Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Who Are YOU Wearing?

On Sunday, the 82nd Academy Awards rolled out the red carpet for a constellation of celebrities, bedecked in the finery of Hollywood’s most sought-after designers. Interview after interview began with a nod to the celeb’s attire, as the reporter asked, “Who are you wearing?” and awaited the acknowledgment requisite to such events.

Yesterday, I took the kids shopping at Kohl’s, wielding my 30% off coupon, in search of Easter shoes. We lucked into a clearance rack that had several dressy things for the girls. As they tried on the sparkly dresses, they beamed in delight, spinning around and admiring themselves in the three-way mirror in the dressing room.

It’s funny how much your attitude can change, just by putting on fancy clothes. “The clothes make the man,” the old saying goes, and it’s true that when you dress up, you tend to have better posture, speak more precisely, and mind your manners more than, say, when you’re wearing sweats. My dad understood this, and he used to tell us, “Dress for the occasion, because your clothes affect your behavior.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, our women’s Bible study group is going through the Precept study of Covenant. In lesson 1, we observed a few Old Testament covenants, and we discovered that the ancient practice of cutting covenant included several elements, including an oath, a condition, a sign, a name change, witnesses, and a covenant meal. (Incidentally, does this remind you of a wedding ceremony?) This week, we’re discovering another element of cutting covenant—exchanging clothes.

In 1 Samuel 18:1–5, we are told of the extraordinary friendship between King Saul’s son Jonathan and the future king of Israel, David. In the face of his father’s opposition to his friend, “Jonathan made a covenant with David . . . And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.”

Why did Jonathan give David his clothes? It was part of the covenant. As our study explains, “When Jonathan gave David his robe, David was symbolically ‘putting on Jonathan.’ In covenant, two become one. Likewise, when we repent and receive the Lord Jesus Christ, we enter into the New Covenant of grace, merging ourselves in Him. In doing so, we, in essence, put on His robe.”

In other words, we put on Christ. We become like Him.

This exchange of clothes is a recurring theme in the New Testament. Over and over, we are exhorted to lay aside the old self and put on the new self, to put aside our sin and be clothed with the righteousness of Christ—an idea rich with covenant themes.

Take a look at just a few of these descriptions:

  • All who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes. (Galatians 3:26)
  • The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. (Romans 13:12–14; emphasis added)
  • Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. (Ephesians 4:21–24)

After urging Christians to put on the “new nature” in Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul spends the rest of the chapter describing what our new attire looks like:

So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:25-31)

When we partake of Christ's covenant of grace, Scripture is clear: we exchange our sin-stained garment for Christ's pure and holy one. And by putting on His clothes, we are wrapped in His identity. Our attitude and behavior are consistent with the character of Christ Himself.

We are clothed with Christ. And as the saying goes, “The clothes make the man (or woman).”

So this week, as you and I go through our daily routine of getting dressed, whether for the everyday routine or a special occasion, let’s look beyond our wardrobe and ask ourselves:

Who are YOU wearing?

Monday, March 8, 2010

And the Award Goes to ... YOU!

Last night, I turned on the TV to catch a few minutes of the Academy Awards. When I tuned in, the camera was focused on Ben Stiller, elaborately dressed as a blue alien from Avatar. (Whoa! Wasn’t expecting that!) As I watched the next few awards, I enjoyed scanning the crowd and seeing all the stunning gowns. (Did anyone else notice that this year most of the dresses were actually modest?)

Seeing the celebrities gush over their Oscar statues reminded me of Pastor’s Brett’s sermon last week. He’s been preaching through the book of 2 Timothy, and last week’s message was “Live Balanced,” drawn from 2 Timothy 1:15–18, where Paul says that while many believers turned away from him, one was a loyal friend.

Using a stability ball as a visual aid, Brett demonstrated the importance of strengthening your core by centering on Christ, rather than tilting toward the opinions of others—regardless of whether those people are criticizing and betraying you, or praising and blessing you. Either way, when you focus on the opinions of others, you lose your balance!

The acceptance speeches last night—reminiscent of Sally Field’s infamous (but slightly misquoted) line: “You like me! You really like me!”—made me realize how often we, too, earnestly seek the approval of others, clutching their praise like a treasured golden statue.

Yet when we take our eyes off Christ and look to others for their approval, we lose our balance. And if we’re not careful, we’ll end up like Humpty Dumpty, poised for a great fall.

But here’s the great news—when we stay centered on Christ instead of tipping toward the opinions of people, we will receive a heavenly award! It’s not a golden statue, but an eternal prize, one worth getting excited about.

As he closes his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of this heavenly award:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7–8; emphasis added)

Someday, when we, too, have fought the good fight and remained faithful, we will be in the presence of our Lord, the righteous Judge. We will cast off this perishable body and put on the imperishable, be clothed in dazzling white robes, and hear the words we’ve been longing for: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

And on that day, the award will go to . . . YOU! Because, after all, He likes you! He really likes you!