Clothed with Christ
But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:25-29 NRSV
Do you feel “clothed with Christ”? Even on a good day I think most of us would offer a qualified “yes” – a “yes” with a little star attached to the end, to explain perhaps that we feel clothed with Christ in most areas of our lives except one or two. Like we’re clothed in Christ’s tunic, but not his britches. I myself feel like I am chiefly clothed in Christ’s socks, and that’s the only thing stopping me from getting cold feet!
In Galatians Paul is writing to a church where Jewish Christians were trying to bring in Jewish customs and enforce them on the Gentile Christians, presumably so they could be “real” believers. “Real” believers being those clothed from head to – ah, let’s say toe – in “the law”, abiding by all its customs and requirements. Paul is ticked off: he himself had worn the uniform of law-abiding, and had found, when he came to Christ, that he’d really been naked all along. More than that, he understands that by subjecting Gentile Christians to Jewish law, the Jewish Christians were essentially placing themselves above the Gentile believers; in Jewish faith, believing outsiders were never considered “fully” Jewish. Second-tier status was all they could aspire to. So that Paul’s miffed at the Galatians is understandable: they are giving in to the kind of social stratification that Jesus had fought so hard against, died for, and the kind of social stratification they already had to deal with every day, in the form of slavery, social distinctions, the pervasive master/patron system, sexism, racism and xenophobia.
It is in response to this situation that Paul writes what is one of his most revolutionary statements. He tells them, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This is front-row seats to Jesus’ “Great Reversal”. Instead, “As many as were baptized into Christ have clothed [themselves] with Christ”. Not just his socks, or his tunic – but the whole shebang. They were new people, free from the either/or of the law and of society. They were not only children, but heirs (Galatians 4:7).
If you were baptised as an adult, you probably remember the details. For some people it was an incredibly profound moment. My baptism was a bit anticlimactic. I think I was expecting a big change. It’s only later that I realised that that big change happened the moment I turned back to God. I think that’s what Paul is saying to the Galatians: Your big change has come. So what’s this other stuff? Why do you feel like you need to be justified any further? You’re already clothed in Christ! You’re free!
Friends, you and I might be standing around in what feels to us like bits and pieces of Christ. But Paul is asking us the same thing he asked the Galatians: why do we feel the need to be justified any further? We’ve already got Christ, all of him. We’re clothed in him. We’re God’s kids, his heirs. Whose approval are we waiting for, exactly? We have already been approved in Christ, and if that’s the case, then who else’s opinion matters? Because I can guarantee you (and myself), that if we’re waiting for the world to give us a thumbs up, to look us up and down and say, “It’s all there, the whole outfit,” we are going to be waiting a long, long time.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
(Psalm 92: 1-4, 12-15)