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« A Cure at Any Cost | Main | What Does It Mean To Be Saved? »

The Formation of Christ

“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” Galatians 4:19

Ultrasound pictures are technology’s latest gift to prospective mothers. You can even get them in video clips and see the movement of the fetus. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a beautiful ultrasound. Take a look at the shape of the baby at two months into the pregnancy. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t look all that appealing. Thank God for the last month or two before the baby is born when it starts to get cute.

The Apostle Paul was in a big discussion with the Galatians about the Jewish law. False teachers had infiltrated the church and were leading people backwards into the Old Testament instead of forward into Christ. He told them, “Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. 9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.”

The Apostle loved these people. He labored to see them saved. He risked life and limb to preach the gospel to them and bring them to salvation. He agonized over them until they were established in truth. He wanted them to have a genuine experience, right doctrine and true teaching. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8-9. That’s pretty extreme.

Then the great Apostle bares his soul, desperately trying to make his point. “For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: 14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”

Then he says, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” It is this awesome passage that captures my attention today. This passage is bigger than the problem of the Judaizers. It is bigger than the specifics of this case. This is huge. It is a life-changing, paradigm-shifting, divine revelation kind of principle.

If you are a believer here today, this is what you have to get. If you’re not saved, you have to do that. But if you are baptized in Jesus’ name and filled with the Holy Ghost, if you know your name is written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life, then this passage is your life-long battleground. Candace House writes,

“As the body of a pregnant woman stretches in the natural, so does your spirit house the vision. If the vision does not develop within you it will die. The vision is with you constantly. It becomes a vital, living part of you. It draws from your own life source as well as from the divine source which conceived it.

“There are certain things a pregnant woman will deny herself. These are things that would be detrimental to the development of her child. So to must you do the same as your vision develops. You may have to deny yourself of your own plans and ambitions. You will have to sacrifice time to fast and pray.

“I remember with my middle child I was so tired of being pregnant. It was August, the hottest month of the year. I wanted Bryant out by any means necessary! I started thinking like a crazy woman! I created all kinds of scenarios in my mind of how I can get him out NOW! The craziest thought I had was to throw myself down the stairs and that would surely make him come. I told my doctor what I was thinking and she wanted me to be treated for depression. She said plenty of women fell into a depressed state when they were only weeks away from giving birth.”

Here is the whole thing in a nutshell. It may sound strange, but this is the best way I can convey the concept to you:

Christ gave birth to you. Now, you must give birth to Christ!

Jesus suffered great agony of body, mind and spirit as he gave birth to the church. William Barclay wrote, “The cross is the proof that there is no length to which the love of God will refuse to go, in order to win men’s hearts. The cross is the medium of reconciliation because the cross is the final proof of God’s love, and a love that demands love. If the cross will not waken love and wonder in men’s hearts, nothing will.” The Bible says in Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Transformation Tribulation

The most hideous lie that Satan tells Christians is that their failure to live up to the Bible’s standard of living is proof that it can’t be done. When you get blessed, touched and encouraged in church on Sunday and then hit a buzz saw on Monday, the first voice you will hear will be the devil saying, “See. What did I tell you? You’re stupid. You’re a hypocrite. Forget it! You can’t be different. You need me. You need my Chesterfields and Marlboros. You need my Budweiser and Jack Daniels. You can’t make it without giving into your lust, greed and anger.”

What he won’t tell you is that the formation of Christ in you is not instantaneous. It is something that started when you got saved and will not end until the rapture. You are living in the middle of a construction zone with its scaffolding, wet cement, blisters and shattered thumbnails.

Last week at the Ohio campground, I had a fascinating conversation with Eli Hernandez. He told me how much he believes in process. A process is a sustained phenomenon or transformation marked by gradual changes through a series of states; as “events now in process”. From the world of nature to the world of the spirit, everything God does involves process. God rarely gives the end result on the first day. Our microwave, digital camera generation, instant messaging generation gets nervous when something takes more than twenty-four hours. In our failure to understand process, however, we often end up aborting the process. We want something to happen overnight, but God knows it may take ten years.

Some of us think that we’re gonna be stuck with the ultrasound. We see a project half completed and we get scared.

The problem is not the original call.

The problem is not the end result.

The problem is the process. The process makes us wait. The process rubs our noses in the dirt. The process breaks our bones. The process skins our egos. The process makes us walk. The process makes us pray.

Every great accomplishment of God and man came at the end of a painful process.

“And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.” Isaiah 37:3

A building is a process. A painting is a process. And education is a process. A marriage is a process. Understanding God is a process.

The process of cutting a king down to size.

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar was the egomaniac who decreed that everyone bow down and worship the golden image. The three Hebrews didn’t bow down and Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into the fiery furnace. When God saved them, the king had a change of heart and he gave honor to the true God of Israel. It was a short-lived conversion. Then God gave him a strange dream. He dreamed that a huge tree grew up, all the way to the heavens, with beautiful leaves and fruit. An angel came down and told him to cut it down, drive away the wildlife around it, and leave only the stump.

His wise men had no clue about the dream, so he called Daniel.

Note: When God gets ready to send you a growth opportunity, he always gives you a heads up. He sends his prophet to warn you that something is about to happen.

Here is what Daniel said about the great tree in the dream. “It is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth. 23 And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth.”

“This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king: 25 That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. 26 And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule. 27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.”

One would think that, after this, Nebuchadnezzar would have straightened up and lived right. No. He thought that since the judgment wasn’t instantaneous, that it wouldn’t happen. Bad move. Here’s what he did.

“At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon . 30 The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon , that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? 31 While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying , O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. 32 And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. 33 The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers , and his nails like birds’ claws .

Finally, the process was complete. “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation.”

This is what this man had to go through in order for worship, honor and praise to be born in him. God will eventually get you to the place he wants you. Even the word “eventually” means event after event. It’s a process.

I submit to you today that God wants something to be born in you. Something cries out to find expression, to come into being, to emerge from the frustrations and confusion into a beautiful creation made in the image of God.

Romans 12:1-2 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

TRANSFORMATION God’s way is the ongoing forming of himself within us.

Are you relying on being INFORMED ?

Are you being squeezed and CONFORMED ?

Or are you being inwardly TRANSFORMED ?

2 Corinthians 3:17,18 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being TRANSFORMED INTO HIS LIKENESS with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Something is being formed in you right now!

One of the most amazing and frustrating battles I have in pastoring people is their reluctance to let God change them.

What keeps a believer from being transformed in Christ?

You’re scared that you may not like what you will become.

You can’t let go of what you used to be.

You don’t know if you can keep the new person going.

You’ve seen too many train wrecks to have confidence in God.

Maybe you’re not a heathen like Nebuchadnezzar.

Maybe you’re not a backslider like Simon Peter or a traitor like Judas.

Maybe you’re a factory worker, a laborer, a stay-at-home Mom, a truck driver or an office worker.

Maybe you’re a boss, an owner, a professional, a student, a creative designer, a technician or a musician.

You know you’re not complete. You know something else cries out from within you to be released. You may have shut it off for months, even years. You may have convinced yourself that it will never happen. You’re not sure if you want to go though any more agony than you have already suffered.

You may as well tell an expectant mother eight months pregnant that the baby changed its mind and it won’t be born. Not a chance. That baby has been baking in the oven long enough. He’s coming out!

The Making of the Revelation Author

It is said that Roman emperor Domitian commanded that the apostle John be boiled to death in oil, but John only continued to preach from within the pot. Another time, John was forced to drink poison, but, as promised in Mark 16:18 , it did not hurt him. Thus John, the head of the church in Ephesus at the time, was banished to Patmos in A.D. 97.

John survived all of this because God had not finished with him yet. A “revelation” still had to come. While he was in a cave on the island of Patmos , John received a vision. This vision birthed the book of Revelation—the book that would act as the driving force for evangelism in the church age.

“I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches.”

Right now, someone is in desperate travail. Stop fighting it. Go with it. Give birth to that baby. Let the process of transformation do its perfect work in you. It is the birth of a saint, a witness, a soul-winner, a prayer warrior, a worshipper, a praiser, a preacher, a teacher, a leader.

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