Clothed in Christ

Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Catholicism, Exegesis, Featured, Gospel, Imputation, Justification, Presbyterianism, Protestantism, Reformed Theology, Sola Fide | 1,512 comments

*** The Following Article is by Nick ***

I have often heard Protestants explain the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness in terms of the believer being “clothed in Christ’s righteousness,” which they take to mean our sinfulness is covered over by Christ’s perfection, causing us to appear pure and holy before God (though ‘underneath’ the clothing we remain sinful). But as I came to look at how the Bible speaks of “clothing” I came to realize something very different than the Protestant notion of Imputation was being taught. What I came to realize was that what the Bible was describing was actually the Catholic view of grace and salvation, not the Protestant view.

Generally speaking, Protestants understand the saving “grace” of justification as a disposition of God, wherein God knows He doesn’t have to save anyone, but He ‘graciously’ (undeservingly) sends Jesus to fulfill the law and die on the Cross (all in place of the believing sinner’s inability to do these things). This is where the Protestant notion of being “clothed in Christ’s righteousness” comes in, because even though God knows the sinner is ‘beneath the clothing’, God ‘graciously’ (mercifully) overlooks this and instead focuses on the clothing (i.e. what Christ did).

On the other hand, Catholics understand the saving “grace” of justification to refer to God’s divine life and power (2 Cor 12:9) acting upon the sinner, causing the sinner to be transformed. As the Catechism puts it: “Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life.” (CCC#1997) In this view, “grace” is what gives spiritual life to one who is spiritually dead (i.e. those in mortal sin), somewhat akin to the electrical charge that enters into a dead battery to recharge it.

In both viewpoints, grace is absolutely necessary, and in fact we could say both the Catholic and Protestant views believe man is saved ‘by grace alone’. But the radically different views of grace entail radically different views on salvation, which means this dispute must be settled beyond the semantic level. And this is where a study of the Biblical notion of “clothing” comes in.

Catholic theology has traditionally viewed saving grace from three perspectives: building, elevating, and perfecting. I believe these three aspects of grace are clearly found in how the Bible uses the Greek verb endyo, which literally means “to put on clothing,” and if this holds true then the Protestant equating of Imputation with that of “being clothed” must be abandoned (in fidelity to God’s Word).

The first claim to look at is the Catholic notion that grace ‘builds upon our human nature’. That which is natural to a being pertains to its own inherent abilities and qualities. That which is super-natural literally refers to those abilities and qualities that go beyond nature (since ‘super’ means ‘beyond’). When it comes to salvation, there are certain things we cannot do precisely because they require abilities that go beyond our natural abilities. I recall St Augustine using the analogy of seeing in the dark, saying that it doesn’t matter how good our eyesight is, the only way we can see in the dark is from the special assistance of a torch. We see this concept found when Paul speaks of “putting on the armor of God,” for example: “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thess 5:8; see also Rom 13:12). In Ephesians 6:11-18, Paul speaks of this “putting on the armor of God” again, including putting on the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, and helmet of salvation, as well as taking up the shield of faith and sword of the Spirit. And before Jesus Ascended into Heaven, He told the Apostles to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49), speaking of the divine gifts (e.g. tongues) which the Holy Spirit would pour out on Pentecost. In all these texts the clothing analogy is clear: these divine gifts equip us, building on our nature, to enable us to fight the good fight and do God’s work, which we otherwise couldn’t do by our natural human powers.

The second claim to look at is the Catholic notion that grace ‘elevates our human nature’. It is universally understood that certain people and places demand a certain elevated level of respect. We know that this means you must dress appropriately for certain events and have your house neat and orderly to properly welcome special guests over. Beautifully capturing this notion is the way the Old Testament describes Jewish Temple: For God to be able to dwell there, the Temple had to be ‘elevated’ beyond that of a regular building (by using the finest gold and decorations), and that the High Priest had to be ‘elevated’ beyond that of a lay person (by using many fancy garments instead of regular clothing, e.g. Lev 16:23). This is precisely why Churches should be beautifully adorned and why parishioners should dress up for Mass, because anything less is quite insulting to God’s Divine Majesty.

Hidden in his earthly Temple analogy is actually the more profound reality of the Christian having the Trinity dwell within us. As Paul says, Christians are “Temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 3:16-17), and as Jesus says in John 14:23 that ‘anyone who loves me, the Father and I will come make our dwelling within him’ (see also Eph 3:17). With this in mind, grace is what elevates us to become a welcoming and worthy home for the Trinity to come and dwell within us. Such a task requires a thorough ‘renovation’ of our souls and especially an adornment of love, as Paul says: ‘Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together’ (Col 3:9-14). And elsewhere, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24).

What is also fascinating is that this ‘putting on of the new self’ is identified in Romans 13:12-14 as “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, making no provision for the flesh,” telling us what being “clothed in Christ” really refers to in Paul’s mind! This fits precisely with Paul’s concluding thoughts of Galatians 3, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (3:27), since Scripture describes Baptism as a cleansing, image renewing, and regenerating bath (e.g. Acts 22:16; Titus 3:4-7; Romans 6). Notice that according to the plain reading of this verse, we become “clothed with Christ” by Baptism, not by faith alone.

The third claim to look at is the notion that grace ‘perfects our human nature’. Closely related to the last two aspects of grace is the notion that grace perfects us, meaning it takes us to a place where our human nature was supposed to be (and hence why Adam ‘falling from grace’ was such a tragic, devastating fall from a super-natural state to a merely natural one). To help get this concept across, is interesting to note is how those in heaven (both humans and angels) are described as being “dressed in (white) robes” (e.g. Rev 7:9-14, 15:6). One would think that a person in heaven should be described as naked, since nudity (ideally) is supposed to signify innocence and purity. Since we know nudity itself isn’t bad, the presence of “robes” would suggest that human nature itself isn’t enough to experience heaven, human nature must be ‘perfected by grace’. Indeed, St Paul tells us that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” meaning our natural bodies aren’t naturally made to live in heaven anymore than we can just go live in outer-space. The body must be glorified by grace, which is why Paul follows this up by saying: “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:50, 53; see also 2 Cor 5:1-5) – verses clearly referring to the perfecting work of grace.

With all this in mind, a final thought: It is common for people to say, “I don’t need Christianity to get to Heaven. I’m a good person, so I’m sure God will let me in.” The problem with that logic is that getting into heaven is far more than about being a ‘good person’. If you ask these people if you can come to their wedding, they’ll respond by saying: “No, I don’t know you.” Exactly, because wedding invitations aren’t based on who in the public is a ‘good person’, but rather on who is a friend of the Bride and Groom. Similarly, you must be a friend of God, having a relationship with Him, to be invited to His Wedding. God has no reason to invite you to His wedding feast if you never really cared about being in relationship with Him. A person needs the (super-natural) “love of God within them” (Jn 5:42; cf 1 Jn 2:5; Mt 24:12) if they are going to in relationship with God. This is how the parable of Matthew 22:10-13 is to be understood, where the man not clothed in the symbolic “wedding garment” was not welcome at the wedding feast. As noted in prior articles, this helps explain that the Catholic view isn’t about ‘working our way into heaven’ as it is about being properly disposed (i.e. in a state of grace) to be in a relationship with the Trinity, starting now.

Protestants like to quote Zechariah 3:3-7 which speaks of Joshua having to put on clean garments as proof of Imputed Righteousness, but this interpretation is presupposed and really has no merit from what has already been shown. The story fits quite well with the Catholic view of grace, especially the concluding verse which in which God warns: “If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access.” This indicates that sins can cause him to lose his rights, which makes no sense in the Imputation view (since God overlooks your personal sins). In fact, using the principle of Scripture-interprets-Scripture, we see the Catholic view vindicated in Revelation 3:3-5, where Jesus says: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.” These garments these saints are wearing cannot be referring to Christ’s righteousness Imputed, since Jesus speaks of them as taking care not to defile the garment (which is impossible if it’s Christ’s righteousness), so it can only refer to sanctifying grace gained, with the potential of it being lost through sin (cf James 1:12; 2:5). The parable of the Prodigal Son should be understood in a similar manner, wherein the father order the servants to “clothe” the returned son with a new expensive robe, signifying a reconciled status after being “dead” in sin (Lk 15:22-24).

In conclusion, we have seen the Catholic understanding of grace beautifully captured in the Bible’s use of the analogy of being “clothed”. Further, it was shown that being “clothed in Christ” and “clothed in righteousness” (as used in the Scriptures) cannot refer to the Protestant notion of Imputation, meaning they should avoid such terminology out of fidelity to God’s Word and orthodox theology.

 

 

 

1,512 Comments

  1. JMJ

    Eric,

    “Though you presuppose that we do, we DO NOT reject the ongoing gift of divine authority to the church. ”

    I’m sorry for the smart alec remark about your private opinion. I really do understand that the church’s divinely given authority must pass muster with the Bible and not your own fallible opinion..

    The Bible and only the Bible is your rule when it to judging if the church is exercising legitimate authority.

    Oh, by the way, how has THAT been working out for you folks for the last 500 years?

  2. Eric,

    “And our teachings are more irreformable than yours. (Demonstrably, they have changed far less in the last 500 years.)”

    When you define “our” in the “our teachings”, you’ll see the problem. Secondly, even if we grant this, this has as much significance in the context of this discussion as saying some civic organization’s bylaws haven’t changed in a long time.

    Again, you don’t reject PJ1 by actively and forcefully rejecting the types of claims to authority Rome makes – the only way to reject it is to actually make those type of claims. And if you make those type of claims, then the Protestant confessions are out.

  3. Jonathan–you wrote:

    To see why your argument is fallacious (specifically, based on the equivocation fallacy), refer to the distinction between PJ1 and PJ2 in this article:
    http://www.salvomag.com/unpragmatic-thoughts/?p=775

    The author in Eastern Orthodox, so there’s no bias toward papal authority in the explanation he gives.

    Thanks for directing me to that link. It definitely clears up what you and other Catholics here are saying. The writer has definitely put forward an important distinction to be made.

  4. Matteo–you wrote:

    Trebor135, in the above, you have put me at the center the decision, and that is to utterly miss the point that I am making.

    First, one must die to self before one can make the proper decision about which church to submit to.

    A Protestant that has himself as the Supreme Lord of the Scriptures – the Protestant that decides which church to join by picking the church that agrees with his private interpretation of the scriptures has not yet died to self – and as a consequence, the Protestant does not yet have Jesus as his Lord. The Protestant will protest that this is not so, but the protest is hollow, since ultimately, the Protestant is not submitting to anyone but himself as he elevates his own private interpretation of scriptures to the ultimate temporal authority in all matters religious.

    If you’re coming at the issue from the same place as Jonathan and the Eastern Orthodox Christian whose article was linked for my perusal, I grant that I misunderstood you.

    To die to self is the hard part of enlightenment. To find the true church after one has begun to die to self is easy- just listen to the Lord. Of course, when the Lord reveals that his church is the Catholic Church, one’s first impulse will be to resist – “No, Lord, anything but that!” This resistance is going to happen because the Fall brought about the consequence of man having himself as his center. Fallen man will do anything to keep himself as his center, even if it means following Martin Luther down the easy way that leads to his destruction.

    But, as you are aware, Catholicism isn’t the only option available apart from the theological madness unleashed by Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. During my spiritual journey, once I had ruled out Protestantism as completely unviable, I was faced with the choice between Catholicism and (Eastern) Orthodoxy. I had no prejudice against the former, having been brought up in a (not-super-devout) Catholic family; I, like so many others in my generation, was not well catechized, so had to work out these matters for myself as a young adult. I ultimately settled on Orthodoxy because, after a lot of investigation, I didn’t see the teachings of Vatican I in the early Church. If a Catholic writer can clearly and thoroughly refute, say, “The Papacy” by Fr. René-Francois (Vladimir) Guettée, you definitely have my attention. :)

  5. The Catholic Church recognizes that the local particular churches that comprise Eastern Orthodoxy are “true particular Churches” – see Dominus Iesus
    .

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html
    .

    If a Catholic writer can clearly and thoroughly refute, say, “The Papacy” by Fr. René-Francois (Vladimir) Guettée, you definitely have my attention.

    That can easily be done – just ask a member of the Easter Orthodox Church this question, “What are the objective criteria that establishes the validity of an Ecumenical Council?”

    The EO have no coherent answer to that question – but I don’t want to delve into that topic here, as it would take us way off topic.

  6. Mateo–you wrote:

    The Catholic Church recognizes that the local particular churches that comprise Eastern Orthodoxy are “true particular Churches” – see Dominus Iesus
    .

    I’m puzzled about why you wrote the above. The Eastern Orthodox cannot reject the positive things that others say about it. But, ultimately, what the Catholic Church or any other group thinks of Eastern Orthodoxy does not impact in any way its self-conception as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

    That can easily be done – just ask a member of the Easter Orthodox Church this question, “What are the objective criteria that establishes the validity of an Ecumenical Council?”

    But this question is entirely separate from that of whether the bishop of Rome possesses charisms of universal ordinary jurisdiction and doctrinal infallibility.

    Unless those teachings can be demonstrated as being accepted by East and West before the ‘Great’ Schism, the Catholic Church cannot be taken seriously as a possible candidate for being the communion which speaks definitively for Christ. Changing the subject will do nothing to win someone like me over to your position.

    The EO have no coherent answer to that question – but I don’t want to delve into that topic here, as it would take us way off topic.

    We don’t need to march off into that tangent. But we do have to recognize that asking Protestants to ‘die to self’ and abandon the grave errors of sola scriptura and private judgment in no way leads to the inevitable conclusion that the Catholic Church is the solution. It might have a clear answer on a certain matter, but it might be an incorrect one, founded upon shaky, even indefensible, premises. Calvinism offers TULIP, but just because this seteriology looks neat and tidy doesn’t mean we should accept it, even if the alternatives might seem somehow muddled.

  7. oetam:That can easily be done – just ask a member of the Easter Orthodox Church this question, “What are the objective criteria that establishes the validity of an Ecumenical Council?
    .
    531 Robert: But this question is entirely separate from that of whether the bishop of Rome possesses charisms of universal ordinary jurisdiction and doctrinal infallibility.

    The question I asked bears directly on the question of primacy. Does the Bishop of Rome only have a “primacy of honor”, or does the pope possess a primacy within Christ’s church that is greater than that of mere honor?

    The Orthodox can give you no coherent answer as to what constitutes the objective criteria the determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council, whereas the Catholics can answer that question without being evasive. The Catholic Church teaches that one of the objective criteria for determining the validity of an Ecumenical Council is whether or not the Pope has affirmed the teachings of the Council.

    The fact that the Orthodox cannot give a coherent answer for what constitutes the objective criteria that determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council creates a a very serious problem for the Orthodox, as it impacts just about everything that they claim to be infallibly taught as solemnly defined dogma.

    If the Orthodox can’t tell me what constitutes the objective criteria that determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council, then there is no reason for me to accept that any Ecumenical Council that a member of the Orthodox Church declares to be valid, is actually valid.

    Ask yourself, how is it possible that after two-thousand years of Christianity, that no one really knows whether or not a particular Ecumenical Council is actually valid? The fact that the Orthodox are incapable of answering my question should give you good reason to suspect of the claims that the Orthodox are making about being the church that I should listen to.

  8. Mateo–you wrote:

    The question I asked bears directly on the question of primacy. Does the Bishop of Rome only have a ‘primacy of honor’, or does the pope possess a primacy within Christ’s church that is greater than that of mere honor?

    The Orthodox would say that, in order to answer this question, we have to investigate what the early Church looked like, based on all the historical evidence at our disposal.

    The Orthodox can give you no coherent answer as to what constitutes the objective criteria the determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council, whereas the Catholics can answer that question without being evasive. The Catholic Church teaches that one of the objective criteria for determining the validity of an Ecumenical Council is whether or not the Pope has affirmed the teachings of the Council.

    Sure, the Catholic answer is clear. But what evidence can you present that the early Church regarded councils as authoritative based on the same criteria offered by the Catholic Church in the present day?

    The fact that the Orthodox cannot give a coherent answer for what constitutes the objective criteria that determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council creates a a very serious problem for the Orthodox, as it impacts just about everything that they claim to be infallibly taught as solemnly defined dogma.

    The fact that the Catholic doctrines on the papacy as promulgated at Vatican I cannot be shown to be part of pre-’Great’ Schism Christian faith and practice represents a disastrous difficulty for Catholicism, according to which doctrine is to be located in and to line up with two sources: Scripture and Tradition. If, as Father Guettée demonstrated in his comprehensive work on the subject, important teachings of the Catholic Church–namely, those regarding the authority of the bishop of Rome–are not supported and are indeed undermined by one or both of those pillars, then the honest seeker cannot embrace Catholicism. Why? Because it does not even adhere to its own basic criteria, and no system which is incoherent in this way is worthy of our consideration. Similarly, one ought not to accept sola scriptura because this principle is not clearly stated and/or exemplified in the Bible itself.

  9. @Trebor135:
    I appreciate the comments, and I sympathize to some extent. But I also think that sober scholarship has tended to minimize the Gallican-era polemics of Abbe Guettee. This is particularly with respect to Pope St. Leo the Great, whose theology has only recently been studied in adequate detail (see, e.g., Bernard Green), and more work needs to be done.

    I think Mateo has hit on the right question (i.e., magisterial authority and tradition), but I respectfully disagree with both of you that the answer to that question is either apparent or simple. As we expect in the case of schism where both parties display less than perfect charity, the historical record is marred by inconsistent and uncharitable examples on both sides. We have to deal with hard cases, and dialogue on that history as history needs to be respectful, even of we firmly believe our theological commitments.

    Regardless, I am happy that you are likewise within the apostolic tradition, the faith once delivered to the saints, and I earnestly hope that we will one day be restored to full communion.

  10. Jonathan–you wrote:

    I appreciate the comments, and I sympathize to some extent.

    Thank you.

    But I also think that sober scholarship has tended to minimize the Gallican-era polemics of Abbe Guettee.

    Have any of the scholars involved attempted to refute his arguments? Waving them away isn’t the same as dealing with them head-on.

    This is particularly with respect to Pope St. Leo the Great, whose theology has only recently been studied in adequate detail (see, e.g., Bernard Green), and more work needs to be done.

    I wouldn’t claim that no one in the early Church ever said something about the role of the bishop of Rome that looks like what was proclaimed at Vatican I. What Catholic apologists have to do is, as I see it, to show that these teachings were widely held across time and space–not just by the bishop of Rome or by the West in general, whether constantly or occasionally.

    I think Mateo has hit on the right question (i.e., magisterial authority and tradition), but I respectfully disagree with both of you that the answer to that question is either apparent or simple.

    I appreciate your willingness to look at matters from different angles. I’m very interested in finding out what leads you to believe that Vatican I promulgated correct teaching rather than heterodoxy. (I would ask with all courtesy that you not dismiss me with a book recommendation. I’ve already checked out Luke Rivington and James Likoudis, but found them wanting. Plus, printed matter can’t answer questions and respond to counter-arguments.)

    As we expect in the case of schism where both parties display less than perfect charity, the historical record is marred by inconsistent and uncharitable examples on both sides. We have to deal with hard cases, and dialogue on that history as history needs to be respectful, even of we firmly believe our theological commitments.

    I agree that we must be careful on this matter and considerate toward one another. I’m puzzled, though, as to what “inconsistent and uncharitable examples” you’d have in mind. Given that the ‘Great’ Schism occurred many centuries after Pentecost, we have a long period of time to look at where both East and West were in communion, without the acrimony of the Middle Ages, which saw the violent episodes during the Crusades (1182 and 1204) and the failed reunion gathering at Florence (1431-1449). So, I’m likewise very curious to learn what these “hard cases” are.

    Regardless, I am happy that you are likewise within the apostolic tradition, the faith once delivered to the saints,

    Even though I’m no longer in communion with the pope, of my own decision?

    and I earnestly hope that we will one day be restored to full communion.

    Likewise!

  11. Johnathan, you write:

    I think Mateo has hit on the right question (i.e., magisterial authority and tradition), but I respectfully disagree with both of you that the answer to that question is either apparent or simple.

    I did not mean to leave the impression that I thought the answer to my question was simple. Trevor makes a good point when he writes:

    The Orthodox would say that, in order to answer this question, we have to investigate what the early Church looked like, based on all the historical evidence at our disposal.

    If one were to honestly do that, I would think that the Catholic answer to what determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council is at least plausible.

    My point about the fact that Eastern Orthodox have no coherent teaching about what constitutes the objective criteria that determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council is a point about implausibility. It is implausible that after two-thousand years of Christianity that no one really knows what constitutes the objective criteria that determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council – because if that is the case, then no one really knows if any Ecumenical Council is valid, and the EO are no better off than the Protestants when it comes to determining what constitutes orthodox belief and what constitutes heterodox belief.

    Regardless, I am happy that you are likewise within the apostolic tradition, the faith once delivered to the saints, and I earnestly hope that we will one day be restored to full communion.

    Amen!

  12. TREBOR135 April 1, 2015 at 11:42 am
    ….If a Catholic writer can clearly and thoroughly refute, say, “The Papacy” by Fr. René-Francois (Vladimir) Guettée, you definitely have my attention. :)

    How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

    If you want to go through that book, piecemeal, any Catholic here can refute it. I don’t want to disrupt proceedings. If you want we can discuss Fr. Guettee’s book on my blog. You will find that the Papacy was established by Jesus Christ when He said to Peter,

    Matthew 16:18-19

    18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

    Sincerely,

    De Maria

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