We can tell a lot about people from the clothes they wear. The clothes that we choose to wear often reflect our status, our values, and even our priorities. Sometimes we might hear people asking during social events, “Who are you wearing?” to find out which designer created the clothes they are wearing. There is even a Hollywood box-office hit (in 2006) called “The Devil Wears Prada”. I am sure we all know how to put on Prada shoes and Armani shirts, but how do we put on Christ?
The New Testament uses clothing imagery to describe three different, but closely related aspects of our relationship with God . First, it emphasizes our union with Christ that happens at our baptism. In Galatians 3:26-27, Paul writes that “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Christians enjoy great privileges under the gospel; and are no longer servants, but children of God (Cf. Gal 4:7). Having accepted Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and relying on him alone for justification and salvation, we become children of God (Cf. John 1:12). But no outward forms or profession can secure this status; for if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ (Cf. Rom 8:9). In baptism we put on Christ; therein we profess to be his disciples. Being baptized into Christ, we are baptized into his death, that as he died and rose again, so we should die unto sin, and walk in newness and holiness of life (Cf. Rom 6). The putting on of Christ according to the gospel consists not in outward imitation, but in a new birth, an entire change. Therefore everyone who has committed their life to Christ by faith has the status of having “clothed [themselves] with Christ.”
Second, clothing imagery vividly portrays the transformation or regeneration that results from our relationship with Jesus Christ (Cf. Rom 12:2; Titus 3:5; 2 Cori 5:17). In contrast to living a life of disobedience to God and His ways (Cf. Rom 13:13), Paul instructs believers to “clothe [themselves] with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:14). Sometimes the command is to “put on” certain godly characteristics that are a reflection of Christ himself: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col 3:12). Thus the call to “put on” these godly characteristics is rooted in our status as those who are holy, chosen and loved by God (Cf. 1 Peter 2:9). In the Parable of the Wedding Feast, the king ordered his servants to go to the street corners and invite everyone they find to the wedding feast so that the hall is filled with guests (Cf. Matt 22:8-10). This means everyone, good and bad alike, are invited to the kingdom of Heaven. However, when the king entered the hall to see his guests, he noticed a man not wearing wedding clothes and asked him how he managed to get in, and the man was speechless (Cf. Matt 22:11-12). Could the wearing of wedding clothes mean the same thing as clothing ourselves with Christ the bridegroom (Cf. John 3:29)? I am sure we will fulfil the wedding dress code if we put on Christ.
Third, clothing imagery describes the transformation of our bodies that will take place when we are resurrected from the dead. Paul explains that “the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cori 15:53). In the meantime, as we await that day, “we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cori 5:2-4).
Thus, in summary, every believer has put on Christ by virtue of trusting in who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Yet we are also called to put on the character qualities and virtues that reflect our identity as children of God. We pursue this lofty goal in anticipation of the day when we will take off our mortal bodies and put on resurrected bodies that fully reflect Christ’s own resurrected body.
Reference : Constantine R. Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 310-23.
Here’s a message from Pope Francis for World Youth Day 2013 on putting on Christ: