as if he were an angel from heaven. And they listened to the gospel he brought them. And they were full of simple and childlike joy. When they receive the gospel through his love and teaching, they were joyful and full of life. They received Christ personally in their hearts. The Holy Spirit filled them with unspeakable joy and they could not but give glory to God and boast in the work he was doing among them. At the time, they could not contain that joy at all .Rather they told everyone about the new found faith they had received and shared the gospel teaching with them. “What has happened to all your joy” Paul asked them. Indeed, what happens to the simple childlike joy we have when we first receive the gospel message?
Joy is the fruit of the Spirit. If there is no inner communion with the Spirit of God, joy is gone from the heart and replaced with all the fruits of the sinful nature. Even though Christians have the Spirit, if they are not living by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, there can be no joy in their lives. It is like a slave, although a slave may have access to all the comforts of the master’s house, he cannot experience joy as long as he is doing the work drudgingly or because he has to. That is what happens to Christians as well— especially those who come under the influence of Law. The law— whatever it may be— when we work for the law— when we come into a state where we are doing Christians things out of habit or out of duty, or because it is expected of us, or because we have no choice in doing so, that is when we must stop and ask if we have given ourselves over the righteousness that is by effort. When joy is gone, it does not mean the Sprit is gone from our souls, but t means that we are not living by the spirit, but we are living by our own human effort. Joy is the fruit of the spirit. When we live by the Spirit, we know that we are living by the grace of God, the grace that saved us, and made us righteous and gave us a place as sons and daughters of the living God. That is the essence of joy. Joy is something that we maintain in our hearts regardless of our circumstances. We can know that joy when we surrender to the Spirit of God, repent for walking in the flesh, and begin once again to experience the work of God in our hearts.
So many Christians lose their joy after beginning with wondrously simple joy. Faith in God, and depending on the Spirit gave them joy because they were simple and thankful for all that God is doing in their lives. They could even taste the kingdom of God. Then at some point they lose the joy. “What happened to your joy?” Paul asked. What happened is that they lost their position as sons and daughters and became slaves of law again. As slaves of law, they could not but lose their joy. In John 15:11 Jesus told his disciples: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” What things was Jesus telling them? He was talking about the love of God for them. In love God had sacrificed his Son, to gain them freedom from sin and from law and from all that has enslaved them all their lives.
It is no different here. We are God’s children. Jesus had sacrificed his life that we may gain the freedom of life, and of worship, and of grace and all the wondrous inheritance that we have in Christ Jesus. Most of all, Christ sacrificed his life that we may gain the Spirit of God who lives in us and is with us. The Spirit of God teaches us that we are not slaves but sons and daughters, that we have been set free from rules and regulations of the law that we might live by the one law of God’s love and serve his purpose. Yes we go to church, and we pray and we teach and engage in missionary work. But we do not do these things because we are enslaved to some Christian law or principle. We do such things because we have a love relationship with the Father of our spirits, and because in that love we love one another. The Galatians had lost all that when they had become law and self-oriented. These false Christians were most miserable when they were living to earn merits with God and for the praise and recognition from one another. That is really a miserable way to live. It is joyless. Paul asked them: “What happened to your joy.” It was to remind them of the simple joy they had when they first became Christians. Their joy made them want to pluck their own eyes out in order to give them to Paul. They truly and genuinely loved him and trusted him then.
Read verse 16: “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” That is what Paul said with a broken heart. They, who were once full of joy and ready to sacrifice anything for him in their gratitude for what they had received from him, had become his enemies. He had told them earlier, “Become like me for I have become like you.” The false Christian teachers were making them doubt Paul and his love for them. But Paul appeals to them. “Become like me! Become free in Christ like me— let Christ be formed in you, like me. Have Christ rule your hearts and let the spirit guide you into joyful Christian living like me.
“What has happened to your joy? Am I your enemy now because I taught you the truth.” The truth he taught them had been the gospel truth. The gospel truth dictates that Christ is all in all. That he is King. That Christ is the only one worthy of worship. The gospel dictates that Christ has done the work, and died on the cross in order that our flesh may be crucified with him for freedom. Yes, the gospel truth demands sacrifices and self denial and much anguish sometimes in the course of dying to self and living for Christ. But the gospel is truth. The teachings of the gospel is truth. Whoever loves the gospel loves the truth. But whoever does not love the gospel doesn’t love the truth. Sometimes we must accept the fact that people will look upon us as their enemies when we speak the truth. But it is better than compromising the truth. Paul could have compromised the truth in order to win back the affection and recognition of those Galatians. But he did not! He spoke the truth to them and appealed to them to return to the gospel.
His prayer for them was simple…. Christ be formed in you. Become like me, as I have died that Christ may live in me .and the life I live in the body I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. That is the point of this passage. May God bless you to live in the freedom of Christ, to be delivered from any slavery that has robbed you of your joy, and Christ may be formed in you until you are transformed into his image. Amen.