A couple of years ago in preparation for a Bible study on the book of Galatians, I read Tim Keller’s excellent book Galatians For You. When he gets to the end of chapter 3, he stops and camps out on how Paul uses the imagery of clothes all over his letters and helps us understand why it’s such an important image.
Galatians 3:26-27 says, “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes” (emphasis mine).
Keller says one way the metaphor works for us is that clothes are a uniform. For better or worse, our clothes say a bit about who we are, where we’re from, or maybe where we’re going. Our identity, when we’re united to Christ, is primarily Christ. Galatians 3 goes on to say that it is that identity that reigns over every other form of identity — whether racial, economic status, generational, national, etc.
Clothing is also a form of imitation. We put on Christ’s character, like a child playing dress up. My oldest daughter has recently taken to attempting British accents like playing dress up (which I LOVE, obviously) and her little sister has one special voice for when she’s speaking for someone else — it is very high pitched, no matter whose voice she’s attempting. Either way, they are learning to really get into character. And this is a portion of what Paul wants to invoke in us when he talks about putting on Christ and his virtues.
Elsewhere in his letters, Paul talks about taking things off — throwing off our old nature and former way of life (Ephesians 4:22). About this verse, I once heard someone explain that a lot of us treat our ‘old ways’ more like skin — we feel we simply can’t escape them. And while there’s certainly a sense in which we will cannot fully escape our sin nature this side of glorification, there’s a very real sense in which we need to explore the idea that those things are not skin, they are clothes. We can take off anger, lust, greediness, and deceptiveness; we can put on goodness, encouragement, hard work, generosity, and truthfulness.
The idea of taking off what’s unbecoming and unbefitting for a child of God, makes me think of an article I read from Connected Families about helping kids sort through things people say to them or about them. We ask whether it contains Trash, Truth, or Treasure. Trash is the category for the things that are just straight lies. Truth contains things that may be hard to hear, but have some amount of truth in them and so need to be taken into consideration, even if it’s unpleasant. Then Treasures are the truths we desperately need to fix our minds and hearts on — the glorious things that are true of us no matter what.
So now to mix metaphors a bit: a lot of us clothe ourselves with trash. There may be accents of truth smattered around the trash, but the trash distorts our seeing the truth in any productive way. For example: I walked around for years wearing the trash-lie-from-the-pit-of-HELL that I was a bad mom. I believed it was true, down to my core. What was actually true was that motherhood felt very hard for me. It exposed my perfectionistic mode of living in the world, the false gospels I’d bought into that said I had to be good enough, sweet enough, capable enough to earn love and respect. As I learned to take off those poison rags labeling myself a bad mom, I was able to see the truth — motherhood is hard, I love my kids a ridiculous amount, and I’m never going to do it perfectly and that is okay.
As moms, as women, as people, let’s all be conscious of what we’re wearing and what our children, sisters and brothers wear. Let’s help each other remember that we have a choice what we wear. Let’s remind each other to clothe ourselves daily with the glorious truths of the Gospel, to deal soberly with any uncomfortable truths with grace and love, and to not only take off sin and the lies which too easily entangle but to throw those rags in the trash. Let’s start a dang dumpster fire while we’re at it.
We are united with Christ! Let’s dress accordingly.