Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 18 2013 - Galatians 4:8-5:1 – Christ formed in you

Paul can use striking and memorable pictures. He writes to the Galatians as one who laboured over them to bring them to faith. Now that they seem to be allowing themselves to be led away from the simplicity of the gospel, Paul writes “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you ...” (Galatians 4:19).

When Paul first ministered among these Galatians he laboured to bring them to know God (4:8) and to have faith in Christ. In the goodness of God his labours bore fruit; many were born again – given new life in Christ. Any parent of a new baby delights to watch their child grow up and develop; to watch their character forming. What will they be like? Paul’s concern is that those he has brought to faith should grow up into Christ; that Christ might be formed in them. By this he expresses his longing that their lives might become more and more shaped by the life of Christ; that the life and character of Jesus might shine through their lives. Now that they have gone astray, he is labouring over them again to this same end – that Christ might be formed in them.

This was God’s purpose when he laid hold of our lives; he purposed to make us like his Son. This is to be our great concern for ourselves and for all those who know God – or rather are known by God (4:9); that Christ might be formed in us; that our lives should become increasingly Jesus shaped. This is Christian spiritual formation.

And this is true freedom. Paul reminds the Galatians of the story of Abraham. God had promised him a son, but Abraham and his wife Sarah were very old and despaired of having children. Sarah persuaded Abraham to sleep with her servant Hagar. Hagar became pregnant and bore Abraham a son named Ishmael. Later, Sarah bore Abraham a son called Isaac; he was the miracle child that God had promised them. When Ishmael mocked his half-brother Isaac, God told Abraham to let Hagar and her son go, “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” (4:30 – Genesis 21:10).

Paul uses this story as an illustration of what is going on in his own day by giving it a surprising and shocking twist. Ishmael was the ancestor of those living in Arabia and Paul points out that this was the area where the law was given at Mt Sinai. The Jews who prided themselves as children of the promise, have, by their enslavement to the law become children of the slave woman. And Gentiles, who had no natural claim on God’s promises have become the miracle children of God’s making – you, says Paul, are, like Isaac, children of promise (4:28). So, Paul adds, don’t allow these slave children of Sinai to mock you and enslave you. Send them packing and stand firm in the freedom that is yours in Christ. Don't let them rob you of your inheritance.

Are there ways in which we are drawn away from the freedom that is ours in Christ? Are we tempted at times to trust in things we can do for ourselves rather than in what God has done for us and is doing in us?

Father God, you have made us your children through the Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to grow up in him and to rejoice in the freedom that is ours in him. Strengthen us by your Spirit that we may encourage one another to grow up to maturity in Christ. And help us to labour that others might come to know you and that Christ might be formed also in them.

Peter Misselbrook