We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you
In these two verses Paul declares what his goal in ministry was. I guess you could say one of his goals. In the verse from Colossians he states that he labors for the purpose of presenting every man (believer/Christian) complete (mature) in Christ. In the verse from Galatians he says that he is again in labor with the Galatians until Christ is formed in them. The goal is the same in both verses – Christ-likeness. “Mature in Christ” and “until Christ is formed in you” are two different ways of saying that he strived to help those who believed in Christ become like Christ. The context of both passages supports this.
If you back up in the Colossians passage you’ll read that God called Paul to be a servant to the church so that he (Paul) could preach a mystery which had been hidden before but has now been made known by God to His elect. What was the mystery? “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (cf. Colossians 1:25-27) Christ in you is the new reality we have entered into as born again Christians. We have been placed in Christ by the Holy Spirit who now lives inside of us and who is transforming us into the likeness of Christ.
Christ in You
In Galatians, when Paul uses the phrase until Christ is formed in you, he is reiterating this same truth in a different way. The churches in Galatia had a big problem with Judaizers. Judaizers is a big fancy word to describe Jews who were infiltrating the Gentile churches, pretending to be Christians, and trying to persuade the Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians that if they were going to follow the Messiah of the Jews then they also had to follow the laws of the Jews.
Paul wrote the Galatians letter to refute this idea. He tells the Gentile believers who were buying this stuff that the purpose of the law was to point us to Christ; that the law was never meant to live by; that by subjecting ourselves to the law we are relying upon it, and not Christ, for our salvation; that the law will not and cannot save us; and that if we do this we are robbing ourselves of a greater glory which God has in store for us. Which is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit. That is why he says in Galatians 4:19, “My children, with who I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.”
He was “again in labor” with them because by subjecting their selves to the law they were taking a step back toward their own self righteousness instead of a step forward toward Christ-likeness. The law does not have the power to produce Christ-likeness. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. That’s why in chapters five and six of Galatians he calls them to the Spirit filled life.
Not only was this one of Paul’s goals in his ministry, but it was also the one main goal of his own personal life. In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul writes, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it (perfection, complete and full Christ-likeness) yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal (to be perfect in Christ-likeness) for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Once again, what Paul is talking about here is Christ-likeness – being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Except this time he states it not as the goal for his ministry but as the goal he strived for in his own personal life.
Are you being transformed?
Being transformed into the likeness of Christ is a very important concept in the New Testament. The apostle John said that the hope of one day seeing Jesus face to face and being like Him is a hope that purifies us (1 John 3:1-3). Paul didn’t make this one of the goals of his ministry and the goal of his personal life because it was his desire for the church and himself. He did it because He knew that it was God’s desire for the church corporately and the Christian personally.
We see this stated very clearly in Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” God’s plan, from before creation, for creation, was to have a special people who would become conformed to the image of His Son. That’s why He created us and saved us. That is God’s desire for the church and for the Christian.
The goal of life and ministry
For those of us who are in ministry, it would be a worthy endeavor to make this the goal of our ministries as it was the goal of Paul’s. We should labor, with all of God’s strength which works mightily in us, to present to Him a people conformed to the image of His Son. A people in whom Christ is formed so that we may present them to God complete in Christ.
For us as Christians, we would do well to make this the one personal aim of our lives as Paul did. Because it is God’s desire for us.
Fathers and mothers would be wise to make this their sim in raising their children. Because it is God’s desire for their children.
Husbands and wives would be good stewards of their marriage if they sought to make this the aim of their marriage. The husband to lead his wife into Christ-likeness and the wife to help her husband in becoming like Christ. Because it is God’s desire for their marriage.
When we break this down into how we interact in our individual relationships it gives us a very practical path for our journey toward Christ-likeness. We will also find ourselves enjoying much more fruitful, uplifting relationships with our children, our spouses, our church members and our family and friends. It also gives us something greater to live for.
Really, it’s not just something greater. Being conformed to the image of Christ is the greatest thing we could ever possibly strive for in our lives, our ministries and our relationships. I pray the concept of Christ-likeness will become more than a concept to you. That it will become the burning desire of your heart. For yourself, your church, your spouse and your children.