What Will I Wear?
What am I going to wear today? This is the time of the year that we ask that question. On any given day here in Minnesota it can go from 40 degrees to 80. And so, what are you going to wear? Layers: that’s the answer. But my dear friends in Christ, just as you get up in the morning and ask yourself that question when it comes to what you wear on the outside, God’s word also invites us to ask the same question to what we wear on the inside. In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us: “to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires,” (Ephesians 4:22 CSB17)
Before we can put on a new and good piece of clothing, we have to take off the old clothing. Paul uses a number of words that we may not be familiar with. So it’s good for us to have a closer look at them. Paul uses the phrase, “old self.” Way back at the beginning, Adam and Eve sinned. And through that sin, their sin is now handed down to us. There is an old self, and old person that does not know who God is—and what that old self does know about God, it hates. And no amount of pretty words or persuasion will win it over to Christ. And Paul here in these words gives us a reason why: our old self loves lies and is continually being corrupted by those lies. And that too is a powerful picture. Have you ever had rotting food thrown at you? If you had rotting food thrown at you, you’d take your clothes off. But the picture Paul has here is even worse. You don’t just have rotten food on your clothes. Instead, your clothes are rotting continually. And Paul could use many examples of how this is true. But the one he lifts up here to look at is our lies. Each of us lies, and sad to say, loves our lies. And we know this because we keep doing what brings us harm: we keep lying. This is a huge dilemma. What then is the solution? “23 to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:23–24 CSB17)
So you have an old self. That’s bad news. But what’s the good news? Alongside the old self, God has created in you through the power of his word and through the gift of baptism a new self. Well, what is this new self? It’s a new heart, a new attitude. It’s flows from God’s likeness and God’s image. Now here is where we need to set aside time to talk about this very important phrase in the bible, “the image/likeness of God.” The phrase, “the image/likeness of God” is used in two ways in the bile. First, it is speaking about the fact that even after the fall into sin, we are able to use our brains in areas subject to reason. I can choose which shoes or pants to wear each morning. But there is a second way in which this phrase is used. And that’s the way Paul is speaking about it here. The image or likeness of God is being on the same page with God. It’s having and enjoying God’s righteousness and holiness. It’s not earthly reason; it’s heavenly purity. If you like pictures, think of the likeness of God like a car on the side of the road. When I grew up in MT, you could see on the side of the road old rusted out cars. And if you asked the question, “is that a car or not,” you could end up with two different answers. It has the outer shell and frame of a car. If you knew about old cars you could even say what make and model it is. But if you asked a different question, “what use is it,” you would have a different answer. All it can do is sit there and rust. After the fall into sin, humans have the ability to use their brains. But that’s like the frame on a rusting old car. It cannot do anything good in spiritual matters. In the really important ways we have lost the likeness of God. When we come into this world we cannot approach God. In fact, we do not want to approach God. We, on our own, in our old selves, run away from God and his goodness because we love our lies. But what happened to us then? We ran away from God. But God ran after us. And he created faith in our hearts and gave us a new person alongside the old. And since we have this new self, what should we do with it? God’s word tells us: “25 Therefore, putting away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. 26 Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and don’t give the devil an opportunity. 28 Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:25–28 CSB17)
God has clothed you in his likeness. What should we do then? Wear it. Wear his likeness in your new self. God was the one who chose to give us his likeness in our new selves. But now we are the ones who get up every day and choose to wear it or not. These words are piercing and powerful if you think them through. Every day and many times in a day we have the choice to put on our new self, clothed in God’s likeness, or put on the old self, rotting away in lies—every day. What this shows us is that our repentance isn’t just an idea, it’s also a fact. It’s not just an emotion; it’s also an action. Years ago I remember seeing a little child who took his brother’s piece of candy. The mommy made sure that the child knew that it was wrong to steal. And the mommy made the child say those words to his brother, “I am sorry.” And the boy said the words. But when she then told the boy to give back the candy to his brother, what did he do? He did nothing. Repentance isn’t just an idea. It’s also an action. God gives to us this new self. And this new self clothes us in Christ’s righteousness in two ways. First, when God looks at us he doesn’t see our lies that rot away our souls. Instead, he sees Christ’s perfect truth in our place. He sees our forgiveness. Second, This new self is no longer a slave to sin like the old self loved to be. No, this new self belongs to our Triune God and follows him. And so Paul can say, “if you lie, don’t lie anymore’” and “the one who stole, let him pay it back.” For this new self in us isn’t an idea. It’s a reality. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, this is wondrous, good news. For if you wrestle with temptations of lying, laziness, lusting, stubbornness, and selfishness as I do, then know where this comes from: your old self. But also know that you have a new self. And this new self is powerful. This new self is made in God’s likeness. And that means Christ’s holiness covers our sin. And that means we are no longer slaves to the sins that affect and infect us.
So my dear friends in Christ, every day, especially at this time of the year, choose what you will wear on the outside. But also choose what you will wear on the inside. Don’t put on the old self that’s like wearing rotting flesh full of lies. No, instead, wear what Christ has clothed you in. Wear you new self, created in God’s likeness. Amen.