Colossians 3:12-17 (ESV) – 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
(This is adapted from a devotion I wrote for the Fellowship Community’s Advent book, “To You is the Song“)
I have been blessed with two insanely wonderful children. At ages five and two, the world is one big imagination playground for them, and they take full advantage of it. One of their favorite things to do is to put on costumes and take on the personas of various
Caleb as Darth Vader characters. My wife has scoured garage sales, second-hand stores, and close-out Halloween bins to build a pretty impressive collection. And this Christmas season they added to that collection, and they were thrilled! With these costumes my kids can become anyone from Darth Vader and Princess Leia to Superman and Princess Ariel. Caleb and Hannah play with a reckless abandon in those clothes, and they become the people they are pretending to be. Caleb marches through the Death Star or flies above the city of Metropolis. Hannah dances with Prince Eric and sings with her little crab-friend Sebastian. Everyday is a new character and a new adventure. They love that time. Though my kids will never actually be those characters, they certainly act like they are, and we’ve all seen children in that mode. Maybe we remember doing that ourselves. I certainly do.
My dad was an Air Force chaplain, and as a child I loved getting his uniforms out and putting them on to pretend I was the one on duty. With the feeling of the polyester, the shiny corfam shoes, and the insignia and ribbons my little chest would swell with pride as I donned the garments of military service. What was for my dad a symbol of who he was and how he lived his life, became for me a symbol of who I could be. My dad was a public servant and a servant for Jesus Christ to men and women who devoted their lives to ensuring our freedom and way of life. I admired that, and dressing up in his uniforms cast a vision for my own future.
Most of us don’t put on capes and masks or princess dresses and pretend to be fictional characters on a regular basis. Sure, when Halloween rolls around we may play long with the occasional costume party or trick-or-treat with our children. During the Christmas season we may dress in “ugly holiday sweaters” or dress as Ol’ St. Nick for the kids, and there are subsets of the Sci-fi and comic book culture where people dress as their favorite characters for conventions.
For the most part, though, we trade the costumes of our youth for the uniforms of adulthood.
From police officers to nurses, from construction workers to baristas at Starbucks, many of us wear something that signifies what we do thereby telling the world something about who we are. Even if we don’t wear an official uniform, we have heard the clichés “dress for the job you want” or “the clothes make the man or woman,” and we adjust our wardrobe accordingly. That may seem boring or sad, as though we have traded our playful imaginations for the mundane of work, but that does not have to be the case. Ask a person who tackles the rigors of medical school, internships, and residency if the white coat still means something significant. Ask a fire fighter or police officer who dedicates their lives to helping others if the uniform still has an impact. These people have undergone training, worked hard, and dreamed of the day when they will live into the reality that their uniform conveys.
What we wear communicates something about not only who we are but who we are striving to be.
The Scriptures pick up this image in describing our relationship to Jesus Christ and prompt us to ask: what sort of “faith” clothes are we wearing?
The people in Colosse were struggling with identity. The members of this infant church had been confused by false teaching that caused them to question who Jesus was and as a result who they were. Misled by a “hollow and deceptive philosophy,” they were tempted to follow what appears to be syncretistic faith where the salvation of Christ wasn’t enough. (Colossians 2:6-8) The apostle Paul reminds his readers of the power of God in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-20), and he then begins chapter 3 by essentially saying that because of their relationship with Christ they have the ability to leave behind their old lives of sin “…seeing that [they] have put off the old self with its practices.” (Colossians 3:9) He then makes a positive statement that his readers are to “put on” something new (vs. 10). They are to “put on” a new life in Christ.
In the Greek, the word for “put on” is ἐνδύω, and it literally means to sink into clothing. It means to dress in the clothes of faith. Like the Colossians, we have been chosen by God and called as holy and beloved, so Paul’s admonish to us is to put on as a garment the traits of a life lived in Jesus Christ. The clothing of Christ is the clothing of genuine love and affection. It is a garment of compassion exhibited in kindness, meekness, and patience. The clothing of Jesus is woven together with the threads of forgiveness (Colossians 3:12-14). This clothing is the external manifestation of an internal reality. Just as the uniform of a professional civil servant identifies that person by what they do, when we wear the clothing of Christ we tell the world who we are in him.
This is not about trying to “dress the part” of Christianity nor putting on the costume of religion by pretending to be something we are not. The clothing of Christianity is much more like a uniform where the experience of forgiveness and divine love, driven by the needle God’s Word, stitches within us hearts of peace and gratitude. It’s out of this experience that we can humbly be draped in the beautiful garments of faith so that everything we do is motivated by and empowered by Jesus Christ through God’s Spirit (Colossians 3:17).
Lest we be discouraged that we do not live up to this reality, we have to remember: the life of faith is a process of progression.