Baptism as Clothing in Galatians 3:27: Baptism as a Means of Grace

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In post 1, I argued that Galatians 3:27 provides a crucial insight into the meaning of baptism.  In post 2, I argued that it argues against the practice of infant baptism.  In this post, I now want to show that the verse also provides a crucial insight into how baptism is a means of grace – not just at the beginning of the Christian life, but a continuing means of grace.  Paul uses it as a defining reality with continued implications for the Christian life.

In America, we do not live in a very ritualistic culture, so we are not attuned to ritual and ceremony like many cultures.  New Testament Christianity is actually and deliberately not a very ritualistic religion: there are not many ceremonies and rituals given in the New Testament.  So when there is a ceremony in the New Testament, we should pay attention to it.  It has special importance.

What we’ve seen is that: Baptism is like a rite of passage ceremony.  In cultures that have rite of passage ceremonies, rites of passage are defining moments in life.  It’s an entrance into a new state of life – a comprehensive metaphor for your place in life.  Similarly, your baptism is a past, definitive spiritual act with ongoing implications for your life.

It’s to be an encouragement for your life today.  If you’ve been baptized into Christ, you have the assurance that you are a true child of God.  It’s a sign to you that God loves you, is pleased with you, and promises to be with you.  Like when Jesus was baptized, and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” – when someone is baptized in Jesus’ name, they know that they have been adopted in Christ, they are part of God’s family, and God promises to be with them.  They can say, “I am his and he is mine, forever and forever.”  (See Ephesians 1:13-14.)

But now, just like a rite of passage ceremony, you are supposed to live that out – or it might be better to say, live out of that reality.  You wake up the next day and you don’t wear the same clothes you wore before.  You get to put the new clothes back on.  Paul says, “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator… Put on then…” (Col.3:9-12).

Just because a 15 year old goes through a rite of passage and wakes up the next morning and gets to put on the toga virilis – that doesn’t mean he always acts like a responsible adult.  He still has to get up the next day and put on the right garment – and act like it!  If you’ve been baptized, you’ve been clothed in Christ, covered in Christ, given full acceptance by God.  You are to rest in that baptism and be motivated by that baptism now to continue to clothe yourself in him, to get up and act like it!

Paul says, “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do… assuming that have heard about [Christ] and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life…and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph.4:17-24).  This is baptism language!  Paul is saying, ‘Your baptism has to be lived out every day.  Why would you want to go back to the garments of childhood?  You should want to live like an adult.  What does that look like?  It is increasingly looking like Christ, living like Christ, living up to what God has declared to be true of you.  You’re a Son of God.  You’re a prince of the kingdom.  Why do you act like a pauper?  Why do you act like a reject?  Why are you anxious, fearful, angry, frustrated?  You’ve been baptized into Christ.  You’ve put on Christ.  You’re an heir of the kingdom.  So wake up and put on the right garment again.  Show the world that Christ is your covering, Christ is your identity, in him you’re accepted, and you are displaying him to the world.’

In this way, baptism is a means of grace – at the beginning of the Christian life, and a reality that continues to affect you for the rest of your life, causing you to say: “I am his and he is mine forever and forever.”

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