Christian Formation


“My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I have doubts about you” (Galatians 4:19-20, NKJV, throughout).


The apostle Paul wrote a very corrective letter to the Christians in the congregation at Galatia. He had labored hard and long [he compared his efforts to a woman laboring in giving birth to a child (see the above-quoted passage)] to teach them true doctrines as he had been taught directly by the risen Christ (1:11-12, etc.).

He had preached to them the gospel of salvation in Christ through faith and not through “works of the law” (2:16). He accused some “false brethren” who had come to them stealthily to sway them into believing a different “gospel” that brought the Galatian brethren into “bondage” (Verse 4). [For more on this subject, see: Freed From Bondage.]

Paul called the Galatian brethren “foolish” (3:1-3) for thus departing from what he had taught them. He then said that he was going again through “birth pangs,” as it were, until Christ was “formed” in them.

What “Christian formation” is about

“Christian formation” is about the work of making a person into a “new creature” in Christ (6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17). It is the creation of the perfect image or likeness of Christ in a Christian believer (Romans 8:29).

Hebrews 1:3 declares that the Son [Jesus Christ] is the “express image” [from the Greek character, meaning the stamped exact copy of the original] of the person of God [the Father]. “Express” means the manifest – or, as we would say, the “out and out” image or likeness of God. Christ the Son and His Father are so alike that they are considered as “One.” [For more on this, see: The Trinity Doctrine Reconsidered.]

Thus, a person who is being formed or “recreated” in the likeness of Christ would also have the image or likeness of God the Father.

The Bible compares the work of Christian formation to the work of a “potter” with clay — to shape it into whatever object he likes or wishes (Romans 9:18-24). The prophet Isaiah also wrote: “But now, O LORD, we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8; see also Jeremiah 18:4).

Some have also compared Christian formation to the work of a sculptor in wood or stone to shape the likeness of Christ. With his chisel and mallet the sculptor would chip away at wood or stone any part that doesn’t look like Christ.

Where Christ-likeness starts

Proverbs 23:7 declares, “For as he [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.” The place to start in having Christ formed in us is in our mind and heart – our thoughts! Well did Paul exhort Christians at Philippi: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2: 5).

And where can we find Christ’s mind?

John 1:1 refers to Christ as the “Word” [from the Greek logos, meaning “Word’ or “spokesman”]. It was by His word that all things came into being (Verse 3), and also by the “word of His power” He upholds or maintains all things created (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus was the “LORD” of the Old Testament who dealt with mankind before He became the human Jesus through a miraculous birth by God’s handmaid Mary. [See: The True Christ, Mary Worship, Peter Knew “The Holy One,” The Law of Christ, and Moses and Jesus – Are They Contraries?]

As the LORD who called out Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it was the same Christ who gave their descendants [the Israelites] His laws and commandments. It was also His Spirit that moved the prophets to declare God’s word to them and to the rest of mankind (2 Peter 1:21; 1 Timothy 3:16-17).

Thus, as Isaiah 8:20 declares, the law of God and Bible prophecy [His “testimony” (compare with Revelation 19:10)] are the basis for knowing whether a thought or word [for thoughts or concepts are expressed in words] is of God, who is Light and Truth (John 1:4-8; 14:6) – or otherwise.

Struggle between God’s thoughts and man’s

The fact that man has to undergo formation or shaping into Christ’s likeness shows that mankind is unlike God in the spiritual sense. In the physical sense, yes, we human beings look like God – even as Jesus walked this earth in a human body, shape or form.

But in our thoughts we humans are far different from God. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD, ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Jesus declared that the common human heart is the source of all evil thoughts and works: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man” (Matthew 15:19-20).

Paul put it this way: “For the flesh [the carnal mind] lusts [Greek, epithumeo, meaning desires or sets of the heart] against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:17). As a result, mankind has worked evil such as Paul enumerates, in Verses 19-20, which things keep us from inheriting God’s kingdom (Verse 21).

Paul also wrote: “Because the carnal [non-spiritual] mind is enmity against [hostile to] God; it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).

This being the case, God calls every human being, in His own time, to turn away from or forsake their own thoughts, and instead think God’s thoughts: “Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the LORD, for He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7). [For a fuller understanding of God’s progressive plan to call all of mankind, see: The Divine Prerogatives, Predestination, This Is not the Only Day of Salvation, Are We All God’s Children?, and The Value of the “Firstborn.”]

Needed: God’s power

Once a person is called and chosen by God for salvation in Christ, he is expected by God to bear the “fruits of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). He is to strive against sin (Hebrews 12:1-5).

James 4:7-10 exhorts: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

It is a part of humility to admit that on our own we cannot obey the law of God and please Him (John 15:5-8). We need the power of His Spirit in order to accomplish that. [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience, The Higher Law of the Spirit, and Breaking Down our “Walls of Jericho.”]

The final “product”

Any fine work of art comes out only after a lot of effort and work by the artisan on clay, wood, stone, canvas or paper. Precious metals like gold or silver are purged or purified of all impurities by fire (1 Peter1:7; Job 23:10). So does every person who is being formed in the spiritual likeness of Christ need to go through much trials and sufferings in order to perfect him (Hebrews 2:10; Acts 14:22). [See: The Flaming Sword East of Eden, Is There Ever Any Good in Man? and  Being and Doing.]

At His soon return, Jesus will recognize His own image in those who have Him formed in their own lives. He will know them as His own, and will welcome them into His glorious kingdom and everlasting life. [See: “I Never Knew You!”]

The choice is yours!

Christ’s invitation into His kingdom is likened to an invitation to a wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14). But, as Verse 5 shows, there will be those who have all sorts of excuses and will refuse [by choice!] to come and join the party. And if anyone does choose to come, let him make sure he has on the proper “wedding garment” lest he be turned away (Verses11-13).

That “garment” is as Revelation 19:8 describes it: “fine linen, clean and bright,” which is the “righteous acts of the saints.” Based on the Greek text, this phrase is better rendered as “the righteousnesses of the ‘Holy One’” – Christ! [See: Peter Knew “The Holy One,” and Two Goats Together, especially the section “Proper wedding attire.”]

God invites all who truly thirst for His righteousness and His kingdom (Matthew 5:6; 6:33) to “come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1-10). But, for all to benefit from God’s “water” and “bread,” God tells them to “Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear [obey], and your soul shall live [You will have everlasting life] (Verse 3).

Jesus repeats the invitation, in Revelation 22:17 – “‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” The KJV renders the latter phrase as: “And whosoever will [from the Greek, thelo, meaning to “choose” or “prefer”] let him take the water of life freely.”

May you choose everlasting life by allowing Jesus Christ to be fully formed in you!


Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.