TRAVAILING IN BIRTH:
CHRIST IN YOU
By David Orton
"My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is
formed in you" (Gal 4:19)
Christ being formed within us is the sine qua non of Christianity.
It is the true apostolic burden and the essential ingredient of the spiritual life.
Without it we are reduced to either merely a religious or rationalistic code – to "a
form of godliness" (1 Tim 3:4). It is significant that the word here for form (morphosis)
according to WE Vine refers to "a form or outline, …an outward semblance" only.
Whereas the word form (morphothe) of our Galatians text "refers, not to the external and
transient, but to the inward and real." It refers to the inner-change caused by Christ’s own
This is what the human heart hungers for and was created to enjoy. Anything less
becomes eventually a yoke of bondage. This was the point of Paul’s apostolic plea to the
Galatians. Seduced by another gospel they had come under the rules and traditions of
mere men, depending on human effort and will-power to achieve spiritual ends, to bring
pleasure to God. They had forgotten that "what is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which
is born of the Spirit is spirit" (Jn 3:6). That without the presiding presence of Christ in the
heart all that can be produced is mere human works.
More than salvation
Surely, this is where we find today’s church. This is not to deny our strong
evangelistic emphasis of "receiving Christ into the heart", but unfortunately this is where
it all-too-often stops. Paul’s birth pangs for the Galatians had a time element: "until
Christ be formed in you". Now, they had already been saved – they had already received
Christ. Even so, the apostle travailed in birth for the fully formed character and presence
of Christ to be manifest within their hearts. For their inner-life to be conformed to the
very image of Christ himself. This is more than salvation. He laboured in the Spirit,
longing for the Galatians to move through the full process of gestation from conception to
maturity and birth. The Greek word formed is in the subjunctive mood which is the mood
of possibility and potentiality. The process, in other words, may or may not occur,
depending upon circumstances. Rather than bringing forth a greater manifestation of
Christ it is possible, as the prophet said, to give "birth to wind" (Isa 26:18).
The Contemporary Church - a "phantom pregnancy"
Much of the movement and noise of the contemporary church has not been
conceived by the Spirit. In fact, much of it is a "phantom pregnancy". For what is
conceived of God will come to birth: "Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause
delivery?" says the Lord. "Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?" says your God"
(Isa 66:9). The reason we’re not seeing spiritual breakthrough in the Western church is
that we are enamoured with the works of the flesh. Much of our activity has been
conceived through our own skills and training, through our own planning and strategy.
Surrendering to Christ within
Something therefore has to happen if we are to see heaven-sent revival touching
down in our cities and the transformation of our communities. Again returning to our
text, the Greek word formed is also in the passive voice. This means that if Christ is to be
formed within us we must yield as the willing recipients of an action from God. It is not
our networking, our programming, our church activity, not even our praying that will
bring to birth the world-transforming revival of our dreams! It is surrender in humility to
intimacy with the Father and the travail of Christ being formed within us until, as Peter
says, "the daystar arises in our hearts" (2 Pet 1:19).
Now, how does this happen except by the Spirit. Christ as the light-bearer (or
daystar) is revealed in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that, "He will
bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you" (Jn 16:14).
This inner revelation of Christ does not come from "flesh and blood" but from the Father
(Mat 16:17). It is hidden from the "wise and intelligent but revealed to babes" (Lk 10:21).
This is more than mere knowledge about God. No amount of theological information,
human effort, or church involvement will ever bring us to this hidden knowledge of God.
It is revealed to babes. To the humble in spirit, who in meekness receive "the engrafted
word" (Jas 1:21).
So, the condition that releases the formation of Christ within is surrender – the
surrender of our will and our way. And even this is a work of the Spirit. It was only
through relying in humility on the "eternal Spirit" that Christ could offer himself to the
Father (Heb 9:14). This is the same Holy Spirit who, in a moment of time, overshadowed
an obscure Hebrew girl, implanting a divine seed and bringing forth a miracle called
"Emmanuel" – the incarnate Son of God.
God the Holy Spirit, in our time, is again looking for a womb. For hearts that can, in
humility, surrender to the seed of a prophetic destiny, that like Mary can say, "Be it unto
me according to your word". Hearts that through surrender resist the seduction of human
works – of instant results and worldly success. That can say to the Lord, "No matter what
it takes – the loss of reputation, of prestige or position – whatever it is, use me, O God, to
bring forth your Son, to display your glory in the earth".
"For this purpose we have come to this hour"
Jesus faced the temptation of instant results – not only in the wilderness temptation
but also in the invitation of the Greeks. They had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast
but no doubt through the representation of Philip and Andrew, also bearing the invitation
to take his ministry to the great schools of Athens – surely this was God – wasn’t this the
fulfilment of his destiny – to be a light-bearer to the Gentiles! Surely God was enlarging
his ministry! This was his opportunity, his day in the sun! But his response was
instructive. With great pathos Jesus responded, "’The hour has come for the Son of Man
to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and
dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life
loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone
serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone
serves Me, the Father will honour him. Now My soul has become troubled; and what
shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour’"
The Greeks who had come to Philip saying, "we would see Jesus", would now only
be able to see him with the eyes of revelation. They had sought to know him "after the
flesh" (2 Cor 5:16), through their natural reasoning and curiosity, but now they would
have to know him after the Spirit. And this was only to be realised through Christ’s laying
down of his own life and consequent resurrection – the grain of wheat falling to the
ground. This was to be followed by those who desire to see him and know him: "If
anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be" (Jn
12:26a). Like Christ, for this purpose we have come to this hour. In the paradox and
agony of the Cross, we only realise our destiny as we willingly lay it down.
This was Paul’s understanding when he cried out, "I want to know Christ and the
power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like
him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil 3:10,
Only by being hidden in the "cleft of the rock", covered as it were by the hand of
God will we, like Moses, see the glory of the Lord (see Ex 33:18-23). This life of
hiddenness is what we call the "way of the Cross". It is only though a deep identification
with Christ’s death in the laying down of our life – the laying down of our dreams and our
dearest hopes – that we will truly and ultimately enjoy the Father’s reward – the full
glories and potentialities of the resurrection. As Jesus promised, "if anyone serves Me, the
Father will honour him" (Jn 12:26b).
"Christ in you, the hope of glory"
This is the reality of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" – the unveiled mystery of the
ages which is now manifested in us (see Col 1:24-27). It is the power of the indwelling
Christ and is our guarantee of glory. As Christ is formed within, through the surrender of
all that we are, we move to ever increasing levels of glory. To the degree we surrender
and see him with the eyes of revelation, to that degree we are changed into his image and
into his glory: "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the
Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit
of the Lord" (2 Cor 3:18).
The manifestation of the "corporate Christ"
Now, where is all this leading us? To what I would call the manifestation of the
"corporate Christ" (see Eph 1:22, 23; 2:14, 15; 3:1-10; Col 3:10, 11). Just as Mary
surrendered to the divine seed within her, bringing forth the incarnate word, again in this
hour, the sound of travail is being heard as the Spirit of God calls forth the "corporate
Christ" – a church attaining to the fullness of the stature of Christ (see Eph 4:11-13). The
failures and disgraces of two millennia of Christian history will pale into insignificance
compared to the unsurpassed glory of what is about to happen. As Christ is formed within
each one of us, we are rapidly approaching a turning point in history when the earth will
see an unparalleled display of God’s glory.
The precursors to this are now being heard in the massive cry of intercession that is
going up from this generation. It is heard in the voice of the bride and the Bridegroom –
in the voice of worship and of the prophetic. It is seen in the present increase of the
supernatural, of healings, and of the miraculous.
With all of this there is a shift in the spirit happening right now – there is an
acceleration of God’s purposes so that it will be said of this generation, "Before she was
in labour she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has
heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a
nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labour she delivered her
children" (Isa 66:7,8).
There need not be any further delay. In "one day" God can do it. He can bring forth
the manifestation of his Son in the earth that will sweep the nations with his power and
In fact, the whole of creation is anxiously longing for the "manifestation of the sons
of God" (Rom 8:19). This is not some club that can be joined. There is no church,
movement, or group that can lay claim to this. It is, in my view, the universal church
ultimately coming to maturity, to the fullness of the stature of Christ. And this will only
happen as we individually and corporately enter the travail of Christ being formed within
us. For we with "the whole of creation have groaned and suffered the pains of childbirth
until now" (Rom 8:22). This is the time for greater manifestations of Christ’s presence to
be realised in and through us. It is the hour to lift our voices in travail as we cry to heaven
for Christ to come forth.
Acknowledging there are various schools of interpretation, this in my view, is the
woman of Revelation 12. Clothed in the sun as the symbol of the Father’s glory, standing
on the moon symbolising Christ and his finished work, and crowned with 12 stars
signifying apostolic order she is seen in deep travail. In her crying out, she gives birth to a
son. Again this is not some esoteric "man-child company" of super-spiritual initiates, but
it is the climactic manifestation of Christ through his church in history. A church filled
with glory, without spot or blemish (see Eph 5:27) – an interceding Bride that gives birth
to an unparalleled display of Christ’s power over sin, Satan, sickness, and ultimately
With the whole of creation, let a cry be heard again in Zion. May it rend the heavens
as we travail in birth crying, "Thou mighty Christ come forth in me"
PO Box 777 Mount Eliza VIC 3930 Australia