Christ Formed in You


My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed [morpho-to fashion] in you.        Galatians 4:19

We believe the Apostle Paul wrote this his first letter, around 48 AD, to address the churches located in Galatia, established in his first missionary journey. These churches became representative of the transition required to bring old-covenant Jews into a new covenant relationship with God since questions were raised about the role of the Law of Moses within this new relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A council would be held in Jerusalem, led by the Apostle James, to determine this matter for all of Christianity, particularly for Gentiles (see Acts 15). In Verses 19-21, James concludes: 

Therefore, it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."

Having been a dedicated Pharisee before his salvation, Paul understood that many things had to change in his thinking, including his understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, to bring believers in Jesus, whether Jews or Gentiles, into an experience with the risen Lord. He describes this process in Galatians 4:19 above as likened to a mother in the throes of birth pangs. A little child needs to mature until the very image of Christ is impressed upon his heart. The Greek word is used of artists who shape their material into an image. Paul longed for these believers to be transformed into the image of Christ. It describes the Christian life as a kind of reincarnation of Christ in a believer's life. This is God's ideal and purpose - for Christ to live His life in and through each believer. 

Conformed to His Image 

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed [summorphos – formed together with] to the image of His Son so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.               Romans 8:28-29 

When Paul mentions being called according to His purpose, he defines foreknowledge as not just that God foreknows what believers will do but that God foreknows them. According to the Bible Knowledge Commentary: 

This eternal choice and foreknowledge involves more than establishing a relationship between God and believers. It also involves the goal or end of that relationship: Those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. The entire group is brought into a relationship with God in His eternal plan by divine foreknowledge, and choice is predestined. God determined the believers' destiny beforehand, namely, conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. By all saints being made like Christ (ultimate and complete sanctification), Christ will be exalted as the Firstborn among many brothers. The resurrected and glorified Lord Jesus Christ will become the Head of a new race of humanity, purified from all contact with sin and prepared to live eternally in His presence. As the "Firstborn," He is in the highest position among others. 

What the Law Could Not Do 

The emphasis of the formation process is on what has been done before the foundation of the world and through the work of God, particularly the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). The Law of Moses is not part of the equation. As Romans 8:1-5 states: 

Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in [union with] Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus [life-giving law of the Spirit through Christ Jesus – Goodspeed] has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh [hampered by human limitations], God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh [through the humanity of Christ] so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit [on a spiritual plane]. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on [phroneo – mindful of or devoted to, involving the will, affections, and conscience] the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.          Romans 8:1-5

Paul perceives life in Christ as being on a spiritual plane rather than a religious one, so this quality of life is not limited to man’s humanity but depends on and is submitted to the ability of the Holy Spirit. It is a life that can first be defined as without any condemnatory judgment, contrasting dikaĆ­oma (righteousness), the right given to the believer as a result of his acknowledgment of the lordship of God in his life (Zodhiates). That right is represented by the life-giving law of the Spirit of life in Christ, superior to the law of sin and death. The Law of Moses could never accomplish this reality since fulfilling it was dependent on humanity’s limited ability. 

Born of the Spirit

Verse 5 above emphasizes spiritual life as a mindset that occupies the will, affections, and conscience, as well as a devotion to that which is spiritual and originates with the Holy Spirit. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6). Paul further explains that the true Jew is not that which is on the outside but from the heart, by the Holy Spirit and not by the letter of the Law (Romans 2:29). Circumcision of the heart fulfills "the spirit" of God's Law instead of mere outward conformity to the Law. Some Jews followed the Law's regulation outwardly, but their hearts were far from God (Isaiah 29:13). A circumcised heart is one that is "separated" from the world and dedicated to God.       

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.           Romans 7:6 

who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.           2 Corinthians 3:6 

for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.             Philippians 3:3 

The effect of the letter of the Law was merely to produce condemnation, a sense of guilt and danger, and not pardon, relief, or joy. The Law denounced death and condemned sin in all forms. On the other hand, the newness of the Spirit produces eternal life, not dependent on the physical, but a quality of life that is truly supernatural. Instead of boasting about human accomplishments, as the Judaizers and Jews did, a child of God glories in Christ Jesus alone. The Law of Moses is replaced in the believer’s life by the person of Jesus Christ and manifested through the Holy Spirit. The development of the spiritual life is directly related to a willingness to be led by God. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons [not children] of God (Romans 8:14). 

Confidence in Christ 

I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake. For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. 8 Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love's sake, I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment.            Philemon 4-10 

One picture of this spiritual life is in Paul's letter to Philemon. His name means “affectionate," he was from Colosse and owed his conversion to the Christian faith to the apostle Paul. They became devoted friends; Paul referred to Philemon as a "beloved and fellow laborer in the faith.” Paul wrote to his friend in 61 AD from Rome while imprisoned. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus, who had most likely robbed Philemon and escaped to Rome. Somewhere along the way, Onesimus became a believer and was befriended by Paul. Paul sent both the Epistle and Onesimus back to Colosse. He requested that Philemon forgive and receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother (Verse 16). Paul also stated that he was willing to pay any damages caused by Onesimus.

In his letter, Paul expresses not only the intimate connection he had with Philemon but also Philemon’s impressive love for God and God’s people. Paul was so enamored with Philemon’s faith that he did not use his stature to order Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him as a brother in the faith. We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren (1 John 3:14). Paul was confident that Philemon would accept his appeal as a devoted friend. Philemon had found life in the Holy Spirit, which would allow him to forgive. 

Weightier Provisions 

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected [deserted] the weightier provisions [barus – having great importance, severe] of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness [sincerity, integrity]; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting [overlooking] the others.             Matthew 23:23

This was the fifth of the eight woes Jesus issued to the scribes and Pharisees, covered in chapter 23. He identified a hierarchy of religious issues and refers to them as the weightier provisions of the law, identified as justice and mercy and faithfulness (sincerity, integrity). The Jewish leadership were majoring on minors, straining out a gnat, while minoring on majors, swallowing a camel. Jesus most likely had Micah 6:8 on His mind when making this statement: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require [darash – seek, inquire, require] of you but to do justice [bring justice to those who have experienced injustice], to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? These issues represent the heart of a pure relationship with God by His Spirit, in Christ. 

to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.          Colossians 1:27



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