I enjoy watching the show ‘I Love Lucy’, and one of my favorite episodes is called “Lucy’s Italian Movie”. In this episode, Lucy and Ricky travel to Italy and an Italian movie-maker offers Lucy a role in a film called “Bitter Grapes”. Now, Lucy’s undying dream is to be in show business, so she is ecstatic about the role and decides to prepare by visiting a vineyard. In true Lucy style, nothing goes quite as expected leading to Lucy trampling grapes in a wine vat. When the other grape trampler begins to feel that Lucy is not doing her share of the work, the two end up in a shoving match. By the time they are through, Lucy is covered head to toe in grape juice and is stained so blue that she can’t play the role in the movie!
This is the scene that came to my mind when we had a Sunday School lesson on baptism, and our pastor told us that the word for baptize was the same word that was used for dyeing cloth. Being baptized is like being immersed in something and coming out with all of its characteristics. Being baptized into Christ, then, “clothes” us with Christ – causes us to take on all of His characteristics. This is the idea that is being communicated in Galatians 3:27, which says “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
The question raised by this is whether this makes baptism part of the salvation process. Do we have to be baptized in order to take on the characteristics of Christ? In order to answer this question, it is first important to look at the context of this verse. Looking very broadly, the purpose of the book of Galatians is to encourage the believers in Galatia to realize that nothing is needed for salvation besides faith in Christ. Paul says over and over again that the law is not necessary for salvation. It is not following the law that saves us; it is only faith in Christ. In fact, Galatians 3:26, immediately preceding the verse in question, says “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine). Paul says salvation only comes through faith in Christ.
It seems quite clear from this context that Paul is not saying that baptism is necessary for salvation, but the question remains, what is the purpose of baptism? In what way does it “clothe [us] with Christ”? Baptism symbolizes two things – first it symbolizes a person’s identification with Christ in His death and resurrection (Colossians 2:12), and second, it illustrates a person’s death to sin and life through Christ (Romans 6:3-5). This second meaning is how baptism “clothes us with Christ.” When a person accepts Christ (salvation), that person takes off the old nature, and puts on the nature of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:17). As in the grape-stomping illustration, they take on all the characteristics of Christ. Water baptism symbolizes this spiritual reality (which is sometimes called baptism in the Spirit – Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
So, this verse is saying that those who have been baptized in Christ, meaning those who have died to sin and risen to life through Christ, have taken on the characteristics of Christ. What an assurance of our new life in Christ! Often the process of being renewed – sanctification – is difficult, but this verse reminds us that those who have been saved have taken on the characteristics of Christ, even as we are being renewed day by day!