Clothed In Christ

Explain Yourslef  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Baptism is an important Christian practice, and one that’s obviously important for Baptists! In this week’s message we’ll explore how faith, baptism and new life in Christ go together.

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This is the last stop in this series called “Explain Yourself”, which has been about better understanding some core beliefs among Christians generally, and specifically for Baptists. We’re living in a time where the rest of society has less and less understanding of what the Church is, so being able to explain our beliefs in a clear and compelling way would help.
Unfortunately we’re also living in a time when the Church seems to have less and less understanding of that the Church is, too. That’s a bad combination, and I want to keep looking at ways that, at our church, we can offer and encourage opportunities for discipleship that will help us know and represent Jesus well to others. I hope it helped a little to have talked about what it means to call Jesus Lord, why we trust the Bible, why each believers should grow their personal understanding what the Bible teaches, and what it means that we are all priests.
For today my original intent was to talk about baptism, and I will, but this final message also ended up focusing on what it looks like for a Christian to have freedom because of their faith, so we’ll spend a bit of time with that, too. There’s a lot of meaning backed into todays short passage from Galatians, so I’ll dive right in.

Faith and Law

Today’s passage focuses on a contrast between two ways of living - by faith or by law. Verse 23 starts with “before the coming of this faith” - meaning, before Jesus came. Before Jesus, the Apostle Paul writes, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 2:23-24)
By “the Law” Paul is talking about the the overall story and specific commands of the Torah - the first five books of the Old Testament. There were 613 commands identified through the story told in the Torah. But even in the Law there is a recognition that people can’t live up to it - Moses declares at the end of the final book of the Law that there is a problem with people’s hearts. They want to reject the Law. People can’t be good enough to follow the Law unless their hearts can be changed somehow.
When you move beyond the Law into the next set of Old Testament books, the Prophets, we see more and more references to someone who will come - the Messiah, God’s annointed, the Christ - who will actually enable people’s hearts to change so that they want to love God and others.
But Paul is talking specifically about the Law here, and He compares it to something called a “pedagogue.” The NIV translates that to “guardian.” These guardians were slaves who were given the responsibilies to guard a family’s child from the evils of society and give them moral training from around age 6 until puberty. And these guardians could often be quite strict or very harsh in how they carried this out.
Paul writes “The law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come we are no longer under a guardian.” (Galatians 3:24-25). So, speaking particuarly to formerly Jewish believers trying to adhere to those 613 commands of the Law, Paul says this is not the way to be a Christian. That guardian from our childhood isn’t in charge of us anymore.
The Law was useful for exposing evil and demonstrating that our hearts need to be transformed. The scriptures promise that God will send a Savior who can do this, and now, Paul says, this Christ has come. We have Jesus.
The Law is not opposed to Jesus, the Law shows us why we need Jesus. But now that we have Jesus that’s who we follow, not a list of commands.
This is good news, Paul says, because the Law divided people. The Law was given to the Jews as God’s chosen people who were called to be a witness to the world of who God is. But that Law separated Jews from Gentiles, and in the way it was being followed in Paul’s day it led to a sense of superiority felt by men over women and slaves, too. Some Jewish men used to pray “I thank you God that you have not made me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.”
Someone who prayed that would have had a hard time with what Paul says next, which is an extaordinary thing for this time and culture.
Paul says that since, by faith, you have outgrown that guardian, the Law, you are all children of God. Everybody who is baptized into Christ - everyone who has a spiritual union with Jesus by putting faith in Him - is joined together as part of the body of Christ, the Church, where those old divisions are obselete. The playing field is leveled when people have “clothed themselves with Christ.”
Clothed yourself with Christ is an interesting image - putting on your Jesus suite? Paul is quite possibly pointing to Roman culture again there. When a child in Roman society reached the age and matuirty to be considered an adult he was given a special toga which symbolized having the full rights of the family and state.
Paul tells the Galatian Christians that through faith in Jesus they have, as one commentator puts it: laid aside the old garments of the Law and had put on Christ’s robe of righteousness which grants full acceptance before God.” You have clothed yourselves with Christ. And in Christ “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one...”
There’s no spiritual hierarchy in the body of Christ. This is still a good challenge for today, because Christians can wrongly imagine that sex or nationality or status makes them superior to others. But this statement, when Paul made it, was one of the “turn the world upside-down” kind of statements in the Bible. Nobody, certainly not someone raised in the Jewish tradition like Paul, thought that way before. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith… How you were born doesn’t matter once you’re reborn into the family of God.

Baptized into Christ

That’s my segue into the final important Baptist belief I wanted to touch on during this series, which is baptism itself.
This passage doesn’t talk about baptism in a lot of detail, you have to look a few other places to build the full picture. But it does help define what kind of faith committment forms the foundation for baptism.
Growing up in a Baptist church most of the kids my age were all encouraged to take baptism class around age 12, and just about everyone from a good church family goes ahead and undergoes baptism afterward. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but there is the danger of turning baptism into a right of passage or something a kid does to please their family rather than something driven by a committment to Jesus.
Baptists practice believers baptism. We don’t baptize people with the expectation that the act changes that person’s status with God. We baptize them as a symbol and celebration of that person’s faith in Jesus and their desire to serve Him as their Lord.
And Baptists baptize by immersion. We don’t sprinkle or pour, so long as you can physically handle it we want to dunk you. That’s how Jesus was baptized, that seems to be the normal way anyone we read about in the New Testament was baptized, and there is a significance to that act of going beneath the water and coming up again. It symbolizes dying to your old self and old life, and rising again with a new life found in Christ.
Speaking of being “clothed with Christ” from today’s passage, this is the reason why churches often use special baptismal robes, often white ones. It adds to the symbolism of coming up out of the water sharing in the ressurection life of Jesus Christ.
Today’s passage highlights this transition from one kind of life to another. Some denominations differ in their thinking here, but for Baptists I think it’s fair to say that nobody is born Christian. A faithful family is a wonderful blessing, but at some point you must make your own choice about Jesus. There is the path of faith in Christ, or something else.
There is a kind of Law people with a Christian upbringing can follow, one where you don’t have a living faith but you still try to follow most of the normal Christian cultural rules. And, whether you start with any Christian experience or not, you can certainly choose a path of lawlessness, one that rejects God and the things of faith altogether.
The person who goes through the waters of baptism is declaring publically that they are turning away from any law or form of lawlessness as the foundation of their life and instead building a new life on the foundation of Jesus as part of His Church.

Give Me Freedom

Today’s passage describes this as a liberating experience. “Before the coming of this faith we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. The law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.”
The law was restrictive and impossible to live up to. The way of Jesus is one that we pursue willingly out of gratitude and love, not out of obligation or fear. There is freedom in this.
But what I kept getting stuck on when working on this passage was how you would explain to a normal person - some typical Nova Scotia who isn’t interested in religion at all, that Christianity is something freeing.
Compared to the way first century Jews were expected to adhere to the law, faith in Jesus clearly brought some newfound freedom. But that’s very different from most of the people around us who aren’t held in custody under the law, but instead practice lawlessness.
They don’t worry about chosing some best way, they pick whatever seems to work best for them. They haven’t agreed to be held to any particular standard, so they don’t really have to accept any complaint or critism that comes their way. Compared to being a Christian, which still clearly does have rules and expectations and requirements, aren’t you more free if you just do things your own way?
This was what I was still pondering on Thursday afternoon when, fortunately, I was feeling well enough that Amy I travelled up to Wolfville for the funeral for Bill Brackney. Dr. Brackney was my professor of theology and ethics in seminary, and the interim pastor here at Faith Baptist during my first year when I was doing my internship. And about six months ago he went from a healthy senior citizen to nearly dying of a severe infection. He survived, but never truly recovered. It was six months of complications and set-backs with a great deal of pain and confusion and discouragement at times.
Not that you would know that from the funeral. The service that he wanted was one that didn’t say much about him and his extremely long list of academic accomplishments and all the churches he had pastored, but one that was filled with hymns and scripture that simply praised God and affirmed His never-failing love.
That had an impact on me all on its own. But then what hit even harder was the sermon, preached by Bill’s good friend, the Rev. Dr. Dan Gibson. I don’t know the medical specifics affecting Dr. Gibson, but he preached from a wheelchair, holding the microphone in the one hand that had some ability to grasp, while someone held what I suspect was a very large-print manuscript for him and helped point to what came next if he lost track. His speech was muddled and hard to follow. But his faith came through loud and clear, starting with a verse from the book of Job: I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And he proclaimed that to live without the hope of eternal life is to make despair your constant companion.
And that’s when I thought back to that question of freedom, and how just doing what you feel like doesn’t necessarily make you more free. Not when we face the reality that we all know but hate to think about: that sooner or later we will be robbed of everything we have in this world. Our, vitality, our mobility, our intellect, our usefulness to others, our ability to care for ourselves and others, or to enjoy the things we used to enjoy - it will all be stripped away. Maybe it will happen in an instant. Maybe it will happen very gradually. But it will happen - these present lives of ours are finite, and we don’t get to know how long we get or how hard our last chapter or chapters will be.
It’s in this light that I see, with greater clarity, how faith offers a freedom that neither law or lawlnessness can.
Faith brings a freedom from despair. Christians have hope that death has been conquered - hope that is built on the solid foundation of Jesus’ life, death, ressurection, and two thousand years of Christian witness, not on wishful thinking that maybe there’s something more than darkness awaiting us. Romans 8 says: “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
Faith brings freedom from the burden of the world’s expectations. Some people let their lives be governed by the expecations of their family, the example of their peers, or the empty promises of the world. And some people wonder how much their life matters. Who are you if you don’t accomplish something impressive with your life or at least end up with piles of grandchildren and great-grandchildren to remember you? But in faith we believe that we are invaluable - created in the image of God, redeemed by Jesus’ own blood, and deeply and fully loved by God. The book of Galatians begins with this: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Faith brings freedom from self-doubt and insecurity. We know we’re not perfect. We know we’ve messed up. We don’t pretend otherwise - we own these things, we try to make them right however we can, and then we turn them over to God asking humbly for his forgiveness. This makes it possible to let our failures increase our love and compassion for others rather than serving as a constant source of guilt and shame.
Faith brings freedom from folly. As I just said, faith doesn’t prevent us from falling short - we’re still human. But faith gives us access to God and the wisdom He offers through His Word and His Church and His Spirit. Faith gives us spiritual resources to understand what will be harmful and wasteful and avoid these things. Getting to do what you want may feel like freedom to the foolish, but actual freedom is being able to find your way to what is actually good and fulfilling in life. 1st Corinthians 10 says: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.”


When people are baptized and they go under the water they aren’t dying to exactly the same things. Some die to legalistic religion. Some die to aimless wandering. Some die to willfull rejection of God.
But we come back up the same. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, you are all one in Christ Jesus.
We come back up with new spiritual lives that don’t depend on who we were or what status the world gives us. We’re clothed with Christ, representing Him in this world. We’re the ones with the beautiful priviledge of being able to say:
I’m on the side of life. Don’t be afraid, you aren’t alone and this isn’t all pointless. You’re created, loved, and meant for more than this.
I’m on the side of grace. God isn’t itching to punish you, He was willing to lay down His very life to redeem you. I’m not here to get even or return hurt for hurt. I have peace from God for all that He has forgiven me, and by his grace I’m strong enough to forgive you, too.
I’m on the side of truth. I don’t always know the right answer, but I won’t make one up in order to look better than I deserve or grab something I didn’t earn. I believe there is a right and a wrong and a reliable way to tell the difference, and I’m not in the business of compromising on that is true or right.
I’m baptized into Christ, and clothed with Christ.
So, to come back to the whole idea of understanding ourselves well enough to explain ourselves, I’ll sum up what we’ve looked at in this series more quickly than you’d expect from me:
As a Christian, and specifically a Baptist, what do I believe and how do I live?
I have faith that Jesus is all that the Bible says He is. He is my Savior, and the Lord of my life and of the Church. What He says goes, and I want to be as much like Him as I can possibly be by obeying His commands and walking in His example.
I trust the Bible as the sufficient source of guideance for who Jesus is and what He wants. It’s not the only way to know things about God and answer questions about life, but if the Bible doesn’t agree with something it can’t stand.
I believe that, because of my faith that gives me access to God through His Spirit, I can understand the Bible and I have both the freedom and responsibility to know what I believe to the satisfaction of my conscience, and to respect other Christians who differ with me in good faith.
I don’t do any of this alone, because this access to God through His Spirit makes me part of a priesthood alongside my brothers and sisters in the Church. Together we adopt the posture of Jesus in loving and serving others and put our gifts and skills to use for Jesus’ sake.
These are some central beliefs and practices, and my committment to them is symbolized in baptism. I was baptized into Christ when I responded to the invitation to be a follower of Jesus, and I was baptized by immersion in water as a sign to the world my church that I will continue to follow Jesus, whatever may come.
However many days He gives. However hard or easy those days are. Maintaining hope in the eternal life Jesus promised when my time on this earth is done. Believing that love and life triumph - thank God. That’s my path, and I’m grateful to have one. I think you and those aroudn you would find life richer and better on this path, too. May we be good examples of how to walk it and priests willing to proclaim the good that God has done for us.
Would you join me in the Lord’s Prayer to conclude today?
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