Galatians is a book to proclaim that salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ; that salvation does not come to those who are good or do good works, or are religious, or are involved in religious ceremonies and rituals. Those cannot achieve salvation, nor do they partly achieve salvation, as if there’s a combination between faith and works. Works are the result of salvation, not the reason for it.
And now in verse 12, Paul sets aside his arguments, and this is a much different portion of Scripture. We have seen Paul as a theologian. We’ve seen him as a biblical scholar tapping into Old Testament texts. And he’s done all of this to make a rational and a biblical case for salvation by faith alone. At this point, we find a change in his approach; and let me begin by reading verse 12 to you.
Galatians 4:12-18, “Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. 13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed?”
“For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? 17 They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. 18 But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.”
Up to this point, there has not been one personal comment. Paul usually gives personal touches in his introduction, except in Galatians. He has been engaged in a battle to preserve God-ordained gospel truth. He has preferred truth to friendship. He has preferred fact to fellowship. He has been concerned with principles over people. But all that changes now in verses 12 through 18.
There is only one profound theological declaration which is a critical to understand. This section is where his heart takes over. Now he comes down from that doctrinal pulpit to the personal connection. His words are words of personal affection. Here we see the gentle side of Paul, and it is a rare insight. He calls them “my little ones.” He likens himself here to a mother.
A good illustration is in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, where he says, “We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” Beautiful words of tender affection, care, and compassion.
There are four features here, his appeal to them, and then his remembrance of them, and then his warning to them, and then his desire for them. Let’s first look at his appeal. Verse 12, “Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you.” It’s not so much the father commanding as it is the mother pleading. But there is a strong attitude behind this pleading.
He identifies them first as brethren, and then down in verse 19 as children, “become as I am.” Now what does he mean by that? Go to Galatians 2:19, “Through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I’ve been crucified with Christ.” He has been delivered from the Mosaic customs and rituals: circumcision and ceremonies. Not from morality, and not from righteousness which are forever.
So when I came to you as Gentiles, I stepped into your culture and your world without bringing Jewish traditions. I had none of those constraints on my own life. I came to you like a Gentile. As a Jew I had all those legal burdens that tied me up. I lived under it, until I encountered Christ. And Christ forgave my sin, granted me His righteousness, and set me free from bondage to legalism.
You can see Paul’s life before Christ in Philippians 3. He said, “As a Jew I had confidence in my flesh, in my own works, in my own righteousness. I was a Pharisee. I followed all the rabbinic traditions. As far as people could see, I never violated the Mosaic law until I met Christ.” Then verse 7, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
I gave up all that self-righteous behavior for the true righteousness in Christ Jesus. It is not the moral law, which is eternal, that he had set aside; it is that religious structure, those external things that he had set aside. He had abandoned the tradition of the fathers. And now the Galatians who are Gentiles are told that they must follow the Mosaic religion in order to be saved.
Do you really want to follow something that which was never a part of your life? No, be like me, because I have become like you.” I have become like a Gentile, free from all of it. Don’t go back into what I have been delivered from,” he said back in Galatians 3:28, “In Christ there’s neither Jew nor Gentile.” The Law was just an illustration of what was to come. Now the reality has come and that’s Christ.
Secondly, his remembrance. The end of verse 12, “You have done me no wrong.” He’s looking back to when he first came to Galatia on that first missionary journey. He said, “You’ve done me no wrong. You didn’t persecute me.” It’s recorded in Acts 13 and 14. “I came and lived with you as if I were a Gentile, setting aside all of those Mosaic traditions; and you accepted me.”
Acts 13:44-45, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.” So the Gentiles knew that the gospel Paul was preaching was hated by the Jews, because the Jews were openly contradicting what Paul was saying.
“Paul and Barnabas,” in verse 46, “however spoke out boldly and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you Jews first; but since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” And then he quotes Isaiah, “the Lord commanded, ‘I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
That was the initial Gentile response to Paul’s preaching the gospel with the Jews calling him a blasphemer. Verse 50 says, “The Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.” You knew the Jews hated the gospel, but you believed it and received it with joy. You did me no wrong.
Now look at verse 13, “But you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time.” That region of Galatia, was not on Paul’s plan for the first missionary journey. Paul was there because he was sick; that’s what it’s saying. In God’s providence somehow, Paul contracted some kind of illness. If I hadn’t have been ill, you wouldn’t have heard the gospel.”
But still God gave him enough strength to be able to do the ministry while he was there. Look at verse 14, “And my trial which was in my flesh.” Literally, he says, “My illness was a trial to you.” Why was it? It’s not so much physical as it is theological, because if you claim to be a prophet of God, a physical problems would certainly discredit your claims.
Verse 14 continues, “you did not despise or reject,” that means, “you didn’t think of me as nothing.” There was this Jewish theology, “You have sickness because you’re sinful, and God is punishing you.” And Gentiles had the same theology. In Acts 28, after Paul escapes shipwreck on the island of Malta. Verse 3 says, “When Paul had gathered some sticks, a viper came out and bit his hand.”
Verse 4, “When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, ‘Surely this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’” But Paul was not hurt. That’s the same theology of Job’s friends. Because people are suffering, they must be under the judgment of God. But that is the wrong theology.
Paul continues in verse 14, “Though that illness was a temptation to you to despise or loathe me, to think nothing of me because your theology told you this was a sign that I was under divine judgment, but you didn’t do that. Quite the opposite, verse 14, “You received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.” Really an amazing statement. And that shows the works of the Holy Spirit on their hearts.
Verse 15, “Where then is that sense of blessing you had?” What happened? You were rejoicing, and disciples were multiplying as you proclaimed the gospel. You experienced the work of the Holy Spirit. Where is that sense of satisfaction you had? How can you change? The people that you maybe invest the most in, sometimes somewhere down the road lose that satisfaction and begin to turn on you.
Verse 15 continues, “I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.” It’s reasonable to presume that he had some eye issues. Galatians 6:11, “See with what large letters I’m writing to you with my own hand.” Why? Possibly because those large letters are the only ones he can see. Paul would often write a few words himself so people would know this was not a forgery.
Verse 16, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” It wasn’t because of my personality or my appearance, but you loved me for the truth that I gave you. How can you now believe these Judiazers?” Thirdly, now his warning to them. Verse 17, “They eagerly court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them.”
That verse applies to all false religion and all false teachers. They are aggressive. They want to exclude you from the benefits of true salvation, and walking with Christ, and living in the power of Christ. They want to exclude you from freedom in Christ. Satan wants to take as many people as possible with him to everlasting punishment in hell. False religions are spreading like wildfire in the world today.
2 Peter 2:1-3, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words.”
It isn’t wrong though to be sought. Look at verse 18, “But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you.” There is some sarcasm in that. False teachers wanted money. They wanted converts to validate themselves and their false teaching, they wanted to make double sons of hell. They wanted company and they wanted to get their hands on their possessions.
On the contrary, Paul sought the Galatians, not for his own advance, but to secure them to Christ. As long as he was there, he was doing it. Even though an enemy had moved in, in spite of this situation he still seeks them for Christ and not for himself. And here’s a final point. We talked about the appeal and the remembrance and the warning; it ends with his desire for them.
Verse 19, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” Fourthly, that’s his desire. It is the key to understanding sanctification. The word means “to be separated.” It is the lifelong work of God in every believer to separate us from sin. It is what the Holy Spirit is doing now in our lives. And yet the truth of sanctification is often treated with indifference.
Holiness is the synonym for sanctification. It defines our earthly lives in Christ. As the believer is being sanctified, the seductions of the world, the desires of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, the pride of life are replaced by love for God, love for Christ and love for the Word of God. We now love obedience, longing for holiness, and have aspirations to give glory and honor only to the Lord with your life.
This is not about duty, this is not about discipline, although it is a duty and there is a discipline; this is about love. So if you want to be more obedient, you must love Christ more. The culture is against us. A call to holiness, and a call to separate from the world is far too absolute and offensive for many. But following Christ means that there has to be lifelong work of replacing sin with thoughts, words and actions of holiness.
Legalism undermines the gospel by insisting that believers must add righteous works to faith in order to be justified. The antinomian perverts the gospel by saying, “You don’t have to obey; you’re free to go on in sin, because your sin’s paid for.” Legalism and antinomianism are not opposites. The antinomian may be the worst legalist, because he’s a rebellious legalist. And he doesn’t understand love and grace.
So whether you’re a legalist or an antinomian, you’ve got it all wrong. You’re not transformed; you’re not saved, because you’re still defining your life by the law. They’re both against grace; they’re both against love. Only when you define your life by your relationship to Christ, you will love Him, and you will love what He loves. And He loves what is holy, just and good, Amen? Let us pray.