NEW CLOTHES FOR A NEW LIFE
The clothing industry has made huge inroads into the pocketbooks of consumers. If you don’t believe that to be the case, just think of your own familiarity with some of the following mottos:
You are what you wear.
Clothes make the man.
Dress for success.
As Christians, we are inclined to dismiss such quips as shallow and superficial and not even worthy of serious consideration. However, if we pause and reflect, we might remember that the Bible has some things to say about what we wear.
There is in the Bible what we could call “a theology of clothing” that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. The first man and the first woman were created without the need for clothing and they did not miss its absence until their experience with sin.
A bite from that which had been forbidden brought a realization of guilt and shame and led to an impulsive need to cover that which previously had needed no covering and to hide that which before had been open and unashamed.
The change that was wrought from within led to a corresponding necessity of changing that which was on the outside. The internal condition necessitated a corresponding external reaction. Because of inward shame, Adam and Eve looked to clothe their outward nakedness.
Operation fig leaves came into being. The first attempts at fashion design must have been less than stellar. Fig leaves might look very adequate on fig trees, but they don’t make the grade when it comes to human apparel. The first gust of wind and the leafy covering would have given way to exposure and shame.
Genesis 3:8 says that they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. What did that sound like? I don’t know. Could it have been the sound of the rustling of leaves that comes with an evening breeze? Whatever it sounded like, it was enough to make Adam and Eve run for cover. Embarrassment. Shame. Nakedness. Exposed before the sight of the Holy One.
Somehow they recognized that their self imposed fig leaves were completely inadequate for the job at hand and that their sin had changed forever the way they could relate to the Almighty.
The account in Genesis 3 ends with a promise of One who would one day come and destroy the works of the serpent; One who would bruise the serpent with a deadly wound even at the expense of personal suffering. Perhaps it is not by chance that the fulfillment of that prophecy saw Jesus, the second Adam, hanging naked upon the cruel cross. Exposed before His detractors. Exposed to the wrath of the Almighty as He took upon Himself the guilt and the shame that were rightfully yours and mine. He was made physically naked in our place as He donned the garments of our sinfulness, wearing our iniquities upon Himself.
Because He was naked for us, we are able to find ourselves clothed in Him. And so it is that, as we come to this passage in Colossians 3, Paul speaks to us as having “put on” and “donned” a new persona.
WE ARE CALLED TO DRESS IN TRUTH
Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him 11 ‑‑ a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:9-11).
There is described here an “old self” and a “new self.” These are seen in contrast to one another.
Characterized by “evil practices”
Characterized by the image of the One who created him
This is the way of class and racial distinctions
There is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.
This is the way of the liar
This is in accordance with true knowledge
Paul says, “Don’t lie to one another because that clashes with your new suit of clothes. Women can better identify with this issue of clashing colors. Men are not normally as conscious of that which clashes. I shudder to think of some of the color combinations I wore before I was married. My wife’s influence is such that she will look at a tie or a shirt that I am about to put on and she will say, “That does not go together. It clashes.”
Paul says the same thing here about the way in which you speak to others. Lying does not go with the new you. It clashes. When you came to Christ, you found yourself coming to a place where lying was unnecessary because you came to Christ by admitting your own sinfulness and your own failures. You came to Christ confessing that you need a Savior who will take away your sins.
Once you have entered into that realm of salvation, not on the basis of any of your own goodness, but based only on the goodness of Jesus, there is no more need to lie. We are to be truth-tellers about ourselves and about everything else. It is the truth that made us alive.
You see, one of the reasons people lie is because they do not want the truth to be known. They realize that the truth could condemn them. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, they want to hide their nakedness behind the lie of a fig leaf. But when you find that you have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ, there is no need to lie. He takes away the need and you can rest in the truth of your own inadequacy and know that it is okay because Christ has been adequate on your behalf.
There is a freeing quality to that kind of truth. You don’t have to be afraid of what the truth will show because, in coming to Christ, you have confessed that you are a guilty sinner in need of a Savior. There needs be no more masks. There needs be no more pretending. The truth has set you free from all of that.
WE ARE CALLED TO DRESS IN KINDNESS
And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. (Colossians 3:12-13).
The quality of kindness is only one of several that are mentioned in this passage. Paul tells us to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience as well as forbearance and forgiveness. Each of these qualities speak to how we treat our neighbor or our co worker or even our family member.
I’ve heard Terry Wise speak in glowing terms of various members of this ministry and one of the nicest compliments I’ve heard her say is that he or she was “kind.” If there is a legacy for which I want to be known when all is said and done, it is that I be known as one who was kind. It is a general sort of word and it seems to me that kindness takes in all of the other qualities that are described in this passage.
• If you have a heart of compassion, you will be kind.
• If you are humble, you will likely also be kind.
• If you are gentle, you will also be kind.
• If you are patient, it is probably accompanied by kindness.
• If you bear with others and are able to forgive others, that is a characteristic of one who is kind.
Each of these qualities forms the threads to weave together that which we can summarize as “kindness.” From where does such kindness come? How do you get this heart of compassion and this humility and this gentleness and this patience and this ability to forgive? You get it by knowing that...
• Someone was first compassionate toward you.
• The One who had the right to all glory and honor humbled Himself on your behalf.
• That One has treated you with the utmost gentleness.
• There is One who has showed His kindness toward you.
• He has been patient with you.
• You have been forgiven an infinite debt.
You have each of these qualities because they were first mirrored for you in the person of Christ.
Paul points this out in two ways. He points it out in verse 12 when he says that you have been chosen of God. We in the Presbyterian church hear such a statement and we immediately think of predestination and the sovereignty of God. We refer to these teachings as the “doctrines of grace” and there is nothing wrong with that title. At the same time, there is a danger in studying the doctrines of grace apart from knowing the grace of the doctrines.
You are not told of God’s choosing you in order to inflate your ego or to make you think how worthy or wonderful or intelligent you are. Quite the contrary is true. You are told that God chose you so that you will know that you did nothing of your own power and effort to bring yourself to Him. You did not believe the gospel because you were smarter or because you held to a more lofty wisdom or because you were nobler.
You did not get anything to get yourself chosen. God chose you when there was nothing in you to recommend yourself as being worthy of being chosen.
What is to be our response to the fact that He chose us? It is to be a response of love. Earlier this week, Paula and I were enjoying some “together time” and I asked her, “Why do you love me?” She replied, “Because you first loved me.” We are called to respond the same way to the Lord. He chose us and He chose us to love us and the only possible response is that we love Him in return.
Paul further underscores this as a work of God’s grace in verse 13 when he says that God forgave you. Have you ever had a problem forgiving someone who has done a wrong against you? Here is the answer. Look at the cross. See the One who hangs there between heaven and hell and know that He is there because of you. He is the One who calls you to forgive as He has forgiven you.
Forgiven people forgive. And the more they come to realize the depth of the forgiveness with which they have been forgiven, the more they are able to forgive others.
WE ARE CALLED TO DRESS IN UNITY
And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:14-15).
Notice the progression here. There is a movement from love to unity to peace. Love leads to unity -- it is called here the perfect bond of unity -- it is the glue that holds unity together.
Christians are called to be united. It is a unity that comes, not necessarily because we are all nice and enjoy being around nice people, but because we have been united to our Lord Jesus Christ through a bond of love and that love is the glue that binds us together.
If there is this loving unity, the result will be peace. This is not merely an absence of war or conflict, but the positive quality that the Jews called shalom -- the quality of well being.
When one thinks of peace, one normally thinks of passivity. But this is an active rulership. This peace takes an active part in ruling -- we are told to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. The term used here is not one that describes the ruling of a king. Instead, it is the present active imperative of brabeuw, describing the actions of an umpire. It is the verbal form of brabion which Paul uses when he speaks of how those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24).
If the peace of Christ is acting the part of umpire of your life, then that means other things are not. It means that your life is no longer being run by circumstances.
If circumstances are the umpire of your life, then your life is subject to all sorts of variation and chance. You might have a good day and your heart is full of peace or you might have a bad day and your heart is in a state of unrest and turmoil.
If circumstances are the umpire of your life, then you will always be looking for a way to change your circumstances, to change your job, to change your spouse and to change your church. Your life will be characterized by a lack of rest and a lack of peace and you will be tossed about by every detail of life. But if the peace of Christ is the umpire of your life, then you have a source of true and lasting peace that cannot be swayed by the details of life.
His name was Horatio Spafford and he was a successful American businessman in
the 19th century. His success came to a
crashing halt in the great Chicago Fire of October 1871 when he lost his
business in that inferno. One tragedy
was compounded with another while his family was crossing the
Several weeks later, his own ship passed over their watery grave and he wrote these words:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
WE ARE CALLED TO DRESS IN THANKSGIVING
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15).
Notice how the command to be thankful seems to be appended to the previous command to let the peace of Christ rule in your heart. You might be tempted to think that this command to be thankful is merely an afterthought, but I don’t think that to be the case. Rather, I want to suggest that there is a correlation between having the peace of Christ ruling in your heart versus being thankful.
It is only as the peace of Christ rules in your heart
that you will also be thankful
It is only as you are thankful
that the peace of Christ will rule in your heart
Paul goes on to underscore this quality of thanksgiving in the following verse:
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16).
While in verse 15 we see the peace of Christ leading to thanksgiving, here in verse 16 we see the word of Christ leading to thanksgiving. Of course, we realize that these are not mutually exclusive. It is through the word of Christ richly dwelling in you that you receive the peace of Christ and it is as a result of these that you come away in thanksgiving.
The Word of Christ
The Peace of Christ
You might hear this about thanksgiving and you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, John. You don’t know all of the things I am going through. It is easy for you to give thanksgiving when everything is going your way, but my life is falling apart at the seams. How do I give thanks in such a situation?”
The truth is that I don’t know what it is through which you are going. But I do know what the one who wrote these words was going through. This was written by Paul and it was written by him while he was in prison. He had been in prison for a long time and prisons in those days were lacking in the creature comforts that prisons enjoy today.
It is one thing when someone who has all of the creature comforts of life speaks of peace. It is quite another when someone who has been wrongfully imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten and accused -- when someone like that speaks of how we can hearts of thanksgiving.
To the degree that thanksgiving is present in your life, it is to that degree that you have realized and appropriated and appreciated the grace of God. Show me someone who has no heart for thanksgiving toward God and I will show you someone who has lost sight of God.
We have been speaking of the new clothes the Christian is called to wear -- the clothing of...
Ultimately, this involves the clothing of Christ. We are called to “put on Christ.” Whereas we have previously been clothed in garments that were anything but desirable, we are now called to wear His righteousness.
However, you can only put on these new clothes if you have been given the life that comes from the one who gives them. Jesus illustrated this point when He attended a funeral of His friend, Lazarus.
You remember the story. The sisters of Lazarus had sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick. They had asked for Jesus to come and to heal their brother. But Jesus had not come in time. By the time He did arrive, Lazarus was not only dead, but the funeral was over and he had been buried in a tomb.
Jesus ordered that the tomb be opened and then He called for Lazarus to come out. John 11:43 tells us that he who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
Do you see it? He was dressed in grave clothes. He was dressed in that which represents death and rot and decay. Those clothes had been perfectly appropriate to his state. He was dead and that is what dead people wore. But then life came and those grave clothes were no longer appropriate.
How about you? Have you come to the new life that is in Christ? If you have not, then it will do not good to change the clothes of your outward life. It would be like putting new clothes on a corpse. You need to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, appropriating through faith what was accomplished upon the cross. You can trust in Him and enter into new life.
Most of you have already done that. You have been walking with the Lord for some time. But there are perhaps some of those old grave clothes still in place.
- Evil desires
- Greed, which is just another name for idolatry
Paul gives these as representative samplings back in verse 5 of our passage and perhaps some of those continue to adorn your life. I want to give you notice -- they CLASH with your identity in Christ. Time for a change of clothing.
How do you do it? How do you take off those sorts of sinful habits? How do you replace them with the clothing of Christ? You do it the same way you first came to Christ. You come to the cross and you confess your inadequacy and you ask that the Lord might take away that old sinful self and you accept that which He gives to you in faith.
And then, in faith, you thank the Lord for that which He has promised to accomplish within you so that whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:17).
Let’s do that right now. We are going to have a time of silent prayer. I want you to take that part of your life that has been clashing with your Christly character and I want you to take it to the cross. You are not telling God anything He does not already know. Just as He called out to Adam and Eve in the cool of the Garden, saying, “Where are you?” He is calling today. He is calling you to see your spiritual nakedness and to come to Him and to be clothed in that which He has prepared for you.