“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
As you might have already gathered by the question presented in the title there are many who use Galatians 3:27 as a proof text to support their belief that water baptism is a necessary instrument of the salvation process, without which a person cannot be saved. While we want to hold up the importance of baptism as an ordinance instituted by the Lord Himself, we do not want to confuse its importance with saving faith. Not just because “we don’t want to” or because it doesn’t fit with a certain system of theology but because the Scripture does not teach such a doctrine. Galatians 3:27 is a great example of how people can do great injustice to the meaning of a text by avoiding a number of incredibly important hermeneutical principles.
Besides the response that will be set forth in the proceeding points, the methodology of the argument will also be very helpful. It can serve as a great framework to ensure that you do not make the serious mistake that people make when they take a text out of its context and teach false doctrine.
I. Let’s look at the immediate context. In the verse immediately preceding Galatians 3:27, we are told, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus ” (vs. 26). So the verse in dispute (vs. 27) is immediately preceded by a verse that teaches that “faith in Christ Jesus” is the means through which people become sons and daughters of God. That’s important. That will help understand what Paul was (and was not) speaking about in verse 27; but first we ought to notice how verse twenty-six flows out from the extensive argument that he had been making in the latter portion of chapter two and just about the entirety of chapter three. Which brings us to our second point…
II. Let’s look at the context of Galatians. We will focus our examination to considering the verses leading up to Galatians 3:26-27, beginning at Galatians 2:16. Don’t forget what Paul has been arguing for – that a person is justified by faith and not by works. Watch the way in which Paul extensively argues this point leading up to the verse in question.
In Galatians 2:16 Paul wrote, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” In this one verse we see how the apostle Paul accented the importance of faith three times!
Then, if we continue reading on into chapter three we see him argue the importance of faith over and over again. Here’s a sampling:
- Galatians 3:2 – “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
- Galatians 3:5-6 – “Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” just as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
- Galatians 3:7 – “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”
- Galatians 3:8 – “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.'”
- Galatians 3:9 – “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”
- Galatians 3:11 – “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for the just shall live by faith.”
- Galatians 3:14 – “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
- Galatians 3:22 – “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
- Galatians 3:24 – “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
So within the context of Galatians, and particularly the verses leading up to Galatians 3:27, Paul had been laboring extensively to show that a person was justified by faith. It would be strange (and incorrect) to think that after he made this point over and over and over again, he suddenly ‘threw in’, as a mere aside, an additional doctrine of salvation importance saying, ‘Oh yeah, and don’t forget, you’re actually saved by water baptism too.’ That doesn’t work. Both the immediate context and larger book context argue against it.
III. Larger Scriptural Context. With this step we are simply seeing if the larger context of Scripture argues for justification by faith or justification by baptism. The evidence overwhelmingly and indisputably supports the former – justification by faith. Rather than citing all the verses in their entirety here is a large sampling of the ‘addresses’ where those verses can be found: Jn. 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:47; Rom. 3:21-26, 28-30; 4:3, 5, 11, 16; 5:1; 9:30, 33; 10:4, 9-10; Eph. 1:13; 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9; etc.
IV. What kind of baptism is in view here? Perhaps the biggest mistake made by those who teach that a verse like Galatians 3:27 teaches salvation-by-baptism is that they assume when the word “baptism” is used the text can only be speaking of water baptism. Remember the Scripture does not only speak about water baptism, it speaks about “baptisms” (Gr. baptisimon), one of which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit whereby He (the Holy Spirit) immerses a believer into union with Christ. John the Baptist, for example, said that while he baptized with water one was coming after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Lk. 3:16b). The apostle Paul wrote of this baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:12,13 saying:
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
That’s the baptism that is in view in Galatians 3:27. So besides the fact that there is no mention of water in Galatians 3:27 (an important fact to note), it’s the baptism of the Holy Spirit that works coterminously with justification by faith – that’s the connection between verse 26 and 27! To be a son of God through faith in Christ Jesus (vs. 26) is to have been baptized by the Spirit into Christ – spiritually speaking (vs. 27).