Galatians 4:19. my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
So I’ve personally never been pregnant or given birth. I have, however, had a ring-side seat for the pregnancies of my wife and the birth of my four children. And, although I don’t know much, I do know a couple things about pregnancy and childbirth – it is a long slow process, and it is never easy, but the end result is miraculous.
It can feel very strange and awkward to hear a man like Paul describe himself as being in the anguish of childbirth. And stranger still may be the imagery of us being pregnant with Christ – until Christ is formed in you. But this imagery actually serves us very well in understanding what union with Christ actually means.
Remember, Galatians is the very first New Testament writing that is really working out the doctrine of union with Christ. Nothing like this has ever been written before, or even thought of in these ways before. And what we are learning from Galatians is that union with Christ means being both in Christ, and having Christ in you. Galatians 2:20 showed us “in Christ.” Now, in Galatians 4:19 we see “Christ in you.” An understanding of both of these truths is crucial to living the Christian life. With just one or the other you will be imbalanced. If you see yourself as only in Christ, you will have grace but no growth. And if you only see yourself as having Christ in you, you will have “growth” without grace (which won’t be real growth).
But the fullness of your union with Christ is that you have both. Praise God! By grace through faith you are in Christ. Everything that needs to happen to you for full growth and final salvation has happened. It is finished. Christ has done it. You can rest. It’s all of grace. And at the same time, your life is an ongoing process of formation into Christ likeness. The Christ in us is being formed in us, growing in us, changing us. Just like that life inside the pregnant woman, Christ in us is actually producing outward change by his inward life. Which is the only way to truly change.
But how? How is Christ actually formed in us?
First, as we’ve already said, we must realize that Christ is formed in us only from the inside out. Behavior modifications, spiritual practices, added disciplines, and, of course, law keeping can never truly change us. Not without first trusting in the finished work of Christ IN us. Only by consistently seeing ourselves as complete in Christ’s son-ship, and by constantly crying to our Abba in dependence on him, will we begin to see the formation of Christ in us.
Second, we must trust that the formation of Christ in us is inevitable and it is unstoppable. Just like a baby in its mother’s womb has all it needs to grow, so Christ in you has given you everything you need to grow into Christ. A pregnant woman can’t “try hard” and make her baby grow inside of her, and you can’t try harder to grow in Christ. But you can trust that Christ IS BEING FORMED IN YOU. It is happening. Right now. And you can respond in faith to what Jesus is doing in you by his Spirit.
And third, we must understand that Christ being formed in us is joyful, but also a slow and painful process. God is absolutely in no hurry with us. He’s not going to finish the work in you until the last day, not before. Paul was in anguish and in labor over the Galatians precisely because they wanted quick and easy spiritual growth through law keeping. But there are no shortcuts to Christ-likeness. There is no “spiritual experience” that transforms us better or faster than the spiritual experience of Christ in you.
“To live is Christ” means that you are in Christ and Christ is in you. But the Christ in you is embryonic. A seed. A life that is slowly but surely growing you into the life and love of Jesus.
What have you been doing to grow spiritually? Has it been works or faith?
You in Christ
How does knowing that you are in Christ allow you to trust that Christ is being formed in you?
Christ in you
Christ is being formed in you? Can you see it? Where have you seen his life and love in you lately?
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