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23. The Parable of the Wedding Garment


Chapter 23

The Parable of the Wedding Garment

Matthew 22:1-14

Eric H. H. Chang

March 22, 1981


Today, we continue in the study of the teaching of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 22:1-14, generally known as the Parable of the Wedding Feast, or the Marriage Banquet. This parable also has many striking features that can show us what the Lord Jesus would say to us.

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son. And sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. Again, he sent other servants saying, “Tell those who are invited, “Behold! I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed. And everything is ready. Come to the marriage feast.”

But this time they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, and another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully and killed them. The king was angry and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.” And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both the bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who has no wedding garment. And he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness. There, men will weep and gnash their teeth, for many are called, but few are chosen.”

Who does the Lord Jesus speak to here? In verse 1, “them” refers to the chief priests and the Pharisees in particular, in Matthew 21:45. Also, in Matthew 21:46, “the multitudes” were present when he was speaking. So he was giving this parable to these religious leaders in particular, and also to all who have ears to hear.

The conclusion of the parable is the punch line: “For many are called, but few are chosen.

The king invited the guests to his banquet twice

Now let us survey this parable and try to get a clearer picture of it. Notice that these persons have been invited beforehand, and like the Parable of the Great Banquet, which is similar, although not the same, they had obviously not rejected the invitation in the first place. And the special feature of this parable is that, even after they rejected the invitation the first time, the king still sent other messengers to invite them again. But this second time, they reacted more radically in an act of rebellion, killing the messengers of the king. So in judgment, the king destroyed the city.

Now the picture in verse 7 is perfectly plain: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” The destruction of the city is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Jews had rejected God’s invitation to the banquet. They had harmed His messengers, His prophets, His servants, and mistreated, stoned and killed them, just as in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. And now God’s judgment had come upon the city; the destruction of Jerusalem is clearly stated here.

In the Lord Jesus’ teaching, the certain destruction of Jerusalem is not a new theme, and is also predicted explicitly for example, in Luke 19:41-44. This element is now incorporated in this parable. Matthew 23:34-37 and 24:1-2 also state the destruction of Jerusalem and in particular, the Temple.

In Matthew 22:9 onwards, the servants are told to go to the “thoroughfares” to invite the people there. These “thoroughfares” are obviously the roads leading out of Jerusalem, which is indicated by the meaning of the Greek word for it—the roads leading out of the city. Since the city is destroyed, the people that you can invite must be the people outside the city, in the villages lying near or around the city, or upon the highways to those villages, where people are living off the main roads in farms.

So it is clear that seeing that the Jews—and particularly Jerusalem—have rejected the gospel, the invitation of the gospel is now extended to those people outside Jerusalem, in particular to the Gentiles, although not excluding for example, the Galileans. As you may know, all except one of the twelve disciples were in fact, Galileans. The Jerusalem people, arrogant, complacent and self-assured as always, had always resisted the message of salvation as the Lord Jesus proclaimed it. So the gospel is extended to those people outside of the city, to those who live by these thoroughfares in the country.

So, the features of this parable are very clear.

Two main questions in this parable:

1. What is this wedding garment?

Now we will look at some of the main points. Surely, you could not have read this parable very carefully without noticing something which gives you a problem. After these people in the countryside had been invited, and accepted the invitation, we are told the banquet hall was filled with guests. Then the king comes to speak to and welcome the guests, and he discovers someone without the wedding garment. So he asks this man, “How did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And the man was speechless. Then he is thrown out.

Notice carefully, he had accepted the invitation and was in the banquet already, but he ends up being thrown out because he did not have the wedding garment. So the key matter we will have to deal with is to understand, what is the wedding garment?

2. What does “For many are called, but few are chosen” mean?

But there is another point which demands our attention, and that is verse 14, “For many are called but few are chosen.” As I have pointed out already, you can say that this is the punch line carrying the whole message of this parable.

Warning Christians about false security of salvation

First, we have to deal with the fact that a person can already be in the banquet—he did not reject the invitation, but had accepted it—and was then thrown out because he did not have the wedding garment. In connection with this verse, Professor Edward Schweitzer rightly observes and says, “Matthew cautions against false security which thinks God’s salvation is in the bag.” Then further on in the next page he writes, “Here too, we see Matthew’s special concern, as expressed in this parable in particular, it is Jesus’ own band of disciples, who must heed the warning not to lose what has been given to them.” Those are certainly very perceptive remarks. In this parable, we see that one could be in the banquet, and yet be slung out. As Professor Schweitzer says, it is “a warning against false security which thinks that salvation is in the bag.”

One thrown out, few chosen?

Let us turn our attention to: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” This conclusion of this parable seems rather inappropriate at first sight. Why? Because what we see here is that many were called and many responded, and only one was thrown out. It should have read more like this: “Many were called, but only one was thrown out,” not “few will be saved.” If you look prima facie at this parable, surely the conclusion must be, “Many were called, most of the people remained, and only one was thrown out.”

Yet the conclusion is most unexpected: “Many are called but few are chosen.” And you still have the question, but only one was rejected, how can few be chosen? The “many” and the “few” don’t seem to fit in very well here. How are we to deal with this matter? There are only two alternatives open to us here.

Delete Mt. 22:14

One is that we just delete verse 14 as being inappropriate, which is what some liberal scholars are very ready to do. Perhaps Matthew added this verse in editing. Somehow, he did not have his usual grip on the situation, and put in a bit of teaching from another place. So, delete verse 14. I am sure you would not accept that we can simply cross out parts of the Bible, that in our judgment don’t fit the context very well.

The person without the wedding garment represents a group

If that doesn’t work, then that leaves us only with the other solution, that the person without the wedding garment was not the only person at the feast who did not have a wedding garment. Unless many were thrown out, of which this person was only one, or else how can we say that few are chosen? This is the only conclusion we can come to, otherwise, the conclusion in verse 14 is indeed inappropriate. We will see why when we study this passage and the rest of the Lord Jesus’ teaching.

“Few” is a common concept in the Bible

First of all, we cannot delete verse 14, because in fact, this is not the only place in which the Lord Jesus says that only few will be chosen. For example, he has already said this in Matthew 7:14. Let us read from verse 13:

“Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction. And those who enter by it are many. Where the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”

The way to destruction is wide and easy, and many, many go down that road. The way to life is narrow and hard, and few go there. That is saying almost exactly the same thing as here in Matthew 22:14.

The Lord also says in Matthew 9:37, something quite similar to this:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

It is always the few that have to take the load of the work in God’s work. The majority are nowhere to be seen. But you may say, “Are there not many Christians?” Indeed, there are Christians. Then why should the laborers be few? Why should so few people engage in God’s service, in God’s vineyard, if we are all called to serve?

Again, you have this “few” in 1 Peter 3:20,

because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

We are reminded that there was a great multitude in the days of Noah but only eight people out of that entire generation were saved!

We are also never allowed to forget in the Word of God that a whole generation of people, numbering some two million people came out of Egypt, but only two out of two million entered the Land of Promise! The others perished through unbelief, even though they had responded to the call to leave Egypt; even though they were the covenant people of God, the people called by God.

Again, in Revelation 3:4,

Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.

In the church in Sardis, only a few remained faithful. The others obviously had been unfaithful to God. So this teaching cannot be deleted from here, simply because it is a teaching that extends throughout the Bible. There is nothing about it which is peculiar only to this passage.

This being the case, we are left only with the second alternative. It is evident in this parable that this person without the wedding garment is spoken of as representative of a whole group of people who were present without wedding garments. But the Lord Jesus doesn’t address the whole group collectively because he asks a question, “How did you get in here without the wedding garment?” which must be answered differently by different people.

At the last Judgment, which is what this passage is concerned about, everybody will have to answer for himself. The Lord Jesus will address each one of you individually. You will not be addressed as a crowd. That is the frightening thing about the Judgment. The Bible tells us that at the Judgment, the books will be opened, and every person will be judged according to his or her deeds. It would be so nice if you could hide behind the crowd at the Judgment! And when the Lord Jesus calls your name you will say, “Who? Me? ” If only you can hide behind the crowd, and are allowed to be judged collectively, you would feel a bit better. But to have your name called out in front of all this multitude, and you will explain why you did what you did, or why you did not do what you should have done, will be another terrifying aspect of the Judgment.

We are talking about the banquet that has to do with the Judgment of God, and the element that each of us will have to answer for ourselves at the Judgment is brought out so clearly in this passage. There is no hiding behind crowds at the Judgment. Remember that well.

Moreover, this aspect of one person representing a group of people is constantly used in the parables. We see this for example, in the Parable of the Talents and its general context, in Matthew 25:14-30. In the parable, the kingdom of God is compared to servants who are entrusted with talents, and only three servants are mentioned. Of course, it cannot be that the householder had only three servants out of which only one proved unfaithful. Otherwise, in the kingdom of God where “only few will be saved,” we are going to be reduced to only 2 people who will be saved, because out of the 3, one is in fact, cast into outer darkness. Of course, these three represent three different types of persons, and not to be taken literally, there being only one person who failed, and two who succeeded. So, this method of teaching that the Lord Jesus uses is seen elsewhere in the parables.

Jesus stuns us: “Sons of the kingdom” not chosen?

Matthew 8:11-12 also has to do with the banquet in the kingdom of God, where the faithful servants of God, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are present.

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. There, men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

And those who are thrown out are the sons of the kingdom who should have inherited the kingdom. Who inherits anything but the sons? Why are the very sons of the kingdom, who should inherit the kingdom be thrown out into “outer darkness”? It is because they have no wedding garment. Everything depends on the understanding of this wedding garment.

I would like you to notice a striking technique of the Lord Jesus’ way of teaching. Time and again, he would say something which is apparently inappropriate, and it is this very inappropriateness that strikes your attention and causes you to think. I do confess that sometimes, I try to copy him in this very respect, particularly with the Training Team. I would very casually say something utterly inappropriate, and see them raise their eyebrows. They look at one another, and wonder whether they had heard me correctly.

A teacher often says something inappropriate, so that he seizes the students’ attention and causes them to think. I have noticed time and again, that the Lord Jesus, being a consummate teacher that he is, would say something precisely to stun. And you would say, “This doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t seem to be the fitting conclusion.” Now that is exactly what he wanted you to do, to ask the question, “How can this conclusion fit the parable?” Then you will start thinking about it. It is truly wonderful the way the Lord Jesus teaches!

God’s call is God’s invitation

From this, we can proceed to look more deeply at the parable. The key idea of the parable begins with the call. The word “call” occurs 5 times in the first 9 verses. The word “call” in Greek is the same word as “invitation”. To be invited is to be called. The same word is used for example, of the call of the Israelites in Hosea 11:1, which is quoted in Matthew 2:15.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. ”

That is the same word as applied to Christians as well. The “calling” of Christians is the same word in Greek translated as “invite”, because you can certainly see there is not much difference in meaning between inviting and calling. When you are inviting a person, you are calling that person. The word “call” is used for example, in Romans 8:30, 9:24, or 1Corinthians 7:15, 17, 18, 21, 22, 24, and many other references. Therefore, all Christians are called.

As I have mentioned many times before, so I will not go into detail, that there is a mistaken conception among Christians that the word “call” has to do with full-time service. It is quite erroneous to think that when you are called, you are called to full-time service. The word “call” in the Bible is used of every Christian. If you are a Christian, you have been called. If you have not been called, you are not a Christian. Christians are called saints. We are called to be saints, and called to respond to the holy God to become His possession, His holy people. It means people who are peculiarly His, not peculiar in their conduct, in the sense of being strange, although the world might regard our conduct as strange too.

However, this parable also relays this message: although you are a Christian, although you have responded to God’s invitation to attend the banquet of salvation, you may turn away from that call even after having first responded to it. This we see in Galatians 1:6, for example, where Paul says to the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you.” You have been called, and you have responded to that call, but now you are turning away from that call.

In Revelation 19:9, which has to do with the marriage feast of the Lamb, the feast of salvation, again very similar to this parable, it says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” This can also read as “Blessed are those who are called,” because it is the same Greek word for “call” and “invite”. You have been invited to God’s salvation, and you have responded to that call.

So we constantly find in the Scriptures, that calling and invitation is the same thing. And I would like to impress this important fact deeply upon you, that if you are a Christian, you have been called, and you have responded to that call. How does the call come to you? Well, it comes to you in the invitation. For example, when the Lord Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden,” that is the invitation and the call. When you respond to his call to come to God through him, you become a Christian, you become a disciple.

Again, John 7:37 is the same kind of call: “Come to me, all you who thirst, and drink of the water of life.” And we responded to that call; we drank of that water of life to become Christians.

What’s the difference between “called” and “chosen”?

Here comes a point that we have to consider: “Many are called, but few are chosen,” but what is the difference between calling and choosing? It is true that calling is a form of choice. I cannot invite somebody to my house if I did not choose to invite that person, and so that person has been chosen to be invited. There is indeed a close connection between calling and the first form of choosing—many are called. But this is not identical with the second form of choosing—few are chosen.

The very word “chosen” as used in this parable is also applied to Judas. The Lord Jesus says in John 6:70, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” The twelve apostles were called, they were invited and they were chosen. “I have chosen also Judas, one of the twelve, yet he is a devil,” is exactly what the Lord Jesus says. “A devil” is an enemy of God in his heart. Even though one can respond to God’s call, and in responding are among the chosen, one can be found to be an enemy of God at heart, insisting to go on one’s own way.

Oh, brothers and sisters, I beg of you to learn that it is absolutely fatal in the Christian life to insist on doing your own thing, going your own way, because you may soon find yourself intentionally or unintentional­ly—and the latter is the more painful of the two—to be an enemy of God. Therefore anyone who keeps insisting on his own way in doing things, especially if he is in God’s service, will have to be dealt with in such a way that, he understands this will not do for his own good, as well as for the good of the church.

How can an apostle, as Judas was, end up being an enemy of God? This is the great danger. Moreover, Judas chose to commit suicide rather than repent, so could God accept him as His chosen at the final Judgment?

The chosen won’t necessarily still be chosen at the final Judgment

Another example of this is that the Jews were God’s chosen people. They are still called the chosen people today. The chosen people are chosen because they responded to God’s call, to God’s election. The word “elect” simply means choose. And yet finally, they were rejected, as in Matthew 21:43, the kingdom was taken away from them.

There is a chosen among the chosen. We see that in Romans 11:28, the Jews are generally called the people of God’s election, the chosen people, just as Christians can be said to be the chosen people today, the new Israel. Yet in verses 5 and 7 of the same chapter, the chosen people failed to make it, and there is another group of chosen within the chosen.

Romans 11:5“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”

Romans 11:7—“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.”

To simplify the whole matter, we must distinguish between two forms of “chosen”. You and I are chosen people if we are Christians. We are chosen by God because He invited us and we responded. As Christians, we are chosen people. But woe be to us if we dare to behave arrogantly because of that, because the question is not whether we are chosen now, but whether we will still be chosen or accepted at the final Judgment. It is very important to understand that those who are chosen in the present time, will not necessarily be the people who are still chosen at the final Judgment.

This parable is dealing with the final banquet, the final Judgment, so the “chosen” concerns being chosen at the final Judgment, and not being chosen at this present time. So the important thing is not whether you and I are chosen right now, but whether God will still accept us as His chosen on that Day.

Three kinds of persons in this parable

As we analyze this parable, “many are called” expresses that God’s call, the gospel call is extended to everyone. And there are three kinds of persons who have been called. You and I, and anyone in this world, who hears the Word of God, who hears the invitation of Jesus, the Christ God sent, to come to him, has been called, and belong to one of these three categories. What are the three categories?

1. Those who reject the call

First, those who have been invited, but reject the invitation. For example, if you are listening to the gospel today, and you still reject the invitation of Christ to come to him to drink the water of life, then you are still in this first category for the present time. You have been invited, but have not accepted the invitation, for whatever reasons or excuses you think to be fit, which is not really relevant. The main point is that you have rejected the invitation up to this day.

2. Those who accept the call

The second group is those who have been invited and they do not reject; they do come to the wedding feast. We also saw that in the Parable of the Great Banquet.

3. Those who are thrown out

This parable has the distinction that goes on to a third category of people who have been invited, who come to the feast, and yet are thrown out, because they don’t qualify. They are not wearing the wedding garment.

Which of these three categories do you belong to? Certainly, you will belong to one of these categories.

Carefully consider, what does this mean? What is this wedding garment?

God freely gives us a garment to attend the wedding feast

First, we must look carefully at the question that is stated in Matthew 22:12, and see what it says. We generally assume the question to be, “Why are you not wearing a wedding garment at the wedding?” But that is not the question.

Look carefully at the question. The question is, “How did you get in here without a wedding garment?” Now there is a big difference between these two questions. Until I studied the question very carefully, I realized that I had always assumed the question to be, “Why are you not wearing a wedding garment?” The question in this parable includes this question, but it is wider: “How did you get in here without wearing a wedding garment?” As the Lord Jesus states it, the question implies that you could not have gotten into this banquet without a wedding garment. How did you get in here without the wedding garment? It is not what or why, but how.

Now this question is very interesting, because it implies:

1. He could not have got into the banquet without a wedding garment in the first place.

2. And the secondary question is, if he did have a wedding garment when he first came in, where is the wedding garment now? Why is he not wearing it?

This is indeed the meaning of this question, as you study the Scripture carefully. He could not have got into the banquet without the wedding garment. Therefore the wedding garment had been supplied to him as he entered the wedding. But then for some reason or other better known to himself, he was not wearing it when the king saw him. Perhaps it was too hot for him, so he decided to take off the wedding garment. Or maybe he was careless and dirtied the festal garment, and he might have felt a bit embarrassed to wear it. Or he just did not want to wear a wedding garment for any better reason.

Here, a wedding garment means a festive garment appropriate for wearing to a wedding. It doesn’t mean that all the ladies were all being brides, wearing white dresses and veils. But it simply means a garment suitable for the festive occasion. You would hardly appear wearing blue jeans at a wedding. Maybe some weddings today, are very liberal-minded, but at most weddings, and certainly in the Orient, wearing blue jeans would not be regarded as being very polite.

Furthermore, we notice that this man is speechless in verse 12. Notice carefully that when he was asked this question, he could not give a reason for not wearing the wedding garment. He could have said for example, “Sir, I am very sorry. I understand this is a wedding, but this is the best I can wear because I am too poor to afford a wedding garment.” Then he did not have to be speechless in the light of the Lord Jesus’ teaching, which is always sympathetic to the poor. I am sure the Lord would immediately have pardoned him for that. But the fact that he is speechless shows that he has no good and acceptable reason to give.

It is clear that a wedding garment indeed had been provided for him. And in fact, in early Biblical custom, it was the custom to provide festal garments for those who could not afford it. We can see that for example, in Genesis 45:22, or Judges 14:12, where it speaks about providing guests with festal garments. Whether this was still the practice in the days of the Lord Jesus really doesn’t matter, because the point that the Lord Jesus wants to make to us, is the fact that at the Messianic banquet, at the feast of salvation, God will provide for us the garments that we need. That is because there is a very important teaching that comes forth from here.

The meaning of putting on the wedding garment

Here we need to turn to the servant of God, the apostle Paul, for he has indeed expounded the meaning of the wedding garment exceedingly clearly to us.

Paul uses the Greek word for putting on a garment in the spiritual sense. He uses this word 15 times in his teaching. I wonder if you have ever realized that. We are only familiar with maybe one or two references to it, but he uses this expression, to put on clothing in a spiritual sense, 15 times. He never uses it in a literal sense of actually putting on physical clothing, but always in the spiritual sense.

1. Put on immortality

For example, he speaks about our putting on immortality in 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54. Immortality is pictured as clothing that you “put on”—the Greek word for putting on clothing. Immortality means that you never die again, that you enter into eternal life.

“For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable. And this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”

So Paul says, on that Day of resurrection that is yet to come, when we are finally redeemed, when we are given a new spiritual body which will never die, then we can say that this mortal, corruptible nature has put on immortality like a clothing.

2. Put on eternal lifeGod’s own quality of life

He says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 5:2-4, and again, uses the word “put on”:

“Here indeed, we groan and long to put on our heavenly dwelling. So by putting it on, we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent (the physical body), we sigh with anxiety, not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

We will be clothed with life as with garments—put on life—on the Day of resurrection. So it is clear from the way the apostle Paul uses this word “put on”, he is thinking of the garment as a symbol of a new way of life, in this case immortality. Moreover, he is thinking of this garment as a new quality of life, the resurrection life, the new kind of life that is called eternal life. Here I must stress again, eternal life is not an endless duration as some people imagine. Eternal life is a new quality of life. It is God’s own quality of life that we put on.

3. Put on Christthrough faith and baptism

In order to be able to qualify for that eternal life that we are going to put on, that immortality as Paul speaks of it, what must we put on like a garment at this present time? We are to put on the Lord Jesus himself like a garment as Galatians 3:27 tells us. Moreover, it tells us how to put on the Lord Jesus as a garment, how the Lord Jesus becomes a new way of life for us:

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

If you are a Christian, you have put on the Lord Jesus Christ. You are clothed in him. That is why you can be said to be “in Christ.”

How do you put him on? It is in two related steps. The first step is faith. Galatians 3:26 says, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.”

The second step is baptism. In verse 27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” You put on the Lord Jesus Christ through faith and through baptism, not just baptism alone and not just faith alone.

So here, we can see the meaning of “put on” clearly stated, and there are two steps before us. First, this garment of salvation is provided for us by God. It is a free gift. We cannot earn the garment. You and I are totally unworthy and incapable of earning such a garment. It is beyond comprehension that I could earn my salvation. I cannot do this. The garment is provided for us by God. Jesus is provided for us as God’s salvation to us from the bondage of sin and death. Secondly, it is when we, by faith put on Jesus, God’s gift to us through baptism that we can look forward to eternal life.

Take note also that Paul says it exactly as in Isaiah 61:10. Isaiah states it so beautifully, that God gives to us the garment of salvation, the robe of righteousness. Whether in the Old Testament or in the New, it is always God who provides the salvation. Nobody earns it. To earn it must mean that I am so worthy of it that God has to give it to me. Not at all! God provides this garment.

Must keep putting on the God-given garment of salvation

Another thing about the beauty of the Lord Jesus’ teaching, and the beauty of Paul’s profound spiritual perception is that this Greek word, “put on” or “clothe” as used by Paul, is always in the middle form. This means that you put on the garment yourself. There is an active form, a passive form and there is middle form in Greek. The passive is when someone does something to you. The active is what you do to somebody else. But Greek is peculiar in that it has a middle form, and the middle is used when you do something to yourself. That is why it is also called the reflexive. English has not got that. You have to say, “do it to yourself”. In Greek, you don’t have to use the word “yourself”. You simply put the word in the middle form.

Here is the perfection of the Scriptural teaching. God provides the garment of salvation, but you have to wear it yourself. God doesn’t put it on you. God simply gives you the garment as a gift. He said, “Here it is. Take it.” Do you accept the garment? But you have to put it on. Oh, the completeness is truly wonderful! In other words, God has done His part in providing the garment, but you have the responsibility to put it on and keep it on. That is very, very important to grasp.

We see this matter put very, very beautifully in Paul. When we compare Galatians 3:27 with Romans 13:14, we seem to be struck by an inconsistency at first. Galatians 3:26-27 says,

“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

But what does Romans 13:13-14 say?

“Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify it.”

Paul is telling Christians to put on the Lord Jesus Christ in Romans, but he said that we have put on the Lord Jesus in Galatians. So, how can you put on that which you have already put on? We are caught in an apparent inconsistency. But here is the depth and the beauty of Paul’s insight.

Put on Jesus as your initial commitment of faith (Gal. 3:27)

The way to understand this is to just look at the context. The whole context of Galatians 3 is about the initial commitment of faith. When you made that initial commitment of faith, you put on the Lord Jesus Christ. But too often, Christians start taking off the Lord Jesus Christ again.

Continue to put on Jesus in your conduct (Rom. 13:13)

The whole passage from Romans 12 all the way to the end is concerned with conduct. So Romans 13 is a context of conduct, as indicated by “Let us conduct ourselves fittingly,” doing nothing in the darkness in Romans 13:13. It is concerned with the actual outliving of the Christian life. This is precisely what so many Christians fail in, and how this whole point of the parable comes out very clearly!

When we first became Christians, when we responded to the invitation, and first entered into the banquet, we gladly accepted the wedding garment and put it on in that initial commitment. But why are we found to be without the wedding garment later? Because our conduct is such that we return to our old way of behavior. Let me say one thing very clearly from Scripture. Every time you don’t behave as a Christian and you return to your old way of conduct, you have literally taken off the Lord Jesus Christ, and you have put on your old and ugly way of behavior again. If you keep putting on your old and ugly conduct, you are going to find that although you are still in the banquet, because you are still in the church, you are still known as a “Christian”, God will not accept you as His chosen at the Judgment. What counts at the Judgment is not your initial commitment, but whether your conduct is still the conduct of a Christian. That is what is going to be determined at the Judgment. That is the beauty of this parable.

Don’t think that because you got into the banquet, you are going to taste all the delicious things at the banquet. No! The danger remains that on the day of that banquet, you will still be slung out in the outer darkness, because you are not wearing the Lord Jesus Christ. Your conduct proves that you are no longer wearing the wedding garment that you once accepted. That is precisely what Paul says in Galatians 1:6, “I reminded you that you were invited, and you responded to God’s call in the grace of Christ. But now you are turning away from Him who called you. Don’t you remember that you accepted and put on the wedding garment?”

As he also says in Galatians 3:26-27, when you made your commit­ment in faith and were baptized, you accepted the wedding garment, you put it on. But now are you turning away from Him who called you?

Paul constantly speaks of the wedding garment, this garment that we put on in very, very practical terms. He constantly ties it up with conduct, a way of life. Paul stresses this matter again and again. I mentioned to you that he uses the term, “put on” 15 times.

A Christian must have the quality of new life

Let us look at a few other places that he uses the term. He uses “put on” in the imperative form in Romans 13:14, commanding the Christian, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ”. If you profess to be a Christian, then behave like a Christian. If you don’t behave like a Christian, you are not whatever you profess. He stresses this point again and again.

Let us look at Ephesians 4:24. Let us read from verse 22, because he is using this language of putting on and putting off of clothing:

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life, and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind. And put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

It is putting off or taking off the old form of life, and putting on a new form of life. If you say you have put on Christ, then let it be evident in the way you conduct yourselves.

The wedding garment then, tells us quite simply, that those who have put on the Lord Jesus Christ must behave in such a way that people see Jesus in them. If you put on a garment, what do people see when they look at you? They see you in that particular form of wearing that garment. Therefore Paul is saying, “Since you made the profession of commitment, since you were baptized, you have put on Christ.” If you have put on Christ, people should look at you and say, “Yes, I see you wearing Christ. I see Christ in all your conduct.” All your clothing moves when you move. Your new form of life must be visible for people to see. So Paul said, “Put off this old way of life, with all its filthiness, its selfishness, its jealousy, its quarrelsomeness, its self-centeredness. And now people should see Christ in the way you conduct yourself.”

Ephesians 6:11 says,

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil

Again, Paul says this wedding garment is so essential to our salvation that he sometimes speaks of this clothing as “armor”—“Put on the armor of God.” Now an armor is essential to your survival in battle, and we are in spiritual warfare. So this garment is not just decoration, it is for our protection at this present time, and we see that in Ephesians 6:11, 14 for example, or in Romans 13:12. So putting on Christ is to put on the armor, because it is essential to our salvation, and there should be a new quality of life now.

Let us finally look at Colossians 3:10 where Paul makes this same point again. Let us read from verse 9 to get the context,

“Do not lie to one another seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices. Put off the old nature with its practices and put on the new nature which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”

“Put off” is the Greek word for taking off your clothing. Paul commands us to take off our old, ugly, sinful conduct, and put on a new way of life which brings with it a new kind of conduct. You see again, Paul’s constant reference to a new kind of conduct, because this is essential to understand very clearly.

This is again made clear for example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, and let us read from verse 7:

“For those who sleep, sleep at night. And those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober and put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.”

So, what do we put on? We put on faith—faithfulness, trustworthi­ness—and love in our relationships. Love is now portrayed as a clothing that we put on. By now, there should be no shadow of doubt as to what the wedding garment means, and there should be no question at all as to what this parable means.

Summary—“Many are called but few are chosen.”

Let us summarize as we close. We may indeed, as Christians, have responded to God’s invitation, and we may indeed have entered into His church, into His kingdom, into His banquet. Yet, although we have made that commitment of faith, although we have been baptized, although we have indeed put on the Lord Jesus Christ in that initial commitment, the key issue that God wants to see on the Judgment Day is, whether you have been wearing that wedding garment, whether you have conducted yourself as a Christ-like person. And on that Day of Judgment, every one of us who is a Christian, who is found not to have conducted ourselves in the manner of a Christ-like life since the day of our commitment, will be thrown out of the wedding feast.

The message is as plain and as thoroughly clear as that. Let us take it to heart: “Many are called but few are chosen.” God has provided everything we need. It is now up to us to apply God’s grace to put on the Lord Jesus in our daily conduct.


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church