Until Christ is formed in you

Luke’s account of the Good News opens with the personal details of two significant births. First, we have a father who is serving as a priest before God when an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. His name would be John. [1] I love the fact that God engages with people where they are and moves them onward to where they need to be.

When the angel Gabriel made his announcement to Zechariah this man’s response was one of doubt. “How can I be sure of this?” And immediately he began to justify his unbelief by stating the obvious to Gabriel. “I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.” At that point, the angel said, “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens.”

But despite Zechariah’s doubt, the couple still experienced the miracle of God’s choosing to fulfill the ancient prophecy of a son who would prepare the way for The Messiah. What thoughts did this old priest play over and over in his mind after that incredible meeting? As devoted people going about their daily lives Zechariah and Elizabeth weren’t expecting any of this and what a purposeful and timely divine intervention it was.

May it be to me as you have said…

About six months later the angel Gabriel is then sent to Nazareth. On this occasion, he visits a young girl whose name was Mary who we know was pledged to marry a man named Joseph. “Highly favoured! The Lord is with you” declared the angel. She was told that she would be with child and give birth to a son… His name… Jesus! “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.”

Then Mary said to Gabriel, “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Wow! what a wonderful, faith-filled response from Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

The power of metaphor

I have read and reflected upon that story many times in the last couple of years. But more recently, I began to consider covenant intimacy, pregnancy, and birth pains within that context. I have memories of being with my wife during her labour as she endured extreme pain giving birth. I prayed, wiped her face with a cloth, and rubbed her back but the birthing pains, the anguish, and the contractions were hers alone to bear. We were grateful for how patiently and wisely the midwife did her job to ensure all was well.

In spiritual birth as in natural birthing, the key ingredients to remember are patience, trust, and timing. “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come, but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.”

This picture of birth is well-known in The Bible.

In conversation with Rabbi Nicodemus Jesus used the birth event as a metaphor for another kind of birth as He connected the seen with the unseen – “You must be born from above” He said, but the Rabbi did not get it! “Literalists, maybe especially religious literalists, have a difficult time with metaphors. A metaphor is a word that makes an organic connection from what you can see to what you can’t see. In any conversation involving God, whom we can’t see, metaphors are invaluable for keeping language vivid and immediate. Without metaphors, we are left with colourless abstractions and vague generalities.” [2]

Christ formed in us…

In a very personal way, Paul exclaims with compassion, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” Christ formed in you and me! The life of God is shaped within us through intimacy, patience, wisdom, and at times pain. This process cannot be hurried or considered as a quick fix but rather a result of the slow work of God within our lives.

The following prophetic word given just before a gathering of God’s people some years ago speaks clearly and expands upon the birthing and formation of God at work within us.

“I am not content,” says the Lord, “Simply that the moral Christ be formed in you. I want the whole Christ to come to full expression in your lives.” “It is in My heart for you that the emotional Christ
be an integral part of your lives. He was anointed with the oil of joy and yet He wept
over Jerusalem; He was moved with empathetic compassion at the need of individuals
and the needs of the multitudes.” “I want the redemptive Christ to be formed in you.
He went out to find the lost sheep; He shared the good news of His Father’s kingdom;
and He laid down His life to make a way for the lost of the earth to be redeemed.” “I
am in the pains of childbirth until the triumphant Christ is formed in you,” says the Lord.
“I am not content with your experience of seasons of overcoming and times of great
victory. I yearn for you that you may continually know my grace in such measure that
you walk in constant triumph, being more than conquerors because of My love for

The metaphor of birthing helps us to understand the transformation that is going on within each one of us. It is a work of grace that honours Jesus alone and produces a devotion that expresses the reality of His Kingship. So let’s not be in a hurry but allow His Spirit to lovingly reveal the whole Christ within us.

[1] Read Luke 1, 2 [2] Eugene Peterson – ‘Practice Resurrection’