"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness,
and patience bearing with one another..."
I am fascinated that the writers used by God to pen His Word often used word pictures to convey important Biblical truths. The key verse above is a great example of this. Sanctification is considered an important doctrine of our Christian faith. Yet, Paul used words like taking off and putting on to describe the process of sanctification. When I was a new believer, I often felt shame and guilt when I read passages like this because the analogy seemed to make it sound like the sanctification process was as easy as taking off old clothes and putting on new ones.
However, more recently I've been thinking about this analogy and realize it is a good analogy. When we become believers we are translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We are made joint heirs with Christ and all the Saints who have gone before us, including Noah, Abraham, Peter, John, Paul, Mary, and a host of other people. We enter into a close relationship with the King of kings. The clothing is a good analogy because clothing is what people usually see first. Spiritually speaking, they will see Christ or they will see the old Wendy before she was redeemed?
Now if I were marrying a prince and moving into a castle I would accept there are responsibilities that come with that position. I would want to put on clothes that would be appropriate as well as learn the behaviors that are appropriate for the position I was marrying into. As a young bride, I would not want to bring shame to my prince. I would want to know what was considered polite and I would want to avoid behavior that is considered rude or inappropriate for a princess. When I think along those lines, it just seems like the reasonable thing to do. At the same time, I have to admit that in my heart of hearts I know I am a blue jean gal and would find it difficult to wear dresses and fancy shoes. I also know I have the tendency to jiggle my leg, and don't typically care about using the right fork and would have to work at staying present in the moment rather than longing to get home and kick off the shoes, put on comfy slacks and wiggle and jiggle my leg to my hearts contentment.
When I contemplate the clothing picture I realize what a good picture it is for me of how difficult sanctification is. For I don't have that perfect body that can just go to any rack and pick up something to wear. As a result I have always had a love-hate relationship with clothing. I love to walk into a clothing store and see the colors and feel the textures of the fabrics. When I see the clothing on a model or someone else trying on the clothes, I get excited about how the clothing looks on them. But when I put on new clothes, I don't automatically feel pretty or comfortable. This is because the clothing doesn't feel familiar, and familiar is important to me. I experience this weird phenomenon familiar to women who struggle with eating disorders where I feel like a can of biscuits exploding and in my mind's eye I see my body in a distorted way. Every where the clothing touches me is proof it must not fit. I can't wait to get out of the new clothes and put on old clothes that feel familiar. For me to dress up is so far out of my comfort zone that it is painful. I would rather stay at home in my comfortable clothes. Old clothes are comfortable and feel familiar.
In the above verse Paul wants us to put on clothing of a compassionate heart, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. To be honest my old "clothes," the comfortable "clothes," the clothes of my flesh, don't really look a lot like his list. When I think about compassion, I must admit it is much more natural for me to tell someone to pick themselves up by their boot straps or to bury myself in my writing so I don't have to feel the pain that comes with compassion. Over the years God has helped me become more compassionate by giving me the opportunity to deal with my own pain.
As far as the clothing of kindness I wish I had that one nailed. But in my heart of hearts I know my kindness is often missing, because I just don't think about taking the time to show kindness. It is also often conditional and based on other people's behavior and attitudes. Kind people bring out my kindness, but when I am dealing with difficult people, they don't. Yet, I know when I am struggling and behaving out of my flesh, what I most long for is for another person to show me the kindness of God, to love me out of my anger and frustration I feel. I know God wants me to wear that kind of kindness for others, a kindness that is intentional and unmerited.
As far as the clothing of humility goes, that, too, has been a bit of a struggle because my stinking pride keeps getting in the way. And my pride has so many stinking faces! It is kind of like finding a comfortable tee-shirt and buying it in several colors--the red one representing the rising of anger of indignation when I believe I've been wronged, the blue one representing the pride that surfaces because I feel like I deserve something better, the green one representing the pride of believing I don't deserve to be mistreated, the gray shirt representing the other side of pride that looks like shame and self-contempt, the black shirt representing the pride of feeling invisible and overlooked which comes from believing old lies. It is a strong one because it was developed out of a need to protect a very wounded heart.
The clothing of meekness has been a hard one because meekness is really strength under control. There were times I didn't believe I had strength and then there were times that righteous anger rose up so fast in me that it felt like it was impossible to control the strength behind it. Yet, over time I am learning to listen to anger's message, dealing with emotions in private so I can use its energy to make the needed changes.
Finally, the clothing of patience. That is a hard one to put on, because I not only have the flesh to deal with, I live in a culture that has taught me to expect and demand instant gratification! I want what I want when I want it. I wanted to climb to the top quickly when I worked rather than work my way up. I want instant food without cooking it. I want quick transportation and hate stop lights. I want instant intimacy without doing the hard work of building trust and listening to another's heart. I want instant apologies without giving God time to work in a person's heart. I want to demand instant forgiveness, without allowing another the grace and the time needed to open and treat their wounds so that they might actually know what they are forgiving.
Yet, as a believer I really do want to put on all those things that Paul is talking about. It is just hard. I find Romans 7:21-24 comforting in that it shows that my struggle to put on is shared by others. "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members."
One of the reasons that I felt shamed by the "take off" and "put on" lists in the Scriptures was because in my tendency to be a Martha I would gloss over what was prior to the lists. Before he tells the Colossians what to put on, Paul reminds them that they are chosen, holy, set apart, and beloved children of God. Those words would have been noted by Mary and would be what motivated her to don the proper clothing. Skipping those important words can create frantic, busy bee efforts rather than action and attitudes driven by love. Those truths of who we are stir up gratitude and puts the lists in a proper perspective. Paul often used this technique in his epistles. He didn't just stop at the cross, he taught what the cross meant for us, including important truths like reconciliation, redemption, a new identity, and a new relationship with both God and man. Paul reminded them that they are chosen, holy, and beloved before he told them what to put on.
Paul also often penned the prayers that he was praying for the people he was writing to. He prayed they would be empowered and they would know the love of God. They knew his prayer when they read his lists concerning sanctification. They knew they were being passionately prayed for.
Third, Paul often expressed his own love towards them. He had developed relationships with them and he cared about their growth, cared about their pain, and cared deeply about their relationships with God and with others. His instructions were given from a pure heart and given out of motive of love, not out of a desire to shame.
When I began to really see Christianity as a love relationship with God, I found the lists created less shame. When I realized the epistles were written by a transparent man who deeply loved people he wrote to, I understood his lists were written out of a desire for others to grow in Christ so those characteristics of love would be manifested in them, making Christ known. I still don't think it's easy, but I don't feel shame about the lists now. I think the lists of what we are to put on are only possible as we relate to God on a daily basis and depend on Him to help us put them on. .
As we keep putting on those characteristics daily, they become more familiar and more natural. When we put on those characteristics, we experience God in the practice of loving because we choose to live chosen, holy, and loved. When we put on those characteristics we get to see healing in others as a result of the compassion we donned. We get to see anger melted by our kindness, see pride calmed by our humility, and see conflict deescalated by our meekness. We also get to see souls saved and relationships healed by patience. God is so gracious that even in our imperfect attempts to put on behaviors befitting His children, we are given the opportunities to experience Him as we see Him work in and through us.
The lists tend to remind me there will be a day when my sanctification is complete and I will no longer have the struggle between my old clothes of the flesh and my new clothes of the Spirit, a day when I will be forever fully clothed in His righteousness! That thought brings such joy to this messy heart...a heart relying so heavily on His grace.