Women deciding what to wear seems to be both humorous and irritating to just about everyone, including ourselves. It’s just that our closets are so much more complex than a man’s– and maybe that’s a reflection of our multi-faceted life in this world. Or perhaps an indication of some unstable identity issues, but it definitely makes for a lengthy decision process on a daily basis. Maybe that’s why the Church-Planter’s metaphor for how to live resonates so well with us.
Paul may have been a man, but he understands how important the right clothes are to a situation, and how serious is that early-morning consideration into picking clothes for the day. Because what you wear shows people who you are on the inside. Clothing show how you feel about yourself, what you think about life, and the direction you are heading– just ask any girl over the age of twelve. But Paul pushes right past our vanity and pride concerning all those outside issues, and challenges us to look at our inside self the way God does: “Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12) Right there in the space of a sentence is an entire manual on what the well-dressed follower of Jesus should be wearing this season.
The word picture works because we do this every day: we peel off the dirty clothes and toss them in the laundry basket before we can get cleaned up and put on fresh clothes. We get laundry. We’ve done mountains of it every week; it’s one of those household chores that repeats endlessly, but no one questions its necessity. And Paul says it’s like that for us, exchanging the old life for a new one: “for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.” (Colossians 3:9) I need to throw away the angry words that spill out easily, and choose gentleness and mercy; I need to turn away from deceiving others with my own best interests in mind, and choose integrity instead, even when it costs me; I need to let go of this society’s standards of beauty and success and pursue the peaceful contented spirit that God delights in; I need to throw away self-sufficient independence, and choose childlike trust. Choose forgiveness. Choose surrender. Choose joy. These are repetitive, daily kinds of choices that are quite necessary, and should be part of normal life for any Christ-follower.
And it is as far away from a list of rules as you can get. It’s an appeal to common sense and to gratitude, a matter of showing on the outside what we believe on the inside, our love for the Savior shining out on our faces and in our behavior. So that when people look at us they can see the beautiful reality of our regeneration: “For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” ( Colossians 3:3)
To some extent, this process of constant everyday renewal comes naturally from the beautiful presence of Christ living in us– His resurrection power at work in us and our spirits awakened to respond to Him. Paul assures his readers: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) But in very real ways, how I am clothed to go out into my day is up to me, too. Paul’s written instructions to the early believers are given with every expectation that they will listen and obey. The responsibility is on me to choose, even while the power to accomplish it comes from the Holy Spirit. And the more I listen to Him and let Him lead me on the inside, the more my life changes on the outside. Paul says confidently to his readers “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him.” (Colossians 3:10)
“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (Philippians 2:12-15)
“I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: “If I was saved by my good works — then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace — at God’s infinite cost — then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.”