Baptism, An Exploration: Galatians, Part 1 (Faith is Sufficient)

JESUS BAPTISMRegular readers know that I spend a lot of time wrestling with Galatians. It’s a vitally important book for the modern Churches of Christ. And its theme is that it’s a deadly sin, indeed, a perversion of the gospel, to add anything to faith in Jesus as a requirement to be saved.

And yet one of the verses that most strongly argues for the necessity of baptism is found in Galatians —

(Gal 3:27 ESV) 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

We have to consider this one in context.

“Faith” in Galatians

The theme of Galatians is found in —

(Gal 2:11-12 ESV) 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

Cephas (Peter) “stood condemned” because, under pressure from those who insisted on adding circumcision as a requirement to be saved, he refused to fellowship uncircumcised Christians. He was condemned for condoning the behavior of those who added circumcision to faith in Jesus as a condition of salvation.

To see how this theme permeates Galatians, we need to consider all the “faith” and “belief” (same word in the Greek) verses in Galatians.

(Gal 2:16 ESV) 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

“Works of the law” could be translated just as well as “works of the Torah.” Baptism is certainly not a work of the Torah, as nothing in the Law of Moses commands anything like baptism! But does Galatians also apply to things that are of the same nature as Torah? If we replaced, say, circumcision with tatoos and required people to be tatooed, rather than circumcised, to be saved — wouldn’t that violate Galatians just as much as insisting on circumcision?

I think the teaching of Galatians is unquestionably much broader than Torah. After all, Paul doesn’t contrast Torah keeping to Christianity. He contrasts works of the Law to faith in Jesus. His argument is that circumcision can’t be essential for salvation because it’s not faith in Jesus — and only faith in Jesus is essential.

(Gal 3:2-3 ESV) 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Indeed, salvation is “by the Spirit” not “by the flesh.” It’s the Spirit’s work in the Christian that saves. And the Spirit is received by the “hearing with faith.” Therefore, faith must be enough.

(Gal 3:5-6 ESV) 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith* — 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Paul then begins to explain that Christian salvation is based on God’s covenant with Abraham: God’s promise to count faith as righteousness. The reason the Spirit comes from “hearing with faith” is because God covenanted to save Abraham by faith.

(Gal 3:7-9 ESV) 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Faith is the requirement to be a “son of Abraham” because Abraham was saved by faith. (Recall that “faith” includes not only believing certain things to be true, but also trusting in Jesus and faithfulness to Jesus, but faithfulness is a state of the heart, not a requirement to be perfect in understanding or action.)

Abraham is not just an example of salvation by faith. God is fulfilling his covenant with Abraham through Jesus and the salvation of the Gentiles.

(Gal 3:11-12 ESV) 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

If salvation is “by faith” then anything else is excluded. Indeed, Torah cannot save because it requires perfect obedience. Paul doesn’t speak ill of the Torah. Rather, he argues over and over that Torah doesn’t save because it’s not the same thing as faith.

(Gal 3:13-14 ESV) 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” — 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Now, faith works to save us because faith brings the Spirit. And, of course, Paul began the chapter by arguing that the Spirit came by “hearing with faith” — and nothing else.

(Gal 3:22-26 ESV) 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Paul explains the need for the Law. The Law was a “guardian” until Christ could come, and the coming of Christ allows salvation by faith in him. We are “all” (Jew and Gentile) “sons of God, through faith.” Faith is enough. The Law doesn’t save because it’s not faith.

Over and over, Paul asserts that “those who believe” receive “the promise,” that is, God’s promise to Abraham to count faith as righteousness.

We skip ahead —

(Gal 5:5-6 ESV) 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Paul’s point is that circumcision isn’t faith and therefore can’t be essential for salvation. Therefore, it’s neither a fellowship nor a salvation issue — because it’s neither faith nor love.

Of course, the Judaizing teachers didn’t deny the necessity of faith! They denied the sufficiency of faith. They wanted to add circumcision to faith — for even Abraham was circumcised! But Paul won’t allow anything to be added to faith as an additional condition (this is, again, the three-part faith we discussed earlier).

But we know that Paul ties baptism closely to our salvation —

(Gal 3:27 ESV) 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

We’ll take up this verse in the next post.

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* Notice that Paul credits their ability to do miracles to their faith in Jesus. If miraculous abilities came only from apostolic hand-laying, this argument would make no sense at all. Indeed, miracles would be evidence of the necessity to add a rite to faith — the laying on of apostolic hands.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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9 Responses to Baptism, An Exploration: Galatians, Part 1 (Faith is Sufficient)

  1. Jay,
    As you take up Galatians 3:27 in your next post, I hope you note the relationship it sustains to becoming a child of God by faith (3:24-27) and to the receiving the Spirit (3:26-27; 4:6).
    Jerry

  2. Royce Ogle says:

    Al Maxey's latest "Reflection" is titled "Is Baptism a Sacrament?" (http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx470.htm) His treatment of this important subject is spot on in my view. I'd be interested to know what you and your readers think.

    Royce

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Jerry,

    Not to worry. I'll take up those verses soon.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Royce,

    I'll provide links and some thoughts on Al's latest shortly.

  5. Patricia Harrod-Wyro says:

    In your referenced scriptures above – We are justified by faith – considered righteous through our faith – receive the Spirit because of our faith…This seems to be in conflict to Acts 2:38 for example:
    Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
    In the above scripture, we receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit through repentance and baptism.
    Would you please clarify this for me?
    Thank you,
    Patricia

  6. Patricia Harrod-Wyro says:

    Jay,
    It seems you have so many articles on Baptism and other topics that it is hard to figure out their order sometimes….Like Galatians Part 1 and 2…that is not the end, but there is not a Part 3 or I haven't found it. What is the next article that connects to 1 and 2?

  7. Jay Guin says:

    Patricia,

    The baptism posts are indexed at http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/t

    Unfortunately, my friend who maintains the index for me is in grad school and can't always keep up. But the posts he's not gotten to are all still on the main page.

    There is no Galatians Part 3, but the series continues with —
    http://oneinjesus.info/2011/01/baptism-an-explora
    http://oneinjesus.info/2011/01/baptism-an-explora
    http://oneinjesus.info/2011/01/baptism-an-explora
    http://oneinjesus.info/2011/01/baptism-an-explora

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Patricia,

    The current series on baptism, "Baptism, An Exploration," seeks to answer just that question. The key to the study, I believe, is to commit to accept the scriptures' teachings for what they say, in context.

    The fact is that the scriptures repeatedly and emphatically state that ALL with faith in Jesus ("faith" being used in Paul's or John's sense) will be saved. There are dozens and dozens of verses that say that.

    But the baptism verses are there, too.

    We can't reconcile the verses by reference to our traditions and preferences. Rather, we must find the solution in the scriptures themselves, by looking as deeply into what is being said as we can manage. Nor can we permit one set of passages overrule the other. So it's no easy task!

    And so that's what the series is about.

  9. Patricia Harrod-Wyro says:

    Thank you, Jay, for answering my questions. I appreciate so much your lessons and thank you for giving the order of the next few lessons on Baptism. It is difficult to reconcile much of your post because many times they are in opposition to what the cofC teaches; however, you have helped open my eyes to the Truth.
    Blessings,
    Patricia

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