Clothed with Christ
Jan 22, 2023 815
The apostle Paul says an odd thing. He says that we should be “clothed with Christ.” How can you be “clothed with Christ”?
Many people are surprised to learn that the concept of the individual self didn’t exist in antiquity. That’s a bit hard to get your head around. It is in fact relatively modern idea, along with a host of things that flow from it, such as the concepts of human dignity, free will, human rights, religious conversion, and so on. None of these things existed in antiquity as we know them today, and even not at all.
The fact that we have these things, which are fundamental to modern civilisation, is due to the impact of Christianity on the world. It does back to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. As Christian thinkers worked through these teachings, they developed the foundations of the contemporary ideas of the self.
There are many bases for this in the radical teachings of Christianity, and I want to shine the light on just one of these.
In the ancient world, everyone was defined for life by the social group into which they were born. This had to do with what your profession or trade was, your social status and wealth and at a higher level, what nation you belonged to.
Many of these characteristics of social grouping were things that you could never change about yourself. If you were born a shoemaker you would always be a shoemaker, just as your father was, and his father before him. Under exceptional circumstances, you could change some characteristics of your social group. For example, it was possible that a slave could be freed. However these occasions were the exception and not the norm.
An example of something that could never change was the nation you belonged to, which was connected to the gods that you worshipped. If say, you were Germanic, you could live in Rome, but you were never truly a Roman, even if you obtained citizenship. You were always a Germanic barbarian to the Romans, no matter how “romanised” you became.
Also, if you were Germanic, you would worship Wodan, and not Jupiter, because Woden was the god of your people, and your identity was associated with your own people and your tribal or national god. Full conversion from one religion to another was unknown in the ancient world.
Later in the Roman empire, religious conversion became common. This was arguably due, by then, to the influence of Christianity.
The Gospel demolished the social foundations of the first century world.
The social group you belonged to wasn’t just something that you kept to yourself. Everyone in society knew and treated you according to the group you belonged to. The lower your social group, the more you were treated like rubbish. The higher your social group, the more respect you received during your life. Different rules applied to each group.
All of this was expressed in the way you dressed. Today we have freedom to dress however we like, but that wasn’t the case in antiquity. The way you dressed was largely determined by the nation you belonged to, whether you were wealthier or poorer, of higher or lower status, and even by your profession.
This gives us the cultural context to better understand what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:27–28.)
What Paul was saying here about the Gospel was so radical that it completely demolished the foundations of the society of his time. And if we have understood the Gospel, it should do the same for us as well.
If we have accepted Christ, then we have clothed ourselves with him. We are clothed with Christ and not in the clothes that our society imposes on us. We are no longer defined by the social structure and hierarchies within which we live. We have a greater identity. We are children of God through Christ, and we are all one in Christ.
None of the prejudices of our society are to have any power over us.
Most people don’t appreciate the influence that their culture and their society has upon their lives. Our culture is implicit and engrained in us from our earliest childhood. It is all to easy to think that Christianity has to do only with “religion,” and that we are free to exercise our social and cultural prejudices however we like.
However, none of the prejudices of our societies are to have any power over us, whether they be social, economic, racial, or gender-based. We are not to reflect them in our interactions with others, and least of all within the church.
You can be Clothed with Christ
We take our place as members of the family of God, as children who are all joint heirs of the Kingdom with Christ (Rom. 8:17.) The reality of our identity is now found in Christ, and all our relationships are mediated through him. This is one of the most important ways in which the Gospel is to impact the world through us. That’s what it means to be “clothed with Christ.”
To understand this and live like this is a demonstration of whether we have truly understood the message of the Cross and what it means to be a Christian.
– Eliezer Gonzalez