An earlier post of mine titled “Clothing Ourselves With Christ” made reference to Galatians 3:27, where Paul says:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
In that post I discussed what it might mean to clothe ourselves with Christ and I’d now like to build upon that post a bit by exploring what it might mean to be “baptized into Christ”. The two concepts are closely related and, I think, provide some insight into the nature of God, as well as a glimpse into what our relationship with God should look like.
To begin this discussion I’m going to include the next verse from Galatians. Here is Galatians 3:27-28.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
These verses seem to be redefining our relationships to one another, as well as our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. In my previous post I had discussed the concept of putting on the clothes of another as we attempt to take upon ourselves that person’s persona, like an actor wearing a costume in order to become someone else. Here Paul mentions this, where he states that those who are baptized are clothing themselves with Christ, essentially taking on Jesus’ characteristics and becoming like him; however, just prior to that, Paul provides the mechanism for how we are to clothe ourselves with Christ: through baptism – specifically by being baptized into Christ.
That is a peculiar phrase – to be “baptized into Christ”. The Greek word translated here as into is εἰς, which has several interesting meanings, particularly when coupled with the concept of taking upon ourselves the traits of Christ. Here are some of those meanings:
- To look toward, as in having a goal toward something
- Toward the direction of something without reference to body motion, such as “his eyes looked toward her”
- To move into something, such as “go into a city”
- To be in the presence of other objects, such as to “fall among robbers”
- Actions or feelings directed in someone’s direction
Paul seems to be saying here that those who are baptized are looking toward Christ or moving toward Christ relationally. They are putting on his traits and taking upon themselves his persona – becoming one with him.
Paul then moves along and describes this new relationship by contrasting it with obvious labels of the culture around them: Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, and female. I noticed that each of those labels indicate a relation to another person or people, and Paul indicates that those labels become meaningless as one moves into oneness with God. I don’t think he is advocating for disciples to ignore those labels, for one must function in a society wherein those labels have meaning, but I think he is saying that, in the Kingdom of God, those labels no longer have meaning; the new Christian life transcends ethnicity, gender, or class. Specifically, he is saying Christians should be one in Christ. They should no longer understand their relations with one another through the lens of their culture, but rather through their new covenant relationship to God.
These comments from Paul are particularly interesting in light of Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment (or two great commandments). We are familiar with the story in Luke, where Jesus is asked to identify the greatest commandment. He responds that we are to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength; and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. The smarty pants lawyer then asks Jesus to identify our neighbor, to which Jesus responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s a rhetorical beat-down of the lawyer, and the parable, as well as the entire exchange, is an incredible insight into what is important to Jesus. However, the exchange is slightly different in Mark 12 and I’d like to take a bit of time to look it over since I think it provides a great deal of insight into Paul’s comments, our expected relationship to one another, as well as our relationship to God.
In Mark 12:28-31, Jesus’ exchange with a scribe over the question of the greatest commandment is recorded:
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Here Jesus begins by citing the Shema as the first commandment. I won’t go into the importance of the Shema to Judaism (you can follow the link and see for yourself) but an important aspect of the Shema, and the reason it was to be repeated frequently (usually twice per day), was to remind one of one’s relationship to God, for the Israelites were being told to place the focus of their entire being – heart, might, mind, strength – on God. And the first part of the Shema seems to indicate the supreme nature of Israel’s God – that he alone is God, that he is one in all things, etc. Importantly, if you are to love God with all of your being, you become one in nature with that one, supreme God. Critically, your social and worldly labels become meaningless and your relationship with God redefines your purpose, giving you new meaning as a creature at one with God.
Jesus then goes on to redefine our relationships with one another, telling us to love others as we love ourselves. Reason then dictates that, if we love God with all of our being (i.e., as ourselves), and we love others in a similar way, we are to love others as we love God. In other words, we are to become one with them as well. To reason further, if we are to love God with all of our being, we are expected to love ourselves and treat ourselves with respect and patience.
Jesus seems to be drawing more clearly the relational nature of God’s kingdom, where we, as God’s creation and image, are supposed to fully embody God (all our heart, might, mind, and strength), becoming one with him. That relationship should change us and cause us to love ourselves as we would love God. Finally, we are supposed to love others in the same way, and in this new relationship we become one: God, us, and others. This relationship is what Paul is alluding to when he states that we are baptized into Christ, take upon ourselves his clothes (become one with him), lose our worldly labels, and become one with others.
To me, that is good news. It is a durable Christianity and one that speaks to my soul. The Gospel doesn’t consist of a narcissistic God demanding that we worship him, but rather a loving God, who is present and through all things, asking us to enter into relationship with him and to love others in a similar way, thereby bringing them into unification with God. I think it is beautiful and mystical, and it has tremendous implications for how I see the world and those around me.
What about you? How has your relationship to God affected your perspective on life?