Paul continues his argument against the false teachers’ theology but now makes his pleas personal. After telling the Galatians in verse 11 that he fears his work with them was in vain, he now reminds them how eagerly they accepted the gospel when he preached it to them. He asks if they remember how they accepted him in love under less than ideal circumstances. He refers to them as my children and tells them his greatest wish is that Christ is formed in them.
These verses show clearly how this is a personal letter written between people with very human concerns, yet written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so it speaks to us today. What greater goal is there than having Christ formed in us the same way as the Galatians? Is there a better use of time than making sure we understand what Paul means and its ramifications for our lives? His wish for the Galatians is the same wish any Christian parent has for his kids and ultimately what our heavenly Father wants for us.
Paul begins this section with an odd statement. He begs the Galatians (note that he calls them brethren – he does not speak as an apostle but as a Christian brother) to become as I am, for I also have become as you are. What does it mean that the Galatians should become like Paul since he has become like them? And what is the point of becoming like someone who has become like you? It is almost kind of circular – “become like yourself.”
What Paul seems to mean is that he wants the Galatians to share in the freedom he has in Christ. “Become as I am” is to say, “Be crucified with Christ as I am, become free from the constraints of the Law.” It is similar to what Paul told King Agrippa in Acts 26:29 – “I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am.” He longs for the Galatians to experience Christ as he does. This coincides with what he will tell them in verse 19 – he wants Christ formed in them as Christ has been formed in him (Paul).
The second part of the statement – I have become as you are – refers to Paul throwing off the constraints of the Jewish dietary laws and the command to separate from Gentiles so he could fellowship and eat with them. He became like a Gentile so he could minister to them. This is an example of what he told the Corinthians about becoming all things to all men so he could win more to the gospel – I Corinthians 9:19-23. Sadly and ironically, Paul has become a Gentile to win the Galatians just as they are embracing Judaism to obtain salvation.
Paul is trying to get the people to remember what he did to make sure they heard the gospel. He wants to remind them of how he gladly fellowshipped with them and did not hold to the exclusiveness of the Jewish Law. And he desperately wants them to go back to the original gospel as he preached it and to share in the life he lives in Christ. He BEGS them to become as he is. He writes with a sense of urgency because the stakes are so high. These are his brethren and he loves them and wants what is best for them.
In these verses Paul reminds the Galatians of the circumstances surrounding his coming to them originally and how they responded to him. He begins by saying, “You have done me no wrong.” They did not treat him poorly – they received him well. In 13 and 14 he gives more information about his time with them. He was ill and his illness forced him to Galatia – either he became sick on the way or an illness precipitated that he stay longer than planned. He does not explain what the sickness was (nor does Luke in recounting the trip in Acts), but it apparently was something that disfigured Paul or made him unpleasant to be around – “…and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loath, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.” It could be that it affected his eyes since he says in verse 15 that they were willing to gouge out their own eyes and give them to him.
He makes it clear that they loved him and received his message enthusiastically. They loved the gospel so much they listened to him teach it even in the midst of his illness. They loved the message and received Paul as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. They recognized Paul’s authority as Christ’s apostle (1:1) and recognized his words as those of the Savior.
This leads to his question in verse 15 – “Where then is that sense of blessing you had?” What happened? What happened to the people who loved Paul and loved the gospel? What happened to their sense of being blessed with the gospel and blessed that God sent one of His own to tell them the good news? They who were willing to give Paul their eyes now see him as the enemy (verse 16). How could they have changed so dramatically and so quickly? Do they remember at all what his time with them was like?
He says they think he is their enemy – perhaps he says this because of reports he has heard about them – but says it is only because he tells them the truth. He tells them they are wrong and the false teachers are wrong. He does not mince words because he cannot bear them falling away from the true gospel. “I have not done any wrong to you – I simply tell the truth and you hate me for it.”
Paul explains the motives behind the false teachers’ wooing of the Galatians. He says they eagerly seek you – but only so you may seek them. The false teachers have impure motives – they are ultimately in it for themselves. They make much of the people but only so the people will make much of them. It is all about self – not the gospel and not Christ.
And because they have selfish motives they wish to shut you out – perhaps meaning the false teachers try to keep the Galatians from the gospel or from other believers. The ones propagating the false gospel do not want the Galatians to hear the true one – they want them all for themselves so there is no danger of them hearing the truth and following it. Paul will further expound on this thought in 6:12-13.
He does say in verse 18 that it is good to be sought – it is OK for people to have others treat them well if the motives are sincere. But his wish is that the Galatians themselves would be more eager to seek the truth as they did when Paul was with them. He wants them to love the gospel as they did when he first presented it to them.
He finishes this passage in verse 19 with a loving and desperate appeal. He calls them my children and tells them he feels like he is in labor with them. He agonizes so much and so strongly desires the best for them that it is like a woman in labor. But in their case he is in labor again – like a mother giving birth to the same child twice. They once believed and became babes in the gospel but now have need to go back to that original birth – they have forgotten what they first accepted. And though giving birth twice is not natural – he should not be in labor with them again – it is where he is because of his concern and love for them.
He is in labor until Christ is formed in them. In contrast to the false teachers he does not minister to them for his own benefit. His goal is that they accept the gospel, become free from the Law, and become like the Son who saves them. He summarizes the goal of Christian living in five words – Christ is formed in you. This goes along with what he has said in other parts of the letter – he wants them to be crucified with Christ and have Christ live in them rather than living for themselves (2:20) and he wants them to be clothed in Christ (3:27). He wants their lives to look more and more like Christ – to be formed into His likeness. He does not want them just to accept a theology or to profess belief – he wants them transformed.
This is an interesting way of referring to being truly Christian. The believer is not only one who professes faith, but one who is transformed into the likeness of Christ; indeed Christ indwells the believer and this means a complete change. Paul is not looking for a few minor alterations in the Galatians but for such a transformation that to see them would be to see Christ. – Leon Morris
He ends in verse 20 with a similar but less intense observation than he did in verse 11. I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. He wishes he could see for himself what is happening with them. And he still cannot get over that they have chosen the slavery of the Law over freedom in Christ. He would love nothing more than to treat them as fellow believers – as he once did – rather than having to fight to have them go back to their first love. He loves them and agonizes over them and fears for them – but he wishes he could simply love them and share in the transformation of their lives as they become more and more like Christ.
Christ Formed in You
In Romans 8:29 Paul explains that the good that God causes all things to work toward is that we become conformed to the image of God’s Son. He tells the Ephesians that we are to grow up in all aspects into Christ (4:15), that we are to lay aside our old selves which were corrupted by the lusts of deceit and put on a new self which is in the likeness of God (4:22-24). In II Corinthians 3:18 Paul says the Spirit works within us to transform us into the likeness of Christ.
In all these references plus what he says in verse 19 (as well as 2:20 and 3:26-29), the thought Paul discusses is that believers are completely transformed when they accept the gospel. As Christ’s followers we do not simply agree with His teaching or follow His doctrine – we actually crucify ourselves and live as He lives. Our lives become His and our ways of life become LIKE His. We begin a lifelong process of becoming individuals who present Christ to the world by our lives. We become clothed with Christ such that others see Him when they look at us.
This is more than looking down at a WWJD bracelet – this is actually becoming a version of Christ. It is sharing His nature – having Him live in us rather than living our lives ourselves. We live our lives in the flesh THROUGH Him. It is crucifying ourselves and our rights and our self-awareness and becoming one with Him. It is sacrificing our name and identity to Him (we do not hyphenate our last names when we become one with Him – we give them up entirely). It is uniting with Him and living always with the awareness that His Spirit is with us and in us.
Verse 19 really describes the purpose of the Spirit in our lives. It is Christ’s Spirit (4:6) so it follows that He makes us more like Christ. We are indwelt by the nature of Christ such that we become united with Him and increasingly more like Him. Paul uses the term formed – this carries with it a sense of continuation, becoming more and more what we will ultimately be, the same way a baby is formed in a womb.
This is why John is so adamant throughout his letter in I John that someone who calls himself a Christian will not continually live as an unbeliever. The believer is a new creation (II Cor 5:17) – a completely different person who has different motives and different actions and different priorities.
Christ formed in you is the goal of every parent for his children. It is the goal of every pastor for his flock. It is the goal of our Father in heaven for us. To be conformed to the image of God’s Son is really the greatest gift outside of salvation our Father can give us.
If I have crucified myself with Christ and no longer live, then the only way to continue in the flesh is to have someone else live through me. We should begin every day with a plea to the Father to continue His Spirit’s work in us to form Christ in us – to have others look at us and see the Son.
2 thoughts on “Galatians 4:12-20”
I begin every morning with the “plea” in your last sentence. Thanks,
That’s really encouraging to hear, Al!