Romans 13:14—Wearing the righteousness of Christ.
Paul brings to a close the section of this epistle that he began at 12:1. Because his teaching in these two chapters consists of both positive and negative commands, it makes sense that this closing statement also has a positive and a negative.
For the positive, Paul returns to the clothing metaphor of verse 12. In that verse, Paul used the metaphor for both negative and positive commands: “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” There we put on armor; here we put on Christ.
To “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ is to clothe or dress oneself with Christ. The meaning of this command is best understood by recalling what Paul wrote previously in Galatians: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (3:27 ESV); or “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (NASB). Whereas Paul in Galatians refers to something already accomplished, he gives in Romans a present-tense command. Why must we keep putting on what we have already put on?
Paul speaks in Romans 6 of our union with Christ. Our spiritual baptism—depicted outwardly by our water baptism—placed us in Christ so that we were crucified, buried, and resurrected with him. When Paul, in Galatians, links baptism with clothing ourselves with Christ, he is looking at our side of the transaction. Through our faith in Christ and obedience in baptism, we identified ourselves with Christ in a relationship so close as to be like clothing ourselves with him. Because that part of our responsibility has been completed, Paul wrote in the past tense in Galatians.
Of course, only God could wrap us in the royal robes of Christ. In response to our faith, God positioned us in Christ and by means of this exalted status bestowed on us a multitude of blessings (Ephesians 1:15–2:10). In Psalm 110, David’s prophecy of the Messiah’s future rule, the “holy garments” of the youthful volunteers who will come alongside their Lord represent the holiness only God can give.
Having been united with Christ, we are now exhorted to live in alignment with our new status, to manifest Christlike behavior and speech. In Ephesians 4 Paul again uses the clothing metaphor as a command to put off the old self and “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:22–24).
Our responsibility to implement in our lives what God has already done is a major theme of our sanctification, which is a partnership between God and us. This theme is most evident in our relationship with sin and righteousness. God crucified our old self with Christ (Romans 6:6) and set us free from sin (6:7). Now we must reckon ourselves dead to sin (6:11) and not let sin reign in our mortal body (6:12). God has declared us righteous (5:1), and we are responsible to live righteously (6:13).
Douglas Moo sees a match between 13:14 and Paul’s exhortation in 12:2 to “be transformed by the renewal of our mind.” The connection Moo sees is that putting on Christ accomplishes this renewal, which conforms us to the image of Christ (8:29). Even here we see the theme of God’s work partnering with our duty. God has given us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), yet we must continually renew our mind.
Clothing marks identity
Charles Swindoll highlights why Paul’s metaphor communicates so well. Even today in the Middle East, Swindoll says, “clothes are very much a part of one’s identity, signifying where he or she fits in society.” Our behavior should display our true identity, not the identity of our past worldly ways.