Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Are you beautifully dressed?

... clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ... Romans 13:14

I don’t know how fashion-conscious you are. Are clothes important enough for you to spend a lot on them? Or are you happy to rummage round in the local charity shops? (One prominent politician I read about was described as “having couture by Oxfam” - and “Good for you!” I thought.)

Whatever... It would certainly seem strange to talk of dressing in a person, as if you could “wear” somebody else.

But that is exactly what Paul does here in Romans 13. In verse 12 he has told his readers to “put on the armour of light”, and that is something we can understand quite well, even if we personally have never buckled on a suit of armour in our lives. But now in verse 14 he goes on to say: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”.

Taken literally it is of course nonsense; but we know perfectly well what Paul means - that we are to be men and women in whom Jesus himself is seen. I put it to myself like this: my greatest ambition in life should be that when other people look at me they actually see Jesus.

All right, they may not be aware that they’re seeing Jesus. They may just say to themselves something like “There’s something about that person”, or “He’s different somehow” (as long, of course, as what they see is impressive and challenging, not just “Mmm, he’s a bit odd”!)

Given that they probably never read the Bible or a Christian book or listen to a sermon, very likely the nearest most people ever come to seeing Jesus is when they see... you or me. A humbling thought? Yes, I think so too.

I knew somebody once who used to consciously “dress” herself every morning in the “full armour of God” that Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-17. In a spirit of prayer she would picture herself putting on “the belt of truth”, “the breastplate of righteousness” and so on, and picking up “the shield of faith” and “the sword of the Spirit”. That may seem a little “over-the-top”; but she said she found it helpful, so who are we to question it? All I know is that she was a person who truly reflected Jesus.

I’m sure it goes without saying that Paul’s illustration shouldn’t be pressed too far - there wouldn’t be much point in clothing ourselves in Christ if (so to speak) we still have a mucky, sweaty t-shirt underneath.

Of course not. Paul’s image is flexible, and elsewhere he uses it as a once-for-all picture of conversion (take a look at Galatians 3:27). He assumes that (as Charles Wesley put it in his great hymn) we are all “clothed in righteousness divine” by virtue of our faith in Jesus. But aren’t there times when, however illogical it might seem, once-for-all events do in fact need to be repeated?

The only time I have ever worn a uniform as a regular thing was when I was at school - picture me (if you like!) in my white shirt (a bit grubby) , my tie complete with crest, my black blazer (with badge) and, of course, a ridiculously tiny cap perched on my head. This get-up declared me to be a pupil of Henry Thornton Grammar School for Boys, Clapham Common, South Side.

Oh happy bygone days! But as I think about them it occurs to me that donning a uniform like that does in a sense make you a new person. No longer just Colin Sedgwick, spotty adolescent; but Colin Sedgwick, proud student at this particular establishment and aiming for the academic heights (ho ho).

Our older son is an officer in the merchant navy, plying his trade week by week between Dover and Calais. The only time I’ve ever seen him in uniform was on his wedding day. But I have seen photos. And when I look at them I find myself thinking “Is that really Christopher! - my, he looks, well, a positively respectable and responsible young man! A different person!”

I mustn’t stretch this too far, of course. But wearing a uniform does add a significant new dimension to the person you are. And if that’s true of some earthly uniform, how much more of our “uniform” of Jesus? Just repeating to ourselves, as we go about our business, the wonderful truth “I am clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ!” should put a spring in our step, a light in our eyes, and a steel in our will. Why not try it?

Just one further thought... at the end of the school day I was naturally glad to strip off my school uniform. Back to just “me”.

But of course I must never do that with Jesus. Indeed, I can never do that with Jesus. Once you have put him on, why would you ever take him off!

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me;/ All his wondrous compassion and purity./ Oh, thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine,/ Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me. Amen. (Albert Orsborn)

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