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Formed in the Gospel

May 28 2023

Series: 200 Proof Grace

Book: Galatians

Scripture: Galatians 4:8-20

What does God think of you today? I ask this question often when I meet with people, because it cuts right to the heart of our faith. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ – if you believe that Jesus lived a perfect life, that he earned the blessing of God, but then took the curse of God for sin on the cross in your place – if you believe that, then you are united to Christ Jesus by faith and you have been declared righteous in God’s sight.

You have also experienced the adoptive love of the Father. You are a son or a daughter of the King. And so, in a very real sense, you are loved today by your Father in heaven. We know also that God’s love is perfect and unfailing. It doesn’t change. If he has set his love on you, then you will never be condemned by Him. You won’t be able to sin your way out of God’s love.

But there is a misconception that comes with this. When I ask that question, what does God think of you today, there is often a tension in the answer – even for me. I believe I am forgiven; I believe I am loved by God, but I don’t think God is always happy with me.

He’s not always delighted by my decisions. He’s not always delighted by my actions. Maybe you feel that God is disappointed with you today. And the misconception is that some people think our salvation, our justification, our adoption means that God is never again disappointed with us – that He always delights in us, every day, no matter what we do.

And that’s not entirely true. God loves us like a perfect Father loves His children – without partiality. He doesn’t love some of us more than others. It’s not what we do that makes God love us. But God is certainly disappointed when we fail. And He is delighted when we are faithful.

Parents, we understand this don’t we? We love our kids, but we don’t always like the things they do. Their behavior drives us crazy sometimes! It’s no different with God, and I want to show you why.

We are back in Galatians chapter 4 this morning. Paul speaks directly to the Galatians, who were Gentile converts to Christianity. He’s been saying that they have been adopted into the family of God. They are not second-class Christians. But they are acting like it…

For context, I’m going to read verse 7 again and then continue with the text:

7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

This is who you are by God’s grace, through faith. This is our status in Christ.

8 Formerly, (that is, before you became a son) when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.

The Galatians were pagans, worshipping false gods. This is who we all are before Christ.

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?

This is an important verse. Notice how Paul flips the script on what it means to become a Christian. We think we became a Christian because we came to know God. But Paul says, more accurately, God chose to know us.

In John 15, Jesus reminded his disciples that they did not choose him, but that he chose them and appointed them to go and bear fruit. In Matthew 7, Jesus says that on the last day, what will matter is not whether we think we know God – but if He knows us.

This choice of God, to know us, is the basis of Paul’s argument here. If God initiated this relationship, how is it possible for Christians to turn back to this old, powerless way of thinking.

He’s talking about the law again. These Christians have been listening to false teachers who required them to take on the Jewish rituals and customs. For instance:

10 You observe days and months and seasons and years!

He’s referring to all the Jewish festivals and holy days.

11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Now you can sense the extreme disappointment that Paul feels, right? Paul taught them the Gospel – that they come to know God by grace, not by works. And now, they have started to believe that getting close to God is accomplished by ritualistic observance of the ceremonial law. This is a major step backwards – and so, yes, Paul is disappointed.

But so is God! This is not just Paul speaking. This is the inspired Word of God! God is disappointed with his church.

And now, the letter gets very personal.

12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong.

In order to become the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul gave up many of his Jewish habits. He did that for the sake of the Gospel. And at the time, he was well received by the people. He’s pleading with them to return to that humble, receptive posture.

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.

We don’t know the details, but it’s clear that the church cared for Paul in a time of sickness or disability.

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.

This was a figure of speech at the time. It meant someone giving a great sacrifice. This church had shown great love for Paul.

16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?

What a great question… the popular message will always be the message people want to hear, not necessarily the message they need to hear. Especially in our culture today, telling the truth will make you an enemy of the world.

17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.

Who are “they”? They are the Judaizers – the teachers pushing Gentiles to adopt Jewish customs in order to be saved. Paul sees through the smoke. These teachers are motivated by self-glory, not the glory of Christ.

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.

Notice that Paul uses the imagery of motherhood to describe his personal relationship with the church. He has already said that God is their Father through adoption. Paul describes himself as a mother, anxious for her children and painfully laboring for their deliverance.

What does Paul want for them? He says that Christ would be “formed in you”. What does that mean?

He’s already taught that Christ dwells in them. They are already united to Christ. They are already justified. They are already adopted. What then must it mean that Christ would be formed in them?

He’s talking about sanctification. He’s talking about growing in their knowledge of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit – which He will explain in chapter 5.

The Jewish teachers want to remake these Galatians in their own image for their own glory. That is the goal of their “discipleship”.

But Paul wants these people to become more like Jesus for the glory of God.

It’s important for us to consider how this might apply to our churches today. The reality is that many, many churches, and many pastors are teaching and doing whatever they need to do to gain a following – to gather the most people.

And in many cases, the motivation is self-glory. I know because I feel the same temptation. It’s a powerful force. It is incredibly tempting to take advantage of people’s desire for a better life, their desire for spiritual awakening and build a ministry with my own brand at the center of it.

And yet, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:5 – “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

This must never be a church with me at the center of it. This must be a church with Jesus at the center. This is not about me. I want you to know Christ and His word. I want you to become more like Jesus. If you ever get the sense that I want something from you other than that, run.

Finally, I want to go back to that question I asked in the beginning. What does God think of you today? It’s a question that really digs into our sanctification – our growth as Christians over time.

Our sanctification is rooted in our justification. We begin the Christian life by grace, and we continue to live it by grace. I won’t get very far if I start to believe that God accepts me on the basis of my own works.

God accepts me because of Jesus. My sin was pardoned at the cross. The perfect righteousness of Jesus has been given to me. I received the work of Jesus by faith and now, I can never be condemned. And my growth as a Christian, my sanctification, is rooted in all of that.

But God can still be disappointed with me on a daily basis. I’m loved. I’m forgiven. I’m accepted. I’m His son. But sometimes my behavior causes God anguish just as the Galatians were causing Paul anguish. And I believe it is very helpful for our sanctification to know this.

Christian, God is not happy with our sin. He’s not ignoring it. It pains Him. Our sin pains the One who was crucified because of our sin! And rest assured, God is not going to let His children continue sinning without consequence.

What good parent would do that? Is it love to let our kids do whatever they want without feeling consequences? Of course not! And when they do suffer, when they do fail, we don’t reject them – we receive them back in love.

And how does the Bible define love? In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says in verse 4:

4 Love is patient and kind… But then in verse 6, he says:

6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

This is the tension of God’s love for us. He is patient with us. He is faithful. It’s a love built on the firm foundation of Christ Jesus – his death and resurrection. But God’s love does not rejoice in our sin. And neither should we.

Let’s pray and ask God for help to become more like our Savior.