Summary: Standing in the Freedom of the Gospel: Spiritual Formation is a Community Project

Standing in the Freedom of the Gospel:

Spiritual Formation is a Community Project

Galatians 4:12-20

Do you ever feel like you are not experiencing change, growth, being shaped by Christ? Worse yet, do you ever feel that you or people you care about are veering off the road, making decisions that are destructive and working against their growth in Christ. In this passage today Paul feels that same burden. He makes the point that works of the law is opposed to spiritual formation, which is the intentional transformation of the inner person, the heart, to the character of Christ.

We have seen in this letter Paul is seeking to rescue the Galatians church from the works of the law or what we have called works righteousness. Salvation is the work of God, not a combination of the work of God and the work of man. Today we see Paul deeply troubled over the Galatians becoming enslaved to work of the law so he pleads with them to become like him, free from slavery to the law. Paul is exerting his influence upon the Galatians church as a friend and pastor. That is all that discipleship is, one person influencing another person, pointing them to Christ.

1. The Context for Spiritual Formation is Relationships (12-16)

You can see Paul’s’ affection and concern here, ‘brothers’ and ‘my little children.’ He does this because the church is Gods family that God created and that God sustains. We see that this love was mutual. Paul came to minister to the Galatians church originally because of some kind of ailment (13). His ailment seems to have been pretty unsightly (14a) yet they did not scorn or despise him but received him as an angel of God or as Christ himself (i.e. as a messenger of God). Their love and their loyalty to Paul is seen in 15, they would have gouged out their eyes and given them to him. Paul pleads with them to become as I am, that is to be free from slavery to ‘works of the law’ what I have called works righteousness.

When we become flowers of Christ we become organically related to one another and responsible for one another. That is what Paul is modeling for us here. Being organically related demands that I care for you and you care for me. His love for them demanded that he speak the truth in love. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another (Eph 4:25).” Lying is contrasted to speaking the truth here. When we do not speak the truth to a person, we are in a sense lying to them. The reason we do this is that we are members of one another – that points to that organic relationship. We value community because it is this context that makes the garden of your heart fertile for spiritual formation. Open and honest relationships can be difficult and risky especially if we are more concerned with pleasing man rather than pleasing God. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal 1:10).” The most loving thing we can do for each other is to speak the truth in love even if we hurt each others feelings, even if we get offended, even if we stir the pot because we must view life with the eternal good in mind and not our temporary comfort.

This depth of relationship is impossible to have with one hundred people but you can have it with six to twelve individuals. That is why we have Life Groups.

2. The Goal of Spiritual Formation is Christ Likeness (17-20)

The false teachers fed human pride which opposes the gospel. Paul says the make much of you to exclude you from the grace found in Christ. The reason they make much of you is so that you will make much of them. They viewed justification as the work of man and work of God. Justification is the work of God. Paul goes on to say that it is good to be made much of if it is for a good purpose - in a way that makes much of Christ – experiencing labor pains until the very nature of Christ is formed in them. Spiritual formation is the intentional transformation of the inner person, the heart, to the character of Christ. What does this experience look like? Galatians 2:20 gives us a clue, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. (Gal 2:20). When I come to faith in Christ, I die as the shaping influence in my life because Christ comes to live in me becoming the shaping influence in my life. I now by faith in him as the shaping influence in my life. As I live by faith his character, his life, his power, reshapes my heart – my thought process, my desires and appetites, so that my will is freed to delight in obedience to God. I think this is confirmed in a couple of others verses in this letter. Look at 4:6, “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" The primary work of God in forming, shaping, transforming us, happens in the heart. Now look at 3:5, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” When we come to faith in Christ the Spirit of Christ indwells us, forms and transforms us and works through us by faith. How is Christ formed in our lives - by our faith. Christ comes and shapes and transforms us from within – in our hearts -if we rely on him to come and shape and transform us. Christ shapes those who abandon themselves to him – die to themselves, let go of all the things they are used to using to shape them on their own, including religious works. Christ takes shape in lives that are willing to become putty in Gods hands. Christ presses the shape of his own face into the clay of our hearts when we cease to be hard and resistant, proud.

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