“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.” (Galatians 4:19–20)
Paul is directly and passionately urging the Galatians to not be drawn in by the Judaizers (legalists). They were being tempted to go back to a rules-based Christianity instead of the grace-based Christianity for which Jesus Christ died to provide them. Legalism is depending upon self. Grace is depending on Jesus Christ.
Paul had already experienced emotional and spiritual “labor” while pleading with them for their salvation. Now he feels like he is going through labor pains in his soul all over again as he urges them through loving confrontation to reject legalism. This was a big deal to Paul. It was not just some minor correction. He expresses to the Galatians that he will continue to experience this anguish of soul…until Christ was completely formed in their spirit.
As I studied this passage, I empathized with Paul. This is exactly how we feel many times when we are walking through some very deep, dark waters with our counselees. We are yearning, praying, pleading, confronting and comforting them with God’s Word so that Christ will be formed in them. This is true spiritual formation. This is the heart change that everyone of us needs
In his book, “Renovation of the Heart,” Dallas Willard captures the essence of spiritual formation. He states:
As Christ is being formed in us, it will affect our:
- Thoughts (concepts, discernment, images)
- Feelings (emotions, how we interact with our emotions)
- Choices (our decisions, our will, our character)
- Body (actions, interaction with the physical world, habits)
- Social Life (how we respond and relate to others)
All of this is forming our soul – out of which are all the issues of our life. (Proverbs 4:23)
As we sit across the table from believers and even ministry leaders who know the Word of God, who have preached the Word of God and even given counsel to others, whose personal lives and marital and family relationships have been greatly affected by their misguided and sinful choices, one of Willard’s statement rings true:
Choice is where sin dwells (Gen. 4:7)
It is in our daily, moment by moment choices where Christ is formed in us. How and what to think, how to interact with our feelings and emotions, how we make decisions, how we interact and discipline our bodies, how we interact and relate to others all of these involve choices.
Is Christ being formed in you? Are you believing the lie of the enemy that you can rest on your past performance and accumulated knowledge of Scripture and still live a life that is pleasing to God? If so, it is urgent to move towards God’s grace and away from self-dependence.
1. Take the time this week to inventory every area of your soul. Review the previous list by Willard and reflect on the following questions to evaluate your current growth in these areas:
- Is your inner life pleasing to God?
- Do you see Matthew chapter five being formed in your spirit?
- Do you respond to hostile people with kindness?
- Are you getting better at returning blessing for cursing?
- Are you able to live without becoming cynical?
- Are getting better at living without lust and covetousness?
- Take a break from your “Read through the Bible in a Year” practice and begin to memorize and mediate on Scripture that addresses the inner needs that surfaced during your inventory.
- Begin this journey with another believer who desires for Christ to be formed in them. If you are a pastor, it should be another pastor or a mature believer that has the freedom to enter into your journey for mutual edification and confrontation. I know that we always think we can skip this part, but we cannot.
“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17)
“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
I have come to the sobering realization that I am just a few choices away from ruining my life, my marriage, my family and my ministry. We are all just a series of choices away from becoming a statistic and bringing shame on the name of Christ.
Spiritual Formation touches the whole person, for their whole life.
It is not just a new believer’s class or, if you are really radical,
a discipleship course for a few weeks.
It is for all believers for life.
May we heed Paul’s anguish of soul as he pleads for us as followers of Christ and as ministry leaders, to choose to allow Christ to continue to be formed in us. We must intentionally create a culture of transparency, humility and continual spiritual formation in our personal lives, our homes and our local churches.
- “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” (2 Cor. 3:5–6)