When I was a kid, we always looked forward to the night our family went back-to-school shopping. It was usually a Friday night, after Dad got home from work. We would pile into the club cab of the pickup truck and go to the mall, which was about 30 miles away. Sometimes we’d all stay together, but by the time I was in junior high, there were five of us kids; so eventually we split up, usually guys and girls. We were looking for school supplies (a new Trapper Keeper!) and school clothes.
Our new school clothes were usually jeans and shirts we weren’t allowed to wear for outdoor work or play. If I had to mow the lawn or split wood, Mom made sure that I didn’t wear my good jeans. It’s not like Mom wanted us to dress up for school; she just wanted us to look presentable when we left the house and she wanted the new clothes to last as long as possible.
New clothes have a way of changing the way we think and act. When you’re trying to keep your new clothes in good shape, you think more carefully about what you do, which might lead you to change clothes. New clothes helped us think about a new school year and hopefully helped us to stay in the right mindset for school and to behave appropriately while in school.
Perhaps this perspective of new clothes can help us to understand the new life we have through our faith in Jesus. Paul even uses the language of putting on new clothes when he tells the early church to put on holiness with their faith in Jesus. He wrote in Ephesians 4:22-25:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. (NIV 1984)
Here Paul shows how the change of life we experience when we put our faith in Jesus leads us to change the way we think and behave. He says that it’s a matter of putting off the “old self” and putting on the “new self,” like putting on new clothes for a new school year. In fact, Paul told the early church in Romans 13:14, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV 1984). As we put our faith in Jesus, Paul says, we are putting on Christ himself, and in order to do that, we must take off the old self and put on the new self.
We take off the old, sinful self and we put on the new self, made to be like Christ, made to be holy as God makes us holy. It’s interesting how Paul describes the “former way of life” in Ephesians 4:22, that it was corrupted or spoiled. Even if our old lives seemed to be good enough as we lived them, they were spoiled, like when we had brand new white sneakers (back when white sneakers were the “in” thing) and we dreaded the day when we would get a scuff or a smudge on them – I had a friend who always wanted to be the first person to scuff someone’s new sneakers. After you got the first scuff on your sneakers or the first stain on your shirt, the pressure was off; you could still wear them, but they were spoiled; they were no longer the “new clothes.” After that you didn’t have to think about keeping them clean. It was a change of attitude.
That’s what Paul tells us we experience when we put on Christ, when we put on holiness with the new self. In Ephesians 4:23, he says we are “made new in the attitude” of our minds when we put on the new self. Just as getting that first smudge on the new sneakers changed our attitude toward them, putting on the new self is meant to change our attitudes toward God, toward sin, toward other people.
The difference between putting on holiness and putting on new school clothes is that God expects the change to last. Paul says in Ephesians 4:24 that this new self in Christ means we are “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” As we have put on Christ, let’s make sure that the change lasts and trust God to make us more like him, not just putting on a new outfit that we can spoil but becoming a whole new self, one that looks like Jesus.