New Life Prison Community
It seems fitting to acquire new clothes for the new year. Whether you shop at Wal-Mart, Kohl's or Pella's own Bibles for Missions Thrift Center, you have this feeling that it's the right time for something new to wear. There's a strong sense that the old clothes simply aren't good enough anymore. The old wardrobe is worn-out, out-of-date, and a size too small. As the pastor of New Life Prison Community, I notice some of the same tendencies in the men at the prison. New Life's inmate-members also want new clothes for the new year. Some of them anticipate stepping out of prison doors into freedom in 2013. Their new clothes will mark their new reality. Leaving the drab grey & blue prison garb behind, they'll select colorful clothes to match their own personal style.
The Bible also makes a strong case for new clothes. However, the biblical text advocates a deep change that goes well beyond the superficial fluctuations of the latest fashion trends. At the end of Romans 13, the Apostle Paul advises, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 13:14) Paul writes to the New Testament churches, encouraging them to put on clothes that are consistent with their identity in Jesus Christ. The image of clothing moves us in the direction of baptism as celebrated by the church in the first few centuries after Christ ascended into Heaven. In the early church, new Christians disrobed as they descended into the waters of baptism. As they rose up out of the water, they were given a brand new white garment, symbolizing their new identity in Jesus Christ. These baptism ceremonies were often celebrated on Easter Sunday, marking the day of resurrection both for Christ and each new believer.
Christians also have a strong sense that the old clothes simply won't do. In the sense that old clothes symbolize the old self, it's the right time to disrobe. With respect to moral behavior, it's about time for us to take off those old rags, bag them up, and get rid of them for good. Paul explains this process so eloquently in his letter to the Christians in Colosse: "You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." (Colossians 3:9-10) The old lifestyle just doesn't fit the Christ-follower anymore. Paul provides a long laundry list of old characteristics and behaviors that are unfitting for the Christian, including sexual immorality, greed, rage, filthy language, and lying lips. (Colossians 3:5-9) By the power of the Spirit, we need to discard these old clothes.
Instead, the new year is just the right time for some new clothes: Christ-like clothes. Paul continues, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Colossians 3:12) One commentator pointed out that these virtues are all characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look no further than Jesus to discover a man marked by his compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. It seems fitting not only for men in prison but also for each one of us to acquire new clothes for the new year. Pray that the Holy Spirit will dress you up in fine style this new year. May your heart's desire not be for the latest fashions from Paris but for the designs of Christ. May the great Designer of Christian garments make you a person who is deeply compassionate, extremely kind, incredibly humble, overwhelmingly gentle, and unbelievably patient. In summary, get dressed up with the clothes of Christ.
Rick Admiraal is the pastor of New Life Prison Community, a prison congregation in Newton, Iowa. New Life is preparing to celebrate its 2nd anniversary in early February. Rick & his wife Rose live in Pella with their two children: John and Annaliese. Pastor Rick enjoys winter but can't wait for spring.