January 9, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Galatians 4:19 (NSV)
My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.
The New Testament speaks of our being conformed or transformed to be more like Christ. But in an unusual use of language, Galatians 4:19 talks of Christ being formed in us, almost as a fetus is formed within its mother. If we unpack that language, we understand that God is at work in us, helping us to be more and more like Christ on the inside. This is another case of God’s “inner work” in which we are blessed to participate.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Inner Work.
The Apostle Paul uses a variety of metaphors to describe God’s intentions when it comes to the “inner work” God is doing in us. In Romans 8:29, for example, we learn that God predestined us “to be conformed [symmorphos] to the image of his Son.” To put it simply, God wants us to become like Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, “seeing the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, we are being transformed [metamorphoō] into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” This passage speaks of our becoming more and more like Christ, even when it comes to his glory.
In Galatians 4:19, Paul uses similar language but in a different way. As he confronts the immaturity of his Galatian converts, Paul says, “My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed [morphoō] in you.” Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and Galatians 4:19 use Greek words based on the root morph-, which we know from English words such as “metamorphosis” or, simply, “morph.” The word morphē in Greek meant “form” or “shape.” So the three passages I just mentioned all use similar vocabulary. But, whereas Romans and 2 Corinthians envision us being “morphed” into Christlikeness, Galatians 4:19 envisions Christ being “morphed” in us. What can this mean?
The use of this language in Galatians 4:19 is ironic because the first part of the sentence helps us to interpret the second part. In the first part, Paul says he is “again in the pain of childbirth” as the “mother” so to speak of the Galatian church. Then, with childbirth in mind, Paul speaks of Christ being formed in the Galatians, using Greek language that described the growth of a fetus in its mother. Now, it may seem odd to think of Christ growing inside of us in this way, but we mustn’t be put off by this language, taking it too literally. Christ being formed in us is another way of describing our being formed to be like Christ. We say something rather like this in English when, for example, if a daughter is acting like her mother we say, “Oh, you have so much of your mother in you.” As Christians, we need to have so much of Christ in us.
Notice that Paul speaks of Christ being formed in us. We are not the primary actors here, the primary formers. Rather, Christ’s being formed in us is a work of God through the Holy Spirit. Yet it is a work in which we can participate through how we believe, live, pray, worship, reflect, and serve.
Moreover, it is a work in which we can both give and receive help. Paul speaks of being in labor once again for his Galatian converts, “until Christ is formed in you” (4:19). By so doing he implies that he has both the responsibility and the opportunity to help this happen with his people. Though we may not have an apostle to “mother” us in Christ, we do have pastors, teachers, mentors, counselors, spiritual directors, spouses, parents, and friends. We can learn so much from the godly, wise people in our lives. Moreover, as our inner being becomes more and more like Christ, we can help others in the process of Christ being formed in them.
When you read about Christ being formed in you, how do you respond? What do you think? What do you feel?
Who are the people in your life who are helping you to become more like Christ? What do they do?
Are you helping anyone to become more like Christ? What do you do in the lives of this person (or these people)?
As you go through this day, be aware of ways in which Christ is present with you and in you through the Spirit.
Gracious God, as I read Galatians 4:19, I find myself wishing that Christ was more fully formed in me. I want my mind, my heart, and my actions to reflect the presence and love of Christ. So I invite you, Lord, to continue your work of forming Christ in me. Help me by your Spirit to be open to all that you would do in me and through me. Amen.
Banner image by Omurden Cengiz on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Understanding Life in Christ (Galatians 1:6–4:31).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.