19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,
20 I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.
my little children (v.19) — affection of a teacher for students as a tender appeal. The only place Paul uses the term in his writings.
labor in birth again (v.19) — Paul labored first to free the Galatians from idol worship. Now he labors to free them from the law.
formed (v.19) = fashioned, made to resemble — giving outward expression of one’s inner nature.
tone (v.20) = voice. Paul would like to speak to the Galatians without apprehension, severity or appeal, but with confidence in their fidelity to the truth.
doubts (v.20) = perplexity, without a way in which to go, puzzled
When the apostle brought the gospel to the Galatian cities, his aim was not merely to induce men to change their religion, to forsake polytheism, the worship of many gods, for monotheism, the worship of one God; it was that they might receive life in Christ. So now his anxiety on their account was not merely that they should be intellectually persuaded of, and confirmed in, the true nature of the gospel and its conditions, but that the new life therein imparted might grow in them. Doctrine is not something alien from life. What a man believes affects his character and his conduct. Doctrine that exalts Christ makes for holiness; doctrine that detracts from the excellence of His person, or from the completeness and sufficiency of His sacrifice, hinders, or prevents, the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, which work is carried on by the presentation of Christ, in His essential deity, in His true manhood, in His perfect salvation (John 16:13-15). The fatal defect of the doctrine of the Judaizers was that, by making somethings besides acceptance of Christ necessary to the obtaining of the promises, they presented a defective Savior. That Christ is supreme (Romans 9:5); sufficient (Colossians 1:19); “all and in all” (Colossians 3:11), nothing less than this is the apostle’s claim. But if on this point the Galatians were misled, how could they experience the power of truth they denied? To submit to circumcision, to seek justification by law, was to be severed from Christ and to lose all that the gospel offered (Galatians 5:2-4). To trust Christ, and to trust Him alone, was to be justified from all things indeed (Romans 3:28; 8:31-34); but more, it was to be “a new creation,” (2 Corinthians 5:17), to live in Christ, and to have Christ living in the heart (Galatians 2:20). Growth, moreover, is the evidence of life, and this the apostle desired for his converts that they might “all attain … unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” that they might “grow up in all things into … Christ,” (Ephesians 4:13-15). How this is to be accomplished may be learned from his prayer that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith (Galatians 3:17), and from the exhortation of Philippians 2:5, “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” For as the exercise of faith occupies the heart with Christ the mind of Christ develops in the believer, and as a direct result of these inward processes his conduct is increasingly conformed to the example of Christ.
“That Christ may be formed in you” is, then, the desire of the apostle for the moral conformity of the believer to Christ here and now. The thought is similar to, or identical with, that of Philippians 3:10, “becoming conformed to His death.” But conformity to Christ, though it begins in the moral sphere, does not end there. In due time, that which is now inward and spiritual will extend also to that which is outward and physical, for “the body of our humiliation” will, at the coming of the Lord, be “conformed to the body of His glory” (Philippians 3:21).
The apostle’s mind here, however, is not so much on the future, and the final outcome in them of faith in Christ, as it is that he longs for some present and satisfying evidence to confirm his confidence that God had indeed begun a good work in them; if he were only assured of that the ultimate issue would not be in doubt (Philippians 1:6). But the ordinance of God is that the believer must enter into willing cooperation with Him for his own perfecting into the image of His Son. The formation of Christ in the believer is at once the purpose of God and the ambition, inwrought by the Spirit, of all who are taught of Him — Galatians, by W.E. Vine, page 217-218.