"Born Naked" – Sermon for July 12, 1998
Romans 13:11-14 and Zechariah 3
There is a reason that we must put on Christ. It is because we are all born naked. Not just in the obvious physical sense, but in the manifold spiritual sense. We are born small, helpless, dependent and vulnerable. Then we spend the main part of our lives striving to overcome our nakedness as if it were something to be ashamed of, something to be rid of. However, when we approach the end of our sojourn here, we are reminded of our created state once more: small, helpless, dependent and vulnerable. We die as naked as we were born. . .outside of Christ.
There is a reason why we are born this way. It is called sin. There was a time, before the fall, when innocence and purity were united. Then we were naked and unashamed. That was our condition in Eden, secure in a covenant relationship with our loving, Father God, we were as big, powerful, self-sufficient and defended as man could ever hope to be. However, the universal condition of mankind is one of stark contrast: we are conceived in sin and born naked.
"And especially do this . . . awaken out of sleep." (v.11) It is well past time for us to act in accordance with what we know the human condition to be. There is a sleep which is the refusal to recognize and to deal with the reality of sin. There is a sleep which consists of the refusal to acknowledge that the soul is formed and fashioned in adversity. We have an Enemy who desires our soul’s destruction, for that revenge is all that he has left since he was cast out of heaven and consigned to the ever-lasting fire of torment. Satan wants to use us to strike out at God, Whose love he has rejected and Whose glory he lusts to mar. Satan wants to kill, murder and destroy all he can of God’s creation. God, of course, wishes to fashion us to be vessels unto His glory and praise and His purpose is that we should claim and enter into eternal life. But, there is indeed, a sleep which dulls us to this spiritual contest, masks the eternal significance of the choices we make and of our true identity as children of God. This sleep is the denial that there is something wicked, hateful, selfish and wrong in human beings from birth—as the consequence of sin’s subversion of God’s plan for man. Sin is blatant mutiny against our God and the reverberations of man’s original mutiny still shake and shape our universe of meaning. Those who, being asleep, refuse to recognize sin also refuse to deal with it. And the dread law of consequence is this: those who will not deal with sin, shall be dealt with by sin! It was not in vain that God warned Cain, "Sin crouches for you at the door. You must over-rule, or master it!" Cain did not and the first murder soon resulted and Cain, as a consequence, became a fugitive for life.
Those who acknowledge sin, and face it are fortified to defeat it. There must be no compromise. How perverse is that view of oneself which includes no recognition of personal sin, one’s own capacity for rebellion and defiance. Mutiny begins within. Respect sin, treat it as the real and destructive thing that it is and you will do well.
"The night is far spent." There was a time when we were ignorant of what we are. There was a time when we may have naively assumed that this earth, this flesh is all there is. We can live under the illusion of the sensory for a long, long time. That approach to life is a night, and within that night, the poor light of reason can only partially illuminate us. It is as if we were to compare moonlight to daylight. We are moving towards the daylight of human consciousness, compare night to that dayspring that began with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. To affirm this is not to ignore that in the course of human history regression may occur. For nearly two hundred years, philosophical trust in the sensory has been growing; it has many names. Ironically, this confidence in man sensory perception is called The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment has spawned many schools: empiricists, positivists, materialists, naturalists and phenominologists, to name a few. Whatever their differences, they all have a reliance upon man’s sensory and reasoning capacities as the foundation of "truth." What they also hold in common is suspicion of transcendent truth, or truth that is objectively out there quite independent our limited capacity to experience it.
All these man-centered philosophies are works of darkness, part of an outgrown earth-boundedness. They became obsolete the moment we were visited by the One who is the Way, the Life and the Truth. The redeemed, those who have awakened, know that Truth is incarnate and personal and eternal. They have leapt over the wall of humanly confined understanding. They know that human nature is never to be trusted (for it is totally depraved), but like their Master, the Lord Jesus, they refuse to become cynical, or suspicious because they know the hope that is available, they know the fullness of redemption available for those able to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior and God. Mankind redeemed by the cross attains purity, real purity and not the so-called innocence of those who suppress the truth about nakedness and sin. The pure man, or woman is divinely shielded from harm—has attained eternal life which even now is hidden with Christ and cannot be stolen, corroded or lost. Such as person, saved by grace through faith, lives with a conscious prospect of leaving this world soon for a state of glory, to live forever with the Lord and all the saints.
We are admonished to cast off then the soiled clothing of sin and to "put on the armor of light." The metaphor is enriched with military allusion. We are soldiers in God’s army. We throw aside the pretense of innocence like a filthy rag and adorn ourselves instead with Christ’s available righteousness. We answer the summons to become pure and virtuous because we have been purified by Christ’s blood. That is truth for us and we then take up the task of aligning our lives with true truth.. . . no more second rate truths for us! We exchange the dim for the bright. "Let us walk properly" means that now we’ve been cleaned up, we are to act decently, becomingly. For we walk in perpetual daylight.
All that appeals to the impure passions of the unredeemed human nature is to be cast off like so much garbage. The fashionable follies of the high life and the degradations of the low life are equally shunned by the saints as inconsistent with Christian character and the precept taught here. That mankind has found vile practices not named explicitly here is nothing more than a rebellious dodge. The perverted in mind seek to erase all such distinctions by dignifying all manner of indignity. They shall burn for their sin, and for the misleading they occasion. Drunkenness and intemperance are named for they are perennial afflictions. Lewdness and lust were formerly known by the quaint, but awful term "chambering" to signify the vain attempt of the wanton to hide their sin, to shield themselves with "privacy." What are the walls of a chamber to the all-seeing God before whom they must surely appear on that Day?! Far better to forego all licentiousness whatsoever . . . the exploitation of others for self-gratification. God does not smile on the misuse of His children as objects. Strife and envy isolate another whole category of human interactions: domestic abuse, litigation, jealousy, malicious gossip, anger, uproar, any and all disruptions of peace and harmony. It is perverse to enjoy the disharmony one can stir up, the divisiveness one can create to pander to one’s sense of influence, power and flesh!
This rather short catalogue of sins is balanced by the positive instruction: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." Simple, general, applicable. The other side of our being born naked is breathtakingly beautiful. Our vulnerability is very much connected to our design for intimacy. The cry of the human heart is like the cry of an infant, wailing for connectedness, for bonding with the other. We are made with a longing for relationship. We were created out of God's longing for relationship, for someone to share the splendors of God’s creation, for someone to enter into the work of husbanding, stewarding with Him. . . God and Adam met like good neighbors, leaning across the fence after a long dusty afternoon. Smiling with the satisfaction of goodness, they shared and talked in the cool of the day! Our longing is a piece of that longing. Our longing is a deep hope for a trusting and forever relationship—the way it was really meant to be. And that being precisely what Jesus came to restore to a lost race.
Or like Adam and Eve. She was drawn tenderly out of his side to be such a companion. She was all Adam ever needed, perfect and satisfying in every way. He never forgot her creation, "flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone," he exclaimed; and so honoring her, he honored himself. It’s still like that. She was birthed out of a wound. And when he drew her to himself, back to that wounded place of original and loving separation, it was an act of reclamation and restoration. Could that be why our Lord was wounded in His side for His church? Is that why Jesus sought to draw us to him, the church, his bride? Did He indeed come to establish that trusting and forever relationship which is the cry of every human heart? A restoration? Yes.
I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its bud,
As the garden causes things that are sown in it to spring forth,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring forth before all the nations. Isaiah 61:10-11
Believers in themselves are indeed, "wretched, and miserable, and poor and blind, and naked" (Haldane, p.801), like the high priest Joshua (Zechariah 3:1-10). They are clothed in filthy garments which, when one comes before Christ are exchanged: "Take away the filthy garments from him." And to Joshua, "See I have caused your iniquity to pass from thee and I will clothe thee with change of raiment, with rich, bright robes." (Zech.3:4) Believers are clothed with the garments of salvation and cover with the robe of righteousness—we have been declared completely acceptable to God!--and we are to proceed on the basis of what He has done (justify) to what we must do (grow in holiness). Our duty is perfect conformity to His holy image, taking every thought captive, remaining, or abiding in Him, unceasingly in prayer (as in oriented towards heaven and things eternal) while the work of restoration, or renewal progresses.
We are greatly assisted in our walk of holiness if, although we provide for the needs of the body, we make absolutely no provision for the lusts of the flesh. That is, we do well not to plan for opportunity, or seek to secure the occasion. Temptation, when it happens to us in one thing, but tracking temptation down and tackling it around the knees is quite another! Even avoid that which might lend itself to the excitation of the lusts of the flesh.
Although we were born naked, we have no need to remain so. Christ has come to cover the nakedness of those who will own Him, that is claim Him as Lord and King. He overcame our nakedness, by becoming naked Himself and for our sakes. He bore our shame that we might be set free from shame forever. So it is not necessary to die as naked as we were born!
Allow me raise up again the tender images of God’s longing: we are made vulnerable as part of our design for intimacy. The cry of our heart is implanted by a God who desires our company, who works in all things to help us overcome the antagonisms of life so that we might have health, balance and wholeness in full measure. A mother and child, a father and his children, good neighbors, bride and groom, husband and wife. We carry in us a wounded that cries out for healing, a loneliness that calls out for companionship which is both trusting and forever. That and nothing less is a fair depiction of the God who searches for us always, even when we show no interest in Him.
In the bruised an broken world we inhabit there are many lying beside the road, all robbed and many beaten. They need to know the tender side of a God who dares to care, whose love is true and costly and whose love is embodied in you. Unless you’ve visited the tenderness of God recently, you may have forgotten how to moan with mercy before you even speak, and to weep for the hostile condition of mankind as Jesus did before you offer worship, or a prayer. Like rain in parched places, come the reassurances that God is as tender as holy, as loving as righteous, as gentle as truthful. Visit Him and then tell someone about it. Please rain on someone the kindness and grace of God . . . love one another.