The apostle Paul writes to the Galatian Christians about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He questioned why they have left the true gospel for a false gospel. He has taught them that to turn back to the Law of Moses is to go back to immaturity and to leave the faith in Jesus altogether. Now Paul’s message becomes very personal. Paul describes what he is doing with these Christians as “the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (4:19). This is the goal that Paul desired for these Christians. He would continue to work with them, correct them, and teach them until Christ was formed in them. So what did they need to know and what did they need to do in order that Christ would be formed in them? When we learn this then we can learn how Christ can be formed in us.
Receiving the Truth of the Gospel (4:12-16)
The first picture of having Christ be formed in us is to listen to and receive the truth of the gospel. Notice that Paul praises the Galatians for receiving him the way they did. The Galatians did not pay attention to his bodily ailment, whatever that was. Even though his condition was a trial for them, they did not despise him but received him as a messenger of God. Apparently Paul’s condition was making it more difficult for him to deliver the message to them. But they did not care. It did not matter what Paul looked like or what difficulty he was having, they were happy to receive the gospel and recognize him as God’s messenger.
But now there is an issue. Listen to verse 16: “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Christ cannot be formed in them if they reject the truth because they do not like the message! Have you noticed this problem today? The truth is defined as simply what I want the truth to be. The truth is what I like. The truth is not absolute. The truth is what conforms to my desires and wants. But we will never know Christ nor be conformed to his image if we are unwilling to hear the truth. We cannot reject the message simply because we do not like it. The truth of the gospel is so important for the salvation of our souls and the growing of our faith. Christ cannot be formed in us if we are willing to reject the truth when it does not appeal to our flesh or our desires. Just because something sounds good does not make it right. Just because we want something to be true does not mean it is true to the word of God, which is the only place where truth resides. Our challenge is to have ears willing to listen to the word of God. We must create time to read God’s word. When we read or hear God’s word proclaimed, we must do so with ears and hearts ready to be changed. Christ will not be formed in us if we do not approach God’s word this way. How can this word change me? What do I need to hear from God today? We cannot approach the word with the idea that we are doing right, have everything right, and have no need for life changes and mind changes.
Watch Out For False Teachers (4:17-20)
The second way the Galatian Christians were taught to have Christ formed in them is by being watchful for false teachers. Notice what Paul says in verse 17. “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.” (Galatians 4:17 ESV) Paul tells them that the way to know that these people are false is that they treat you in such a way so that you will make much of them. They want the attention. They want a big deal made out of them. They are not humble servants of Christ. They want you to make over them and give them their recognition. This was the first thing I saw when we had a false teacher come to us. Before he even stepped foot in the building, the conversations we had on the phone were alarming. This was not a humble servant moving into the area, but a person with expectations of what everyone else was going to do for him. My radar was up immediately and unfortunately the concerns were quickly proven when he did arrive. This is what Paul wants these Galatians Christians to see. These teachers are not there for your well-being but are there for you to lift them up. You must see that in the way they treat you. Whose interest are they looking our for? God warned of this through the prophet Ezekiel so that they would see their leaders as false shepherds (cf. Ezekiel 34). Acts to elevate self reveal the heart of the person who claims to be a servant of the Lord. In our religious world today I think we see this most easily in the apparel and titles of the teacher. The pastor, priest, or whoever does not go by his first name, but is called father, reverend, pastor, or some other title. They wear clothes to make sure you know that they are someone important, someone to be distinguished from the rest. But these are not the acts of humble servants of God. Teachers must not see themselves as important or “in the limelight.” Rather they must see themselves as a servant of God and a servant to the flock. Paul wants them to see that the motives of these agitators is visible and to reject them so that Christ can be formed in them.
Know The Scriptures Well (4:21-31)
Finally, Paul is going to show them that they need to learn the scriptures well in order to have Christ formed in them. Since the agitators are telling the Galatians that they need to go back to the Law of Moses for salvation, Paul tells them that they should know the law even better because the law itself tells them that it cannot save. Paul uses the life of Abraham as an illustration for another truth.
In verse 22 Paul reminds us that Abraham had two sons: one from a slave woman, which was Hagar, and one from the free woman, which was Sarah. The son of the slave was born according to the flesh (4:23). This is an important observation, one that we saw in our study in Genesis. Ishmael was the child of human planning, human will, and human action. This was Abraham acting by faith in himself. However, the son of the free woman was born through promise. That is, Isaac was a child of God’s planning, God’s will, and God’s action alone. This was Abraham acting by faith in God.
Verse 24 tells us that these two women and their children represent two covenants. Hagar, the slave woman, is from Mount Sinai and bears children for slavery. Notice that Sinai produces children of slavery. This also corresponds with present Jerusalem (4:25), that is, present Judaism. In short, Hagar represents the Law of Moses, the first covenant that was given to Israel, which produces children in slavery.
However, Sarah represents spiritual Jerusalem. Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1 to prove this assertion. The barren one will have more children and Christians are the children of promise. Particularly, even Gentile Christians are the children of promise. Now watch the conclusions Paul draws from this in verses 29-31. First, in verse 29 Paul points out that Ishmael persecuted Isaac (the one born according to the Spirit). Please notice that being of the promise is the same as being born according to the Spirit. But then Paul says that as it was then so it is now. Those born according to the flesh are persecuting those born according to the Spirit. Second, in verse 30 Paul notes the instruction to cast out the slave woman and her son because they are not part of the inheritance. They have no part of the inheritance because they are of the flesh and are going to back to Sinai. So cast them out because they are not children of the slave but children of the free woman, children of the promise.
Now this is an amazing instruction. What I want us to see is that you need to know the scriptures, and know them well, for Christ to be formed in us. We are not called to just know a few basics about the gospel and be satisfied with that. Yet often this can be the attitude toward the scriptures. There can be a lack of desire to dig deeper and to know more about our Lord. This was the problem the writer of Hebrews encountered also.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 6:1–3 ESV)
God calls us to move to maturity and not be satisfied with our present knowledge. If we want to draw near to God then we have to continue to grow. If we want to have Christ formed in us, then we must continue to drink deeply from the word of God.
Seeing Freedom In Christ (5:1)
There is one more picture of how we know that Christ is formed in us. Listen to what Paul says in chapter 5, verse 1.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
Christ won freedom for us. Don’t go back to the yoke of slavery, neither the idolatry nor the Law of Moses. We will consider more about this next time. But consider this one final point. You are free when you stay away from sin. You are free when you are clinging to Christ with all your might. You are free when you desire is for Jesus and his gospel. We think sin is freedom. But every sin enslaves. You are free when you turn from sin. People today are so enslaved to their desires in the name of freedom. They think they are free and are proclaiming their freedom, but they live enslaved to those sexual passions and desires. They cannot see that they are not free at but are only more and more enslaved. Sinful desires do not free us but cause us to not be able to do what we want to do. The flesh wins the battle over the mind and our freedom is lost. Christ has set us free. Do not go back to any kind of slavery by the way you live your life. Christ is formed in you when you see Jesus as your freedom, not your obligation or duty. Enjoy freedom in Christ. Give your life to him and he will set you free!