For some, the entire idea of clothing one’s self with an alter ego, taking on a new persona empowered to accomplish awesome things, sounds like mere fantasy. It sounds just like our favorite comic book superheroes.
Clark Kent goes into a phone booth and, seconds later, comes out Superman. Diana spins around in circles to become Wonder Woman. Bruce Wayne always seems to have his Batman suit conveniently within reach. Peter Parker took up a needle and thread to sew his Spiderman look. And Bruce Banner just needs to lose his temper to bring out the Incredible Hulk. It’s all too easy. In an instant these ordinary Joes are transformed into super beings, ready for super deeds.
At first glance, Paul’s language of “putting on Christ” seems to suggest a similar instantaneous metamorphosis; as if all we needed was seek out the nearest phone booth. Perhaps we can just whisper the magic words or spin in a few circles. In reality, however, Christian metamorphosis, or spiritual transformation, involves a lifetime of focused development.
In theological lingo we are talking about the lifelong process of sanctification. Like an onion, we are slowly peeling away the smelly, tearful layers of our old Adamic self, getting ever closer to our renewed inner core. We are being “transfigured much like the Messiah,” says Paul, “our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him” (2 Cor 3:18 MSG). The operative word here is gradually.
We are more like children digging through our parents’ closet. Imagine a little girl swimming in mommy’s wedding gown, pretending to be a beautiful bride. She walks as elegantly as a six-year-old can down the bedroom hallway to recite her makeshift vows in front of the bathroom mirror. This is her first dress rehearsal for the real future event. Mom smiles and whispers into her little ear, “You’ll grow into it, princess. Someday you’ll make a beautiful bride.”
Or, picture the young gunslinger, dressed in daddy’s size thirteen cowboy boots, with his ten-gallon hat drooped over his eyes. His belt buckle is larger than his face, and his squirrelly five-year old voice sounds more like Opi than John Wayne. He strides menacingly into daddy’s office as if it were the county bank, draws his plastic squirt gun and yells, “Give me all your money, daddy!” His proud daddy scoops the little outlaw into his arms and with a proud smile says, “Someday, you’ll be a great cowboy! You’ll grow into those boots, you’ll see.”
And so it is with the Christian. We have been given the King’s clothes to wear. At first the royal robe drags behind us in the dirt, making us feel inadequate and embarrassed. It’s just too big! But our Heavenly Father is patient, and with a loving smile he whispers in our ears, “”This is my son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). “He is still growing. “This is my daughter, in whom my soul delights. Someday she’ll be a beautiful bride.”
Isaiah anticipates the future wedding. “As a bridegroom rejoices over a bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isa 62:5). We have God’s assurance that he “who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). When that day finally arrives, all God’s beloved children will “descend out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2).
Like Superman and his heroic friends, on that day, “He will change our weak mortal bodies and make them like his own glorious body, using that power by which he is able to bring all things under his rule” (Phil 3:21). No phone booth needed. No spinning in circles. No sowing machines. No anger-induced tantrums. God’s resurrection power will simply overwhelm us, and “we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:51-52). “The perishable will clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (v. 53). “When he appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). The clothes will finally fit. They will be tailor made.
But in the meantime, we must keep ourselves clothed with Christ, proudly wearing his label on our hearts, and spreading his new look—his new way of being human—to those we encounter. Yet, as we carry his logo on our sleeves we must always “live out the label” and be wary of cheap imitations on the market.