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“UNTIL CHRIST IS FORMED IN YOU”

Galatians 4:8-4:31
Key Verse: 4:19

We thank and praise God for redeeming us through his Son Jesus’ sacrifice and adopting us as his dear children with the full rights of sons. What a grace it is to call him, ‘Abba, Father,’ with the testimony of the Spirit. It is truly an amazing blessing given to us while living in this world. Abandoning this blessing of God is unthinkable. Yet, there are things or people that tempt us to deviate from Christ, neglect the immeasurable blessing, and even discard it in confusion and deception. Our Father God wants us to keep this unfathomable blessing in Christ Jesus and grow to be mature as his children. In today’s passage we see Paul’s heart for Galatians, that he wants to bear again the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in them. We also notice Paul’s insight to see a battle between the legalistic faith and the gospel-centered faith in view of the Scriptures and history. In this study may we probe into Paul’s heart and insight.

First, Paul’s heart for Christ to be formed in them (8-20). Look at verse 8. “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” In NLT, “Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist.” When the Galatians did not know God, they were enslaved to those who by nature are not gods (8). They worshiped inanimate objects, such as the sun, moon and stars, mountains, trees and rocks. They also worshiped animals--cows, eagles and snakes--as well as Greek and Roman mythical figures. They feared that if they did not worship these idols, disaster would come upon them. Dr. Tim Keller, in his book, "Counterfeit Gods," has exposed the idolatry of our days: money, sex, power and success. Many in our time have created their own personal idols by mixing elements from various beliefs that support their specific addictions. In fact people are in bondage to forces that make them miserable. Though idols may seem to be nothing, behind them is Satans power. Those who dont know the true God become slaves of the devil through idols.

When the Galatians received the gospel, they escaped from miserable slavery to idols. Verse 9a says, "But now that you know God--or rather are known by God...." Through the gospel they came to know God as their Creator, their Father, and their true object of worship. In God they enjoyed true satisfaction of their souls and real freedom. More fundamentally, they were known by God. It was God who sought them and found them. It was God who took the initiative for their salvation (1 Jn 4:10,19). Now God looked upon them as his dear children with love and affection. This gave them a glorious identity, unshakable security, and an eternal inheritance.

Then Paul said in verse 9b, “how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” By this point, Paul has repeatedly expressed his broken heart for Galatians. He said in 1:6, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.” He also said in 3:1, “You foolish Galatians! O you silly and thoughtless and senseless Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” And now here Paul said, “how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?” In Paul’s eyes, as they were returning to weak and miserable principles they would become too weak and powerfulness and miserable again under the cruel bondage of law and human regulations, losing all the blessings and privileges--even the privilege of calling God, “Abba, Father” as rights-bearing sons. His heart was so pained to see their turning back to such things, trying to live by their own effort, observing special days and months and seasons and years. Then Paul said, “I fear for you that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” It is true that we will also be fearful when all our efforts on something or someone turn out in vain, for precious time, especially, even upwards of five year or ten years, is irrevocable.

Look at verse 12. “I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.” In order to serve the Galatians, Paul became like them. As we studied, before Christ he was extremely zealous for the traditions of his father (1:14). He was a typical legalistic Jews. But after meeting Christ, he discarded all such things. With a clear life direction to live for Jesus’ name’s sake, he said that he had become all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some. He wanted to put aside any barrier that would hinder others from knowing Christ. He humbled himself to be like the Gentiles, being ready to be misunderstood by his own Jewish people and persecuted by the people of the world, even being stoned to the point of death. Certainly, he practiced the truth of the Incarnate Jesus. Now he pleads with them to be like him, not be like Paul, a Jew, but Paul a man in Christ. Paul was so satisfied with his life in Christ that he wanted the Galatians whom he had loved and served wholeheartedly to be like him, who through the law died to the law so that he might for God (2:19). Paul’s becoming like them was the means for them to become like him, which was the end.

Then Paul remembered their beautiful love for him in verses 12b-15. “You have done me no wrong. 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 and 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." Their love for Paul who preached the gospel to them was beautiful. Despite Paul’s weakness, they loved him, if possible even trying to pluck out their eyes and give them to Paul to cover up his weakness. And in their love for Paul they were full of joy.

And then Paul said, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Now their attitude toward Paul changed to the point of considering him their enemy, simply because Paul told them the truth. Humanly speaking, it was so painful and not understandable. Yet, Paul knew that the third party was involved in their mutual relationship. He said in verse 17-18, “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. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.” Paul knew that, though they had zeal, those people’s purpose was not good, as they wanted to alienate the Galatians from Paul and draw them to themselves. Paul wanted Galatians to discern this.

However, Paul did not engage in a human battle. To those men Galatians were just people whom they could use for their own honour and glory. But to Paul Galatians were his own children for he bore them in Christ by preaching the gospel and going through many hardships. Although they deserted Paul, he could not desert them. He could not just forget them and move. The LORD God said in Isaiah 49:15-16, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Paul had such a heart. When Paul thought of the Galatians who were turning back to the slavery under the weak and miserable principles despite his much effort for them, it was so painful that he felt like a mother who had a miscarriage. Yet, surprisingly he wanted to start all over again with the Galatians. Surely, Christs love and mercy and patience were ever real and living in Paul as he confessed, “I have been crucified with Christ and I longer live, but Christ lives in me.” So he said, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”

Here we see what a Christians should be like. In a Christian, Christ not only dwells but is also to be formed. Galatians were swayed by false teachers because Christ was not formed in them. Christian life is first of all inward. Nonetheless to say, the focus of Christian life is Christ. When Christ is formed inside, Christ can be visible from outside. Apostle Peter expressed the growth of a Christian this way in 1 Peter: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you. Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1:23-2:2). There are many obnoxious things in this deceptive world. They seem to be even similar to the pure spiritual milk. Christians are to watch out and distance themselves from such things and crave spiritual milk, purifying their hearts.

We also learn what a shepherd life should be like. It is to bear the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in the heart of each of God’s flock of sheep. Apostle Paul in one of his pastoral epistles, 2 Timothy, said to Timothy, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (4:2). Monica prayed for her wayward son Augustine for 17 years, shedding many tears. She never gave up on her son. Upon observing her tearful prayers, one nameless bishop remarked, "The child of those tears shall never perish." May we learn Paul’s heart attitude toward God’s flock of sheep.

Second, we are children of the free woman (21-31). Look at verse 21. “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?” So far in the letter of Galatians Paul had written that the gospel was attested in the Old Testament. Paul received the gospel by relation from Jesus Christ, yet in fact in order to justify the Gentiles by faith God announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” And also in chapter 3 Paul wrote that a promise, which stands for the gospel, given through Abraham was confirmed by the law of Moses and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Now he further argues about the gospel in light of the book of the law by telling the story of Abraham. He tells those who want to be under the law to clearly know what the law says so that they might come out of their misunderstanding and confusion and come back to gospel faith. He said of Abraham having two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born by the result of a promise. (Ro 4:19). These two sons from Abraham, a son born by the slave woman according to the flesh and a son born by the free woman according to the promise, represent two streams in God’s history.

So Paul said in verses 24 and 25. “These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.” Here we see that Hagar, Mount Sinai where God gave the law through Moses, and the city of Jerusalem where the temple was built, are related, together representing Judaism, bearing children in slavery enslaved by the law. This slavery started even from Abraham.

Then in verse 26, “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” The name Sarah is not mentioned, yet we can infer that Sarah represents the new covenant, while Hagar the old covenant given at Mount Sinai. It is implied that Sarah corresponds to the heavenly Jerusalem, where God reigns on his throne and his servants are fully transformed into his image. This heavenly Jerusalem is expressed on earth through the Christian church, and is the vessel through which the Holy Spirit works to give new birth to Gods children, spiritual and free. Both Judaism, a religion of bondage and Christianity, a religion of freedom stemmed from Abraham.

Look at verses 26 and 27. “For it is written: ‘Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labour pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.’” Paul quoted Isaiah 54:1. Its reference to two women, one barren and the other with children, is not to Hagar and Sarah, but to the Jews. The prophet is addressing the exiles in Babylonian captivity. He likens their state in exile, under divine judgment, to that of a barren woman finally deserted by her husband, and their future state after the restoration to that of a fruitful mother with more children than ever. In other words, God promises that his people will be more numerous after their return than they were before. This promise received a literal but partial fulfillment in the restoration of the Jews to the promised land. But its true, spiritual fulfillment, Paul says, is in the growth of the Christian church, since Christian people are the seed of Abraham.

What is Paul’s point of saying all this? What is the application? Look at verses 28 and 29. “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.” At that time the more-than-thirteen year-old boy, born according to the flesh, mocked and persecuted a just-weaned baby born according to the Spirit. Paul says, “It is the same now.” It has been true throughout history. Then verse 30 says, “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’” It can be applied both to a church and to a Christian. The promise of the gospel given to a Christian in God’s grace must be protected and grow with the legalistic elements being driven out. This is the reason Paul wanted to be again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in the Galatian Christians. And he wanted each of Galatian churches to be a true Christian church with Christ living in them and growing by the power of the Spirit, protected from the legalism and all the humanistic teachings by the truth of the gospel. Finally Paul said, “Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.” Paul encouraged the Galatian Christians that they are in the mainstream of God’s history as they keep gospel faith.

In this study we clearly see Paul’s shepherd heart for Galatians. In his pained heart he did not want them to turn back to the weak and miserable principles and be enslaved by them again. Calling them, “my dear children” he was willing to be again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in them. He wanted them to remain as true Christian church in the gospel and power of the Spirit. Especially, we pray that we may always focus on Christ in our Christian life and church to be all the more transformed in the image of Christ and bear the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in each of God’s flock of sheep, remaining as true Christian church in the gospel and by the power of the Spirit.

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