The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. Romans 13.12-14 NIV.
What wonderful imagery Paul uses in this passage. There in the barracks, in the darkness of the dormitory, lies a Roman soldier, wrapped in his night-robe, sleeping off a hard night on the town with his comrades. But now the eastern sky begins to lighten beyond the window, a cock crows somewhere nearby, and the soldier stretches and stirs. Soon the dawn will break and he must report for duty. Getting up, he takes off his night robe, washes, then puts on his armour and steps out into the new day.
Fine. Nothing very new about that. But what I saw for the first time this morning is that that image is the image that lies behind the whole of this passage; not just the first verse. The same verb to “put on” – enduō (which literally means “to get into”) – is used in both verse 12 and verse 14 but the NIV has obscured the connection by rendering it “clothe yourselves” in the second of those two verses. “Clothe yourselves” suggests putting on everyday garments – a T-shirt and jeans. But no – it is armour that is being talked about here, and The New English Bible catches the force of that perfectly when it translates the start of verse 14 as: “Let Christ Jesus himself be the armour that you wear.”
Paul is very fond of “putting on armour” imagery. He uses it in 1 Thessalonians 5.8 …
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
and in Ephesians 6.11-17:
Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
But the point that is being underlined in today’s verses from Romans 13 is that the armour is Jesus himself. It is not that we get up in the morning and think “Now I’ll buckle on some truth, then I’ll fasten on some righteousness etc.” No. We put on Christ and having put on Christ we find that the belt of truth is buckled round our waist without our having put it there; the breastplate of righteousness is already in place, and so on. The whole armour – panoplia – is singular in the Greek. It is a complete suit of armour. It is one thing. It is Jesus.
This becomes obvious when we look at Isaiah 59.17 which is surely the source of Paul’s imagery. There, it was the Lord himself who “put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head”. He is the one in the armour. We get the armour only when we put on him.
But how do I put on Christ? It is not at all difficult. He wants it more than we do so he makes it easy for us. We quite simply come to him in prayer; recognise and lay aside the sins and failures of the past; then make it the desire of our heart that here and now we enter into him. And we are there – fully protected, fully equipped – for Jesus himself is instantly the armour that we wear.