Interpretative Challenges

Galatians – Living by Grace
Interpretative Challenges

a. Baptismal regeneration

– What is baptismal regeneration?

Gal 3:27 says: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”.
This verse, as well as some other verses in the Bible is often used by the baptismal regenerationists to support the idea that a person must be baptized to be saved and to be regenerated.

There are other verses used by the baptism regenerationists, e.g.
John 3:5 – Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit”;
Mark 16:16 – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”;
1 Pet 3:21 – “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

These baptismal regenerationists believe that according to Gal 3:27 and the other verses as mentioned before, water baptism is the place and time where a person “puts on Christ”, where he is “clothed with Christ”, and he is in Christ. They teach that water baptism is necessary for salvation and regeneration, because being immersed in the baptismal water is the place and time of deliverance from sins and the place and time of regeneration of new life. This is simply not true.

– Is baptism necessary for salvation? and Does baptism leads to regeneration?
To rightly answer these questions, we need to define what baptism is and to examine Gal. 3:27 (and the other verses) in its contexts, and not single verse alone.

– What is baptism?
There are two kinds of baptism:

i) Baptism of the Holy Spirit,
ii) Water baptism

– What do we mean by Baptism in the Holy Spirit?
Baptism in the Holy Spirit can be defined as: at the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit places a believer into permanent union with Christ and with other believers in the Body of Christ.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit does two things. The first thing baptism of the Holy Spirit does is, it unites us with Christ.
How it unites us with Christ?

  • First, it causes a person to repent as in John 16:8 [When he (here refers to the Holy Spirit) comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment]. The Holy Spirit also points us to Christ and give us faith to trust in Christ as in John 15:26 [“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me”].

As stated in Hebrews 11:1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Although we have not seen Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts about His death for our sins and His resurrection for our new life, and gives us the faith to trust in Him as our savior and Lord, uniting us with Him, as stated in Rom 6:1-4.

Rom 6: 1- 4: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life”.

Thus, the first thing baptism of the Holy Spirit does is identifying us spiritually with the death and resurrection of Christ, give us a new life and uniting us with Him. This regeneration of new life is by faith, the act of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

  • Secondly, baptism in the Holy Spirit joins us to the body of Christ, and identifies us as united with other believers, as stated in 1 Cor 12:13 and Gal 3:28.

1 Corinthians 12:13 – “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”.

Also, right after the verse of Gal 3:27Gal 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Therefore, the right understanding we should have for Gal 3:27 is that the “baptized into Christ” here means the baptism in the Holy Spirit whereby believers are regenerated and united with Christ, and united with other believers as one.

This regeneration is by faith, the act of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Water baptism is the external work of identification with ChristIt is an outward representation of an inward reality. It represents the death of the person ( Rom. 6:3-5), the union of that person with Christ (Gal. 3:27), and being united in one with other believers (1 Cor. 12:13, Gal 3:28). It is an act of a believer’s obedience to the instruction of Jesus Christ to go through water baptism. It is not a sign or seal of salvation.

Unlike the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is the act of the Holy Spirit, which gives us the faith to be saved and regenerated, water baptism does not lead to salvation and regeneration!

– So, if water baptism is not necessary for salvation and regeneration, then what is the importance of water baptism?

Having been regenerated, the person shall follow the instruction of Jesus Christ to go through water baptism. Matt 28:19 – Jesus says: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the holy ghost”.

Therefore, water baptism is a believer’s act of obedience to the instruction of Jesus. It is a public statement proclaiming that the person is united with Christ, and identified with other believers as the body of Christ. It is a testimony to others, which encourages other believers, and could also help nonbelievers to seriously consider our faith when we take it seriously.

For believers who are not willing to go through water baptism, although they are identified with other believers by Christ in reality, they are not living as part of the body of Christ and demonstrating this reality, and this will affect the functioning of the body of Christ. They are disobeying the instruction of Jesus. Also, they are not giving the testimony to encourage other believers, and to help non-believers to consider our faith seriously.

Therefore, believers should know the importance of water baptism, in addition to the importance of baptism in the Holy Spirit, and should go through water baptism.

On the other hand, it is very dangerous to go through water baptism without the the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In another words only true believers who have been saved and regenerated should go through water baptism.

Consider:

•  Judas –He did not believe Jesus as savior, thus, although he was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, he loved money more than loving Jesus. He was not saved nor regenerated.
•  Similarly, for many non-believers who have gone through water baptism without the pre-requirement of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, as they are not regenerated and are not part of the body of Christ in reality, they are not true church members. They are affecting the functioning of the body of Christ. The water baptism also affects their own salvation as they may have the wrong believe that they are already saved by water baptism.
•  On infant baptism – as infants can not make decisions, they could not repent and trust Christ as their Lord and Savior. Thus there is nothing internal and nothing to be demonstrated outwardly. For those infants who are been put into water, they are just wet. The water baptism may also affect their future salvation as they may later have the wrong believe that they are already saved by water baptism.

In conclusion, Baptismal regeneration contradicts Scripture, for we are regenerated by being baptized into Christwhich is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, the internal work of the act of the Holy Spirit in our hearts which cause us to repent and gives us faith to trust Christ as our Savior and Lord, uniting us with Christ and other believers. Water Baptism is the outward declaration of the inward reality. It is the act of believers and a testimony to others.

b. Equality vs authority/submission

– God’s plan concerning racial, social and gender distinctions

The second interpretative challenge concerns “Equality of roles vs Auhority-Submission”.

Gal 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Misrepresentation of Gal 3:28. This verse has been mis-interpreted by various people to mean the removal of all racial distinctions (“neither Jew nor Greek”), social positions (“neither slave nor free”) and gender differences (“neither male nor female”). Equality, they falsely reasoned, means getting rid of all role distinctions.

To properly determine the meaning of this verse, we must:

  • Firstly, examine the context in which it was given and the language it was originally written. The context not only involves the verbal but any historical or geographical information given in the text.
  • Secondly, interpret it on the principle that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture, but that it interprets itself. Scripture must interpret Scripture by “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13).

(1) General context – Let us examine the general context in which Galatians 3:28 was written.

  • What is the emphasis of the Galatians’ epistle up to chapter 3:28? The apostle Paul dealt with the gospel which involves faith in Jesus Christ or justification by faith. Paul declared that there was no saving value in the law, for the law was not given to save. Christ alone is sufficient for salvation.
  • What is Paul’s conclusion? Racial, social and gender distinctions do not secure the promises of God, only union with Christ. Only those who are in Christ are saved, and they are heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).

(2) Scripture cannot contradict Scripture.

  • At first glance, it may seem that the apostle Paul was advocating the removal of racial, social and gender distinctions. However, we will now discuss under 3 headers, what the Scripture really says on the concept of Authority and Submission:

(a) God’s plan for authority and submission

God has a definite plan for authority and submission. The best example that equality and submission are not contradictions is the Son of God’s submission to His Heavenly Father. In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul addressed the structure of authority within the church and wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:3“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

In Colossians 2:9, we read that there never was a time when the Son of God ever ceased to be fully God. In essence and being, the equality between God the Father and God the Son was maintained at all times. Philippians 2:6-7 says: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped , but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

While the Lord was on earth, He was ‘functionally subordinate’ to God the Father. God the Son became man. He willingly accepted and followed the divine plan that He would subordinate Himself to the leadership of God the Father while He was here on earth.

Christ’s submission to His Father does not suggest inferiority. The difference between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a functional one. They differ not in their essence or nature, but in the different roles they carry out in the Godhead. Similarly, men and women do not differ in their humanness, only in the roles they have been assigned by their Creator.

(b) Authority-submission to be maintained

(i) Racial Distinctions – The Bible teaches that God was the one who divided by lands, languages, races and nations (Gen 10:5; Deut 32:8; Acts 17:26).

The Bible also reveals that these distinctions are maintained after redemption. Christ Jesus sent His disciples to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and later sent Paul to the Gentiles. Revelation 7:9 also describes the great multitude standing before the throne coming “from every nation, tribe, people and language”. The racial distinction was not erased in God’s prophetic future.

(ii) Social Distinctions – Domestic slavery was regulated in the Old Testament (Deut. 15:15). Slaves could be acquired with money (Gen. 17:12; 37:28), by war (Num. 31:9; 2 Kings 5:2), by birth (Ex. 21:4), by debt (Lev. 25:39, 47) or by gift (Gen. 29:24). Slaves took on a family relationship (Gen. 17:23; Ex. 12:44). Abraham owned slaves (Gen. 14:14; 17:12).

Salvation did not change the natural and social distinction of slavery. When the runaway slave Onesimus had been converted, Paul sent him back to his master to be a Christian slave.

In Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-4:1, Paul taught that the social structure of master and slave in 1st century Roman culture was to be respected by Christians, even though ‘in Christ’ there was no difference in essence between slaves and free persons.

(iii) Gender Distinctions – Ephesians 5:22-25 indicates that distinctions between men and women are to be maintained in the home as well as in the church. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the LordFor the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everythingHusbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … “

This passage teaches God’s plan for the home. Again, although women and men are completely equal in their intrinsic essence and equally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), husbands are appointed to lovingly and sacrificially care for their wives, and wives are appointed to follow this loving leadership in the home.

In this passage we see our Lord Jesus Christ presented as the model for Christian husbands: willing and obedient acceptance of God’s plan for loving, caring structure in the home.

(c) Other examples of authority-submission relationships

Apart from the racial, social and gender distinctions, there are other examples that support the authority-submission structure:

(i) Eph. 6:1 – In the institution of the family, children are to be subject to the parent’s authority.

(ii) Heb. 13:17 – In the church, believers are to be subject to the elders.

(iii) 1 Tim 6:1 – In commerce, employees are to be subject to the employer.

(iv) Rom 13:1 – In the state, the citizens are to be subject to the governing authorities.

Conclusion – Paul’s concluding statement “for you are all one in Christ Jesus” is of great importance in understanding Galatians 3:28.

In Christ, earthly distinctions lose their significance. There is no spiritual superiority or privilege because of race or culture, social status or gender when it comes to salvation and spiritual position in Christ. In respect to nationalities, some are Jews and some Gentiles; in respect to social conditions, some are slaves and some are free; in respect to gender, some are men and some women.

But in the saving relationship that is in Christ Jesus all are as one.

Galatians 3:28 speaks of the wonderful position all Christians have in Christ, apart from any works of the Law! The person who becomes one with Christ also becomes one with every other believer.


c. Are we saved by grace or works?

There are 2 schools of thoughts 1) Saved by grace and 2) Saved by works. Let us examine the scriptures on this highly debated issue.

(1) Saved by Grace:

•  (Ephesians 2:9-10) – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a results of works, that no one should boast”.

•  (Rom 3:20, 28) – “Because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in His sight; for though the Law comes the knowledge of sin…For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law”.

•  (Galatians 2:16) – “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified”.

(2) Saved by Works:

•  (James 2:24) – “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone”.

•  (Matthew 19:16-17) – “And behold, one came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments”.

God does not want a faith that is empty and hypocritical. James 2 is talking about those who say they have faith but have no works to show forth their proclaimed faith. Therefore, people cannot tell if they are true believers or not, because there is no fruit of the spirit in their lives. This kind of faith is useless and is not a saving faith. It is as good as dead. True faith results in good works.

The fruit from this tree will tell you what kind of fruit tree it is, doesn’t it? If it is an apple tree, that this tree will bear only apples. It will definitely not have pears or oranges or other kind of fruits. This is such a simple truth even a 3 year old would understand. Similarly, to know if this person is a true believer, he must first bear the fruit that a believer should have and not otherwise.

Judas Iscariot is a good example of an “outward” believer. He is one of Jesus’s 12 disciples. Who would have guessed he is not a true believer? Perhaps even he thought himself to be one. But he is the one who actually betrayed Jesus and resulted in Jesus being crucified on the cross.

Examples of fruits of the spirit are “gentleness, meekness, love, joy, peace, freedom from envy”, just to name a few. If these fruits are not seen in the lives of a professed believer, than we should first ask ourselves, is this person saved in the first place? Does he bear resemblance of Jesus Christ? Let us look at an example using the analogy of a fruit tree.

In Matthew 19:16-17, Jesus was speaking to a Lawyer who was self righteous since he wanted to put Jesus to the test (Luke 10:25). He asked what must he do in order to obtain eternal life and Jesus responded with the requirements of keeping the commandments. If a person keeps all the commandments, it would seem that they could obtain eternal life. However, nobody can keep all of the commandments. Hence, Jesus’s comments to this man show this man that justification can only be by faith since no one can keep all of the commandments. This is why it says in Ephesians 2:8 that we are saved by grace through faith. Also, Romans 3:20, 28 and Galatians 2:16 tells us that on one is justified in the sight of God by the Law; that is to say simply, by the works that he does alone, we can’t be saved.

There is no contradiction at all when we examine the contexts. We are justified by faith but that faith must be alive (James 2). The Law alone cannot save us because we are incapable of keeping it (Matthew 19:16-17). Therefore, salvation is by grace through faith. The very Law that people think could save us, are the very laws that condemn us instead simply by not being able to keep it. We are not saying that the Law is useless and that we should ignore it. In fact, it is by Law that Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross in order that you and I can be saved. Hence a true believer who is justified by this faith would naturally produce good works so that other may see he is a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Before FAITH came, we were kept under the LAW. But after FAITH is come, we are no longer under the LAW because CHRIST has set us FREE.

Is there such a thing as one loses his salvation then? If this poses a doubt to anyone, than there is no faith in this person in Jesus Christ in the first place. If you are certain that you are already saved, than you shouldn’t doubt that you are saved. The question one should be asking is, “Are you saved in the first place”?

Another evidence we are indeed saved by Grace and not works is the thief who was crucified on the cross with Jesus on that fateful day. He repented before he breathed his last without any good works at all but what was Jesus’s response to him? “Tonight you will be with me in paradise”. If we are saved by works, than this thief would not qualify to enter paradise with Jesus at all. What this thief had was purely faith and no works.

Finally, if Christ + Work = Salvation, than we are indirectly saying that the death of Christ is insufficient to save sinners and in fact it’s a blasphemy and mockery to the great sacrifice Jesus had done for us on the cross.