An author I’d been reading recently criticized Lutheran theology for spending too much time talking about putting on Christ’s righteousness because the Bible doesn’t talk that way very often. The criticism was a little strange, because I don’t think Lutherans use that sort of language much either. However, it did get me thinking more extensively about how St. Paul explains baptism in Galatians 3:27: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
The basic premise St. Paul is presenting in chapter 3 is how we come to children of God. It isn’t through the law of Moses, because God made a promise to Abraham long before the law was given to Moses. It is in the middle of this discussion that St. Paul yells us we have put on Christ in our baptism. This is how we become an heir of the promise God gave to Abraham. This is how we become children of God.
The idea of putting on Christ is very visual. Given that St. Paul makes the direct connection, telling us that it in baptism that we put on Christ helps us make further connections.
To use a baptismal example, Noah was the heir of another promise. God would never send another flood upon the earth. In the same vein, God gives Noah something to put on, the rainbow. Now God has to look at Noah, and the rest of creation, through the rainbow. If God ever thought maybe He needed to send a flood on the earth to punish sin, He will see the rainbow and remember His promise. In the same way, one who is baptized has that same promise of protection in Christ. When God looks at me and considers whether He should punish me for my sin, He will see Christ and remember that I have received His promise of forgiveness and grace through His Son. I may be a condemned sinner, but He doesn’t see me. He only sees His Son and His perfect righteousness.
While Lutherans don’t often talk this way, it still perfectly reflects what Lutherans like to talk about, that it isn’t our righteousness that achieves our salvation. It is in Christ alone we are saved because He alone covers all our sins. In this way, baptism stands in continuity with God’s salvific work in the past. God makes a promise and binds Himself to that promise with a sign. Whether that sign is a rainbow that saves from a flood, the blood of the lamb on the doorpost that saves from the angel of death, or whether it is baptism that covers all of that and more, we are bound to God’s promise and He will forever see us differently because of it.