What does baptism do? Last week, we began looking at Galatians 3:27-29 for an answer, where Paul describes baptism as doing two things in particular: 1) baptism unites us to Christ, and 2) because of this union, baptism makes us heirs to Abraham’s promised inheritance.
Drawing on the Confession’s summary of baptism, we concluded that union with Christ through baptism entailed three major benefits: a new identity, a clean slate, and a call to a new lifestyle. This week, our goal is to look at the second of Paul’s points: that baptism makes us heirs of Abraham’s promise, a promise found in Gen. 17:1-13.
When we read about this promise to Abraham, we quickly see that God intended this promise not just for Abraham but for his family, as well, including his infant sons. Isaac and Ishmael, the original heirs of Abraham’s promise, were circumcised before they were asked what they thought of the whole thing, and by that Old Covenant ritual, they were made heirs. Notice especially that it wasn’t by birth that they were made heirs: it was by the covenant ritual. Birth simply meant that they ought to receive the ritual. In the same way in the New Covenant, we baptize infants because they are offspring of promise-heirs, and nobody asks their opinion first, either. It’s God’s promise that matters. Paul’s words here in Galatians confirm this pattern: baptism now makes Abraham’s offspring heirs of the promise.
This isn’t just any promise, however. This is Abraham’s promise, and it extends as far as Abraham’s promise did. If it were simply considered to be a biological promise, then Paul isn’t making sense – most if not all of us have no biological connection to Abraham. But circumcision (the original ritual of Abraham’s promise) was always more than biological – it extended to Abraham’s whole household. It wasn’t less than biological, but it was always more than that. Here in Galatians, Paul is explaining that Abraham’s “offspring” was always ultimately theological, specifically, Christological. Abraham’s offspring was Christ! And since in baptism you put on Christ, you are Abraham’s offspring too, which means, the promise is for you!
It gets better: just like God told Abraham that the promise was for him and his offspring, Peter says the same thing in Acts 2:38-39: “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” God’s covenant promise is a point of continuity between the old and new testaments: the promise is for you and your children. The grace of the promise to Abraham overflowed, and sloshed onto the heads of those around him.
Paul’s logic in Galatians 3 works this way:
- Who is the promise for? Abraham and his offspring.
- Who is Abraham’s offspring? Christ Jesus.
- How can you become Abraham’s heir? By putting on Christ.
- How do you put on Christ? By baptism.
Baptism is how we “put on” Christ, and putting on Christ means that we inherit God’s covenant promise to Abraham, a promise that belongs to us and to our children.