Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“Clothed in Christ”

Insight #13, June 25, 2011
Second Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Clothed in Christ”
For the week of June 19-26, 2011
"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:14).
What lies behind Paul’s imperative?  What did he present in his gospel message that would give his readers reason to desire this "putting on" of Christ? Why would they want to give up what they already had? What would make them desire to stop going with the flow of their fleshly desires?
This verb "put on" follows an interesting and enlightening thread of imagery in the New Testament. From objects that illustrate spiritual realities—the putting on of garments and armor (Matt. 22:11; Rom. 13:12), to the realities themselves (Col. 3:12); from the clothing of divinity that meets our deepest need at present (Luke 23:49; Gal. 3:27), to the new humanity that will be the crowning act of God's recreation of the human race (1 Cor. 15:53; 2 Cor. 5:3), we begin to see a pattern in the fabric of salvation. It reminds us of Jesus' seamless garment (John 19:23), cast over humanity.
Wrapping the garment illustrates how God embraces us. We learn how "to sink into" Christ’s embrace (as Thayer defines the verb), for purposes of salvation.  The "putting on" of this gift is not merely an external contact or experience.  Consider the following description of "that unselfish love which is the very atmosphere of the unfallen universe" (Ellen White, Steps to Christ, page 30). "In the matchless gift of His Son, God has encircled the whole world with an atmosphere of grace as real as the air which circulates around the globe. All who choose to breathe this life-giving atmosphere will live and grow up to the stature of men and women in Christ Jesus" (Ibid. p. 68). 

Note the scope of the process: first the universal, life-giving atmosphere (like a robe that has "encircled" us), then the choice to internalize this gift (with the implied on-going choice). Finally, the ultimate goal of restoration to the full image of God in Jesus.
In this context, Paul comments to the Galatians that they had "put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).  “All [were] under sin" (3:22), "under the law" (3:23; 4:5).  We were "children" (babes; 4:1, 3), "servants" (slaves; 4:1, 7), "in bondage" (4:3).  God gave "the promise by faith of Jesus Christ" (3:22), and then sent "forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law" (4:4, 5).  The intended human response to this divine initiative of faith working by love, is to be born as "children of God by faith in Jesus Christ" (3:26), to "receive the adoption of sons" (4:5).  It is then Paul affirms that we "have put on Christ" (3:27), and are "no more a servant, but a son" (4:7).  Elsewhere Paul describes the ongoing process of maturing, "that we henceforth be no more children" (babes, Eph. 4:14), but grow "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Chris." (Eph. 4:13).
That which God did for the human race through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, shown in promise and type for millennia, and expressed in reality 2000 years ago, is the foundation for the entire process.  This gospel has a vital end-time message and purpose.  Tuesday’s lesson notes, "Indeed, how we respond to Christ’s first coming will decide what happens to us at His second coming!"  And how we respond is proportionate to our appreciation of the dimensions of what He accomplished at that first coming.
"Putting on" Christ must be seen as a response to what He has put on for us.  This clothing He provides at infinite cost to Himself.  "To be clothed in Christ" describes the seamless garment He has cast over the entire human race--woven in the loom of heaven, every thread of divine origin.  We are His! His seamless process of covering us must not be torn.  The faith that preserves its integrity must be traced carefully, prayerfully, from Author to recipient, from Beginning to end, "from faith to faith" (Rom. 1:17).Our topic of the putting on of Jesus is real at every stage.  Though at times we speak of "put on" as an act of hypocrisy, play acting, or falseness, the putting on of salvation is as real at each step as the other in unreal.
Consider these realities in light of four steps.  Do not forget the Genesis 1 and 2 background.  Man was created in the image of God, with life from the hand and breath of the Creator, with oneness between man and woman, with dominion over the entire earth.  And by their inexplicable decision to believe and follow the lie Satan told, all was lost.

(1) We need life and faith due to sin's nature and consequence.  God placed humanity into the hands of the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ.  This act of faith was the first covering that kept us alive, and in imparting faith gave us freedom to choose.
(2) Sin separated us from God. He God reunited humanity with divinity as He clothed His Son with humanity.  So God asks us to choose to be free, and to unite our humanity with the divine nature Jesus brought.
(3) We need the Spirit in our ongoing battle with the flesh. God revealed a garment of righteousness in His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. This demonstrated the power of "the law of the Spirit of life" (Rom. 8:2) all the way to "the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8). So God intends for us to be free to live in the Spirit, not the flesh.
(4) "The law of sin and death" keeps us wretched in ourselves (Rom. 7:23 to 8:2). We need a new body. God raised up His Son, clothed with a glorious body. He confirmed His victory, bringing a justifying covering to humanity (Rom. 4:25).  So God intends in the complete restoration of man for us to live free of sinful flesh.  Those who have been eagerly embracing His covering each step of the way will all be changed "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump" when we "put on incorruption" (1 Cor. 15:52, 53). We will "be clothed upon with our house from heaven" (2 Cor. 5:2) that is "fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil. 3:21).
Paul in Eph. 4:20-25 addresses this picture of Christ's covering.  Those who have "learned Christ, ... heard Him, ... been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus" will see "the new Man, which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (literal).  We will see God giving Himself as a covering for the human race in self-sacrificing faith and love.

Will we rend the garment with our unbelief?  Will we take His gift of life and reject the law of life?  Will we accept whatever legal benefit we have received in this expensive, expansive fabric and be content with a legal religion with no heart?  Will we accept His Gift given at infinite cost, and not become givers, insisting instead on living in the pettiness of our selfishness?  Or will we follow the threads of His garment from their origin in His infinite heart of love to their glorious purpose of our restoration in His image--"righteousness and holiness of the truth"?

--Fred Bischoff