Smelly Old Clothes
I recently finished teaching a five-week study on the book of Colossians at my church. One of Paul’s primary metaphors in Colossians is the idea of taking off the old self and putting on the new. Here’s an illustration I used to help my class grasp the importance of this concept.
Imagine it is a sunny, warm, spring Saturday and you’ve set aside the entire day to get your yard back in shape. You start early in the morning and you put in six, seven, maybe eight hours of nonstop work. You weed and edge, you haul mulch and rake. As the sun gets hot you feel the sweat running down your back and dripping off your face. By the time late afternoon rolls around, you are exhausted and utterly filthy. You all know what this feels like. Every square inch of your clothing is dirty, sweaty and smelling, right down to your underwear and socks! While it feels great to look at all you’ve accomplished, you are ready to shed the sweaty, soiled clothes and get into the shower.
So, you take everything off and set it in a pile. Maybe later with gloves or a long pole you will transport the smelly mess into the washing machine. For now, you jump in the shower and scrub yourself head to toe. Everything from ears to fingernails to between your toes needs cleaning. When you’re done you step out of the shower clean and refreshed. You dry off, put on lotion, comb your hair, and for the first time all day you feel like yourself again.
Imagine now, standing there in this new, clean, fresh state, you willingly reach down to that pile and slowly, piece by piece, put back on those old, smelly, gross, dirty clothes. Disgusting right? Almost unthinkable. It probably makes you squirm a little just at the thought.
Well, that was Paul’s point. When we become a new creation in Christ, we shed all of the ugliness, the dirtiness, the smelliness of the old life. We take off all of the vestiges of the victories the enemy has had in our life for so long. We treat them as putrid, dirty, rotten rags and discard them. And then, when Christ washes us clean and we step out as a totally new creation, we put on new, fresh clothing that he provides for us. Clothing that allows us to bear His image and be his presence in this world.
What does this mean in more concrete terms? When we see our life as stewards and not owners, we are set free to surrender everything to Christ. This freedom is another metaphor for the new creation, having stripped away all the things that put us in bondage as owners. Things like fear, stress and a desire to control everything around us. Out of the same bondage comes anger, resentment, puffed up pride or a deep sense of worthlessness. So many of the filthy rags from our old life are tied to the temptation to own and control the world around us. When Christ set us free, we became free indeed. Now, as the new creation, we have the opportunity to live fully into the new life of the free and joyful steward.
The question is, why then do
we so often reach down and start to slip on those dirty discarded rags? As we
live into our own freedom as a faithful steward, where are we tempted to put on
those old rags?
Whenever we give in to fear, replay old tapes that cause anger or resentment or give place for old attitudes to steal our freedom and strangle our joy, we are putting on those old rags. When we value producing over abiding, see relationships as a means to our own end, treat the environment as though it were ours to do with as we please, and rationalize away our lack of time in prayer and practicing God‘s presence, we put back on these old dirty rags from which Christ has set us free.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is for freedom that you have been set free. You are the new creation, washed clean with the blood of Christ and handed royal raiment to wear as a child of God and a citizen of His kingdom.
Today, what filthy rags will you finally leave behind?