My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you--Galatians 4:19(NASB)
Paul appealed to the Galatian Christians not to become ensnared in legalistic practices. At salvation, they had all received the free gift of God's grace... but they were trying to replace that free unmerited gift of grace, which they had received by faith in Christ, with their own works of the law. They were trying to grow in grace by their own effort rather than God's way, which is by grace through faith.
These Christians had believed in Christ for salvation and had been justified by faith, and like Abraham, their faith was credited to them as righteousness. But now they were trying to achieve spiritual maturity by their own standard of righteousness - through carrying out their own works.
They were trying to please God through their own righteous acts instead of pleasing God by abiding in Christ's righteousness - with which they were already clothed. "You foolish Galatians," was Paul's desperate plea, "who has bewitched you? Did You receive the Holy Spirit by works of the law or by the hearing of faith?"
These Christians had, of course, been saved by grace through faith in Christ, but instead of living their lives by grace through faith in Christ they had reverted back to a system whereby God's free gift of grace had been replaced with their own meritorious works of the law!! But Paul had taught them that all their own acts of righteousness are filthy rags in the eyes of God... and that the only acts of righteousness that God will ever receive from His born again children are those that are carried out by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit by faith in Christ - as He lives in us. This is only achieved as we die to self and die to our own works of self-righteousness and live our lives to Christ.
The Galatian Christians who should have been growing spiritually and maturing in the faith, had adopted legalistic practices which prevented them from growing in grace and reaching spiritual maturity. Paul used the simile of a woman in labour to describe the pain that he was going through in order to bring these Christians into spiritual maturity.
Paul referred to these men and women as his children. The yearning love he had for each one and his desire that they become mature believers in Christ, was comparable with a mother's birth pangs as she prepares to give birth to her baby.
Paul had already gone through this 'birthing' experience with these believers, when they were born again and brought into the family of God. But now he was having to go through more excruciating birth-pains as he sought to bring them into spiritual maturity - until Christ was formed in them, until they were starting to be transformed into the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is sad when spiritual development is halted, reversed, or twisted through legalistic practices as demonstrated by these Galatian Christians, or by using God's free gift of grace as a license to sin as exhibited by the Corinthian Christians. May we take our own spiritual growth and that of our brothers and sisters in Christ seriously so that Christ may be formed in us, to His praise and glory. May we die to self and live to Christ until by faith we are conformed into the image and likeness of Christ.
Heavenly Father, thank You that having been saved by grace through faith in Christ, I can progress to spiritual maturity as I live by grace through faith in Him. Help me to see that it is not my own works that are pleasing in the sight of God, but Christ living in me and working through me so that it is not I that live but Christ that lives in me. May I live my life to Your praise and glory, by grace through faith and not of works of the flesh. In Jesus' name I pray, AMEN.