The Well-dressed Christian
“Clothes make the man!” said the smartly dressed collegiate to a classmate. “Not so” retorted his ‘fashion-challenged’ friend; “You can’t judge a book by its cover!”
Thus went the battle of clichés in a debate with no satisfactory end. But if the discussion revolves around the clothing referred to in our precious letter to the Galatians, the “clothes make the man” side carries the day. For here is a case where what you wear makes all the difference. The ‘well-dressed’ Christian is wearing Christ, and that alone make him who he, or she, is.
To fully understand where Paul is going with this idea of “putting on Christ,” we need to understand where he is coming from at this point in his letter. The peace and unity of the group is being troubled by ‘Judaizers’ whose aim it is to compel all the believers to adopt the ordinances and practices of Old Testament Judaism. Paul’s message all along has been that they are all complete in their righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. The suggestion that their standing before God can be improved upon by the addition of human works is actually a step backward — a fatal one.
But, since the law is given by God, Paul must explain the relation of the Mosaic Law to the Gospel. The Law, Paul explains, was our “tutor” until Christ (3:24). Like a strict headmaster it kept its immature subjects in line, not from inward motivation but by outward discipline.
Paul argues that, under the Law, one is in a period of minority, a time of being under restrictions. Under the Gospel one has reached full maturity, and is free of youthful constraints. Here is where one’s ‘apparel’ begins to make the difference.
He states “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:26). “Sons,” that is, in the sense of being rightful heirs to a father’s estate. We Christians are like “sons” who have reached the age of maturity.
In contrast, those who are “under the law”–either Jews striving to fulfill the outward requirements of Moses, or Gentiles trying to observe the moral promptings of their conscience–are regarded as minors, awaiting the privilege and freedom of adulthood, but for the time being, still juveniles, kept in check by “guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father” (4:2). A grand inheritance awaits them, but it is in the form of a trust which they cannot touch until they ‘come of age.’
And until they come of age “the heir . . . does not differ from a slave” (4:1). As the slave’s ragged and worn clothes testify that he has no part in the inheritance, so also the juvenile’s childish clothes indicate that the inheritance is also out of his reach.
But at the time appointed by the Father, His Son dressed up like a Man: “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (4:4). What a marvelous bit of theology: the eternal God–God of God, Light of Light, etc.–became true Man. God “put on” man in the person of Jesus Christ, veiling the divine majesty under mortal flesh:
All praise to Thee, eternal God
Who, clothed in garb of flesh and blood,
Dost take a manger for Thy throne
While worlds on worlds are Thine alone.
Hallelujah! (TLH 80:1)
Furthermore, Christ put on the yoke of the law, obeying both the moral and ceremonial laws that God required of His Old Testament people. He came to us as the Son in whom God was well-pleased (Mt. 3:17); He came as our Redeemer and Substitute “that He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). All the ordinances that confined and shackled us–laws that accused and condemned us–were fulfilled in Him.
Those who, believing in Him, come to be baptized in His Name “have put on Christ” (3:27). Repenting of our sins and self-righteousness, we shed our childish apparel; baptism unites the believer with Christ and His perfect righteousness before God. We put on the garments of righteousness that identify one as a true son and heir of the Kingdom of God (remember the robe given to the Prodigal Son? Lk. 15:22). What belongs to Christ as heir of the Kingdom of heaven is open also to His believing co-heirs. We have full access to the realities of the Kingdom: righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
“Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into Your hearts crying out ‘Abba, Father'” (4:6). We enjoy the riches of the heavenly kingdom with full maturity; but we approach our Father with perfect innocence, appealing to Him with the ‘daddy’ words of Jesus’ mother tongue (Mk. 14:36); addressing Him with childlike trust and openness. This boldness and intimacy with God is the privilege of all those who are in Christ: earthly divisions and distinctions become irrelevant, for we all approach the Father cloaked in Christ: “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28).
Earthly distinctions do remain in our earthly lives. The Christian Gospel has never been a social agenda: a plan to wipe out social divisions. Rather, the spiritual apparel of Christ grants dignity to each of us in our callings, drawing diverse people together in one Christian calling, fostering sacrificial love and genuine respect, whatever clothes we put on for the day.
— Pastor Peter Reim