Getting Dressed for the Job
Different occupations require different dress. If you want to become a member of the police force, you look forward to the day that you can put your uniform on. Then you are a policeman. Likewise if someone studies to be a pharmacist. You train to put on the white garment that is the trademark of that profession so that you can practise it. Or if you desire to train to become a landscaper, you yearn to get out of your school clothes and don the attire fitting for that work. Usually, your training is not finished once you have completed high school. You go on to an apprenticeship or college or university to further qualify yourself so that eventually you can arrive at that day when you can get dressed for the work that you want to do. One could say, you study in order to be able one day to dress for the job. And on a joyful occasion like this we wish very much for all of you that you will reach the goal you have set for yourself so that you too can put on the clothes of your life work.
While looking forward to all that is very much in the future, yet there is an important element of your training and your dressing up for the job that does usually come to an end by the time you graduate from high school. All of you have already either come to the point or will soon arrive at the moment that you decide who will be real boss in your life, whom you will be working for. After all, at this stage in life you have completed many years of Christian parental training, of listening to sermons, catechism classes and now Christian high school. By now you should know whether you want to serve the Lord our God or the great adversary, Satan. Choosing for the Lord is of course never to be regarded as an automatic thing; namely, that like anyone else you of course publicly profess your faith and become a communicant member of the church at a more or less predetermined time. There is nothing automatic about it. A conscious decision needs to be made. You are deciding whom you will be working for the rest of your life! Who will be the overriding boss, Christ or the evil one! You are deciding how you will get dressed up for your life work that overrides all other work you will be engaged in. Whether you will be clothes in garments dictated by the Lord or by the devil.
Your teachers at Guido de Brès have been part of that process of your coming to a decision on this matter which is most decisive for you. For it concerns not just this life, but also the life hereafter. The Bible, therefore, also instructs us about getting dressed up for the job! These passages are undoubtedly well-known to you. Think of the admonition in Ephesians 6 which instructs us to "take the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done, all to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (vv. 13-17).
What a stirring passage! Onward Christian soldiers! That's to be your uniform as Christians! Then you're dressed for the job as a child of God! Romans 13 puts it this way: "Let us … cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light!" (v. 12). In 1 Thessalonians 5 we are reminded that we as Christians are not children of darkness, the night but of the day. Therefore, "since we belong to the day, let us be sober and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation" fv. 8). Dressed as a warrior, a soldier in the service of our king!
This, however, is not all. Getting dressed for the task in this way implies several things that need to be spelled out. God's Word therefore says that we must undress with respect to the old nature and dress up in the new nature.
We read in Ephesians 4:22-24:
Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
So, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the whole armour of God is only possible if you dress up in the new nature ("dressing, putting on clothes" that is the verb used in Ephesians 4:22 and also in a similar exhortation in Colossians 3:10). Getting dressed up for service to God entails nothing less than putting on a new heart and a mind of holiness.
But there is more that we have to get dressed up in. If Scripture did not itself explicitly command this, I would hesitate to say it. God tells us in His Word that if we are to be dressed up properly for service to Him, then "clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13:14 [NIV])! The same verb is used here as was used in the exhortation to put on the whole armour of God and the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:11, 14). "Put on Christ! Clothe yourselves with Christ!" What an awesome demand. Only then are you and I properly dressed for our life task as Christians! Only in one other place is such graphic terminology used. In Galatians 3:27 Christians are characterized as those who "have been clothed with Christ" (NIV).
But, what does it mean to clothe yourselves with Christ, you may ask. Judging from the figurative usage of this verb elsewhere in the New Testament world, it means that you have such a close relationship with Christ that you are not only completely wrapped up in Christ so to speak, but that you think like Him, act like Him. For being dressed in Him, you are in a sense no longer yourself, but appear to be the one with whom you are clothed. To put it differently, "Clothe yourselves with Christ" means that you so closely identify with Christ that you have Christ's eyes and see the world and your situation as Christ sees it; that you have Christ's mind so that you think through life's problems as Christ would think through them if He were in your shoes.
But how is one to achieve this situation so that you are clothed with Christ!? For, it is a demand. "Clothe yourselves with Christ" God's Word says. The only way is to be separate from the world and to seek our everything in Jesus Christ. The context of the command "clothe yourselves with Christ" in Romans 13:14 makes this clear. The apostle, after encouraging his readers with the prospect of the great day of Jesus Christ, writes:
Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (vv. 12-14).
In order to clothe ourselves in Christ, we need a strong and close relationship with our Saviour. Christ must be everything for us. He demands all! All our heart, our love, our time, our priorities. Know the cost of being clothed as a Christian and taking the whole armour of God so that you can stand in the evil day. It means to become as nothing and that Christ becomes everything! If we fulfill our responsibility, for that is the context, and put on Christ, then He takes possession of us. It is remarkable that in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit could come upon His chosen servants and dress Himself with them and use them as His agents. (The verb "to be clothed" is used; think, e.g., of Gideon, Judges 6:34; also see 2 Chronicles 24:20.) In the New Testament, we are further in the history of redemption. Although salvation is of God (cf. in this context Luke 24:49), our responsibilities are emphasized when we are commanded to put on or be clothed with Christ. In this way Christ wants to fill us with His Spirit and so use us as His instruments in His service.
As I see it, one of the biggest dangers we are facing as Reformed community is a sense of having arrived. We basically have everything. We have our Reformed homes, churches and schools. All we need is a bit of fine-tuning and it will all be perfect. For the rest, things more or less go automatically. You go through the system; you can dream the chief contents of Scripture and eventually graduate from Guido as…? Yes, as what?! What is your identity as you graduate?
Undoubtedly you are busy preparing yourself for getting dressed for the job you hope to have in the future. That is good. God wants you to use your talents wisely. But, how far are you with dressing up in Christ, putting Him on and being totally governed by Him? Are you busy with that? It is not really fair to ask this only of the graduates. Let me rephrase it. Most of us have our task in life. We dress in the morning to go to work. The clothes lie ready. Do we also take time, day after day, to be clothed with Christ and to let our identity and outlook be totally determined by Him?
Graduates, and for that matter, all of us, if there is not that sense that we are naked and defenceless in a world of sin without being clothed by Christ, we are lost! If there is not that urgency that we need to get dressed with Christ, there is little perspective. For only if we have the mind of Christ can we understand what being a Christian is all about (cf. e.g. Philemon 2:5). Knowing the bare facts of Scripture and being outwardly good at working with some well worn slogans and clichés will get us nowhere. We need the mind of Christ and to be clothed with Christ. There must be that close personal relationship with our Saviour so that we hate the sin of this world as He did and does; so that we yearn for the holiness of the Father in this world, as He did; so that we strive in everything to do the will of Father, as He did; so that we love the brotherhood, as He showed by example and taught us to; so that we reach out to share the gospel and what we have received by grace, wherever the opportunity arises as Christ would have us do. Yes to be so clothed with Christ that we can say with the apostle, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20)!
Graduates, that's what it's all about! You are to be congratulated on reaching this milestone. We rejoice with you. Study and work hard for your life uniform in the occupation of your choice. But don't forget to dress for the great job our heavenly Father gave us, viz. to be Christians, to share in Christ's anointing and work. Don't forget to be clothed with Christ. There's no better way to show your gratitude to your parents who have sacrificed much for you. And there's no better way to show your thankfulness to the teachers at Guido and above all to the Lord our God from whom we have received all this. Then there will also be great rejoicing in heaven!