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Galatians 4:12-20 by Robert Dean
Series:Galatians (1998)
Duration:1 hr 7 mins 15 secs

Forming the Character of Christ; Gal.4:12-20

What constitutes the spiritual life of the believer? And why is that important? It is important because the spiritual life issues, what we call sanctification, are issues related to answering the question, How does the believer get from spiritual infancy to spiritual adulthood? What are the mechanics, what are the means for advancing in the spiritual life? How do you get from being a spiritual infant to being a spiritual adult? Salvation begins with faith alone in Christ alone, but then how do we advance? This becomes the issue for the apostle Paul in Galatians chapter three. In the first five verses he frames the issue through several rhetorical questions. Galatians 3:2 NASB "This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" That is the reception of the Holy Spirit in terms of the seven saving ministries of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation, specifically the indwelling ministry, the baptism ministry and the filling of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside the believer to make our bodies a home for Jesus Christ, the Shekinah glory. These are permanent ministries of the Holy Spirit that cannot be lost at all. The filling of the Holy Spirit can be lost but it is recovered through 1 John 1:9. The filling of the Holy Spirit is the spiritual dynamic of the Christian's unique life in the church age. This begins to be brought out in v. 3 NASB "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" "Flesh" is the native power of the human being, specifically under the control of the sin nature. The implication of this question is that you can look as though you have a certain level of spiritual maturity and it has nothing to do with God the Holy Spirit. In fact it is not spiritual maturity, it is ritual, morality, good works, "churchianity," but it is not true biblical spirituality. The implication of this is that there is a counterfeit spirituality that is the product of the sin nature. The question we must ask is: How do we tell the difference?

Some believe that the Christian life is keeping the Mosaic law, though they don't observe the sacrifices, etc. With regard to the Mosaic law Reformed theology says, If it is not abrogated by Jesus and the apostles it is still in effect. Dispensational theology says, It is no longer in effect unless it is specifically stated to be in effect by Jesus and the apostles. There is a real difference between those two positions. Some believe that moral obedience is advance in the spiritual life.

Another suggestion for advance in the spiritual life is the view of sacramentalism. This dominates in both Roman Catholic theology and in Episcopal theology. The idea in sacramentalism is that you participate in the sacraments—it is alleged that a sacrament conveys grace—and you receive grace. So it is basically a works system. You observe certain things, do certain things, and receive increments of grace which produces spiritual growth.

Another option is "church activity"—getting involved in all the programs of church, going to church on a regular basis. It is the idea that getting involved in going to church and all the church activities and all the do-good things and programs associated with that such as getting involved with missions programs, Sunday school, etc., but never anything about learning doctrine.

Then there is the option that somehow spiritual growth is just based upon faith; that I just have to believe that as long as I am applying the mandates of Scripture that the Holy Spirit is nourishing me and advancing me spiritually. Faith in what? That is the question. What is the object of that particular kind of faith?

Paul tells us in these chapters in Galatians that by rasing the question, "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" that there is something unique about a believer's relationship with God in this era that goes beyond anything else in human history. This is further emphasised in 3:13, 14 NASB "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." So the emphasis comes back to the fact that whatever is going on in the Christian life this move from infancy to spiritual adulthood is going to be uniquely empowered by the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. The question is: How do you know whether you are functioning in the power of God the Holy Spirit or the flesh? These are mutually contradictory. So through these chapters Paul is emphasising all that we have as believers and that this is not just an issue related to where we are going to spend eternity, but it is related to our very inheritance as sons of God. 

Paul is now shifting his tone. After his brief introduction in the first chapter he comes out with guns blazing, so to speak, in verse 6. He says it quickly and abruptly so that it is virtually a verbal slap in the face to these Galatian believers, but now in verse 12 there is a major tone shift.

Galatians 4:12 NASB "I beg of you, brethren, become as I {am,} for I also {have become} as you {are.} You have done me no wrong." The way it is in the English in terms of word order is not the way it is presented in the Greek. "Become as I am" is the aorist passive imperative of ginomai [ginomai]. The Galatians had started off as grace oriented believers but had reverted to a system of legalism that was much like Pharisaism. So Paul is saying "become as I am" because he wants them to come back from legalism to a position of being grace oriented and understanding grace. Then it says in the Greek, "for I also as you." This is ellipsis, he leaves the verb out. He is saying that he was once where they are. "I beg of you" is the Greek word deomai [deomai], present active indicative (even though it has a passive ending it has an active meaning). He is entreating, imploring, pleading with them. He is saying it is serious, what he is talking about is not just a minor difference in language, not just a different opinion on how people ought to worship God but it is going to make all the difference in the world in their spiritual lives. They have to break out of their time-bound views of life and realise that everything they do on this earth lasts about seventy years and then they have an eternity that goes on forever. What we must realise in the spiritual life is that what we are doing with what gives us during our time on earth is going to determine the quality of life that we have in heaven, our position, our responsibilities, our contingent blessings for eternity. These are all determined by how we handle life in the years that God gives us right now. So Paul is imploring them to wake up, to pay attention to these issues. And he reminds them of how they were when he first came to them.

He concludes verse 12 by saying, "You have done me no wrong." In other words, I am not going to make this a personal insult. This is something important that we see in maturing believers, that they do not make the rejection of the gospel or rejection of doctrine a personal issue. It is hard to learn that lesson because when you are a young believer you are excited, you have found the truth, and you want other people to see the truth. You tell them and they reject it. Now you feel insulted. That is because as young believers we haven't grown enough yet to have our confidence in the Word of God and that we are not to pay attention to how people respond to it. The issue is not personal rejection, the issue is always rejection of doctrine and so we are not to take it personally. The issue is grace and we who stand up for grace are always going to be shot at. The only way we can handle that adversity and opposition is through the ten stress busters, the problem-solving devices that God has given us. This is all part of learning humility which is part of grace orientation. So Paul says even though they have rejected the doctrine and were in fact attacking him they have done him no wrong. He is not going to make it a personal issue.          

Galatians 4:13 NASB "but you know that it was because of a bodily illness [weakness of the flesh] that I preached [proclaimed] the gospel to you the first time." In the Greek the verb is euangelizo [e)uaggelizw] which means to proclaim good news. Apparently when the apostle Paul first came to Galatia he had some sort of physical malady. The word translated "weakness" is asthenes [a)sqenhj]. It is a compound word the "a" is an alpha privative, and is a negative; thenes has to do with strength. Literally it means without strength or weak. What realm of weakness are we talking about? In the Gospels it primarily refers to a physical weakness, sickness, and there is healing that takes place. However, there are even exceptions to that. I the Gospels Jesus said: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." There He is talking about emotional or spiritual inability or weakness. But in most passages it refers to a physical illness. In this passage in Galatians, because it is modified by the adjectival genitive "of the flesh," we know that Paul is talking about a physical problem that he had. This same word is used also in 2 Corinthians 11:30 NASB "If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness [asthenes]."

Then in 2 Corinthians 12:5 NASB "On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to {my} weaknesses." He is learning something about arrogance and humility and personal, fleshly weaknesses. [7] "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!" The word "messenger" is the Greek word angelos [a)ggeloj] meaning angel (the root meaning is messenger). This is probably talking about a demon—"messenger of Satan," that Paul specifically came under opposition that was energised by a demon. It is believed that this was not just manifested from m some spiritual realm but that there was a particular demon assigned to attack Paul and to stir up controversy and opposition to him, because when we get to verse 10 NASB "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." All of this is stirred up opposition and was generated through antagonism from the demonic realm in terms of spiritual warfare and the angelic conflict. 2 Corinthians 12:9 NASB "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me'." What we learn from that passage in 2 Corinthians 12 is that the human solution is no solution and that the divine solution is the only solution.  So it is very likely that throughout Paul's life that maybe as a manifestation of this demon he had health problems. What is interesting is that he wasn't healed.

Galatians 4:14 NASB "and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus {Himself.}" Whatever Paul's health problem or other problems, they removed any emphasis on Paul in terms of his personality or his presence and put the emphasis on content. Because of positive volition they had looked past the external circumstances and they received Paul with joy and enthusiasm, and his message which was a grace gospel. In all of this the point that Paul is making is to entreat them to come back to grace, so he is reminding them of the original situation when he first came to them.

Galatians 4:15 NASB "Where then is that sense of blessing you had?..." In other words, do you have this sense of peace and contentment and tranquillity that you had? Not any more, you are too busy trying to work your way into heaven. "… For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me." Now you are hostile but you were so excited about the message of grace. You had been so mired in your religion, works, mysticism and everything involved that when you heard the message of the grace of God you were so excited about it. [16] "So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?" Today very few people can handle it if you tell them the truth.

Then Paul exposes the false teachers. Galatians 4:17 NASB "They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them." They are using flattery. Flattery is the enemy of grace. What they want to "shut out" the Galatians from is Paul. They want to cut off Paul so that the Galatians will be totally caught up with the legalism of the Judaisers. They want them to be completely alienated from anyone who is going to teach them anything about grace. So what they are going to do in order to get the Galatians' attention is flatter them. They will tell them whatever they want to hear in order that they might be accepted.   

Galatians 4:18 NASB "But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you." What is a "commendable manner"? By telling them the truth, objectivity, telling the truth in a kind way. [19] "My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you—" This is the thrust of Paul's message. The goal of evangelism is not simply to move people from a position of eternal death to a position of eternal life. That is grace; that is wonderful, but that is the beginning. There is advance in the spiritual life and that is what Paul is talking about here. To have growth and maturity in the Christian life, and to have everything that God has for us, and to have all of those blessings activated in time means that we have to advance to spiritual maturity; and that is character oriented. What does "until Christ is formed in you" mean? That is an allusion to what Paul will clarify in the next chapter when he talks about the production of the Holy Spirit.  

Spiritual adulthood remanifests the character of Jesus Christ. This is also known as the fruit of the Spirit. How do we get from point A to point B? We get there through two power options in the spiritual life. One is the Word of God—Bible doctrine. That is our source of power in the spiritual life. But it is also done through the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit. When we come to Galatians chapter five there is a distinct contrast between the deeds of the flesh (the sin nature) and the production of the Holy Spirit. It is either one or the other. We are either under the power of the sin nature or we are under the power of the Holy Spirit. That doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit is making decisions for us. Our volition is still the issue. As we go through the process of learning doctrine and storing it in our soul we build up a reservoir of doctrine to draw upon and to apply in every single situation of life. That is the spiritual dynamic. What energises it is the filling of the Holy Spirit because we are dealing with spiritual truth and no just natural truth, and it is not a product of the sin nature and it is not a product of the flesh. The result is what Paul emphasises in v. 19: "Christ formed in you." The end result is that we mirror the character of Christ, that Christ forms in us His character which is outlined in Galatians 5 as the fruit of the Spirit.  

Galatians 4:20 NASB "but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you."