“Clothed in Christ”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations
Among its many other literary merits, the Bible employs a rich stock of spiritual imagery. Some of these images are epic in scope. Light, for instance, is important literally from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation. However, even more modest images can add meaningfully to our understanding of God’s purpose for us.
One such image is that of being clothed. This idea appears perhaps most prominently in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. There, it is used to describe the process of resurrection. Currently, we possess fragile, mortal, imperfect bodies. In 2 Corinthians 5:1, Paul describes these as our earthly tents, destined to be torn down. However, in the resurrection we will be clothed in what Paul calls a building from God, a heavenly body that is immortal and perfect. It will be so much better that Paul expresses his longing to be clothed with it rather than his current body.
In 2 Corinthians 5:3, Paul identifies another important characteristic of this house-garment. It will keep us from being found naked. Throughout the Bible, and indeed in our normal lives today, nakedness is associated with shame. If I emerged from the shower to find half the congregation standing in my bathroom contemplating me, I would be greatly ashamed!
Thus, Paul clearly is discussing what Jesus calls “a resurrection of life” in John 5:29. This is the resurrection of the faithful, those who may have confidence in the day of judgment. By contrast, the ungodly can anticipate only shame and failure as the guilt of their sins is exposed. They will be found naked. Obviously, it is vital for us to be clothed with a heavenly form!
Fascinatingly, all of these conclusions apply to an apparently unrelated passage that also uses the clothing image. In Galatians 3:26, Paul notes that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. The NASB even renders this as “hav[ing] clothed yourselves with Christ.”
The same things are true of this clothing process as are true of the clothing process in 2 Corinthians 5. First of all, it comes from God. Colossians 2:12 reveals that baptism raises us up not because of our work, but because of our faith in the working of God. Second, as that passage implies, baptism is a resurrection. In the lovely language of Romans 6:4, baptism unites us with the death and burial of Christ, so that we can rise to walk in newness of life. Finally, like the resurrection of life, baptism shields us from shame. Once we have put on Christ in baptism, our sins are no longer visible to God.
The Scriptural lineage of resurrection begins with Christ, the firstborn from the dead (incidentally, the book of Revelation has a great deal to say about the clothing of the resurrected Christ). It continues through baptism, a spiritual resurrection. Then, it concludes with the resurrection of the body, which will take place at the end of all things. If we wish to be clothed then, we clearly must clothe ourselves with Christ now.