Saturday, September 13, 2014

Putting Jesus On

Putting Jesus On
Romans 13:8-14[1]
I have to wonder what some people think when they hear the language the New Testament uses for the Christian life. Take, for example, St. Paul’s instruction to “put Jesus on” in our lesson for today. In our world, to put someone on means to fake them out, to run a con, or in some way to pull the wool over their eyes. From the perspective of our current use of language, to “put Jesus on” would mean to try to put up a front, or to mislead him in some way. I think that must sound very confusing to the average person: is the Bible telling us to try to fool Jesus about who we are and the way we live our lives? Well, of course the answer to that question is a resounding “No!” But, ironically, I think many of us approach our faith and our lives as if we think we can hoodwink Jesus. We put on a false front for people at church, and we think that if we can fool them then maybe we can fool God.
If we really think about that idea, however, it’s obviously ridiculous. As the Psalmist says, “The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind. From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth—he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds” (Ps. 33:13-14). And Jesus reminds us that “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known (Lk. 12:2).” The Bible makes it clear that God knows what we do in secret (Jer. 23:24), that God knows every careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36), and that God knows even our innermost thoughts (Ps. 139:2). Since God “fills heaven and earth,” if we think we can put one over on Jesus or God, we’re really only fooling ourselves.
The fact of the matter is that the passage that’s translated in our lesson as “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” is language that is taken from the idea of putting on clothing. A better way to translate it would be to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14, NIV).[2] The idea is to live all of life the way Jesus would. It’s a matter of embracing Jesus’ character and Jesus’ way of life so much that it’s almost as if we’re wearing them as a new set of clothing. It’s sort of the ultimate version of “What Would Jesus Do,” but it goes far beyond simply wearing a wrist band. As another translation puts it, what St. Paul has in mind here is for us to “let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you” (13:14, NLT). In other words, we’re to turn every aspect of our lives over to Jesus Christ!
Well, that’s how St. Paul defines the Christian life here. And in fact, this idea is fairly common. You can find it woven throughout the whole New Testament. In fact, it runs through the whole Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, a faith that is genuine produces a life that has been surrendered into God’s hands. It’s a life in which we turn our hearts and minds, all that we are and do, over to God. And the point of it all is to seek with all our hearts and minds and everything we are and do to live the way God intends for us to live. We’re to put into practice “What Would Jesus Do” in a radical way, including everything we say and do. We’re to “clothe” ourselves with the way Jesus lived, so that we try to be like him in every possible way.[3]
That’s what the Christian life is about. It’s not about how many times we come to church. It’s not about how much money we give. It’s not about simply talking a good game. It’s about living out all the high ideals that we sing and pray and talk about. That’s why it’s called “conversion,” or “transformation” as St. Paul called it earlier in the book of Romans.[4] Living the Christian life means changing every aspect of what we say and do to try to make it line up with the kind of life Jesus lived. It means living in the way that God intended for us to live in the first place.
As we saw last week, this isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. Most of us tend to want to go along with the way everybody else lives. We spend most of our lives trying not to stand out from our friends and neighbors, because when we do we get flak from them. But no matter how uncomfortable it may be, Jesus calls us to leave all of that behind and follow him. And St. Paul says that the way to do that is to wear the character and the lifestyle of Jesus like a set of clothing. That means we will probably stand out in our world, rather than blending in.
In my opinion, one of the problems with the Church in this culture is that we’ve spent too much energy trying to blend in. We have tried to imitate corporate culture, thinking that professional structure will make the difference. These days a lot of Christians try to pretend to be “hip” so that younger people will come to our church. But when we’re playing that “put on” game, the only ones we’re fooling is ourselves. God knows exactly who we are and what we’ve done--and the amazing good news is that God loves us anyway and wants to use us to accomplish his work in this world. But in order for that to happen, we need to find the right role model. And that’s Jesus. If we want to know what the Christian life looks like, all we have to do is follow the way Jesus lived. When we “put on” Jesus in that way, clothing ourselves in his compassion and his kindness and his generosity, then we will be truly living the Christian life.[5] Then our lives will become a witness to the presence and power of the living Lord Jesus among us.[6]

[1] ©2014 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/7/2014 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. Robert Jewett, Romans, A Commentary, 827, where he points out that some see in the “clothing” analogy at least a reminder of the believers’ baptism, though James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, 790, points out that there is no evidence that the taking off of old clothing and putting on of new clothing was part of Christian baptism.
[3] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 102: “For Paul too, the approaching sunrise of the day of God makes it possible and necessary to lay aside ‘the works of darkness’ and to put on ‘the armour of light’ (Rom. 13:12ff.). The inviting proximity of the coming kingdom of God makes possible what was impossible before, and what is impossible without it. Conversion implements these new potentialities which God throws open. True life begins here and now, the true life which will come for the whole of creation with the kingdom of God. ‘Conversion’ is itself an anticipation of that new life under the conditions of this world.”  Cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.2:715: “As witnesses to the death and resurrection of Christ, they have to attest by their life that the fashion of this world passes away, because the kingdom of God has drawn near.” Cf. also Dunn, Romans 9-16, 793: “Believers can be exhorted to wake up, put off, put on, etc., not because their future depends solely on such strength of purpose, but as the way to open themselves to the eschatological rule of God in Christ.”
[4] Cf. Michael Gorman, “Romans 13:8-14,” Interpretation 62 (Apr 2008):171: “The term ‘conversion,’ especially for many Protestants, is something that others need. But whether we use the term ‘conversion’ or the word ‘transformation,’ the church—and the individual Christian—needs ongoing conversion: ‘reformed but always reforming.’”
[5] Cf. Dunn, Romans 9-16, 793: “The words which resulted in Augustine’s conversion (13:13–14) may not yet have lost their power to correct the still too casual and selfish readers of a much later age.”
[6] Cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.2:277: “The community and its members live because they are ἐν χριστῷ (in Christ).”

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