Dirty Laundry 7: Dress Accordingly

No one likes being underdressed.  A beautiful sunset off the coastline is hard to enjoy when you are shivering in a T-shirt and shorts.  It’s hard to enjoy three feet of fresh powder on the slopes of Aspen when your fingers and toes are numb from the bitter cold.  And a rainy camping trip is almost unbearable if you left your rain gear at home.

Being underdressed is not limited to the weather alone.  Consider the gaping stares and awkward glances you would get if you showed up for the Winter Formal in blue jeans and a hooded sweatshirt.  No one likes showing up at a wedding with a black suit and white tennis shoes, having left your dress shoes back home.  And one of the cruelest pranks ever devised is throwing a formal cocktail party and telling one unlucky “friend” it is a toga or cartoon costume party!  Can you imagine being that poor fellow when you walk into a room of black dresses and ties looking like Scooby Doo?

The Bible has some valuable advice for dressing appropriately for both the occasion and the conditions.  We would be wise to follow these dress tips if we are to avoid uncomfortable scenarios similar to those above.

First, we have a situation in the Bible almost identical to the toga victim at the party above.  The Bible speaks repeatedly of a coming messianic banquet, a great wedding supper where God will finally be united with his bride, the church.  The Christian journey can be understood as the long process of getting ourselves cleaned up and properly dressed for this grand occasion.

Jesus told a parable about the wedding invitation in Matthew 22.  A great king threw a wedding banquet for his son, and when the invited guests refused to come he invited the rest of the town instead.  When the king arrives, the wine glasses are all filled, the prime rib is carved and the music is playing.  Yet there is one thing out of place:

When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’ “That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it”(Matt 22:11-14 MSG).

At first glance, the King’s dress code seems to be awfully strict and brutally enforced.  I mean, give the guy a break!   Maybe some of his friends told him it was an informal reception.  Maybe he didn’t get the memo.  Remember these guests never received an official invitation, but were just grabbed off the street at the last minute.   Maybe they didn’t know what to wear.  Send him to hell?  The nearest tuxedo rental store would make some sense—but hell?  What is Jesus getting at here?

It is quite simple.  All are invited to join the party.  But only those who have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness will be admitted to the ball (Phil 3:9).  Those who come in their own, homemade robes—stitched clumsily together with one’s own religious attempts to attain righteousness apart from Christ—will be turned away at the door.  For “all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isa 64:6), but to all who accept his gift Christ offers us “clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough” (Rev 3:18 MSG).  Just put it on now before it is too late.

Secondly, the Bible urges us to dress appropriately for the conditions as well.  And it turns out that the spiritual forecast for the long Christian hike includes a 100% chance of storms.  The storms of the Christian journey are more accurately described as military battles.  While we are tossed to and fro by many uncontrollable factors of life (much like the weather), we should be more concerned with the more sinister, spiritual powers at work in the world.

Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand 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 rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens (Eph 6:11-12).

Paul’s plea is urgent.  He shakes us out of our comfortable patterns of life, the seemingly innocent routines of going to work, mowing the lawn, little league games, PTO meetings, church potlucks, a night at the movies or weekends at the cabin. He reminds us of the constant, invisible battle going on for our souls.  He alerts us to the subtle temptation always lying just below the surface to turn on God and serve ourselves or other gods.

John sees the entire world under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), deceived by the “Father of lies” (John 8:44).  Peter describes the devil “roaming about like a lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).  As we dress ourselves for God’s New Day, we ought to consider these hostile conditions.

Thankfully, Paul has left us a handy checklist of the necessary armor for the spiritual journey:

Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace,and in all of this,by taking up the shieldof faith with which you can 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 (Eph 6:14-17).

We are living in the messy interval between the dying old age and the consummation of God’s new creation.  The world still lies partially in the darkness of yesterday’s sin, but the sun is already rising on the horizon of God’s New Day.

We are summoned to be awake and alert, carrying the flag of Christ’s initial victory into enemy territory.  We are let our light shine into the dark corridors of a world still under the power of the dark forces of the air.  As we do, we will certainly meet hostility from evil forces on the run.  The gates of hell are imposing, but they will not prevail (Matt 16:18).  We must be dressed for battle.  We must put on the full armor of God in order to “stand firm” until the end (Eph 6:14).

Having clothed yourselves with Christ, go therefore into God’s New Day standing on the truth of the gospel, comforted by the peace of Christ, clothed with Christ’s righteousness, moving forward in faith, announcing God’s salvation through the cross and letting God’s Word show you the way.

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