In the midst of a grand transition of my life, it has proven difficult to focus and find the right moment to write. But as I sit in this lovely bakery coffee shop and turn my attention to God’s truth, I’m right back in the Holy Spirit’s glory-filled revelation of mysteries.
Today it is Colossians Chapter 3, which I’m reading in the New Living Translation. I find myself immediately arrested by some phrases, from the first verse onward.
This chapter is a deep one, the Apostle Paul admonishing Christ’s followers to become conscious of the “realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power” (3:1). The realities of heaven!
In these realities, there is a prescribed set of clothing to wear that is very different from the clothing of earth. This is metaphorical of course. The clothing of heaven Paul describes is like this:
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…forgive anyone who offends you…Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony…And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts…And always be thankful” (v12-15).
Those are some pretty nice garments.
In order to put on a new set of clothing, we have to be ready and willing to remove the old set. The old clothing is the earthly, unredeemed stuff: sexual sin, impurity, lust, shameful desires, greed, idolatry, anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, dirty language, lying (3:5-8). Paul states that these are the things that the believers used to practice when their lives were still rooted in worldly values. But now they are stripping those things away to put on the gorgeous clothing that represents heaven.
It’s a horrific shame that so many people think negatively about Christ and his gospel. It is usually because they’ve seen awful misrepresentations of Christ and have been hurt by Christians. Christians have the unfortunate reputation of being intolerant and arrogant toward those who follow a different type of life.
Many people have felt excluded and judged by Christians. Secular media and many social institutions now reinforce the idea that all Christians are this way. The outcome is that Christianity is now the one worldview and faith position that is not tolerated in many circles.
Believe me, I know this to be true, experientially. I am working for a fantastic secular company that provides substance abuse counseling for people desiring recovery from addictions. I was speaking with a client who happens to be a Christian pastor, and he shared with me the immediate tension that permeates the Zoom group room when he makes any reference to his faith.
As a counselor in this context, I have learned over many years how to stay true to myself and my love for Christ without bringing offense or triggering the people around me. But it wears on me. Always having to be so careful not to provoke anger and defensiveness as I care for others.
I want Christ to be recognized and honored in me, not hidden away like some sort of dangerous secret. Having to be so subtle and sensitive about my faith all the time keeps me boxed in so that I’m not able to fully enjoy the freedom Christ has provided me. It’s a dilemma many of us face as Christians these days.
So, this morning I’m encouraged and emboldened by Paul’s words. He exhorts me to keep wearing my heavenly clothing and stay clear of the other kind that no longer fits anyway.
I feel strongly that if people think that Christians are other than how Paul describes them in Colossians 3, it means that the Christians being observed have gotten it all wrong. They’ve got on the wrong set of clothing. They signal that they haven’t taken on the value system of heaven.
Throughout his letters, Paul conveys the idea that whatever our state, status, or circumstance in life, Christ is really all that matters. We ought to be on the path of becoming more like him, and this is how it can look:
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Col. 3:16-17).
The new nature, our new set of clothing, should be fitting and beautiful. It should attract people toward us and not repel them in fear or disgust. It should make people hungry for heaven, covetous of the beauty we have found there.
The kingdom and its wardrobe are open to whosoever wishes to enter and find love to wear.