Paul says in verse 19, “My children,” he is addressing believers in the churches in Galatia, “with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” This is at the very heart of this great pastor Paul. And in the months since those churches were planted by the gospel in Christ, flourishing in the Holy Spirit, it has become apparent to him that there are some serious issues.
What he means is, “Look, I had labor pains just getting you to believe the gospel and become Christian. Now all over again, now that you are believers, brethren, you’re my children in the faith, I’m having labor pains until you become like Christ.” Becoming like Christ is the issue here. That’s the primary responsibility of every pastor and every spiritual leader. And that is my desire for you.
The believers there are in the process of being bewitched by false teachers. They’re acting in a foolish way, so much so that Paul says in verse 20, “I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.” Why, having begun in the Spirit, they would now think that they could be perfected by the flesh, which is what the false teachers were teaching.
Pastors cannot simply be concerned that the church is full. They cannot simply be concerned that the people seem happy and satisfied with what’s going on, and they like the environment of the church, they’re happy with the music and they like the style. A pastor’s pain is always connected to how few people are like Christ. Paul also says this, “until you are filled with the fullness of God.”
There used to be a lot of conversation about holiness and godliness in the church. Godliness is a word that you rarely hear now. And yet that has been the passion of Paul through his entire ministry. Compare that with the language that he expresses in 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
“3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you may well put up with it!” Paul is concerned about their heart and he begins to witness.
Paul describes his suffering in 2 Corinthians 11:24–29, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness.”
“in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren 27 in weariness and toil, often unable to sleep, in hunger and thirst, often having to fast, in cold and nakedness. Notice verse 28. He says, “Apart from such external things,” the more profound pain is on the inside. “My deep concern is for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?”
Do you think that pastoral ministry is easy? A faithful pastor lives a life of agony and suffering. It’s a lifelong deep and profound burden for his people and their holiness. When he said “concern for the churches” in verse 28, he defined it as “intense concern over their sin.” It was all about the sanctification of his people. “Sanctification” is a word that comes from a Greek verb hagiazō, “to be holy.”
In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul says, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” There is a past form of sanctification that occurred at salvation. And there is a future form of sanctification that occurs at glorification. But the middle form of sanctification is going on throughout our lives. That is the profound concern of a faithful pastor.
The experience of salvation has four theological definitions. Election: You were chosen before the foundation of the world, before time. In eternity past God chose you. That’s completely divine, you played no role in that. Next is that believer’s justification. That also is a divine miracle of God, where the Holy Spirit awakens the dead, gives life to the corpse that is the unbeliever dead in sin.
The next element is glorification, which God planned in election, and what God activated in justification, will be completed when you leave this world and you enter into the perfect eternal glory. And between your justification and your glorification there’s only one thing, your sanctification. Election isn’t a process, justification isn’t a process, glorification isn’t a process, but sanctification is.
This is what Paul lived for; it was never about him. It was never about success for him, money for him, accolades for him. He was willing to be beaten on the outside in all the ways that are listed in 2 Corinthians 11 for the sake of adding one more voice to the hallelujah chorus in bringing to glory. But the agony of his life was the sin of his people and the issue of their sanctification.
Notice verse 20, “For I am afraid.” This is a man, as successful as any man has ever been in the work of God, and he’s in fear. What are you afraid of, Paul? “I’m afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish.” Wow. And what I wish is that you would be like Christ. I’m afraid that when I come back I’m not going to find you anywhere close to Christ.
Paul was consumed with the holiness of his people, and fearful of what sin would do to their lives. This is the heart of a true pastor. The lifelong work of God in every believer is the work of sanctification, the work of holiness, the work of godliness, the work of Christlikeness, and it is going on in every believer’s life. 1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “saints by calling, and holy ones by calling.”
And Paul had that same agony for himself. He says in Philippians 3:12, “but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” He pressed toward the mark. What’s the mark? The mark is the prize. What’s the prize? The prize when you go to heaven is to be like Christ; that’s the prize in heaven, and so that’s the mark in life. “I press toward the mark.”
Paul says in Romans 7:19-20, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” I understand there’s a wretchedness in me. It was his own sanctification that was a profound burden, as well as the sanctification of others. This is what the preoccupation of pastors and churches and all Christians should be.
1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “By His design you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification.” There are: the wisdom from God, indicating God’s wise selection of you; righteousness that’s imputed to you; the justification; and then sanctification. You are in Christ based upon God’s eternal wisdom and His choice, and Christ is now to you sanctification.
Is that the goal of your life, to perfect holiness? First Peter 1:16, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
Listen to 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love, so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father.” Again, the objective of the Spirit of God working in your life is that the Lord will cause you to increase and abound in love toward Him, so that you are sanctified.
2 Thessalonians 2:13 puts it this way, “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” Your whole life is basically the fulfillment of one great doctrine. Everything that happens in our lives between our justification and our glorification is the work of sanctification. It is the all-consuming reality of the Christian’s progress toward becoming like Christ.
Listen to Titus 2:14, speaking of Christ, “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous of good works.” Romans 6: 19, “For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”
Your whole life is a process of God the Holy Spirit making you into the image of Christ. And it happens inexorably just as election occurred, because God willed it. Justification occurred because God willed it. Glorification will occur because God wills it. Sanctification is occurring. It is God who is at work in you to will and to do of His own good pleasure, but you need to work it out.
But in most believers, as Paul acknowledges, it’s not happening at the rate that it should be happening. And so, he’s in agony, because Christ is not yet formed in them. I too am an instrument of God, as really is every minister, to be used by God for the purpose that God is at work in His church; and that is to sanctify them. And to give me concern for my own sanctification.
As the believer is sanctified, the seductions of the world, the desires of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, are replaced by ever-increasing love, for obedience to the Lord. This leads to a longing for holiness, which leads for a stronger desire for the honor of our Lord. You can’t make this happen fast. Most pastors will never see this because they don’t stay long enough to see it. You see it in the sweet graces of old people.
How? Jesus put it simply, “You keep My Commandments when you love Me.” It’s not about you, it’s about Him. Sanctification, holiness, purity, right attitudes, right words and right actions are the result of looking at the glory of Christ, and increasingly loving Him more, until Christ literally dominates your life and is formed in you. This is the process of sanctification.
Christ says that sanctification comes from the Word, from studying at the Word and seeing in it the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The reality of sanctification was dominant in church life as the central work of the Holy Spirit in the church. That’s just not true anymore. The truth of sanctification, holiness and godliness is almost absent from popular Christianity.
Instead, the message of the new form of popular evangelicalism is that all the longings of your heart are legitimate, and God is just there to give you what you want. The things that are of the world are then incorporated into the life of the church as a necessity to attract those who have no interest in God and no interest in sanctification. Evangelical Christianity is now importing the culture.
It’s very hard to have a biblical doctrine of sanctification if you’re trying to make the church feel good to unbelievers. Faithful churches are led by godly shepherds who lead their flock away from the world, to the fulfillment of the will of God alone, regardless of what their desires might be. The faithful church only asks, “What does God want? What does God require?”
How did we get here? Churches tended to be God-centered. They were teaching about God, heaven and transcendence. Churches tended to be Christ-exalting, and faithful churches trusted in the work of the Holy Spirit for growth. Church growth was not a plan or a strategy. And churches believed that the Lord would build His church as He said He would, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
Worship was God-centered and reverent. People were humble, unselfish and self-denying. All that has changed. The churches now are psychological, sociological and man-centered, using the name of Jesus as a token, trusting in their strategies for growth. And often the message is, “Jesus wants to give you whatever you desire.” That is what Joel Osteen says every time he speaks.
How in the world did we ever get here? Well, Freud, the father of psychology and psychoanalysis said this, “Everyone should be free from all restraint and constraint to be authentic. The authentic you is ‘the you’ that is on the inside. You have every right to fulfill your own heart desires. Unleash your narcissistic lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and your pride of life.
Young people are the most likely to do this because they haven’t lived long enough to see the consequences of that kind of behavior. The most liberated people are the young because they haven’t learned any restraint. And the new age end of adolescence is 24. Up until that time they’re still living in mom’s basement. They don’t know the lessons of duty, responsibility, morality and failure.
Youthful authenticity has captured our culture. Even though they have less money than anybody else, since the people who have the most money are between 50 and 65. The only place you’ll ever see ads targeted to people 50 to 65 is on Fox News. Every believer needs to know that there is only one thing God wants in your life, and that is your sanctification, Amen? Let us pray.