Theology and Life

Clothes Swap Gospel

Recently our church did its first clothes-swap: ladies brought gently-used clothes they no longer wanted, and the sanctuary was transformed into a boutique. For each piece you brought, you could take a new one home. We had brunch, prizes, and plenty of shopping and trying on new clothes, and then the next day, most everybody wore a new outfit to church.

I was privileged to share a quick devotional at the swap. As I wrote and prepared beforehand, I was struck by how many times clothing is mentioned in the Bible, often with great significance attached. And it wasn’t all about dressing modestly or not being consumed by appearances either (although that certainly is taught about in Scripture!). Here is what I wrote:

How a Clothes-Swap Illustrates the Gospel

As I was thinking and praying about what to talk about, the first thing that came to mind was 1 Peter 3:3-5, which says “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

There’s nothing wrong with loving beauty. We were created to seek beauty by a God whose very self is beauty by definition. And the beauty we see around us and in us has a purpose: to point back to the beauty of God. Tim Keller says that when we see good gifts of God, we should follow them back to their source, like tracing a beam of light back to the sun. The beauty in the world, in the clothing we choose, in each other—all this should make us remember the source of all beauty. But here’s a thought: the God who fashioned the roses blooming in your garden also created the flowers in the middle of a rainforest that no one ever sees. He made the sun, and He made galaxies that man will never see. He cares about the beauty that is hidden as well as the beauty that is seen. He cares about our hearts as well as our bodies, our inner selves as well as our clothes.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with appearances. But as followers of Christ, we are called to be different from the world. We don’t exercise in order to win admiration, but in order to be good stewards of the bodies we have been given, because we want to serve the Lord more effectively. We don’t wear clothing that draws attention to our bodies in ways that may cause others to stumble, because we want to honor our brothers and sisters, and we want to respect ourselves as made in the image of God. We don’t obsess about diets and weight, and we don’t spend all our time on our appearances, because we know that our earthly bodies won’t last and we are called to fix our eyes on the eternal.

And we also spend time searching our hearts when we are tempted to sin in regard to our bodies, and we repent and preach truth to ourselves—that, as 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us, man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. These are very obvious ways that we as Christians are called to be different. This is one way we make sure our focus is on “the hidden person of the heart” and not the external adornments.

If we are spending more time thinking about how we look on the outside than we do how we look on the inside, something is wrong. If we’re spending an unhealthy amount of time, money, or energy on how we look, we may have crossed the line from being a good steward of our bodies, to living in a state of fearful grasping for control, tying our worth and value to how we look, rather than who we are. Because who we are, friends, is redeemed daughters of God, saved from our sinful state and brought into the glorious kingdom of Christ. All else should pale compared to that.

Here’s the truth about what we wear: What we put on, is about more than the clothing in our closets. In Proverbs 31, we are given the example of a woman who is clothed in beautiful robes of purple she has made, and also in strength, and dignity. Ephesians 4:24 tells us to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. In Ephesians 6, we are commanded to put on the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the shoes fitted with the Gospel of peace, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit.  In Colossians 3, we are told to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 

Think for a minute about these attributes. Like everything we are commanded in Scripture, our example is Christ. He is perfectly strong. He alone is righteous and holy. He is truth, He brings the Gospel of peace, He is our salvation. He is perfectly compassionate, kind, meek, and patient.

This is what 1 Peter is talking about. The will of God for our lives is that we become more like Christ. He is not calling us to make better choices, but to be better people–to put on new actions, attitudes, and really, new natures. God is telling us to put on Christlikeness.

So how do we do this? The fact is that we can’t put on what we are supposed to put on, until we have been dressed by God first. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. Without Jesus, the very best we can put on is dirty, disgusting, ruined. Thanks be to God that He has not left us in our mess.

Right after the Fall, God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins, protecting them from the elements and covering their shame. In doing this, He foreshadows a much more important time when He will clothe us, taking our shame and sin and covering us with His holiness and righteousness and purity.

And the cost of that clothing swap was the precious blood of Jesus.

Jesus took off His glorious robes and entered our world with nothing. He wore swaddling clothes in place of kingly robes. When He walked the earth, preaching and teaching and healing, He wore everyday clothing, not shining white garments that were His due. And then, when He was crucified, He was mockingly clothed in a purple cloak, and a crown of thorns was forced onto His head, where a crown of glory should have been.

He gave up His pure and spotless clothing in order to give us robes of righteousness. Because of this, our filthy rags have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west, and we now wear holiness, nothing we have deserved or earned, but garments that change us completely and make us able to stand before God.

Isaiah 61:10 tells us about this gift: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

As we go into the sanctuary, think about what you experience in that room every week: you worship God with your brothers and sisters. You hear the Word of God preached. You pray. You join the church in taking the Lord’s Supper. You do all those things in that room because you have traded your filthy rags for the garments of salvation, bought with the blood of Jesus. Because He has clothed you first, you now have the power to clothe your new self in strength, love, power, kindness, holiness. You can, because of Jesus, let your adorning not be merely external, but internal, the lasting beauty of a heart chasing after God. And if you’re wondering what Jesus is wearing now, Revelation 19:13 tells us: He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is the Word of God. And we get to be in His presence forever.

Maybe when you are home getting dressed in the morning, and you put on clothes you picked out here today, you can let them remind you of the righteousness you now wear because of Christ, and the holiness He will help you put on each day as you follow Him.

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