Baptism in Christ: Giving Words Their Full Meaning
Recently a friend of mine received a very distinguished award from her denomination for her long-term leadership in promoting the “maximum baptismal role of women in the Church.” As I pondered our baptismal role, I remembered that many baptismal fonts from the early church had Galatians 3:26-28 inscribed on them. Why? Baptism, rather than circumcision, became the public expression of our covenantal relationship with God, attained through our union with Christ. Just as Christ rose victoriously over sin, we too rise out of the waters of baptism, symbolizing our rising victorious with Christ over sin. United to Christ in baptism, God does not look upon our sins, but sees that we are clothed in Christ, a reality that Paul summarizes in Galatians 3:27-29: “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
To be united to Christ completely redefines our identity and status with respect to God. It also redefines our relationship to one another. In the same way Christ established satisfaction or peace between sinners and God, so too Christ builds peace between the members of his body—the Church. Because of this, theologians suggest that our christology (what we understand about Christ and our salvation in him) directs our ecclesiology (what we understand about the Church). Just as there is an intimacy or a union between Christ and each redeemed soul, there is also unity or mutuality between those who are redeemed by Christ. To be in Christ is never simply a statement solely about one’s redemptive status. For our redemption also directly influences our status in relationship to one another, as members of Christ’s body.
Paul boldly suggests in Galatians 3 that Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, males and females are all one in Christ. He wrote these words to a world in which nearly half of the population were slaves. How radical Galatians 3:28 must have sounded to first century ears! How radical our baptism remains today! Be clear about this! Our relationship with Jesus changes everything! That is the true meaning of baptism. Our significance and influence is not defined by our earthly parents but through our relationship to God from whom we receive our ultimate inheritance. And our sisters and brothers receive the same inheritance and gifts from God’s Spirit. These gifts never come in pink or blue, yellow, black, or white. Through the power of the Cross, expressed in Christian baptism, we no longer ascribe value, dignity, and worth according to social status, ethnicity, gender, or class. Hallelujah.