It killed Paul to see his children in the faith going south. He had presented Christ to them as the One given for their sin. He had known the joy of them presenting themselves to God . . .of them having believed the truth of the gospel and having received, by faith, the promises of God. They had drunk from the deep, deep well of grace but now were being turned aside to “another gospel” . . . a gospel burdened with the law . . . a gospel tied to man’s best efforts at obedience . . . a gospel distorted by those who would seek a following for themselves . . . a gospel which was really no gospel at all. And it tore Paul up. How come?
After all, weren’t they saved, sealed, and secure in the finished work of Christ? Yeah, I’m thinking. But there was more at stake.
The new birth they had experienced, beyond rescuing them from judgment, was to form within them a new person. And not just some new and improved form of themselves, but the fullness of the salvation found in Paul’s gospel intends for the saved to become more like the Savior . . . for the sheep to take on the character of the Shepherd . . . for the bride to look more and more like the Bridegroom. And so, Paul found himself “again in the anguish of childbirth, until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
That’s the gospel Paul preached. Good news concerning God’s plan for dealing with sin and separation . . . AND, good news concerning God’s desired outcome for those whose sin had been forgiven, and had been brought near by the finished work of the cross and the blood of Christ. That outcome being that “Christ might be formed in you.”
And, you know, if there’s anything that might naturally cause me to embrace a system of “to dos” and “to don’ts,” it would be the pressure of having to have Christ formed in me. The thought that somehow, Christ forming was related to Pete performing. If there’s anything that would cause me to think I’d have to step up the discipline and gut out the holiness, it would be the expectation that, in some small manner, I have to be reflecting the nature of the holy Son of God.
Instead, Paul argues, because of such a lofty expectation, those who entered the family of God through amazing grace need to lean into amazing grace until Christ is formed in you. The life which was entered into by faith in the promises of God and the power of the risen Christ, would be the life fully realized through the same promises and the same power.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3 ESV)
It’s counter-intuitive in a way. That being more like Christ isn’t dependent on our best efforts, but is wholly linked to the good news that Jesus saves those who are incapable of saving themselves . . . that He forms Himself in those incapable of fashioning themselves after their Lord. That it’s as we cling to the gospel, the power of God for salvation–past, present, and future, that the grace found in the gospel morph’s us into the very image of Him who redeemed us. That the work He began, He completes (Php. 1:6).
And so, the grace that He has overflowed into our lives fuels a fire. A burning desire, born out of gratefulness for such grace, to seek the things of God even as we continue rest in the finished work of God.
Until Christ is formed in you . . . only by His grace . . . all for His glory.