Putting on Christ

My body loves to gain weight. I know I’m not alone in this. But if I don’t exercise, I’m in trouble. And when I do exercise, I generate vast quantities of sweat. Buckets of sweat. So, I keep a towel nearby to keep from dripping all over the floor. And my shirt is always saturated by the time I’m done. (I know. It’s not a pretty picture.)

Well, occasionally, my kids won’t be paying attention when I’m done and will give me a hug or pat me on the back. The result of which is generally a cry of disgust on their part (and a chuckle on my part).

After I’m done exercising, I have a basic practice that I do every single time. It’s the best part of the whole exercise event. What do I do? I take a shower and then I put on new clothes. Get this: Not only do I get cleaned up myself, but I put on clean clothes as well. I know. It’s pretty radical.

But seriously, those two actions have to come as a pair. How stupid would it be to put back on those sopping clothes from my workout? I mean, even my socks are soaked. Putting on anything I’d been wearing while exercising would be slimy and stinky.

Keep that image in your head, because the image of taking a shower and putting on new clothes is what the Scriptures want for us to have in our imaginations when we think about the Christian life.

Here is Galatians 3:27 — “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Baptized — That’s the shower part, the being washed with water, the getting cleaned up.

Clothed — That’s the putting on of a new outfit, not the soiled old clothes.

For far too many Christians, being saved, getting baptized is it. We’ve checked their ticket-to-heaven box, but that’s it.

We get saved. Jesus has cleaned us up. We’re forgiven. We’re in with God. We’ve been drenched in grace after grace after grace; a long, hot, cleansing shower of grace. But then we run around naked. We’ve taken our showers, but we haven’t clothed ourselves with Christ.

That naked imagery may seem a bit extreme, but it’s not. The earliest Christians thought it was spot on.

We’re a bit more modest than they used to be, but the earliest Christians were baptized naked. It was a symbol of new birth into this life of following Jesus. And when they came out of the water, they were clothed in white. They were wrapped, enfolded into this new life of Jesus, by Jesus, for Jesus.

The phrase en Christo or “in Christ” appears 90 times in the New Testament. This was how the earliest Christians saw themselves. This was how they experienced this new Jesus life. They were “in” him. They were clothed “in” Christ.

They had peeled off the old, dead life and had put on a new Jesus life.

So, the first thing is the shower. We don’t get clothed with Christ if we haven’t first been washed by him.

God has said, “Yes!” to us in Jesus. And if we’ve said, “Yes!” back to him (the sign of this Yes being baptism), then we’ve been washed by him. It’s as simple as that.

But cleaning is the easy part — easy for us, that is. It required a lot from Jesus (his death). All we did was step into the shower (baptismal font). He cleans us.

Getting clothed is, likewise, something we do together with Jesus, but which requires more sustained effort on our part.

Everything in this Christian life is a partnership. We never simply sit back and watch God do it, he always has us do something, even if it’s simply saying YES. But similarly, we are never able to do it all on our own. We need God’s Spirit working in us as well or else we’re doomed to fail.

So, there is always BOTH praying and listening to God on one side AND getting busy and doing things on our side.

Now, this may seem completely obvious, but the first thing to putting on Christ is knowing what to do and simply doing it — over and over and over again.

If you want to speak Italian, you don’t just book a flight to Rome, get off the plane, and start speaking Italian. Just because you’ve said YES to Jesus doesn’t mean you immediately live the full Christian life. You bought the ticket, but you don’t know the language.

I’ve been coaching soccer and volleyball teams for about 15 years, and there are things that the beginning players hate about practices. They think they should be able to simply show up and be able to play like professional athletes. They hate the monotony of volleyball passing drills and soccer dribbling drills, but it’s only by training their body through regular, continuous, intentional practice that they will ever become any good at their sport.

And it doesn’t matter how bad kids are when they start or how out of shape adults are when they get back into the game, anyone can get better and work the game into their bodies simply by putting in the effort that’s necessary to play. I’ve been amazed at how much better I’ve become at soccer and volleyball simply by coaching, simply by touching the ball on a regular basis. I can do things now with a soccer ball that I couldn’t do when I was on the varsity team in high school.

When Paul says to “put on Christ” (Romans 13:14), he’s not talking about a one-time deal like salvation. This is a daily practice. In the context of the passage, Paul is suggesting that we’ll either be putting on the dirty, stinky clothes of the “works of darkness” (Romans 13:12) or be clothing ourselves with Christ. And just like our actual wardrobe, what we wear is a day-by-day decision.

Some of us have been Christians for years but have never made Bible-reading a regular practice. We let the pastor do that. That’s almost exactly the same thing as watching sports on TV and thinking we’re a part of the team.

How can we know what God’s Word says if we don’t read it? How can we respond to what he says if we don’t read it? How deep is our relationship going to be with him if we avoid the #1 way he has chosen to reveal himself to us?

There are a lot of people who spend a lot of money on sports tickets and clothing and such but never or rarely touch a ball themselves.

If you want to fly a plane, you put in the hours.

If you want to play the cello, you put in your hours.

It doesn’t just happen. Effort is required. Regular effort.

But this isn’t just with Bible reading. This is also true with praying, generosity, hospitality, evangelism, truth-telling, courage, obedience, forgiveness, humility, self-control, and so on.

The things we do regularly change our brains.

A violin player develops a different brain than the rest of us. Not only does that part of the brain actually get larger, but there are all kinds of connections within that part of the brain, synapses, that develop that simply weren’t there before. New pathways in the brain are needed and so the brain develops them.

Similarly, my architecture prof in college told us about a new university that was built where they intentionally didn’t put in any paved paths between the buildings. They waited and watched until they saw the paths that the students created by taking the shortest routes between classes. Then they paved them.

That’s what happens with our brains and our lives. We do the same things over and over and over again and develop pathways which eventually become concreted into who we are.

Unfortunately, that’s the way it is with bad behavior, too.

For example, what happens to you when you touch a computer keyboard? Where do you always go?

For some, it’s Facebook. Right away. Every time. Others it’s a news sites. Others shopping sites. Others it’s sports sites. Others it’s porn sites. Whatever. It shouldn’t take you long to figure out what your computer and smartphone pathways are.

Good, bad, or indifferent, there are pathways that get worn into who we are by repetition and reward.

Part of the process of putting on Christ is recognizing ways that we put on what is not-Christ. We need to ask ourselves: What are the regular practices we engage in that lead us away from Christ?

What are the pathways you’ve developed that lead you into fear? Into anger? Into lust? Into envy or coveting? Into lying or avoiding truth-telling? Into pride?

Take time to actually write them down. These are your sweaty, nasty clothes that you need to put in the laundry.

Continuing to do these un-Christlike behaviors is like me putting on my sweaty, clammy exercise clothes after taking a shower. The thought sends shivers of disgust through me. So, I put on new clothes after I exercise.

But unfortunately, we do the disgusting thing. Instead of putting on Christ, we put on the old way. We haven’t been intentional about putting on Christ. We just kind of assumed it would just happen. Our theology of grace has us sitting back and waiting for God to do everything for us. Instead our theology of grace should have us stepping into the new reality God has opened up for us in Jesus, a world of holy possibilities.

So, take some time to consider the socks and shoes and shirts and pants of putting on Christ. What are they? What do they look like? How do I get a fit and feel for them? And why would I ever consider nakedness or the nastiness of dirty clothes?

Colossians 3:12
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

1 Peter 5:5
In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.”