Today we’re reading Romans 13.
This chapter continued applying the theology of Romans 1-11 to the everyday lives of us Christians. The passage started by telling us that government exists by God’s appointment (v. 1b), so we must obey whatever ruling authorities exist over us (v. 1a). After explaining the consequences of disobeying the government (v. 2b-5), the Bible also commanded us to pay taxes and give respect to the government officials over us (vv. 6-7). Verses 8-10 reminded us of the importance of loving each other, even reminding us that this is a debt (v. 8a) that we must continually pay. Finally, verses 11-14 urge us to wake up (v. 11b) and live “decently” (v. 13a) because this age is quickly closing (vv. 11b-12). Specifically, we should stop living for immoral pleasures and instead “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I once heard a message in college on that phrase, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” except that the message was from the King James Version which says, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The preacher of that message made a compelling case for the kind of powerful living that came from “put[ting] ye on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but I found myself wondering throughout the message, “What does this mean? How do you put on Christ?” At the very end of his message, he finally raised that question. “How do you put on the Lord Jesus Christ?” he asked. “I don’t really know,” he said, much to my great frustration. Now that I am a much more experienced preacher, I am glad he at least asked the question. I’m sure many of my messages have ignored essential questions, though I try not to do that.
Anyway, the preacher added, “But I just try to pray every morning and ask the Lord to help me put on Christ.” If he meant that like a magic incantation, then his approach is off the mark. But I don’t think that’s what he meant; in fact, I think what he meant was somewhat in concert with what Paul meant in this passage. Putting on Christ, clothing yourself in him, is not a technique or a formula for spirituality. It is a metaphor for the entire Christian life. “Putting on Christ” means learning to live for Jesus Christ. It means learning to think of your life through God’s eyes and doing what Christ would do in any situation. “What would Jesus do” is not just a helpful question for difficult decision points. It is what the Christian life is about; it’s about restructuring your life as God-in-the-flesh would live it if he had your family, your job, your bank account, your free time, and so on. This is what God is doing in all believers through the Holy Spirit, the word of God, and the challenging affects of other Christians in our lives. Whether you are aware of it or not, God is moving your life toward holiness through these influences, if you are a Christian.* But if we can learn to consciously think about living each day for Christ, as if we were him, that will help us to do what is right in God’s sight more often and it will help us “not [to] think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 14b). So, the preacher’s statement that he just prayed and asked the Lord to help him put on Christ was not a bad way to apply the passage. May the Lord help us apply it similarly and live for him today.
*By the way: the times in our lives when we are aware of our sins and weaknesses are part of that process, too. They are how God shows us our need of Christ and his grace for forgiveness and future growth.