Time to Get Dressed!

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Of all of the joyful sounds on God’s green earth, the noise of an alarm clock is generally not considered to be at the top of the list. The sudden jarring of those most precious moments of silence, stillness, and refreshment are at once jolted with the electronic chime that transports you from one world, as it were, to the next.

Now it’s time to wake up! It’s time to get moving! Time to get dressed! What to wear, what to wear? I’m not sure. Alexa, what’s the weather? I guess I shouldn’t ask what to put on. That’s going to have to be my own decision. Well, I suppose it depends on the occasion. Where am I going today? Who is going to be there? When did I wear this last? Maybe such questions are trivial. Or maybe such questions are like second nature. Either way, when it comes time to get dressed, I need to physically put on clothes!

The apostle Paul uses this same idea when he provides a textile metaphor for righteous Christian living. When Paul addresses the mostly Gentile and converted Christians living in Colossae, he writes that they have put on a new nature (Col 3:10). What was the previous nature? That was the nature of Adam, without the influence of God and with a predisposition toward sin. What’s the new nature? The is the nature of the second Adam, who is Christ, and although it maintains the full ability to sin, along with its temptations, it has been “raised with Christ” (3:1). Being raised with Christ is a picture of the baptism of Christians—it is their coming up out of the baptismal waters to the newness of life—just as dying with Christ (3:3) is a picture of the baptism, yet with the emphasis on putting to death (3:5) those things that tempt (Paul previously made the connection with baptism and the metaphor of clothing in Galatians 3:27).

Paul’s language regarding donning one’s outfit has a visual snag to it: Paul encourages the Colossians to put on certain things but at the same time says that they are already clothed with those same things. Which one is it? Both are true. From a negative perspective, Paul says that the Colossians have already died with Christ to sin (Col 3:3), yet they are instructed to put to death those vices that entangle (3:5). From the positive point of view, the Christians have already put on the new nature (3:10) yet are still encouraged to put on those virtues which clothe the Christian (3:12). Why is that? The Christian life is one that we possess positionally and as a matter of truth, yet it is one which must be continually cultivated. As the maturity of our faith increases, we must make alterations to our behavior since all Christians are tailor-made and are now being renewed in the image of their Creator (3:10).

Like us, the Colossians had numerous things to overcome. Many of them experienced the effects of a culture that was averse to the confession of one divinity, let alone the Christian profession of the one true God. In addition, the Colossians faced internal pressure to abandon (2:6) the words of truth delivered to them by Paul (1:5–6) for the false teachings of a pseudo-wisdom (2:23), which encouraged a kind of non-Christian asceticism (2:18) and perhaps a kind of disdain for the material world (2:21). While they were tempted to put off things that were in and of themselves good, Paul urges them to instead put on virtue and to put off those vices that leave stains on the Christian’s character.

“As the maturity of our faith increases, we must make alterations to our behavior since all Christians are tailor-made and are now being renewed in the image of their Creator”

With what, specifically, should the Christian be clothed? Amongst other things, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience (3:12), tolerance, and forgiveness (3:13). Love is the thread that binds these seams together (3:14). The injunction is to put on all of these virtues and to put off all of the vices that soil the individual (3:5, 8–9) because of the reality that the Christian now experiences with new life in Christ. Paul concludes the discussion of these beneficial (or detrimental) behaviors by stating that all Christian conduct should be practiced in a prayerful way. The language is somewhat peculiar, but Paul writes that our action should be guided by an attitude of prayer to God and in the name of Jesus Christ (3:17). By explicitly making the theological and Christological connection, Paul is essentially saying that “whatever you do” should lean toward the direction of the virtues, since one cannot simultaneously give thanks to God in faith while practicing such vices.

What shall we do then? Remember those with true Christian faith have the benefits of being raised with Christ to new life (3:1). Paul reminds the Colossians that they did indeed receive Christ Jesus as Lord (2:6), and so now their lives are hidden with Christ in God (3:6), and that they have put on a new self and new nature in Christ (3:10). But Paul reminds us to continue to put on more virtue (3:12), even as we are already clothed. As we are reminded in 2 Peter, we are to continue to add virtue to our faith so that we are continually increasing in devotion and faith (1:5–8). And we strive for these good virtues because they have their origin in the Spirit (Col 3:16), and by the Spirit they are realized (Gal 5:16). Paul inspires us by writing that our hearts should be encouraged as they are knit together in love (Col 2:2). And whatever you do (or whatever you put on), do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus Christ (3:17). God desires that Christians metaphorically put off our old clothes, our torn and wrinkled shirts or ill-fitting, muddied trousers, and put on clothing that is new, clean, and unsullied, like a pressed, bespoke suit or a pristine and brilliantly colored royal robe, sewn together by the hand of God.

Dr. Jared Bryant is the director of the Degree Completion program and an associate professor in the School of Divinity. He can be reached at jbryant@cairn.edu.