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Forming of Christ Within
By David A. DePra
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you. (Gal 4:19)
Paul wrote these words to a church that had gotten away from the real basis of spiritual life. The Galatians had actually deserted Jesus Christ, not for sin, and not for another god, but for another gospel. It was a gospel that consisted of obeying God’s very own law. This wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the Galatians were using their obedience to that law to keep themselves saved, indeed, to earn the continuing favor of God, and to maintain their righteousness. Paul would later tell them that because of this they had, "fallen from grace," and that, "Christ had become of no effect for them." (see Galatians 5:4)
The solution to these errors that Paul gives is NOT theology. It is not better doctrine, although God knows, our theology and doctrine MUST be Biblical. Depart from Biblical doctrine and you will be out of God’s will. But the solution that Paul gives to the Galatian church, and I dare say, to anyone who is caught in the snare of legalism, is that, "Christ be formed in you."
Now before I get into the meaning of that phrase, I submit that if the forming of Christ in His people is what Paul TRAVAILED over – indeed, if it was the solution to this and many other problems – then I submit that this ought to be what WE travail over. It ought to be the travail of very Christian ministry. Sure. Turn to Ephesians 4 and you will see that Paul gives the forming of Christ in us – there he calls it the building up of believers IN Christ – in Ephesians 4 you will see that THIS is the purpose of the Holy Spirit in the church. Why is it not OUR purpose today?
I would submit that if is it NOT our purpose in ministry – if it is not our travail – that we surely have the WRONG purpose. In that case our purpose is different from God’s. In fact, I would suggest that to some degree that our ministry itself is in question. Read John, chapters 14 through 16, along with Ephesians 4, and many other passages that speak of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has come to reveal Jesus Christ TO us, IN us, and then, THROUGH us to others. He has come to make us into living epistles or witnesses unto Christ. All of this begins and issues from CHRIST IN US – which is the core of true Christianity. But if this is the focus of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the purpose for which He dwells in us, then if we are not lined up in OUR ministry with this ministry of the Holy Spirit, then where are we?
Read the NT and then compare it to Christian TV and to your church and see if they match what the Bible – yes, teaches – but also what the Bible says is THE core of Christianity. You will see what I mean.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose…for whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rom. 8:28-29)
Here we see a clear statement as to the purpose of God: To be conformed – the Greek means, "to be formed together," with Christ. God wants to take you and I and form us together with His Son unto His glory.
If we really understood this, we would see that NOTHING else works without it. The Galatians are a testimony to this fact. They were trying to be Christians to the disregard of the forming of Christ within. Think not? Well, then why did Paul say, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you."? His statement would hardly be appropriate if they were on the right track, or were focused on Christ within. No. His cry is both corrective, and a plea that they return to the Truth.
Christ must be formed in us. But what exactly does that mean, and how does God accomplish such a thing?
Christ is formed in us when there comes an inner consciousness of Christ, or to put it another way, Christ is formed in us when we begin to know Him in an inward way. This inward knowing will grow to GOVERN us. And because knowing Jesus equals knowing the Truth, we will likewise be set free from all errors about God.
But I have found that it is so easy to read the descriptions found in the Bible of what Christianity is supposed to mean, and to unwittingly substitute our own meaning and experience for the real, and to then congratulate ourselves that we HAVE IT. Perhaps there is no other issue where this is done more than that of knowing Jesus. Christians by the millions think that, "knowing Jesus," is nothing more than knowing He is their Savior. This, despite the many passages that exhort those ALREADY SAVED to GO ON TO KNOW JESUS!
I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power. (Eph 1:16-19)
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. (Eph 3:14-19)
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phil 3:7-11)
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: (Col 1:9-12)
Can we see that these passages are written to the SAVED? That God wants us to go on from there, and to grow to KNOW HIM?
It is here that we ought to again ask a sobering question: If Paul is travailing that Christ be formed in us, and if Paul prays the above prayers for the believer – does this not prove to us what GOD HIMSELF desires for us? For if the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then what Paul says he prays for us surely must be God’s will for us. And yet perhaps a greater question is this: Once we realize that it is God number one desire for Christ to be formed in us, and that we KNOW HIM – once we realize this, do we dare make anything else OUR number one desire?
I mentioned how many Christians think that to know Christ is to simply know the FACT that He is their Savior. Sure. For some, Christianity is not so much the forming of Christ in them, but rather, it is the forming of doctrinal teaching ABOUT Christ. Get that distinction. It is vital to see. The difference between the living Christ IN ME, and knowing doctrines that merely teach about Christ, is the difference between a woman who is pregnant, and one who simply reads about what it is like to be pregnant.
And yet how EASY it is – if we don’t have a revelation of Christ – to think that teaching about Him is all there is to knowing the Truth. Sure. We will not know what we don’t know, and so we will assume that what we DO know is all there IS to know! This happens more often than we can possibly imagine.
If I SEE JESUS – have an inner revelation and relationship with Christ – then the doctrinal aspect will emerge and line up right along side of that. And it will be RIGHT. But if you get my drift, you will now have a clue as to WHY heresy finds it’s way into the hearts of people. They don’t KNOW JESUS. They haven’t seen Him. To a greater or lesser degree. They can’t have seen Him or they could not believe, and teach, and LIVE the error that has hold of them.
Paul spends the greater part of FOUR chapters of his letter to the Galatians trying to show the Galatians the error of their false gospel. But finally, in Galatians 4:19, he comes to the ONLY solution. You will notice that he does NOT say, "I travail until you get your doctrines formed correctly." No -- despite the fact that he teaches plenty of doctrine in Galatians. Neither does he say to them, "I am in travail until stop all this law-keeping and realize that it doesn’t matter how you live." No. Paul gives them the ONLY solution to their problem, indeed, we could rightly say that it is the ONLY solution to every problem in Christianity. He says, "I am in travail until Christ be formed IN YOU."
Christianity is CHRIST IN US through the Holy Spirit. (Col. 1:27) The Christian life is Christ seen in and through us – in many ways, included in which is obedience. The purpose of the Christ life is that Christ might be formed in us, and then seen and made known through us – unto God’s will and glory. This is so for the individual believer, and then because of that, it is true for the Body of Christ.
The disciples of Christ did not have Christ in them prior to Pentecost in Acts 2. Indeed, the indwelling of Christ through the Holy Spirit was not possible until after Christ ascended. Continually Jesus declared that the Spirit could NOT come unless He first ascended. (see Jn. 16:7) Prior to that, the Holy Spirit was WITH God’s people, but never IN THEM. (see Jn. 14:17)
The fact that the disciples did not have Christ in them prior to Pentecost explains much. For example, have we realized that they spent three and one-half years with the Son of God but nevertheless still didn’t understand Him, His purpose, or much of what He taught? This is why His crucifixion completely blindsided them – despite the fact that Jesus had told them directly that it was going to happen. The disciples were not lacking a doctrinal understanding of Jesus. No. They were lacking Christ within through the Holy Spirit. THAT is why they could not understand.
Prior to Acts 2, the disciples – even AFTER Jesus’ death and resurrection – had only an outward relationship with Jesus. That is all that was possible. I mean, Christ could hardly dwell in them when He was bodily WITH them. But after Acts 2, the disciples had the living Christ dwelling in them. This changed THEM – and immediately they began to understand and to KNOW. Compare Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 to Peter during the 40 days after Jesus was raised, but before he ascended. He was a different person.
The absolute necessity of receiving Christ within through the baptism with the Holy Spirit – by being BORN AGAIN – is seen if we just look at these disciples. And this is exactly why Paul the apostle TRAVAILS – he knows that we must be born again, and that Christ must continue to be FORMED IN US. Without that, we won’t get far in the Christian life.
The Galatians were already saved. Indeed, Paul affirms that fact. He says to them, "Having BEGUN in the Spirit, are you now made complete by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3) But Paul was nevertheless in travail until Christ be formed in them. Thus, can we see that it is possible to actually receive Christ, yet never have Christ FORMED IN YOU? Sure. The Galatians were exactly in that position, and so it is possible for any one of us. It is therefore conclusive that the forming of Christ within doesn’t happen regardless of how we walk or what we believe. It WAS NOT happening for the Galatians. That is why Paul wrote to them in TRAVAIL.
HOW does God form Christ in us? Well, if we believe Galatians is part of the inspired Word of God, we know that this is NOT a given. The Galatians were FAILING in this matter. And Paul was in travail because of it. It therefore behooves us to discover the keys to allowing God to form Christ in us.
I’m going to cut to the quick at this point and just say it: God will form Christ in you if you ask Him to do whatever it takes to form Christ in you. That means a full relinquishment of your life into His hands. And it means an unconditional commitment to God’s will for His glory – not just OUT HERE, but IN YOU. In short, you have to ask God to do whatever it takes to bring to pass Christ in you.
Now, that might seem rather non-specific, but it needs to be, because even though the goal of Christ formed in us is the SAME for all, the specifics as to how this is accomplished through the details of our lives differ. But the bottom line is this: If you want to FIND the life of Christ, you have to LOSE your life.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt. 16:24-25)
To LOSE your life for the sake of Christ is not physical martyrdom. Neither is it a dedication to preaching the gospel. No. You can be physically martyred, and dedicate yourself to ministry, and STILL not have Christ formed in you. Nope. What we are talking about here gets at the root of what makes a RELIGIOUS human being tick. Jesus is saying that we must lose the whole motivation of HAVING OUR LIFE OUR WAY. We must no longer OWN ourselves. We must no longer want to decide who we are, or what we will be – yes, even our ambitions for God, even our spiritual ambitions, must be lost into the hands of Jesus Christ.
It is absolutely impossible for you to accomplish this in yourself. It takes the work of the CROSS – just as Jesus said. But God wants it more than we want it. Thus, there is going to come a time in our walk with Christ where we fact a CRISIS – indeed, it may be a series of them. God will begin to pull our lives away from us. It may seem as if everything is going wrong, or as if all that we thought was blessing from God is being withdrawn. The place we were living in Christ will no longer do. What is happening? It may well be that God has laid a CROSS in front of us. And if we want to find His life we are going to have to pick up that Cross and lose OURS.
You will notice that I did not say that YOU and I must crucify ourselves. No. That is impossible. Rather, God brings the Cross and we must PICK IT UP and CARRY IT. God Himself will then lead us to our Calvary. HE will lead us to the spiritual places that will do the work in us He desires. I said earlier that we must ask God to do WHATEVER IT TAKES for us to lose our lives, so that we might have Christ formed in us. Well, the Cross is precisely what it DOES take.
When you asked God to do whatever it takes for Christ to be formed in you, did you think that He was going to sort of ZAP you, and presto-chango, you would wake up the next day with Christ fully formed in you? I think not. Rather, when you asked god to do whatever it takes, if you really meant it, you were taking the first step with your Cross on your back. Your SELF life must DIE before you can have true life in Christ.
People don’t like to hear this. And some DO make it into a, "woe is me," kind of Christianity. There are people who actually take pride in, and get a lot of mileage out of, carrying their Cross. But I have to tell you that if carrying my Cross produces in me a PRIDE in the fact that I am doing so – and turns me into a self-created martyr -- then I don’t know what Cross I’m carrying, but it’s not the one that God has put in front of me. For the Cross of Jesus that God wants me to carry will NEVER create in me someone who thinks that they are special before God. It will NEVER produce one who thinks that they are an ELITE person. It will never result in a sense of superiority. Rather, the real Cross will put to death EVEN THAT – for is not the death of all of these self-serving motives the core of what it means to LOSE YOUR LIFE for the sake of Christ?
But you see, this is unknown territory for most of us. We are so used to using EVEN THE THINGS OF GOD – even our own suffering – as a tool to make ourselves into someone special. One reason we do this is because we think that if we don’t emerge from our walk with Christ as someone special, well, then we must emerge as someone who hates themselves. Not to worry. The Bible says that, "no man ever hated his own flesh." The problem with us is not that we don’t love ourselves enough – it is that we are absolutely bound and blinded by a destructive self-love. Even our attempts to use the Cross of Jesus to make ourselves martyrs to be admired is motivated by this crazy self-love. That is why IT TOO must die.
The outcome of the work of the TRUE CROSS is never someone who lacks self-love, but neither is it someone who wallows in self-love – even if they do so in a morbid, "woe is me," kind of way. The outcome is not high self-esteem or low self-esteem. Rather, the outcome is that we will LOSE all of BOTH extremes, and be delivered from the government of SELF completely.
You will note I said DELIVERED. When Jesus said we must LOSE OUR LIVES for His sake in order to find them, He was not demanding that we lose something of great value. He was not demanding that we, "sacrifice for God," or show God how much we are willing to suffer FOR HIM. No. He was talking about the need to be DELIVERED from what we are in our old man unto new life in Christ.
As a person goes on with Christ, losing their life becomes less and less a thing they FEAR, and more and more a thing they DESIRE. That is not because any of us like suffering. The Cross is not enjoyable. But the reason we come to desire to lose our lives is because we begin to SEE JESUS. We come to agree with Paul that the sufferings of this present time cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed IN US.
The Cross will set us free from OUR LIVES – from our SELF. Through the Cross we will LOSE all of that – we will DIE to it. It will less and less GOVERN us. This will not be a matter of us discovering new theology, or coming into new teaching. Rather, it will be a matter of us coming into the reality of the Cross of Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. If you actually experience the power of the Cross, then the Cross will BREAK the soul life and the self life. It will set you free FROM that old life. And you will be set free UNTO the new.
Yet this is all about KNOWING HIM. It isn’t that the Cross does a THING to us, and makes us into a different creation apart from Christ. Rather, it is by losing our lives for the sake of Christ that we come to SEE HIM, and KNOW HIM, indeed, the new life that we discover is CHRIST HIMSELF. We gain a new consciousness of Christ within – Christ is formed within us. And we grow in Christ from there.
So this isn’t merely about experiences. It isn’t about new teaching. It isn’t about self-improvement, self-esteem, or personality development. Neither is it about having, "Your Best Life Now," or, "Becoming a Better You." Instead, this is about the Cross of Jesus Christ setting you free from ALL of that kind of garbage, so that the Christ who is already in you might be formed in you.
Most Christians have great difficulty understanding the difference between knowing teachings ABOUT Christ, and knowing Christ Himself. That is usually because we don’t know Christ Himself, and therefore, we settle for the teachings about Him, and think we have it. But God wants us to experience the Christ about whom our teachings speak. He wants us to move into the reality of the Truth – not just settle for the statements of Truth found in doctrine. There is a big difference between knowing what Galatians 4:19 says, and actually having Christ formed in us!
Here is a good principle, and really summarizes the entire means by which God will form Christ in us. That principle is this: Death=Life=Light. In short, if I lose my life into the hands of God, then I will find Jesus in a living way – Christ will be formed in me. And if Christ is formed in me, I will KNOW JESUS – I will have LIGHT and Truth.
If you are saved, you got that way by receiving Christ. Thus, CHRIST IS IN YOU. (Col. 1:27) From that point, God wants to FORM CHRIST IN YOU. He wants you to be set free from yourself, and to come into the reality of knowing Jesus, and the reality of walking in the knowledge of Him. God wants you to find true life in Christ. It if from this that all obedience and all Christian ministry is supposed to emerge. to do with personality development? Neither is it God changing us, or changing our flesh, or our personality, to be more like Jesus. No. Rather, this is about exactly what the words imply: Christ is IN US. And God wants to FORM CHRIST IN US.
Paul to the Galatians
When Paul wrote to the Galatians, they were in spiritual trouble. He TRAVAILED until the ONE solution was realized – that Christ be formed in them. And once we remember that the Galatian church was living in legalism, we immediately see that CHRIST FORMED IN US is the antithesis of trying to live under the law.
Paul goes on to give the Galatians an allegory from the OT. Having said that he TRAVAILS – which is a reference to BIRTH PANGS – until Christ be formed in them, he goes on to speak of two births in the OT. He shows that Isaac was birthed through Sara -- by grace. But he says that Ishmael was birthed through Hagar by the works of the flesh – in other words, Abram took matters into his own hands. The meaning here is awesome. Paul is saying that if we try to do for ourselves, through works, what only can be done through the Holy Spirit, we will give birth – but not to Christ. We will give birth to Ishmael. And if we are not careful, we may SETTLE for him – thinking that HE is the chosen one for us. But no. Paul says that he wants CHRIST formed in us, not Ishmael – not the product of our own works, imagination, or religiosity.
What is Paul’s solution? He quotes the OT:
Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. (Gal 4:30-31)
We are to CAST OUT Ishmael from our lives. I don’t know about you, but that is an awfully strong statement. But it is no surprise, for does not Paul, at the beginning of the epistle, say that the Galatians can come under ANOTHER GOSPEL? Sure. And, "another gospel," will always birth in us ANOTHER child – it will be a false one, a false heir, and strictly a product of religious flesh.
Paul says to them, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Gal. 5:1) The words, "Stand fast," would be meaningless unless there was ALREADY WON the ground of victory. In short, Paul is saying, "Stop trying to win the victory through works. STAND FAST in the victory Christ has already won." And the Truth is, unless we get it settled that the victory IS won, we aren’t going to get far – we WILL, one way or another, think that it is up to us to win the victory, or form Christ in ourselves through our own efforts.
The solution to what ails us – even to what ails Christians – is for Christ to be formed in us. We must ask God to do whatever it takes to accomplish this in us, and then when God DOES do what it takes, we must submit to it – and LOSE our lives. Then Christ will be formed. This cannot be accomplished by our works. It happens only through death and resurrection.
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