05 Nov Galatians 09: Christ formed in us
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. 12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Imagine a group of prisoners of war who spent years in prison enduring terrible conditions. They were tortured, forced to work, and only had just enough food to live another day. Then peace was finally negotiated between the countries, and they were returned to their homeland. They were given medical attention, bathed, and given new clothes. And they were brought into a restaurant and told they could eat whatever and however much they wanted. They quickly ordered Lestari fried rice, KFC, double bacon cheeseburger, supreme pizza, indomie, and many others. These former prisoners were enjoying their freedom. But what if we discovered that after a few months, these former prisoners wanted to go back to the prison cell? What if they told their superiors that they wanted to return to captivity? We would say, “Have they lost their mind? What were they thinking? That’s insane.” This is Paul’s frustration with the Galatians.
Let’s recap quickly what we have learned so far. Paul founded the Galatian church, and he taught them the gospel. Paul taught them that they are not saved by what they do but by faith in Christ. Then came along false teachers who said, “No, no, no. Paul’s teaching is incomplete. You will never be saved unless you obey the law of God and get circumcised.” So, the false teachers were teaching these three steps of salvation. “Believe Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, obey God’s law the best you can, and then you will be saved.” But Paul had taught them, “Believe Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, the moment you believe you are saved, and then you proceed to obey God’s law.” In other words, the false teachers said that salvation is the result of obedience, while Paul said that obedience is the result of salvation. And this is not simply a matter of order. These two approaches make all the differences in the world. They are two different religions, two different philosophies, two different worldviews. And they result in two different ways of life. One leads to slavery, and the other leads to freedom. And last week we looked at how Paul told the Galatians that they had been brought from slavery to sonship. They were free from the bondage of the law. They were no longer prisoners of the law. The problem is that the Galatians were influenced by the false teachers to return to the slavery of the law. And Paul is asking, “Have you lost your mind? Why would you do that? Why would you want to go back under the curse of the law when Christ had freed you from it?” One preacher said that what they did is like a dog who returns to lick its own vomit. And listen. Christians are those who had been freed from slavery to sonship. So, why would we ever want to go back from sonship to slavery? That’s the summary of what happened so far. And in today’s passage, Paul will show the difference between his ministry and the ministry of the false teachers.
In Galatians chapters one to three, we have been listening to Paul the apostle and Paul the theologian. But today, we will hear Paul the pastor and Paul the spiritual parent. His words are filled with personal affection. And let me be honest. I enjoyed preparing the first part of this sermon. However, preparing the second part of the sermon was awkward for me. Because it is about the relationship between me as the pastor and you as the congregation. I don’t know if you realize but I usually leave this kind of passage for Edrick to preach. This is why it is healthy to do expository sermons on books of the Bible. It makes me preach on passages that I would not choose otherwise. And it is my job to teach what the Bible says, not what I want to say. So, let’s get into the text.
Three things that the text shows us: gospel concern; gospel ministry; gospel goal.
Galatians 4:8-11 – 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
Before the Galatians were converted through Paul’s preaching of the gospel, many of them had been idol worshippers and had lived immoral lifestyles. They worshipped many different gods who enslaved them. Paul called them the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. In the ancient world, there were many different gods and people would try to appease different gods based on their needs. So, if you were a farmer and you needed rain, you would need to appease the god of rain. If you were going to go on a journey via sea, you would want to appease Poseidon, the god of the sea, to arrive at the destination safely. If you wanted to get pregnant, you would appease the god of fertility, and so on. And then they heard the gospel, and they were set free from those false gods. But now Paul says, “Why are you turning back to the worthless elementary principles of the world? Why would you want to be slaves once again?” Now, listen. On the surface, it seems like Paul is warning them to not go back to their former religions and gods. “Don’t go back to worshipping Zeus; don’t worship Poseidon; don’t worship Athena etc.” But that’s not what Paul is saying. Remember the context of Galatians. The problem with the Galatians is not that they returned to their former religions. Their problem is the problem of biblical legalism. What is biblical legalism? It is using obedience to God’s law as a way to be made right and pleasing to God. The false teachers were not encouraging them to neglect God’s law and return to their old life. That’s not what happened. They were telling them to obey God’s law in order to be accepted by God. And the Galatians accepted their teaching. They also began to observe Jews’ special days, months, and years, such as all the Old Testament feasts and festivals. So, here is what Paul is saying. And it is shocking. Trying to earn salvation through religious obedience to the law is just as much enslavement as worshipping idols and all their immoral practices. Worshipping other gods and biblical legalism are basically the same thing. Both are spiritual slavery. In the end, the religious person is as lost and enslaved as the irreligious person. Why? Because both are trying to be their own saviour in different ways. In other words, Paul is saying the only alternative to the gospel is idolatry.
Let me explain. What is the elementary principle of the world? The elementary principle of the world is that we must do something to save ourselves. Our salvation is in our hands. And we will worship what we think we need to save and fulfil ourselves. And whatever it is that we worship, it will enslave us. For example, if we put our greatest hope in money, we will be controlled and enslaved by money. If we are not doing well at making money, we will be devastated. And even if we are doing well at making money, we never feel enough. If anything threatens our ability to make money, we will be filled with fear. If anything blocks us from making more money, we will be filled with anger. If we make mistakes and lose lots of money, we will want to kill ourselves. If we succeed in making more money, we will become prideful and we want even more money. John Rockefeller, one of the richest people of all time, was once asked this question. “How much money does it take to make a man happy?” He replied, “Just one more dollar.” Can you see it? We are enslaved by money. Paul is saying that if we treat things that are not gods as though they are, we become slaves to them spiritually. So, how can obedience to God’s law be considered an enslavement to false gods? Think about it. If we think we are saved by our obedience, we will turn our obedience into a false god. We will rely on our church attendance, bible-reading, ministry in the church, to tell us that we are accepted before God. And when we turn those good things into a false god, it will enslave us. We will continue to look to our obedience to save us, and it is never enough. Instead of trusting Jesus and following Jesus, we are trying to save ourselves through our obedience to the law. We are trying to be our own saviour and we are just as enslaved.
A good example is Jesus’ story of the two brothers in the parable of the prodigal son that we looked at last week. The father had two sons: the younger brother and the elder brother. The former Galatians were like the younger brother. He was out there sinning and fornicating, pursuing an immoral irreligious life. The elder brother was the opposite. He was very moral and very religious. And he stuck close to his father and did everything his father said. He was very obedient. And the current Galatians were like the elder brother. When the younger brother returned and things did not turn out as he expected, do you remember what the elder brother said to his father? “Father, I have served you for many years. I never disobeyed your command. But you never gave me a young goat to celebrate with my friends.” Do you know what that is? Enslavement. The point of the parable is both sons wanted the father’s wealth but not the father’s heart. Neither of them loved the father. Both were alienated from the father. That’s what idolatry does. Idolatry makes us say, “I am going to be my own saviour. I am the master of my life. I don’t want to give up control to God. I can do it on my own. I am capable.”
And here is the danger. Do you remember what happened at the end of the parable? The immoral younger brother repented and went into the father’s house, while the moral religious elder brother stayed outside in anger. Don’t miss this. The idolatry and slavery of religion are worse than the idolatry and slavery of the irreligion because it is less obvious. The irreligious person knows he is far from God, but the religious person does not. This tells us that we can be incredibly moral and religious. We can know all the right Christian doctrines. We can be sexually pure and generous. And we are just as enslaved as those who do not care about God and sleep with a different person every night. Because we are refusing the gospel of grace and trying to earn our own salvation by our own works. Let me read you a strong quote from John Piper. “Satan does not care if you try to keep the Ten Commandments, provided that you take the credit for keeping them. In fact, he will assist your moral resolve if you will do it that way. Satan does not mind if you come to church, or teach Sunday School, or preach, or lobby for a human life bill, or seek prayer in the schools—he’s all in favor of whatever your moral agenda is, provided you rely on yourself instead of the Spirit of Christ and take credit for it yourself instead of humbly giving all glory to God.” Listen. Satan loves to make us obey God for the wrong reasons. He has no problem at all with us trying to obey God to save ourselves.
So, let me ask you a question. Why are you here today? If you are here because you believe your church attendance somehow makes you acceptable before God, then you are as enslaved as someone who is out there partying and getting drunk on Sunday afternoon. According to Paul, you are enslaved to idols, and you are not worshipping Jesus. You are in church, but you are not walking in freedom. You are in church because it is Sunday. It is what you do to be in God’s good book. But your heart is heavily laden. You are weary and exhausted. You don’t have a genuine love for God. You are simply here to earn some merit points before God. And the danger is, you think you know God. You think you know God because of all the things you do for God. But that’s not Christianity. That’s you trying to save yourself by your works instead of trusting Jesus’ perfect works.
Do you know what Christianity is? Galatians 4:9 – But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? When Paul says you have to come to know God, or rather to be known by God, he is not saying that you don’t really know God, but it is okay because God knows you. What Paul is saying is, which one is the primary? What makes you a Christian? Is it your knowing of God? Or God’s knowing of you? And Paul says that the primary is not that you know him. It is not that you feel his love, you experience his grace, and you pray to him day and night. That’s great but that’s not what makes you a Christian. What makes you a Christian is that God knows you. What makes you a Christian is that God loves you, God has chosen you, and God has shown his grace to you. Listen. What makes you a Christian is not so much your knowing of God but God’s knowing of you. The weight is not on your love for God but on God’s love for you. Your knowing of God will go up and down depending on your situation. But the good news is God’s knowing of you is absolutely fixed and unchanging. This is the gospel. And if you get the gospel, your performance means nothing. All that matters is God knows you. And you are already beautiful and accepted because of your faith in Jesus. You no longer have to prove yourself to God. You are no longer enslaved by your performance. You are free in Christ. The basis of Christian assurance is not how much your heart is set on God, but how unmoveable God’s heart is set on you. So, Paul is saying to the Galatians and us, “Don’t treat Christianity like your past religion. Christianity is not about you and your performance. It is about God and Jesus’ perfect performance for you. So, don’t go back to the slavery of religion when you already have the freedom of the gospel.” That’s Paul’s argument. And Paul is worried that his previous ministry to the Galatians is in vain because the Galatians have returned to the bondage of the law rather than living in the freedom of the gospel. So, Paul is going to appeal to them based on the personal relationship he had with them.
Galatians 4:12-16 – 12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
In these verses, we get an insight into Paul’s relationship with the Galatians. Apparently, Paul did not plan to go to Galatia and preach the gospel there at first. But he got sick, and he had to make a detour. It was Paul’s illness that brought him to Galatia. But here is the wonderful part. Paul might not have planned to go to Galatia, but God had planned from eternity past that Paul would go to Galatia and preach the gospel in Galatia. And God used Paul’s illness to bring him to Galatia. As a result, hundreds of lives were transformed. This is a wonderful example of how God used painful suffering to bring much good. This is also a great reminder that even when life does not work out according to our plans, it is always within God’s plan. God intentionally messed with Paul’s strategic plan using illness, and he brought Paul to Galatia to change the eternal destiny of many people. Let that be an encouragement. If God messes up your plan and brings you into unexpected pain and circumstances, God knows exactly what he is doing. God is the ultimate economist. He does not waste anything. He is the expert in bringing the greatest good out of the smallest setback.
So, Paul is encouraging the Galatians to become like Paul. This is not him being narcissistic. Paul is not telling the Galatians to imitate his personality or his fashion style. He is telling the Galatians to imitate his freedom in the gospel. He is trying to encourage them to walk in the freedom he is walking in. Paul is as free as anyone can get. It doesn’t matter what happens to him, he is untouchable. He says in Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through him who strengthens me. This is one of the verses that is often used out of context. A Christian sports athlete would quote this verse to say that God will give him the strength to win the championship. Okay, that’s cute. But that’s not what Paul is saying. If we read in context, Paul is saying, “I’ve been through many difficulties in life. I have experienced poverty. I know what it means to sleep in a cold, concrete dungeon. I know what it feels like to be in need. I went through many hardships. But I also know what it means to have plenty. In whatever situation, I have learned to be content. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s what Paul is saying. Matt Chandler often said you couldn’t touch a man like Paul. If you threatened to kill him, to die is gain. If you were going to leave him alone, to live is Christ. If you beat him to get him to stop preaching the gospel, he wouldn’t count the present suffering as worthy to be compared to the future glory. If you put him in prison, he would sing and convert all the guards. Paul is a free man. And he is inviting the Galatians to live in the same freedom, rather than live in the slavery of the law. The law doesn’t bring freedom; it is the gospel that gives freedom.
But he doesn’t stop there. He says, “become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” Paul is encouraging them to be like Paul because Paul also has become like them. What Paul means is when he first came to Galatia, he adapted to them. He identified with them. Paul said elsewhere, “To the Jew, I became like a Jew; to the Greek, I became like a Greek.” It doesn’t mean Paul compromised the gospel for the sake of getting along. Our series on Galatians shows us how unyielding Paul is when it comes to the gospel. Paul will fight to the death for the gospel. Even if it is an angel who preaches a different gospel, Paul would not be afraid to punch him in the face and kick the angel out of the church. He is absolutely inflexible when it comes to the gospel. But to the Galatians, he became like them. Which means he is culturally flexible. He is not bound by his Jewishness. He lived with them, ate with them, played with them. He adapted his ministry to their problems, their needs, their difficulties, and their issues. I love the way Timothy Keller puts it. “A ministry that’s energized by the gospel is flexible and adaptable with everything apart from the gospel. It is not tied to every specific of culture and custom. Its leaders can come and truly live among the people they are seeking to reach and adopt their ways and love them.” And this is the opposite of the false teachers. The false teachers only want people to become like them, to become Jews. One of the marks of a legalistic mindset is that it is inflexible, and obsessed with making people look like them. But listen. The marks of a person who has been transformed by the gospel are they are absolutely unyielding about the gospel, and they are incredibly flexible about everything else.
So, when Paul first came to Galatia with his illness, the Galatians loved him. Whatever Paul’s sickness was it made him unpleasant to be around. But they welcomed him as if he was an angel of God. They welcomed him as if he was Jesus. They loved Paul so much that they would have given him anything. They were even willing to gouge out their eyes and give them to Paul. Just out of curiosity, how many of you would gouge out your eye for me? Don’t raise your hand. The love the Galatians had for Paul was real and intense. But now there is a great change. The joy and the love they had for Paul is gone. Now they see Paul as an enemy because Paul is telling them the truth and rebuking them for walking away from the gospel. Paul’s point is simply this. “Galatians, I have not changed. My gospel is still the same. My love for you is the same. It is you who changed. You used to love the gospel and welcomed me. But now you are under the influence of others who have a very different message from me. And they have a very different goal than me. Have I then become your enemy for telling you the truth?” Paul says some harsh things to the Galatians, not because he hates them, but because he loves them. He is willing to risk his relationship with them by telling them the truth instead of telling them what they want to hear. And here is a point of reflection for all of us. Do we want to be faithful, or do we want to be popular? If want to be faithful to the gospel more than pleasing people, we will have people who look at us like we are their enemy. And I pray that we may be like Paul: unyielding about the gospel and flexible about everything else.
Galatians 4:17-20 – 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Here Paul is unravelling the false teachers’ goal. Their goal is to make much of the Galatians so that the Galatians may make much of them. In other words, the false teachers are not interested in the Galatians’ spiritual growth. Their goal is for the Galatians to like them. This is another form of salvation by works. Just as the false teachers are teaching the Galatians to earn their salvation by works, so they are earning their salvation by works; it is salvation by ministry. The more people like their ministry, the more they feel like they have earned their salvation. So, they don’t minister to the Galatians because they love them, but because they need them. They need the Galatians to obey them and adore them. The more the Galatians obey and adore them, the more they can be assured that they are good believers and are accepted by God. That’s why they only say things that the Galatians like to hear. Why? So that the Galatians will like them back. The false teachers want to be built up by building the Galatians up not in the gospel but in pride and self-righteousness. So, if we come to church and we only want to hear messages that make much of us, we are just like the Galatians.
Let’s be real. I know many of you come to church today with difficult issues in your lives. Some of you are having difficulties in your marriage. Some of you are having financial situations that feel crushing. Some of you have loved ones who are sick. Some of you have children who are walking away from God. You come to this place with many issues. And do you know what you want to hear? For me to say, “If you just do this and that, then your issue will go away. If you put $100 in the offering box instead of $10, then God will deal with your problem. If you commit to join a ministry and MC, then all your issues will go away.” And then you leave happy, and I leave happy because I love that I made you happy, and you happy make you love me more. So, we have this dark symbiotic, dysfunctional cycle where we make much of each other, but for no good purpose. It only leads to you depending on me and me depending on you. And that is extremely dangerous. But that’s how you build a crowd. For me to make empty promises that make much of you, so you make much of me. But in the end, it will do us no good. It will crush us. That is what is happening between the false teachers and the Galatians.
However, Paul’s goal is very different. Paul is not interested in having a fan club. His goal is to see Christ formed in the Galatians. Paul is not trying to get fans but to get people to follow Christ as he does. He does not want people to become dependent on him; he wants people to become dependent on God. Listen to what John Calvin said. “If ministers wish to do any good, let them labour to form Christ, not to form themselves, in their hearers.” This must be the goal of every preacher who preach in this pulpit. The focus of gospel ministry is not on the teachers but on Christ. And this is my deep prayer for all of us every week, that Christ may be formed in us. Not only Christ dwells in us, but Christ is formed in us. Listen. The goal of gospel ministry is not numerical growth but Christlikeness. That’s what I long to see. The reason behind everything we do as a church is that we may grow in Christlikeness. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about numerical growth. Numerical growth is good. But numerical growth without Christlikeness is vain. Can you see the goal difference between Paul and the false teachers? The false teachers do not have the glory of God or the good of the Galatians in mind. They only have their selfish interest at heart. The false teachers want fans to glorify them; Paul wants disciples who glorify Christ.
And Paul says he is in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in them. When I first read it, I thought, “That’s an interesting language for a guy.” He is using the anguish of childbirth to describe his pain. Like a mother who longs to give birth to a child, Paul longs to see the Galatians transformed for the glory of Christ. Do you know what that means? It means that when you become a pastor, it is like becoming a mother. Moms, isn’t true that as much as you love the child in your womb, you cannot wait for the child to come out of your womb? As much as you love the child in your womb, you don’t want your child to stay there. You willingly go through the pain of labour to see your child come out of your womb. That’s a picture of a pastor. As a pastor, you eagerly wait to see Christ be formed in the lives of the congregation. And until that happens, you are in labour. And here is my encouragement for you. Find yourself some pastors who have the gospel goal over your life. You need them. You don’t want pastors who tickle your ears. You want pastors who preach the gospel truth into your life, whether you like to hear it or not. You want pastors who are in labour until they see Christ formed in you. Whether that be in this church or other church, you must have pastors who love Jesus and the gospel more than they want your like on Instagram. Why? Because then you also need to be the kind of people who are in labour until you see Christ formed in the lives of people around you. These verses apply not only to pastors but to everyone who has been entrusted with the gospel, i.e. every Christian. Have pastors like this and be a person like this.
Last verse, Galatians 4:20 – I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. Paul would love to change his tone and be affirming and kind. But he cannot because he is perplexed about the Galatians. Paul rather tell them the gospel truth than receive their praise. Because Paul understands it is only the gospel that can produce Christlikeness in them. The moment they walk away from the gospel, Christianity no longer has its power. Christianity minus the gospel is a dead religion; it is slavery instead of freedom. And because Paul loves the Galatians, he chooses to tell them the truth even if it makes him their enemy. Can you see what happened? The gospel frees us from seeking people’s approval so we can confront people for their good. And this is the only way we can confront people in a way that brings changes. If we love ourselves more than we love them, we won’t tell them the truth they need to hear because we don’t want to risk their anger. On the other hand, if we tell them the truth they need to hear without the agony of love, they won’t listen to us. But if we speak the truth with love, there is a high chance that what we say will penetrate the heart and heal. And only the gospel can enable us to do so. The gospel tells us that we are all sinners saved by grace. It means we have no reason to think that we are better than those we confront. It humbles us. But at the same time, we are bold. We already have the perfect approval of the God of the universe, and we don’t need to seek the approval of others. We are free to confront people with the truth. We are humbled, but we are bold. As a result, we can say to others, “Become like me because I became like you.” So, listen. We don’t confront people for the sake of being right; we confront people with humility for the sake of Christ being formed in them. That’s what we are called to do as Christians.
But how can we do this well? There is only one way. We must see how Jesus did it for us. Do you know what Jesus did for us? Jesus became like us so that we may become like him. Jesus Christ, the great God of heaven and earth, the Creator of the universe, became like us. He humbled himself and became one of us. The infinite became finite. The immortal became mortal. The king became a servant. And he experienced what we experienced. He was hungry, he was in pain, and he was abandoned by the people closest to him. He was tempted in every way we are tempted, and yet he did not sin. He succeeded where we could not. He spoke the truth in love, but he was treated like an enemy. He came to save his people, but his people rejected him and crucified him. Why did he do that? So that Christ may be formed in us. Jesus became us and took the condemnation of our sins on the cross, so that when we put our faith in him, we may become like him. And just like Paul is in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in the Galatians, Jesus has bound his heart with us. He lives for our joy. He lives for our happiness. He lives for our glory. And he won’t rest until Christ is formed in us. This is the gospel. When we know what Jesus has done for us, we can do the same for others. We won’t mind being misunderstood and hurt by others for the sake of Christ being formed in them because that is how Christ is formed in us. Church, you need pastors like this. And you need to be Christians like this. But above all, you already have a God like this, his name is Jesus Christ. Rejoice in that truth. Let’s pray.
- What struck you the most from the sermon?
- Why is trying to earn salvation by works as much enslavement as worshipping idols?
- In your own words, what does it mean to be a Christian?
- What does it look like to be unyielding about the gospel and flexible about everything else in your daily life?
- What is the gospel goal and why we must never leave the gospel behind?