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What does “until Christ is formed in you” mean (Galatians 4:19)?

until Christ is formed in you

In Galatians 4:8–20, the apostle Paul expresses deep concern over the wayward spiritual condition of the Galatians. The church had come under the influence of Judaizers who preached a false gospel combining God’s grace with human works. As a result, the Galatians had slid back into religious legalism. In a lengthy argument reminding them that righteousness is based on faith in Christ’s work of redemption and not our own works (Galatians 3:1—4:31), Paul conveys the intensity of his love for the Galatians. These converts were the fruit of his evangelistic efforts. He had labored for their salvation, and now he feels like a mother going through labor pains again: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).

God’s purpose for every believer is to be transformed into the image and character of Jesus Christ: “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29, NLT; see also Ephesians 1:4–11). Paul was eager to see his beloved spiritual children advancing in that purpose, “growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (Ephesians 4:15, NLT). Paul would never cease caring and travailing in anguish until the life of Christ was formed in them.

The word translated as “formed” (morphoomai in Greek) in Galatians 4:19 means “to be or become developed into a distinctive entity,” as in the formation of an embryo in the womb. Paul’s illustration stresses their need to begin growing up spiritually. He ached to see the reality of Jesus Christ living in the Galatians.

At salvation, the life of Christ indwells believers. Jesus said, “I am in them” (John 17:23, NLT), and Paul affirmed, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). But the transformation “until Christ is formed in you” is a life-long process (1 John 3:2; Philippians 3:21; 2 Peter 1:4). Paul told the Colossians, “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (Colossians 3:10). The process of spiritual growth was being hindered in the Galatians through outward religious performance instead of true inward change (see Colossians 2:20–23). Believers don’t become righteous through their own efforts, observing rules and regulations, but by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit: “And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT; see also Ephesians 4:23; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22; Titus 3:4–7).

Paul told the Philippians that nothing is more important in the Christian life than knowing Christ and becoming like Him. We accomplish this not by obeying the law but through faith in Jesus: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:8–9, NLT).

Christ is formed in you when there is nothing left to see but Him living in you (Romans 8:9–11; Galatians 3:27). Christ is formed in you when He is your everything and all you need (Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 4:19; 2 Peter 1:3).

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What does “until Christ is formed in you” mean (Galatians 4:19)?
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This page last updated: November 22, 2023