Baptism and Covenant: A Galatians 3:28 Sandwich

Do you like this verse?

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

That’s a wonderful – and very popular – line from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. How does this marvelous state of affairs come to be?

Pay attention to the verses that immediately precede and follow it. The unity of humankind is not a natural endowment, but a result of God’s work in the life of the church and the story of salvation. The gift of oneness among all human beings – Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – is a work of baptism and covenant.

First, God creates this new social reality corporately and bodily through baptism, in which God works through our faith.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:26-27

It’s not that faith that simply leads to baptism or that baptism works apart from or in addition to faith. Rather, faith in Christ is at work in and through Christian baptism.

For Paul, there is both a passive and an active component to baptism. Notice in verse 27.

  • Baptized into Christ – Passive voice. Done by the church in Christ’s name, and passively received by the believer. Uniting the believer to Christ and the community that bears Christ’s name.
  • Put on Christ– Middle voice. What the believer does. Scholars suggest that those who were baptized actually put on a new garment, symbolically representing their new life in Christ.

Unlike Adam and Eve, who sewed fig leaves together to cover their shame, believers put on Christ, who more perfectly covers their Sin.

Our clothing is what people see. When God looks at us, he sees Jesus, and so should the people around us. We who bear the image of Christ should display his love and righteousness to the church and to the world.

We clothe ourselves with Christ, but he is not like a garment that we can put on and take off at will. What begins as something external to us – an “alien righteousness,” the reformers called it – transforms us more and more into his likeness.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. The “for” (γάρ) at the beginning of verse 27 makes it the foundation of the reality in verse 26.  It is those who have been baptized into Christ and who have clothed themselves with Christ who by faith are children of God. And because we are all the children of God, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, slave or free, male or female. 

Second, God’s world-unifying work in Christ Jesus does not take place in a historical vacuum. This is what God has been work toward from the very beginning, starting with the patriarch Abraham.

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:29

Galatians 3:29 alludes to God’s covenant with Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a multitude, and that in Abraham’s offspring all the nations of the world would bless themselves.  Paul spends much of chapters 3 and 4 describing how God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus and in the lives of Gentile believers. By their faith in Christ, non-Jewish believers had become heirs of God’s covenant with Abraham. Jews and Gentiles come to be one in Christ Jesus only in the context of God’s covenant with Abraham.

In Christian baptism, believing Gentiles have been initiated into the covenantal story of salvation and made a part of God’s holy people. They’ve become part of Abraham’s family and heirs of the promise by faith. This is why Paul so adamantly opposed those who wanted to impose circumcision on them. What else needs to be done? What more could be done? In Christian baptism, God has already adopted faithful Gentiles into the family of Abraham as children of God. It’s not as if baptism is simply a Christian replacement for the Jewish ritual of circumcision. It’s rather that baptism represents a new reality that has only come into existence with Christ’s death and resurrection.