In his letter to the Galatians, Paul states, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed in Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Though readers might assume that being “clothed” (ἐνεδύσασθε; enedúsasthe) in the Messiah is just an elegant metaphor, the apostle has something more concrete in mind. The language draws on instances in Israel’s Scriptures when people are “clothed” with the Spirit of the Lord and empowered to speak or act for God. According to Paul, being clothed in Christ produces power to live in accordance with heavenly purposes, and binds believers to God and each other.
When the ancient Israelites encountered God’s Spirit, the biblical authors describe individuals being dressed in divine attire. In the time of the judges, for instance, God visits Gideon before he goes into battle: “The Spirit of the Lord clothed (לבשׁה; lavshah) Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet” (Judges 6:34). In the ancient Greek rendering of this verse in the Septuagint, the translator uses the same word that Paul does for being “clothed” (ἐνδύω) in Jesus. Similarly, in David’s day, one of his mighty men receives God’s Spirit before he joins the king’s military entourage: “The Spirit clothed (לבשׁה/ἐνέδυσε) Amasai… and he said, ‘We are yours, David, and with you, son of Jesse. Peace, peace to you, and peace to your helpers. For your God helps you’” (1 Chronicles 12:18). In these cases, being clothed in the Spirit was to be equipped for battle, which is why Ephesians repurposes the imagery to describe defense against evil: “Put on (ἐνδύσασθε; endúsasthe) the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (6:11).
Being clothed in the Spirit could also empower speakers to proclaim a word from God. Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, rebuked the leaders of Judah after being outfitted by heaven: “The Spirit of God clothed (לבשׁה/ἐνέδυσεν) Zechariah… and he stood above the people and said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: Why do you break the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper?” (2 Chronicles 24:20). Zechariah’s pneumatic clothing allowed him to speak for God; the prophet and the Lord were of one mind to carry out the divine will. The Spirit’s arrival creates a change in the clothed people so that they transform into representatives for God. This is what Paul means when he says that believers have been “clothed” in Christ so that they are “all one in Messiah Jesus” (Gal 3:28). In noting that, in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, no male and female” (3:28), the apostle does not describe a fleshly change in individuals so that their ethnicity or gender is no longer existent or relevant. Instead, Paul declares that anyone clothed in Christ has become one with the Messiah and one another; no matter one’s ethnicity, gender, or social standing, God’s Spirit has been poured out equally on all.