Getting a Make-over for Jesus
A sermon on Galatians 3: 23-29 by Nathan Nettleton, 24 June 2001
God sees us, the baptised, as having the appearance of Christ, which gives us reason to believe in ourselves and live up to it.
I dont know how many of you read womens magazines like Cleo and Womans Day, and Im not going to ask for confessions. I will admit to having occasionally browses one or two purely for reference and research purposes, youll understand! One of the popular items that features in these magazines is called the make-over. What they do, is they find a woman who feels a bit unhappy with the way she looks (apparently theyre not not hard to find), hand her over to a hair dresser, a make-up artist, and a clothing stylist for a few hours, and then publish a bunch of before and after photos in the magazine. Every now and then, for a special feature, they hand her over to a cosmetic surgeon as well. Often the photos are accompanied by some text in which the woman describes how different she felt about herself with her looks transformed; usually speaking of increased confidence and self-esteem.
As much as we often hate to admit it, the way we look does affect the way most of us feel about ourselves. Its not necessarily a huge factor for everyone, but most of us are at least careful about trying to be dressed appropriately for the context we are going to be in. We dont turn up to weddings wearing tracky daks and singlets, and the reason we dont is half out of respect for others and half because wed feel horrible about ourselves being the only one there who obviously made no effort. My recently departed father-in-law and his wife had a reputation for being the only ones to turn up in fancy dress to various parties. Theyd go to a party that was billed as having a spots and stripes theme, and everyone would have worn a striped shirt or tied a spotted bow in their hair or something, and Ray and Betty would turn up dressed as convicts in stripped prison garb complete with ball and chain. Im sure they felt very weird sometimes, although they did it so many times that it almost became expected of them and I think they rather enjoyed it.
I think the apostle Paul understood that we feel differently about ourselves depending on how we look and how were dressed, and so in the reading we heard from his letter to the Christians at Galatia he uses the image of changing clothes to describe something of what happens when we are baptised into a new relationship with Jesus Christ and his church. He says that those who have been baptised into Christ have clothed themselves in Christ. If you like, he saying youve had a make-over in the image of Christ, and now when God looks at you, you look just like Christ.
Just before saying that, Paul uses an image of our lives before baptism that also conjures up some possible clothing imagery. He says that we used to need a disciplinarian to keep us in line a parole officer, or a strap-weilding school teacher, or a prison officer or something. He is describing the role of the religious law, and suggesting that trying to be good by focussing on not transgressing laws is like living under the watchful eye of the disciplinarian with a heavy baton at the ready to deal with those who step out of line. Following on from that, the image of being clothed in Christ sounds like that scene we often see in movies, where the convict being released from prison hands in their prison garb and changes back into the civilian clothes - the clothes of freedom. This is a make-over where the change of appearance means a radical change of status, not just a change of colour scheme. Paul is telling us that God sees us quite differently, and that it is therefore appropriate to see ourselves quite differently, and to see one another quite differently.
God sees us now as Gods own children. The way Paul uses this image is quite startling. He says we no longer need the disciplinarian because, having entrusted ourselves to Christ, we are now children of God. It is almost as though he is saying that God comes along and bails us out of prison and adopts us. We are given a new identity as Gods own children, and so the prison guards are off our case. And we are not some kind of second rate children. We are clothed in Christ, so that all Gods children looks like the perfect child to God.
In the confession of faith we will make together in a few minutes, there is a line that begins, We believe in ourselves... The confession has been completely rewritten, but that line has remained, despite the fact that Ive lost count of the number of theologically educated people who have told me to take it out. Ive kept it in, partly because I know that some of you would be very unhappy with me if I took it out, but more importantly, because I think it is an important thing to affirm. If God looks at us and sees the emerging likeness of Jesus Christ, then who are we to argue. If God believes in us, then wed best believe in ourselves. Unless we can affirm a belief in ourselves as those who are made in the image of God and clothed in the likeness of Christ, how are we going to ever live it out and grow into it. We need to remind ourselves, regularly, of what we were created for and what we have been freed for in Christ, so that we might have the confidence and boldness to stop putting ourselves down and just live it. Immediately after saying that in our confession of faith, we sing a baptismal hymn and throw water around to remind ourselves of the basis of that self-belief our common baptism into Christ.
But being clothed in Christ through baptism does not just impact on the way we view ourselves; it impacts on the way we see one another too. Paul says that having clothed ourselves in Christ, there is now no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between slave and free, or between male and female. You are all one in Christ; equal partners in Christs body. You could extend the list with any number of other paired categories: there is no distinction between black and white; rich and poor; gay and straight; educated and illiterate; married and single; ordained and lay. You are all one in Christ; equal partners in Christs body. I could do a whole sermon on the implications of that, but let me cut it down to this: God looks at us and sees us reclothed in the likeness of Christ, and we are called to do the same. We are called to recognise each other, first and foremost as Christ-like, and as equal partners in Christ. In all our dealings with one another, we begin from a position of profound respect and even reverence for one another as those who reveal something of the likeness of Christ to us, and as those who are profoundly equal to us before they are in any way different from us.
You see, this make-over in the likeness of Christ is not simply a change of clothes. The image of the change of clothes is actually telling us about something about the depths of who we are: who we were created to be, and who we have been set free to become. This is not a make-over that will wash off in the next shower, but one which will continue to soak into us and transform us from the inside out. This is a make-over that is restoring the whole creation in the image of the God who loves us and embraces us as beloved children.