An amazing transformation takes place when you call a halt to heavy, manual labor in order to clean up and get dressed for a fancy party. Perhaps you are digging a ditch. The work is strenuous, sweaty, and filthy. But then climb out, take off your muddy boots at the door, and remove your work clothes for a hot shower. In place of those grimy overalls, you dress in the finest apparel you possess. When you arrive at the party, you are looking and feeling princely—quite different than you did when you were knee-deep in the mud at the bottom of the ditch.
God, the wardrobe expert
Isaiah rejoices in foreseeing the work of God at the return from Babylonian exile:
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. – Isaiah 61:10
The prophet has declared God’s promise to bring His people back home (see v. 4). Verse 10 is the point in the chapter where the prophet makes the Lord’s promise to the nation very personal. The prophet is grateful that God clothes him with “garments of salvation” and a “robe of righteousness.” This makes him feel like a richly dressed priest or a beautiful bride ready to walk down the aisle.
Covering our alienation
In the new covenant, God does an amazing thing: he takes people with differences that alienate them from one another and unites them through the gospel. Paul explains this:
All of you are God’s children through trusting in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. No longer is there either Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, because you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are descendants of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3:26-29
The apostle says that all of those things that divide us from one another – race, class, and gender – are covered over when we become Christians. This is because each one of us puts on Christ as if we are wearing a beautifully embroidered robe woven by God himself. What we share in Him is so much more significant than our differences.
Being clothed with Christ not only changes the way we see each other, but it transforms how God Himself sees us. Because Jesus, the sinless One, was willing to be our sin offering, God was able to create a righteous exchange: Christ’s righteousness in place of our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). Then when He looks on us, now dressed in Christ, he can accept us as righteous and allow us access to him and even fellowship with him. This is at the heart of God’s plan to be reconciled with human beings.
Put off/put on
In Colossians chapter 3, Paul once meditates on the effect the baptism he discusses in chapter 2 has in the life of a Christ-believer. Just as the subject removes clothes before baptism and then dresses afterwards, Paul lists what must be taken off and what put on at the start of one’s life as a Christian. The filthy “clothes” we take off include anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lying. We remove these, Paul says, because we have “taken off the old self with its practices and put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge in the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:8-10). Paul’s list of the clean and beautiful “clothes” we put on includes compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. Over all the rest, Paul says, we wear love, which binds everything else together (Colossians 3:12-14). In modern fashion terms, it integrates the entire wardrobe ensemble.
In a similar passage in Romans 13:12-14, Paul writes of laying aside “the deeds of darkness” and putting on “the armor of light.” In place of orgies and drunkenness, of sexual immorality and debauchery, and of dissension and jealousy, he urges us, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14). Paul demands this of people who have already “put on Christ” in their baptismal faith-connection to him (see Romans 6:1-7). Here, Paul stresses that we do not just “put on Christ” at the beginning of our walk as His followers, but also at the start of every day we consciously dress ourselves in him.
Of course, the implication is that we might disobey the apostle and neglect dressing ourselves with Christ each morning. The result of such a habit would be disastrous. We would soon become conformed to the world rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Scripture warns that becoming a friend of the world makes us enemies of God (James 4:4).
In our fight against the devil, dressing ourselves with Christ makes the difference between defeat and victory. In Ephesians Paul commands us, “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). He enumerates that armor for us: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the combat boots of readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, and the helmet of salvation. Adorned with this defensive equipment, along with the shield of faith, we take up the sword of the Spirit and engage in spiritual warfare (vv. 14-17). We emerge from the fight victorious, for we wear the very armor Christ himself wears when battling the Evil One (see Isaiah 59:15-18; Isaiah 63:1-6; and Revelation 19:11-16).
The Christian’s uniform
Wearing Christ means that we share in the attitudes of Jesus, and we repeat His actions and the way he relates to people. On seeing and hearing us, people can tell that we are Christ’s followers. It is as if we are wearing a uniform that announces to the world our allegiance and summarizes for them our job description. Being aware of what we’re announcing and the expectations it creates motivates us to act consistent with that announcement and aligned with those expectations.
Don’t take him off
The symbolism of wearing Christ is heaven’s reminder that our union with him brings us benefits we cannot create for ourselves. Like the exiles of Isaiah’s hymn of praise, we willingly cast off our filthy rags in order for God to dress us with salvation and righteousness. God calls us out of the ditch, washes us off, dresses us in Christ, and then summons us to the party—the great celebration of God’s kingdom. We are awestruck, “dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.”
The celebration is eternal—why would we ever get back into our dirty work clothes and return to the ditch?