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08.08.10, Does Baptism Really Make us One? Galatians 3:26-4:7 Sermon Summary

by on August 10, 2010

Summary Points

  • The theological and historical context of Paul’s most liberating statement
  • How to get the most out of the Bible today
  • How to overcome prejudices in your life
  • The relationship between salvation and the sacraments

Not every part of the Newer Testament is as enlightened as this passage from Galatians. Two examples: “Women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (1 Tim 2:9-12). Or “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law says” (1 Cor 14:33b-34).

To best understand the liberating aspects of this passage, we need some historical and theological context. First, when Paul refers to “Abraham’s offspring,” he’s arguing about the inclusion of non-Jews among the people of God. Jews may consider themselves included on the basis of their “flesh,” as biological descendants of Abraham. Non-Jews are included on the basis of their faith—a faith they share with Abraham.

Next, Paul says we are children of God, not slaves. The difference is that children share in the inheritance of the family; slaves do not. But Paul also says that children are like slaves so long as they are children. While heirs, they are not treated as such until they are grown.

Third, Paul challenges the three most prominent social hierarchies of his day, saying they are no longer in effect because of the unity we have in Christ: (1) the distinction between Jew and Non-Jew; (2) the distinction between slave and free; (3) and the distinction between male and female. This union with Christ is effected in baptism. Baptism makes us one with Christ and with one another.

With the phrase “male and female,” Paul alludes to the first creation story in Genesis 1:27 where God creates humanity in God’s image, “male and female.” And here is why the passage is so revolutionary and liberating. Genesis 1:27 had the effect of defining both what a “family” is (male and female, plus any children), and what it means to reflect God’s image (as a male or female in relation to the opposite sex). But here, because of the unity we have in Christ through baptism, Paul says there is no longer “male and female,” which we take to mean that unpaired individuals are not deficient, and those who cannot be paired heterosexually are not defective. Both individuals are wholly included in Christ as they are, for in Christ there is no longer “male and female.”

This passage, perhaps better than any other, demonstrates the continuity between Jesus’ teachings and practices and Paul’s. Presbyterians can feel confident with this interpretation as we remember the guidance we gain from our Confessions. The Confession of 1967 states that, “The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God’s work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless human words, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding. As God has spoken his word in diverse cultural situations, the church is confident that he will continue to speak through the Scriptures in a changing world and in every form of human culture” (9.29).

Notice these points:

  • God’s reconciling work is the lens through which we read the Bible;
  • The Bible is the product of human hands;
  • It speaks God’s Word to us in our culture only as we respect the culture in which it was written.

And so Presbyterians place a higher value on this passage as opposed to those quoted at the beginning of this sermon, and we ordained women elders in 1930, and Ministers of Word and Sacrament in 1956.

It took so long because we had to overcoming the prejudices bequeathed to us from our culture and traditions, prejudices against women in leadership. To help us overcome other prejudices we have today, consider these steps.

  • Name your prejudices. If you don’t know what they are, listen to yourself think. If you say, “I’ll never tolerate . . .” that’s likely a prejudice. Or listen to the Spirit of God. Spirit will reveal your prejudices because God wants to liberate you from them.
  • Remember the unity we have in Christ. Those against whom you have prejudice are you, and you are they, in Christ.
  • Remember that God calls you to grow beyond your childhood faith. You are not a slave but a child, but you are also called to become an heir, and to do that, you have to abandon childish ways.

Does baptism really make us one? The answer is on two levels. On one level, of course it does, because God’s Spirit makes it so. We are joined to Christ in baptism, and joined to one another. But on another level, we have to live as one, and that is something we have to choose to do, and to do that we have to overcome our prejudices.

Calvin taught that our salvation is in union with Christ. That union, our salvation, is effected and remembered in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The sacraments are therefore both the foretaste and the means of our salvation. They make us one, but we also have to act as one.

Questions for Further Reflection

  • Which parts of the Bible are uncomfortable for you to read (genocide, sexism, pre-scientific explanations, etc.)? How might the Confession of 1967 and the application of its interpretive principle demonstrated here help you appreciate the Bible anew?
  • What prejudices might you have? Are you willing to submit them to God’s Spirit at work in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
  • Is it possible your prejudices or your under-appreciation of the sacraments diminish your experience of salvation?
One Comment
  1. Nice blog! Thanks for sharing. Baptism is a very special ceremony.

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