This is a maybe-slightly-more-than-half-formed thought based on Colossians 3:12-14. You may want to hang on to your receipt, in case it's not fully-baked enough for you.
The pastor of the church we attend is doing a (to me) whirlwind series on Colossians — I say "whirlwind" because I really love Colossians, and when I preached it I'd sometimes just take a verse, or a phrase, and camp out on it. Families started, kids went off to college, married, raised children of their own; empires rose and fell...
Okay, perhaps I exaggerate.
At any rate, I openly doff my hat to a man with a more disciplined mind.
The pastor's opening illustration was very effective. He told of a drunkard who was adopted by a group, for a convention of (I think) barbers and the like. These men gave the drunk a haircut, a shave, a manicure, a change of wardrobe — it was a major makeover. He was displayed to the group as a rousing success, an amazing transformation.
A few days pass, and here's the same man, the grand sartorial success story. But in what condition? Very different... and yet not different. He's back in the gutter, drunk, of course.
Changing the outside does not change the inside.
At this point I depart somewhat from Pastor Finch's sermon to pursue my own thoughts with you. First, here's the translation I made when I preached through Colossians:
Put on, therefore, as people selected by God, holy and abidingly loved, compassionate affections, kindness, humble-mindedness, gentleness, long-suffering, 13bearing with one another and freely forgiving one another if one should have a complaint against someone; just as also the Lord freely forgave you, thus also you should do. 14And on top of all these things put on love, which is the unifying bond that leads to maturity. (DPUV)Point of departure: Pastor Finch's illustration was absolutely right: you can't change a heart by changing clothes. What is interesting, though, and what got me thinking, is that the word translated "Put on" in v. 12 is Ἐνδύσασθε (endusasthe) — which means to put on clothes!
I started musing. Odd, isn't it, that Paul spoke of spiritual transformation, using a word that seemingly suggests the very thing Pastor Finch had just negated in his introduction. The good pastor said putting on clothes won't change a man... and here Paul uses a word meaning to put on clothes.
Was the pastor wrong? Do we transform ourselves from the outside in?
But no, of course Pastor Finch was exactly right. For one thing, Paul's language is clearly metaphorical. You may have noticed over the years that I am no fan of the NIV (nor of the NET), but both hit the idea very well with their "clothe yourselves with." We could equally render it "wear," or "dress yourselves with." But what follows is not a list of accessories, but a catalog of Christian graces. So Paul was not speaking of putting on clothes.
But was the apostle speaking of taking something that isn't ours, though we're Christians, and putting it on from the outside so that we can be transformed on the inside?
The major interpretive key here, I think, is in verse 12 — "as people selected by God, holy and abidingly loved." There is the font of the transformation: election by sovereign grace, whence springs our effectual call, our regeneration, our conversion. That is where I am really changed, when God by sheer grace brings life from death, light from darkness, a child from an enemy (Ephesians 2:1ff; Colossians 1:13; 2:11-14; 3:1, 3; etc.).
But then what is the point of Paul telling me to "put on" these virtues, these graces, these little fragrant whiffs of the character of Christ? Are they mine by regeneration, or not? If mine, why "put them on"? They're already there. If not mine, how can I make them mine?
Hm, this is already longish. Let's take this back up Thursday, Lord willing.
UPDATE: next post.