No, I don’t mean any comment that looks like a dress code. We all have earthly clothing. We have to take it off from time to time to wash both it and our bodies. It wears out and we have to repair or replace it.
Spiritual clothing is different. We need to have that on at all times. We are already clean, and spiritual clothing can never wear out or become soiled.
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. — 2 Corinthians 5:1-3 (NASB)
There’s a bit of mixed metaphor here. Paul starts out comparing our bodies to an earthly tent. He was a tent maker, and knew that even the best tents can’t last forever. He contrasts the earthly tent with a heavenly building, which is eternal. But somehow that indestructible heavenly dwelling turns into a body that needs to be clothed.
We’ll look at a couple of other scriptures, and it will become apparent that we need spiritual clothing not only in our heavenly life, but especially for our earthly life.
Everyone, believers or not, has earthly clothes and spends most of the time wearing them. Everyone, believers or not, has some kind of spiritual clothes, too. It shows in our moods and actions. Sometimes it’s not pretty. Christians should not wear the spiritual clothes of the world, but sometimes we do.
Spiritual clothing for dealing with each other
But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. — Colossians 3:8-14 (NASB)
Do you see the worldly clothes? Anger and all? Elsewhere, although not necessarily in the context of a clothing metaphor, Paul points out complaining, arrogance, self-pity, and all kinds of other ugly things. Those are from the world. Those are the old self. Take them off. They can’t be fixed. They can’t be cleaned. Get rid of them.
There is a new self we can and must put on. Day by day that new self looks more and more like Jesus. None of the divisions of the world matter. Anyone at all has the right to reject the old self and put on the new.
And notice what the Bible says what has already become of anyone who does so: they have been––not will be, but have been––chosen of God. They are–not will be but are––holy and beloved. It has to be that way. That’s what the new self means. The old self cannot wear the new clothing and has no desire to do so.
If the old anger, wrath, etc. is dirty old clothing that we must take off and put aside, the new clothing is:
These things are what we ought to show to each other and to the world. As the song says, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” But it only works if we’re actually wearing all of that.
Unlike earthly clothing, which we hang on our bodies as much to hide them as anything else, this spiritual clothing must come from the inside out. If Christians indeed have clean new hearts, then perhaps we too often give into the temptation to hide ourselves in the old, worldly clothing that we were supposed to have permanently set aside.
Temptation comes from Satan. He had us all just where he wanted us before we rejected him to accept Christ. He works hard, and often too successfully, to make us act just as we did before. So God provides special spiritual clothing for dealing with him.
Spiritual clothing for dealing with Satan
The Bible says not to let the sun go down on our wrath. Dealing with each other, that means to get over it right away. Dealing with the devil, we must be like Joshua, who commanded the sun to stay in the sky until he finished winning his victory. We can’t beat Satan in our own power, but God has provided weapons and armor.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. — Ephesians 6:10-17 (NASB)
Men in those days, at least in some societies, wore flowing robes. When they needed to do any physical work, they would gird their loins, or tie the hem of their garment up around their waist.
Some translations substitute the more familiar concept of wearing a belt. It’s not a fashion statement. Think tool belt. Paul was in prison as he wrote Ephesians, and he probably meditated on his guards’ armor as he worked on this passage. A Roman soldier would have the sheath for his sword attached to his belt.
Whatever the imagery, the phrase means to tie the truth around us firmly in order to be able to work. And what’s the truth? God’s word.
The breastplate was a metal piece that protected the soldier from weapons aimed at his torso. Paul compares that to righteousness. As another passage makes clear, real righteousness does not come as payment for performing works of the law.
New Testament righteousness comes by grace when we realize that without God we can’t keep the law. We can know it only by revelation from, again, God’s word.
The shoes of peace? That’s not quite what Paul says, it is. The shoes are the preparation, or as the NIV puts it, the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Satan always tries to persuade people that their sin has separated them from God, that God is angry with them. And indeed, when God shows his wrath against unrighteousness, sinners suffer. But that’s not the gospel.
According to the gospel, God graciously receives back rebels who lay down the arms that they, we, took up against him. God is no longer at war with us. The New Covenant is a peace treaty.
Once we catch on that we don’t have to be on guard to defend ourselves from God, we are prepared to stand and face our only real enemy, Satan. Again, the gospel comes to us as God’s word.
A soldier would have a shield attached to his left arm. He could turn it in any direction so that an arrow or other weapon would hit the shield and not him. If the arrow was on fire, the shield was treated so it would not burn.
Paul says that the shield of faith enables us to extinguish Satan’s flaming missiles. Satan’s main weapon against us is deception, lies. If we fall for the deception, believe the lies, he has us in his power. That doesn’t mean we lose salvation, but it does pretty much prevent us from acting on it.
Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God. So here’s another weapon that turns out to be God’s word. The only problem is, it’s isn’t enough just to read the word, memorize it, meditate on it, enjoy it, agree with it.
No, we have to believe it. We have to keep it in mind when the battle gets rough. We have to hold it up to incoming missiles and not let them hang around in our minds.
Just as the breastplate and the shield protect most of the body, the helmet specifically protects the head. We know nowadays that we use our brain, which is in our head, in order to think. The ancient Greeks did not. If I recall correctly, Aristotle thought that the brain’s only function was to cool the blood.
The Greeks thought the heart did the thinking, and that’s protected by the breastplate. What, then, did the head do in Paul’s thought? We have five physical senses, and except for the sense of touch, all of them depend on the head. We see with our eyes, hear with our ears, smell with our nose, and taste with our tongue.
To whatever extent we rely on sense knowledge, then, our head provides it. We all need to use sense knowledge, but it tells us only about the world around us. It doesn’t necessarily tell us the truth about the world around us, either. Sense knowledge is one of the things Paul means when he refers to flesh.
The tongue does more than taste. It talks. Now there’s a big problem. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. If the heart is full of nothing but sense knowledge, the mouth will speak forth worldly, fleshly things.
Satan largely controls our sense perceptions, with all of their incompleteness and inaccuracy. In other words, Satan uses our own head to lie to us and deceive us.
So we are to put on the helmet of salvation. Whatever else it means, salvation frees us from Satan’s lies and deception. And again, we can only know about salvation through God’s word.
We have seen that the sword, the breastplate, the shoes, the shield, and the helmet are all implicitly the word of God. Paul explicitly refers to the sword as the word of God.
There’s a big difference. All of the other weapons offer protection against the enemy in their various ways. It is the sword that enables us to go on the attack. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against the church,” and gates don’t go anywhere.
Gates can be a part of Satan’s defense or checkpoints where he can slow our progress. In any case, the mission of the church, and each of us individually as members, is to fight our way past the barriers Satan places in our path.
God, too, places barriers. Satan would prefer than we go after God’s gates, which are impregnable, than his own. Only by the word of God can we know the difference.
In fact, only by the word of God–the written word and the more immediate and personalized instruction of the Holy Spirit–can we understand our part in the spiritual warfare that we face. We can’t opt out of it, so we might as well win.
Are you dressed?
Any failure of faith, hope, or love is a sign of spiritual nakedness. Or at least that we’ve traded our spiritual clothing for the filthy rags of our old self.
A common way to miss the point
I’ve lost track of the number of times I have been at meetings or listened to recordings where I’m led through putting on the armor of God. So along with everyone else, I’m invited to declare that I put on the belt of truth and the rest. Then the leader says to meditate on the armor of God every day. What happens if I get dressed that way?
Imagine yourself. You have just gotten out of the shower and dried yourself off. So you declare aloud that you are putting on each item of clothing you have laid out. You meditate on the significance of your britches, socks, etc. for half an hour.
What have you accomplished? Nothing. You’re still standing there stark naked.
In order to dress yourself, you have to pick of each article of clothing in your hands and move your body in particular ways until each piece is actually on your body.
There is a certain order for things, too. Paul started his discussion of armor with the belt. Who ever puts on the belt first? At least he started his Colossians wardrobe with compassion as underwear and put love over everything else.
And after we have finished the sheer physicality of putting on all our clothes, I’m sure we’ve all learned from experience the wisdom of double checking to make sure everything is properly buttoned, zipped, or fastened, that everything is right side out, and that nothing shows that shouldn’t.
How to check for being spiritually dressed
What does this have to do with spiritual clothes? Anyone who has been a Christian for very long has probably put on both the social clothes and the armor at some time. We shouldn’t ever take them off. All we need to do is double check with some regularity to make sure we’re still properly dressed, not naked, not hiding our godly clothes with the old self.
Am I compassionate, kind, loving? Even when I’m feeling stressed or dealing with someone I don’t like much? Am I believing what I see or what God has told me? When Satan lies, whom do I really believe?
If you’ve followed me thus far, you recognize that whole idea of spiritual clothing boils down to walking in faith, hope, and love. If I’m paying any attention at all to what I’m doing and to what God is telling me, I’ll know if that’s how I’m walking. And God will tell me what adjustments to make if I’m not.