What to Wear...
As pre-teens, after the double feature on Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t uncommon to re-enact the best of the action scenes from the movies we had just seen, whether it was a WWII battle, a Western-style shootout, sword fight, boxing match, or jumping on our bikes to recreate a chariot race. For a while, following the flick, we—my friends and I—took on the roles of the heroes and villains we had just watched onscreen.
Kids are good at pretending. We expect them to “playact” and use their imagination to become someone—or something—else, fantasizing as they live out imaginary stories. It develops their minds, their creativity and is generally considered a healthy part of growing up. But as we mature, the pretending is set aside, giving way to pressure to “be real” and “be yourself.”
When we pretend as adults, unless we’re acting in a play or some other production, we’re probably seen as dishonest, the definition of hypocritical. Unless you’re an actor, you’re a phony, a fake. Someone might accuse you of “putting on,” like you were one thing, when you were really another. But is it ever healthy to act one way when we are really another?
The concept jumped out at me in the phrase from Colossians 3, that in Christ, you “…have put on the new self” (Col. 3:10). Here the phrase “put on” carries the idea of clothing or dressing oneself. Think of it as covering yourself with something that really isn’t you at the moment. You may not be feeling kind, but you “put on” kindness. You may be feeling anything but patient, but you “put on” patience. In verse 14, Paul says, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” He doesn’t say you have to feel it, but you have to put it on.
Mastering these qualities in our lives is far more than simply faking them. It starts with setting aside the old self, with its old qualities. But putting on and exhibiting the new ones with any kind of consistency requires learning to depend on God for strength, regardless of the circumstances. It may begin by “putting on.” However, true change is forged in the realities of real life. Things like true compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience can only be measured in the face of their counterparts in the real world.
There’s a difference between putting on the new self—along with its earmark qualities—and, for example, pretending to be Zorro after watching the movie (my childhood favorite). It is that we are expected to actually transform into the new self as we consistently put on each of the “new-self qualities” as the circumstances require. It’s no fantasy. (Actually becoming Zorro was something I appropriately abandoned at about age 6.) Transforming into the new self as we put on each of the new-self qualities is called sanctification. It is a lifelong process for the believer and it is real, even though you obediently behave in ways you don’t really feel, for Christ’s sake.
Someone might mistake that for hypocrisy: “You’re acting one way, but feeling another!” Does that mean you should only show someone the love of Christ if you feel it? Be compassionate, or kind, or gentle, only if you’re in the mood? The world might say, “At least you’re being honest! You’re being real!” No, by putting on godly qualities and practicing them when you don’t feel them, you are forming holy habits. Practice makes perfect, not that you’ll actually be perfect this side of heaven. But you are imitating the perfection that belongs alone to Christ.
Each day, you dress up and you have a choice. You can wear the apparel of the world, or clothe yourself with the garments prescribed by Christ in His Word. The world is a stage and you’re given the choice of which role you will play, with God’s help. The natural self—the old self—is unacceptable. Who are you wearing today?
“…be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” ─Ephesians 4:23-24