It really is an incredible aspiration. One of those goals that’s so out there, you wonder if Paul was serious about thinking anyone could attain it. But if Paul wasn’t serious, then he’s being somewhat melodramatic with the Galatians. A little over the top with his “tummy ache” analogy if he believes, deep down, that what he’s hoping for is really a long shot.
But what if Paul’s “drama” is founded? What if the heavy affliction he said he felt he actually felt. What’s more, what if it was justified because the outcome he longed for in their lives was achievable? Then it should cause me to pause. To be in awe of the possibility. And, what’s more, to be in fresh wonder at the power.
It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
(Galatians 4:18-20 ESV)
Paul likened it to labor pains. The anguish of childbirth. I’ve been present for five of those. Glad I was the coach and doing the empathizing and not the carrier and the one doing the delivering. The pain of childbirth is an excruciating pain. And that’s how Paul describes the inner agony he had for his children in the faith. And how come? Because he wanted to see Christ formed in them.
Chew on that. Christ formed in them.
The Son of God’s life visible in their life. Jesus the Messiah mirrored in men and women. His mind, His heart, His passion, His priorities–all fully developed in those He redeemed. That’s what Paul sought for those He had led to faith in Christ. And not as some pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-by-and-by-but-probably-won’t-ever-happen outcome. No, Paul’s birthing symptoms were real because he knew that the possibility of Christ formed in you was real.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.
(Romans 8:28-29 ESV)
The Galatians were called according to God’s purpose. And that purpose entailed the possibility of being conformed to the image of His Son. No wonder Paul was sick to his stomach at the thought they were being derailed from God’s grand possibility.
But here’s the other thing that hits me as I noodle on this. Paul wasn’t telling them to do more in order to achieve their potential. Rather, it was to believe again in the power of the gospel.
What had begun by faith, would be completed through faith. They had received the Spirit because they believed the gospel, and Christ would be formed in them as they continued to believe the gospel.
That’s why Paul was so bent out of shape at those who corrupted the gospel with the law. Who, in anyway, even insinuated that what had begun as a work of God could somehow be completed as a work of man.
The power of the gospel is a salvation for everyone who believes. A salvation from sin past, to a glory future, with a metamorphosis toward Christ-likeness in the present. A gospel which promises the righteousness of His Son, available to everyone who believes. A righteousness that is “from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Rom. 1:16-17).
The gospel that justifies is the gospel that sanctifies. The power that declares us righteous in Him, is the power which makes us righteous through Him.
Christ increasingly formed in us is the possibility. The gospel of Christ is the power for us.
A possibility because of grace. A power to make known His glory.