I lived for a little while “on the road,” as they say, and hygiene was a crucial issue. So was wardrobe. Not that I was concerned about sartorial elegance, but it was important to stay clean. So one time, when hitch-hiking through Yorkshire in the UK, I was delighted to find a public restroom with a shower. I stayed quite a while. Afterwards, I went to a charity shop, sloughed off my complete outfit in the changing room and out good as new. So to speak.
I left my old attire in a sad heap on the floor of the changing room. All of it.
And I was ready to mix with normal people again.
Something of that is going on in Colossians 3. In v9, Paul reminds the church that they had “stripped off the old...” and so it was time (in v 10) to”Put on the new...”
Of course it wasn’t fashion or utility that Paul was concerned about. It was attitude. When you become a Christian,you go into the “Changing Room” and you leave a sad heap of your old attitudes on the floor and come out quite quite different.
Here’s how Paul puts it: “Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshipping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming…Now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behaviour, slander, and dirty language.”
It’s amazing how many of us want to keep certain items from that old wardrobe. We reserve the right to lose our tempers or to gossip or swear under provocation.
So what do we wear now? What does our new wardrobe look like?Paul is explicit.
“Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him…clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
Eugene Peterson provides an incredible paraphrase of this passage which really helped me see God’s heart for how we should live together.
“You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilised and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offence. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”
If you’re ever in any doubt as to how to behave in any given situation, regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
But listen: we did not just decide to do this, or to make it happen ourselves. Verse 12 makes clear who was the initiating power behind this metamorphosis or new birth. Paul refers to believers as “those who have been chosen of God, holy and loved.” The reason we experienced the sloughing off of our old self and the putting on of a new self was that God loved us and chose us and set us apart as holy to the Lord. We are elect, holy, and loved.
In other words God took the initiative with us. God elected, God sanctified, God loved. He is the God of the Changing Room!
Now that’s important. Because God was up to something when he did this. What he was up to was this: in creating new people in his own image by his own power he was obliterating distinctions in which we could boast. Distinctions that separated us and made us suspicious and distrustful and jealous and puffed up. His aim in creating new people was that they would stop boasting in their distinctives (that separated them) and boast in Christ (who united them).
That’s the point of verse 11: referring back to verse 10 where the new self has been put on and is being renewed, Paul says that in the fellowship created by these new people who are chosen, holy, and loved, “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.”
In other words, God is creating a new community out of people who have sloughed off their old selves and put on their new selves. And the mark of this new (chosen, loved, holy) community is first that the people in it stop hanging on to the old distinctives or language or intellect or culture or race or homeland or social status. Those things that once divided people have now passed away.
And the primary mark of who we are together is that Christ is all and in all. Don’t miss that all important climax at the end of verse 11: “But Christ is all and in all.”
Which means that the new thing about the new self is that Christ, and not self, is all. And what is so precious about the new self is that for the first time in our lives we can forget ourselves and be taken up in Christ.
For the new self and for the new community Christ is our success. Christ is our significance. Christ is our fulfillment. Christ is our satisfaction. Christ is our security. Christ is our peace. Because Christ is all.
Ready for the Changing Room?