John Wesley’s Two Minds on Baptism into Christ

John Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament reveals two competing views of baptism. Wesley’s note Galatians 3:27 displays what you might call a testimonial view of baptism. Paul wrote, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Wesley paraphrases Paul’s words,

For as many of you as have testified your faith by being baptized in the name of Christ, have put on Christ – Have received him as your righteousness, and are therefore sons of God through him.

Wesley’s paraphrase introduces the idea of “testimony,” a concept not actually found in the text itself. Here, Wesley understands baptism to be a person’s public affirmation of of the inward faith he or she already possesses. “Putting on Christ” is the result of inward faith, not the baptismal act. Baptism itself does not appear to accomplish anything.  With this understanding, Paul’s reference to being “baptized into Christ” almost seems superfluous.

On the other hand, Wesley displays a more sacramental view of baptism in his comment on Romans 6:3. Paul wrote, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Wesley comments,

In baptism we, through faith, are ingrafted into Christ; and we draw new spiritual life from this new root, through his Spirit, who fashions us like unto him, and particularly with regard to his death and resurrection.

In this comment, Paul conforms to the historical understanding of baptism within Protestantism. God’s grace and human faith are both operative in the baptismal waters, producing actual results in the life of the believer. In baptism, through faith, we are united to Christ, from whom we draw new spiritual life by means of the Holy Spirit who reshapes our lives.

I prefer Wesley’s comment on Romans 6:3. I think it more accurately reflects Paul’s intent.