My mother loves to talk about when I was a little girl. And although I don’t think she enjoyed it much at the time, it brings great delight to recount how hard it was to keep me dressed.
Sadly, there are many childhood pictures of me with my undies on my head – pigtails poking out of the leg holes. And I think it usually happened just as we were supposed to be leaving for church or expecting company. For my benefit, as a loving mother, she would beg me, “Leave your clothes on!”
Since this behavior predates my memory, I have no idea why I didn’t like to keep my clothes on. But I have to admit, in some ways this behavior has followed me into adulthood.
No, I don’t welcome people into my home my birthday suit. Our family does not privately operate au naturel. I’m actually quite modest in that regard.
But this tendency came to mind when one of our elders was teaching a Sunday school class recently. He made the passing comment that you have to keep your clothes on to still be clothed. It sounds obvious, but it’s actually quite profound. You must remain in the clothes to be clothed with clothes.
Likewise, you must remain in Christ to be clothed with Christ.
Scripture speaks of being clothed with righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), clothed with Christ himself (Galatians 3:26-28). In another place, we are instructed to clothe ourselves with the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18a).
Using another analogy, Jesus says (John 15: 4-6, NIV),
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you…. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (Emphasis mine).
So often, I want to strip off Christ’s righteousness and pop it on my head like those undies. Then I think I can parade around in my nakedness, showing people how righteous I am. I play this little legalism game where I clothe myself with rule following and accessorize with good deeds. Then I try to get others to believe I am righteous, too. It’s a little like the emperor in his new clothes…
Romans 3:10 tells me that no one is righteous. Isaiah 64:6 reminds me that my righteousness is like filthy rags.
Without Christ’s righteousness, I am nothing. When I try to live out of my own strength, I am nothing.
When I strip off Christ’s righteousness, I am naked.
God’s grace to me is that, clothed with Christ, I can stand in his presence unashamed. The same way he provided clothing to cover the nakedness and shame of Adam and Eve in the garden, he has provided clothing for me.
In my day to day experience, when I try to live in my own strength, when I strive to be “worthy” of the approval of God and man… I miss out on the experiential benefits of being clothed. I feel as if my sin is not covered. The guilt and shame of that nakedness can be covered by repentance. I can remain clothed in righteousness, experiencing grace, only when I keep my mind bathed in scripture, my heart warmed with constant prayer, my strength bound up in the Spirit, and my soul dressed with the beauty of Christ.
And God, my loving father, dresses me with Christ. And then, for my benefit, pleads with me, “Leave your clothes on!”