Finally Blameless: Thomas Brooks on the Christian’s Final Judgment

Christian Living, Church History, Devotional, The Gospel, Theology

It’s a foundational tenet of Christianity that all people are destined for a final judgment at the end of this age. Gospel hope hinges on this fact: those in Christ will pass that judgment and be found fit for heaven. The reason for this is the gospel itself, the spiritual reality that Christ satisfied the curse on his people’s behalf when he was crucified on the cross, and furthermore, that his righteousness is imputed to them as a free gift by faith. On the basis of this gloriously good news, a Christian knows that his final judgment day need not be a terror, it is the day when God will fulfill all the final promises of the gospel. This is Christianity 101 (which is typically the most important part).

Yet there is a question related to this final judgment that Christians sometimes ponder without full clarity. The question is this: on the final day of judgment, although we know that all who are in Christ will be found in the final analysis to be cleansed of sin, covered by Christ’s righteousness, and thus be blameless in the sight of God; in the process of that verdict being rendered, will a Christian’s sins, both before and after conversion, be publically made known to all creation?

In my ministry as a pastor, I’ve been asked this question more than once. Sometimes the person is asking because of a guilty conscience from hidden sin, and so the best answer is to examine the call to mortify sin in our lives. Gospel promises can never be biblically used as a cover for unrighteousness (see Romans 6:1).

But other times, the question is being asked because even in a regenerate mind, the staggering reality of the grace of God can be hard to believe.

How forgiven are we, really?

How thorough is salvation?

How complete is my justification?

In other words, does the gospel really clean my record out completely, or are there still indictments that remain? Luther was right when he said the Christian is simultaneously righteous and a sinner, but do we sometimes so emphasize the latter half of that maxim that we miss the full grace of the former?

In my life as a Christian, I’ve asked these questions in my own heart. Since you’re reading this article, I assume you’ve asked them too, or that if you haven’t, they have at least piqued your interest enough in this article that you’re still here reading. You are, after all, still reading.

We’re not the first ones to ponder this. Thomas Brooks, a Puritan author and pastor of the seventeenth-century, addressed this question directly. Brooks wrote:

But here an apt question may be moved… Whether at this great day [the final judgment at the end of the age], the sins of the saints shall be brought into the judgment of discussion and discovery, or no? Whether the Lord will in this day publically manifest, proclaim, and make mention of the sins of his people, or no?[1]

Let’s look at how Thomas Brooks answered the question. Although the following thoughts belong to Brooks, I have updated the language, condensed the content, and edited for modern readability.[2]

*****

I humbly judge, according to my present light, that he will not; for the four following reasons:

  1. From the description of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46

This first reason is drawn from the Christ’s judicial proceedings in the last day, as they are described so clearly in Matthew 25. There Christ brings to light only the good works his sheep have done, but takes no notice of their spots and blots, their stains and blemishes, nor the infirmities and weaknesses and wickedness of his people (Duet. 32:4-6).

  1. From Christ’s vehement objection that any of his people should ever come into judgment

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)[3]

Notice that none of the gospel writers use this expression truly, truly, except for John, and he never uses it unless it is a matter of great weight and importance. He uses it to show how earnestly his spirit yearns for the thing said, and to grab our attention, and to put the thing said beyond all question and all contradiction. He is saying that it is absolutely out of the question that true believers will come into judgment, truly, truly it shall not be!

  1. Because not exposing our sins is most in keeping with the many precious expressions that we find scattered like shining and sparkling pearls throughout all Scripture

These glorious passages are of seven main types:

(1) Those passages which speak of God blotting out the sins of his people

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:22)

Who is this that blots out transgressions? It is the one who has the keys of heaven and hell on his belt, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens; it is the one who has the power of death and life, of condemning and absolving, of killing and making alive – this is the one who blots out transgressions. If some servant blotted out an indictment, that may do a little good; but when the king and judge himself blots out the indictment with his own hand the indictment is gone forever. This is the reality and joy of every believer.

(2) Those passages which gloriously assert that God remembers our sins no more

And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

By this God means that our sins will be completely forgiven, never again mentioned, never taken notice of, and not mentioned ever again. God has a memory of iron and never forgets the sins of the wicked; yet he promises to never remember the sins of the righteous.

(3) Those passages which speak of our sins being cast into the depths of the sea and behind the back of God

He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

When sin is pardoned, the remission can never be repealed. Pardoned sins can never be brought before God against a pardoned man ever again; this is what these figures of speech are meant to teach. If our sins were cast into a river, they could perhaps be brought back. If they were cast upon the sea, they might be found in the drift and brought back to land. But when they are cast into the very depths, to the very bottom of the sea, they shall never again float back up to the surface.

In this metaphor the Lord is teaching us that pardoned sins shall rise no more, they shall be seen no more, they shall never count again; indeed, God will drown them so deep even he will not see them a second time.

Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. (Isaiah 38:17)

This last phrase is again a figure of speech, borrowed from the way that men cast behind their backs things they do not care to see, regard, or remember. Although our own sins are ever before our face, the Lord casts them behind his back. An earthly father soon forgets and casts behind his back the sins that his child keenly remembers. So too it is with our Heavenly Father.

(4) Those passage which sweetly speak of God pardoning the sins of his people

I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. (Jeremiah 33:8)

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. (Micah 7:18)

The Hebrew word here translated pardon means a taking away. When God pardons sin he takes it completely away: even if you search for it, you wont find it.

In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant. (Jeremiah 50:20)

As Micah said above, God passes over the sin of his people. Like a man deep in thought, or a busy man caught up in business doesn’t notice what’s right in front of him; like David didn’t notice Mephibosheth’s physical defects because he saw so much of his dear friend Jonathon in him; so too God beholds in his people the glorious image of his Son, and takes no notice of all our faults and failures. This is what enabled Luther to say, “Do with me what you will, since you have pardoned my sin.”

And what is it to pardon sin, but not to mention it?

(5) Those expressions of forgiving and covering

The blessing of Psalm 32:1 (Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sins is covered) is, in the original Hebrew, in the plural: blessednesses. It is a plurality of blessings, a chain of pearls. A similar statement in made in Psalm 85:2, again using the metaphor of covering.

Covering is the opposite of disclosing. That which is covered is hidden. This metaphor is all around us: the dead are covered up in the ground, clothes cover up our bodies, The Egyptians were covered over by the Red Sea, a great cleft in the earth is filled up and covered over with dirt, the mercy seat as well was presided over by a symbolic covering. All these metaphors show the same essential truth: the Lord will not look, he will not see, he will not notice the sins he has pardoned; he will never again bring them to his judgment seat.

Like a rebel pardoned by a gracious prince, the pardoned person will never hear of and never have to give account for his sins, ever again. When Caesar was painted he would conceal his scars and blemishes by covering them up with his hands. God puts his hands over all his people’s scars and blemishes; all that remains is what is good and lovely.

(6) Those expressions of not imputing sin

Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:2, see also Romans 4:6-8)

To not impute iniquity is to not charge it against a person, to not credit it to them. This is the precise blessing of pardon: that I will not have my sins brought against me.

(7) That particular promise of Psalm 103

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:11-12)

What a vast distance there is between east and west!

These seven categories of precious promises form the third reason that God will never again bring our sins against us in judgment.

  1. Because Christ exposing our sins seems out of place on that great day, for three reasons.

(1) It seems out of place, given the great glory and solemnity of the day, which for God’s people will be a day of refreshing, a day of restitution, a day of redemption, a day of coronation, as we have already seen. Now, how suitable to this great day of solemnity the exposure of the sins of all the saints would be, I leave the reader to judge.

(2) It seems out of place, given the relationship of Jesus Christ to his people. He is their father, brother, head, husband, friend, and advocate. Now, are not all these relations bound rather to hide and conceal the weakness of their loved ones, at least from the world at large? And is not Christ so much more? He is more a father, brother and friend to us in his spiritual love than the best of all human relationships.

(3) It seems out of place, given what the Lord himself requires of us in this world. The Lord requires that his people cast a covering of love, wisdom, and silence over one another’s weaknesses.

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. (Proverbs 10:12, 1 Peter 4:8)

Love’s covering is very large; love finds a bandage for every wound.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:5)

Would Jesus Christ have us to act toward one another in one way, while he acts in a completely different manner? If it is an evil to expose the weakness and faults of saints in the world, how could it be a glory and virtue for Christ to do the same on the final day of this age?

*****

Brooks goes on to briefly discuss the glory of passing over a transgression, and then ends his answer with this concluding paragraph, which is presented here without major editing or updating of the original style:

The heathens have long since observed, that in nothing man came nearer to the glory and perfection of God himself, than in goodness and clemency. Surely if it be an honor to man, ‘to pass over a transgression,’ it cannot be a dishonor to Christ to pass over the transgressions of his people, he having already buried them in the sea of his blood. Again, saith Solomon, ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a thing,’ (Proverbs 25:2). And why it should not make for the glory of divine love to conceal the sins of the saints in that great day, I know not; and whether the concealing the sins of the saints in that great day will not make most for their joy, and wicked men’s sorrow, for their comfort and wicked men’s terror and torment, I will leave you to judge, and time and experience to decide. And this much for the resolution of that great question.

As Thomas Brooks writes, it is for you the reader to judge his view of the final judgment. Is it biblical or not? If you answer no, at least take care upon what grounds you reject it. Never settle for a shallow view of the forgiveness of sins in Christ. The sea of his blood is deep indeed. The cross is bloody and the tomb is empty. The Christian’s final hope is to be finally blameless in Christ, to his gracious glory, and by his glorious grace.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

[1] Thomas Brooks, The Works of Thomas Brooks, 220.

[2] The full original can be read on pages 220-24 in the Banner of Truth’s The Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1.

[3] All Scripture references have been updated to the English Standard Version.

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The Parable of a Man and a Bride

Christian Living, The Church
(By: Nick Kennicott)
Cat-Reception-CakeToppers-Traditional-tThere was a man who had a growing interest in a young lady, so he patiently, slowly, prayerfully, but excitedly learned all that he could about her. He would visit with her every Sunday, and eventually was even visiting her in the middle of the week for an hour or two. As the weeks went on, he was meeting more and more of her family and began to sense that he was fitting in quite well with all of them. Before he knew it, he was doing everything he could with the young lady and her family, and he couldn’t imagine doing the rest of his life without her. So, he made a covenant with the young lady and they were married.

At first, the marriage was beautiful. The man was always serving his bride, doing everything he could to make sure she was taken care of. He was attentive to her needs, he was listening for ways he could be a blessing, he was even feeling more and more comfortable with finding ways to lead her and take initiative to see that she was doing new, creative, and different things to fulfill all the goals they talked about fulfilling when they first got married.

After a while, the newness wore off. He didn’t always agree with decisions she was making and he was beginning to see that her family wasn’t as perfect as he once thought them to be. In time, she just wasn’t the same beautiful lady that he remembered marrying several years ago. She hadn’t really changed all that much, but his perception and commitment did. First, it was the extra events that they had been engaged in throughout the week that he started setting aside. His bride remained committed to the same routine they had set out on before, but he was losing interest. Her family would lovingly and gently ask him if everything was alright, and if there was any reason why he seemed to be pulling away from his bride; it seemed so unlike him after being so faithful to her in so many ways over the years. Eventually, he was even finding more and more reasons to skip the regular Sunday time together that they kept up from day one.

Soon, the man was setting his eyes on another young lady. In many ways, she looked a lot like his bride did when they first met. This girl was welcoming, encouraging, and eager for him to meet her family. So, over time he spent fewer and fewer Sundays with his bride, and more and more with the new girl. Even when his bride suspected something else was going on, he regularly retorted that he’s just busy with life. But eventually he was spending all of his time with the new girl; It looked a lot like it did when he was first showing interest in his bride. Eventually, he convinced himself to break it off with his bride. This new relationship would be different. The problems he had before would go away because she’s a lot more of what he was looking for in the first place. Her family is better—less judgmental and a lot more loving—and he’s sure to tell everyone that he doesn’t regret, and is even thankful for the time he spent with his bride, but she just wasn’t helping him become what he wanted to become anymore. It was time to move on.

Now that he had found a new girl and entered into a covenant with her, it was all going to be so much better. But it wasn’t. A few years down the road, the newness wore off…

Baptizing Children

Christian Living

child-baptismIf I’m honest—and I want to be—one of the more difficult things for me as a baptist is having to discern whether or not a child is prepared for baptism. My conscience is bound to what I understand the Bible to teach, and that is believer’s baptism, but there are numerous difficulties that arise in the search for genuine, saving faith. There is no shortage of resources and articles about this important topic, but I want to share what I think through as a parent and as a pastor.

As a Christian father, I want my children to hear about Jesus every day while they are in my home. They go to church and attend Sunday school and worship, we do family worship, we attend a weekly small group, we talk about the Scriptures, we read the Bible and other age-appropriate books about biblical things, we pray together before meals and before bed, we have other Christians in our home regularly and talk about the Lord and His Word, and I encourage them to pray and to trust the Lord and to be obedient to his Word. I’m guessing most Christian families do these things, or something similar. It’s a blessing for our children, and one that the Lord often honors with the gift of salvation (1 Corinthians 7:14).

That being said, children are dependent upon their parents and have a tremendous trust in us. So, in their minds, what reason would they have to not believe what we take so seriously, what we teach them, and what we encourage them to believe to be true and trustworthy? But their believing it’s true because we believe it’s true is completely different than them having true, saving faith in Jesus Christ. The difference between the two though, is very difficult and often nearly impossible to discern. So, what should we do?

Most children begin asking about baptism after witnessing one in church or reading about it in the Bible. I also see parents having quiet conversations with their children about the Lord’s Supper when the plate is being passed, as they explain the necessity of faith in Christ for one to partake of the elements. So when the questions start coming up, I tell parents (myself included) to continue offering encouragement, telling their children that it’s a wonderful thing they’re thinking about baptism and expressing a desire to be a Christian. They should be urged to keep asking questions, learning the Scriptures, and asking God to be at work in their everyday lives. My oldest daughter is 6 years old and asks me almost daily, “Daddy, am I a Christian? I want to be!” That’s a wonderful thing, and we want to celebrate and encourage that belief. However, I also let her know that while we’re waiting for a while to baptize her until she grows and understands more, if she is a Christian, God will save her no matter what we do in terms of baptism now.

So what should we be looking for? I will offer a few suggestions based on what I look and listen for when speaking with children in our church, and what I am looking and listening for in my own children. First, I always ask the following questions up front:

  1. Why do you want to be baptized?
  2. What is baptism?
  3. Why should anyone be baptized?

And then I ask them (and the way I ask it is dependent upon their age):

  1. What does it mean to be a Christian?
  2. Can you tell me if there is a difference in your life? Was there a time you weren’t a Christian, but now you are? What’s different?
  3. Who is Jesus and what has he done to save us?
  4. What do we have to do so that Jesus will save us?
  5. Tell me about yourself and how you interact with God and with other people. How has that changed? (I’m looking for some kind of acknowledgement of sinfulness and being deserving of judgment). What do you think about yourself and your own heart?
  6. What is repentance? Have you repented of your sin?
  7. How are you trusting in God day-by-day?
  8. Can you tell me what the gospel is?

I don’t coach children through the answers, and I encourage parents to be careful to not just give their children answers to memorize and repeat. Obviously, most children aren’t going to be able to answer all of the questions using the same language an adult would, but we are merely looking for evidence of an understanding of each element and how each element belongs within the broader story of their life with Christ. It may be very elementary, but we’re not looking for advanced theologians, we’re looking to see if they understand what they profess to believe.

When a young child is encouraged to keep on believing, learning, and asking questions while baptism is delayed, if they truly understand about salvation and recognize their lost condition, they will not be easily dissuaded from being baptized. Perhaps, their persistence is an indication of their readiness. But if they’re not serious and it’s only a periodic discussion because they see something (Lord’s Supper, baptism, etc.), or they stop talking about it completely, then it’s worth waiting on for a while to see where it goes.

Obviously, there is no magic age when a person who professes faith should be baptized. But I also know I can get my three year old to tell me what I hope to one day hear and make the argument that she said the right things and should, therefore, be baptized. So we’re left to be wise and ask for God’s direction. There’s no harm in waiting for a while after an initial desire for baptism is expressed. I do believe it is unfortunate when we baptize too quickly because it can cause a false sense of assurance. However, we also want to be sensitive as to not provoke our children to wrath (Ephesians 6:4). If they are truly Christians, we want them to benefit from all of the means of grace.

In the end, we do have the means by which to keep the church pure through church discipline, or sometimes once they are teenagers or adults, those who were baptized as young children realize they were not saved when they though they were initially, and therefore do not maintain the same kind of relationship with the local church. Either way, there are safeguards, but it’s best not to use them if we can avoid it up front by being thoughtful and discerning when we consider whether or not to baptize our children.

(By: Nicholas Kennicott)

A Review of Blind Spots by Collin Hansen

Book Reviews, Books, Christian Living

When it comes to blind spots in the Christian life, we have two options: Admit we have them, or lie. I’ve never held a theological or philosophical position assuming it was wrong. Who does that? But it’s either the height of arrogance or ignorance to think it’s not possible that I have some wrong ideas, hold certain ideas in imbalance, or haven’t adequately considered viable alternatives. Challenging me to think clearly and critically about my own positions, I was helped tremendously by Collin Hansen‘s latest book entitled Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church (Hansen is the Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition).

In my own understanding and interacting with other Christians outside my tradition and theological framework, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t always done a great job. I could have easily been the one writing Hansen’s words: “With my highly attuned gift for discerning others’ motives, it didn’t take long for me to see what’s wrong with everyone else. Then I blamed them for not seeing the wisdom in my arguments… Because I’d understood my experience as normative for everyone, I couldn’t see how God blessed other Christians with different stories and strengths.”

Certainly, there are specific, unalterable truths that should not be tampered with, downplayed, or discarded. God has revealed in His Word, “Those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation” and those things “are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them” (1.7 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689). I have long been an advocate of Dr. Albert Mohler’s three-tiered Theological Triage and find it to be a helpful matrix in which to frame each Christian relationship. But I’m thankful that Hansen presses the conversation even further. He writes, “This book is about seeing our differences as opportunity. God created us in splendid diversity of thought, experience, and personality. And when these differences cohere around the gospel of Jesus Christ, they work together to challenge, comfort, and compel a needy world with the only love that will never fail or fade.”

Focusing on the gospel as the unifying, unalterable center of relationships and conversations, Hansen points out that all Christians have further, specific emphases that we assume to be more important than others, and he places them into three distinct categories. We will identify closely with either compassionate Christians, courageous Christians, or commissioned Christians. In each category, Hansen outlines the distinctives that are commendable and worthy of emulating, and suggests temptations that should be guarded against lest our blind spots remain undiscovered and crippling to our Kingdom efforts. It’s most likely that every Christian will resonate on some level with each category, because they all contain biblical elements, however the honest reader will find himself in a specific category more than the others.

Compassionate Christians

The compassionate Christians are those who see the hurting, broken world around them and have a longing to relieve suffering and poverty. Hansen describes the compassionate Christians: “You clothe the homeless, feed the hungry, nurse the sick. You write the letters, shame the offenders, protest the powers.” Compassionate Christians are quick to see the abundance of biblical exhortations about the disenfranchised “little people” of society and to call the church to action.

Hansen commends the compassionate Christians for their focus on an area of biblical truth and action that should always be on the church’s radar, but also warns, “With compassion comes blame. In a broken world that lacks simple solutions and people who care, it can become all too easy to blame those who aren’t mending our society. Compassion abounds for humanity, just not for humans.” Hansen wisely warns compassionate Christians to not emphasize giving at the expense of the gospel itself. It’s important to remember that our “compassion won’t always be appreciated or even received by a world that rejects the source of our compassion.”

Courageous Christians

The courageous Christians are those who take stands on truth, and oftentimes on specific issues of importance (or even non-importance). The courageous Christians are those who will make precise arguments for specific positions, and make appeals to others to not waiver from what they understand to be true. These are Christians like Martin Luther and the reformers, willing to stand, fight, and die for the things that matter. “Courage is necessary for us to endure in the faith.”

Hansen self-identified in this category, and it’s most likely that the majority of reformed Christians will. But Hansen is wise to offer some cautions here as well. The courageous Christians can sometimes turn important issues into single issues, demanding that other people fall in line behind a specific agenda or else they will be cast as an enemy and considered suspect in the future. Courageous Christians can easily become heresy hunters, and are willing to compromise the fundamental exhortation to love because of a single issue. While courage is important and necessary in the face of sin, false teaching, and evil attempts to thwart the work of God, it’s vital to be reminded that “courage is not measured by how many people you can offend.”

Commissioned Christians

Commissioned Christians are those who emphasize mission with an eye toward bringing as many into the church and God’s Kingdom as possible. “You might be a commissioned Christian if you worry that younger generations will slip away or never bother to show up unless churches adapt to changing times. You’re not exactly conservative or liberal in theological terms. You probably trust in the authority of Scripture and hold to conservative views on issues such as the exclusivity of Christ; otherwise why bother with evangelism? But you don’t fit in with Christians who actually enjoy debating theology or arguing over whether ministry practices conform to Scripture. You want to get on with the serious, urgent work of changing lives with the power of the gospel.”

Commissioned Christians seek to push the church to the highways and hedges that the gospel would be proclaimed far and wide. Surely, a continued focus on the great commission is important and necessary. However, Hansen warns, “in their search for cultural relevance,” commissioned Christians “can slide into syncretism. And their eagerness to expand the tent can culminate in theological compromise. Sometimes these churches don’t merely resemble the mall with their expansive parking lots and food courts; they also communicate with ‘practical’ and ‘relevant’ messages that Christianity is an à la carte faith that supplements our private pursuit of peace, wealth, and status.”

A Call to Unity and Growth

Hansen’s book challenges readers to identify personal tendencies to over-emphasize certain areas of focus at the expense of others. We never outgrow our need to find balance in the Christian life, and we can more readily do so when we are more determined to learn from other believers instead of instantly seeking to find ways to differ from them. Certainly, there will be significant differences from one Christian to another, however they need not always be divisive or viewed with negativity and skepticism. Our goal should be “the kind of biblical fulness that . . . expects opposition from the world and seeks unity among believers for the sake of the world.”

I highly recommend Hansen’s book to those who are willing to ask questions of their own heart and consider whether or not their blind spots have kept them from learning from other Christians who have a lot to offer.

If you want more before picking up the book, read 20 Truths From Blind Spots.

(By: Nick Kennicott)

Baptism as Clothing in Galatians 3:27: A Crucial Insight

Christian Living, The Church, Theology, Worship

[By: Matt Foreman]

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”
– Galatians 3:27

In Galatians 3:27, the Apostle Paul brings up baptism seemingly ‘out of the blue’.  Baptism is not mentioned anywhere else in the book.  He doesn’t expand on the point or give much explanation.  But the short statement he makes, and the context in which he says it – actually reveal a lot.  Galatians 3:27 becomes a very revealing and important verse for understanding baptism.

The Context
The verse occurs as part of one long argument that begins in 3:23 and runs down to 4:7.  And Baptism is actually the ‘pivot point’ of the argument.

Paul’s opponents, the Judaizer false teachers in Galatia, were teaching that the Gentiles were second class citizens, not yet fully part of the people of God.  They were teaching that the Gentiles needed to do more to become truly acceptable to God and truly heirs of God’s covenant promises.  Specifically, they needed to keep the Old Testament ceremonial law – to be circumcised, ritually pure and culturally Jewish.

But Paul argues that those outward Old Covenant signs like circumcision were temporary, anticipatory, and no longer necessary, because a new and better covenant reality had come.  As a result, Paul finally says in vs.26, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.”  Believers are already full sons of God.  Tim Keller writes, “It is not something we are aiming at, it is not a future attainment.  It is something that we have already, in our present state.”1  Believers are not “looking forward” to the date of their adoption, where afterwards they’ll be fully sons.  Paul is saying, You already are sons!

Furthermore, he argues, it’s not something had by virtue of birth.  It’s not something people have naturally – just because they’re born into a believing family.  Paul has argued – only “those of faith are the sons of Abraham” – see 3:7…  Only through faith do we “receive adoption as sons” – ch.4:5. (Notice: If we needed to be adopted, that means we’re not natural sons.  God only has one natural-born son – who is Christ.)  But now, all who believe in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, Paul says, are already fully and completely adopted as sons, and already made to feel the benefits of that adoption through the Spirit sent into their hearts: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father’.”

The Meaning of Baptism
But in the middle of this argument, right after saying, “In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith”, Paul refers to Baptism:  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Obviously, for Paul, baptism is a sign signifying the present spiritual reality of sonship.  The fact of Baptism should be a sign to Christians affirming their identity and relationship to Christ.  For Paul, the Baptism of a Christian was a definitive moment in their life that should have ongoing significance for their life

But why?  What does Baptism add to Paul’s argument?  What exactly does Paul think Baptism means?

The answer is found in the somewhat surprising metaphor Paul uses.  Paul connects Baptism with the imagery of putting on clothes.  He says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [or literally, “clothed yourselves (ἐνεδύσασθε) with Christ].  Where did Paul get this image? And why does he use it?

Three Connections for ‘Clothing’
The first intriguing connection is with the Roman practice of the toga virilis – the garment of manhood.  When a Roman boy reached the age of 15-16, he would finally be allowed through a ceremony to take off the crimson bordered toga praetexta (toga of childhood) and put on the pure white toga of manhood.  It was a coming of age ceremony, a rite of passage.  Interestingly, Paul had just been using the image of Old Testament believers as being like children under a chaperone (see 3:24-25 – “we are no longer under a guardian” – a pedagogue), whereas New Testament believers are spiritually come of age by virtue of faith in Christ.  Therefore, Baptism marks that spiritual coming of age ceremony: putting on the garments of manhood, of spiritual maturity.

A second intriguing source for this imagery of baptism as clothing may have been the early Christian baptismal rite itself.  When the early Christians were baptized (similar to Jewish proselyte baptism), the candidates would take off their outer garments, go into the water to be baptized, and after exiting the water, they would be re-clothed (possibly even in white linen – as a sign of cleanliness and righteousness in Christ).2  So the image connecting baptism with clothing would have been very naturally fixed in the minds of believers.

A third and related source for the imagery of baptism as clothing is actually far older, and is found in the Old Testament ceremony for the consecration of priests (see Exodus 29:4-5).  When a priest entered into his priestly service, he would first be washed with water…and then clothed with the garments of the priesthood, marking his endowment and readiness for service.  In fact, this practice probably provided something of the original background for the development of the baptismal rite.

In other words, Paul didn’t “create” the clothing metaphor for baptism.  It was a conceptual part of the rite itself and extremely relevant and fitting for his argument.  Baptism was a rite of passage, signifying entrance into consecrated service, spiritual maturity and adulthood with the full rights as sons.  Paul was signifying: New Testament believers are not in need of a tutor.  In Christ and with baptism, they are spiritually come of age.

‘Putting On Christ’
Even more powerfully, Paul calls it a ‘putting on’ of Christ himself.  Baptized believers “have put on Christ!”  What does he mean?  What does it mean to put on a Person?

Guthrie writes, “This is a favorite metaphor of Paul’s (cf. Rom.13:12; Eph.4:24; Col.3:12).  But here (and in Rom.13:14) is his most daring use of it, in which he likens Christ himself to a garment.  The expression conveys a striking suggestion of the closeness which exists between Christ and the believer.  Those who put on Christ can do no other than act in accordance with the Spirit of Christ…  The metaphor conveys essentially a new kind of life.  Everything is now to be related to Christ.”3  (Thus, for Paul, this imagery of baptism as clothing, though only seeming to appear once, was actually a central and controlling metaphor in Paul’s thought.  When Paul speaks in Colossians 3:9-12 or Ephessians 4:22-24 about “putting off” and “putting on” – this was likely baptismal language!)

Tim Keller calls it a “daring and comprehensive metaphor for a whole new life.”  What does it mean to put on Christ like a garment?  Keller develops the idea by saying, “This idea of clothing ourselves with Christ implies four amazing things: 1) Our primary identity is in Christ.  Our clothing tells people who we are… 2) The closeness of our relationship to Christ.  Your clothes are kept closer to you than any other possession…[It calls] us to moment-by-moment dependence and existential awareness of Christ… 3) The imitation of Christ…We are to ‘dress up like Jesus’… 4) Our acceptability to God…It covers our nakedness…The Lord Jesus has given us His righteousness, His perfection, to wear.”  Keller concludes,“This goes so far beyond the keeping of rules and regulations.  This goes even beyond simple obedience.  This is to be in love with him, bathed in him, awash in him.”4

‘Putting on Christ’ then is so important!  If believers have been baptized “into Christ”, then, through faith in Christ, they are, by definition, sons of God.  Paul wants every believer to know that he or she is already a fully adopted child of God.  It’s a status that is a present reality in their life.  It is a sign of full, conscious sonship by faith. Paul says, ‘You have the spiritual reality; you’ve been adopted as a full son.  You’ve been included in the unconditional covenant promise to Abraham.  You are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise – because you’ve been clothed in the Offspring, the true Offspring, who is Christ.’
Baptism thus encompasses and includes full redemption, adoption, and the experience of sonship through the Spirit (see 4:6).  The whole argument, after all, is connected.  So Paul makes deliberate connection between the sign of baptism and the spiritual baptism of the Spirit.  It’s a present reality in the life of believers that they’ve been baptized in the Spirit as sons; they have the experience of it in their hearts.  Rom.8:9 says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him”.

[In forthcoming articles, I will draw out some implications for paedobaptism, and for baptism as a means of grace…]

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Footnotes

1. Keller, Timothy. Galatians For You, p.89-90.  The Good Book Company, 2013.

2. See Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church.

3. Guthrie, Donald.  Galatians, p.110. Eerdmans, 1981.

4. Keller, Timothy. Galatians For You, p.91-92.  The Good Book Company, 2013.