“My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you…”
My little children,
Paul views himself as a mother and calls the Galatians “my little children.” Paul bases his appeal to the Galatians on the fact that he nursed them into salvation by teaching them the grace principle of faith in the finished work of Christ.
“But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).
for whom I labor in birth again
A mother goes through birth pangs in bringing a child into the world. Paul experienced birth pangs in leading the Galatians to Christ while in Galatia. Now he goes through birth pangs “again” by helping them apply the principle of grace to their Christian living. How many mothers go through birth pangs two times for the same child? He seeks to help the Galatians understand how to live the grace principle in an ongoing way.
until Christ is formed in you
The word “formed” means to give shape to. Paul’s desire is that his followers would take on the shape of Christ, like a fetus takes shape within the mother’s womb. We cannot become like Christ by legalism, by the external and extrinsic. We become like Him by the real and inward. The forming of Christ in us is the outward expression of the inner nature God gives us through grace. We cannot fully form to the image of Christ unless we operate on the principle of grace. Grace produces the likeness of Christ.
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The outward form of our Christian lives must correspond to our inner life in Christ. We need to give outward evidence of the indwelling Christ.
Legalism restricts the character of Christ from developing in the believer; grace is the basis for growth in the Christian life.
Some Christians understand the grace of God in salvation, but they inconsistently live the Christian life by attempting to gain merit with God by works. Both salvation and sanctification are by faith apart from works. Works are the result, not the cause, of spirituality.
Many Christians have a case of arrested spiritual development due to legalism. The fundamental flaw of legalism is the allusion that we can become like Christ by self-effort. If this is so, then we have a flawed Savior. We must trust Christ and Him alone for our spiritual growth.
The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ by filling us (John 7:39; 16:14; Ephesians 5:18). He produces the character of Christ in us and thus glorifies Christ in us (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19,20). The filling of the Spirit is the supernatural means of doing this.
“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:17-18 )
The exercise of faith orients our hearts to Christ. Christ’s character develops in us as we trust in His person and work.