Do Clothes Make the Man?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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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.

Ephesians 4:22

No doubt you've heard the saying "Clothes make the man." Many attribute it to Mark Twain. But, in fact, he inherited this saying from others, adding his own unique ironic twist: "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." You can find versions of "Clothes make the man," minus Twain's addition, in Shakespeare and the medieval Christian theologian, Erasmus.

Ephesians 4:22-24 does not use this saying, though it does relate the notions of clothing and humanity in a curious way. Verse 22 reads, " You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self . . . ." A more literal translation would be, "[You were taught] to take off your old man [anthropos in Greek, meaning 'man, human being, self']." Then, verse 24 says that you were taught "to put on the new self, created to be like God . . . ." More literally, this verse reads, "to put on the new man [anthropos]."

According to the metaphorical language of this passage, you wouldn't say that clothes make the man or woman. Rather, it's almost as if clothes are the man or woman. Ephesians 4:22-24 shows that new believers in Christ were taught to take off, not their clothes, but their old man, their old self, their old way of being. But they weren't to remain unclothed in some spiritually naked state. Rather, they were taught to put on the new man as they might put on a new suit of clothes. (At the moment, I am skipping over the middle part about being made new.)

In the next few days, I'll examine this passage more closely. For now, it's worth observing that, once again, Christian living is not a matter merely of adding something new to your pre-Christian way of life. You don't just add church attendance, Bible study, and good-deed-doing to your otherwise intact life. Rather, Christian living involves a radical putting off of your old man, your old self, your old behavior. Then, you put on a whole new man, a new self, a new way of being, thinking, and living.

So, your literal clothes don't make you what you are. Rather, Christ makes you who you are as you respond to him fully, taking off the "clothes" of your old self and putting on the "clothes" of your new self in Christ.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you experienced being a Christian as a matter of taking off and putting on? In what ways? If not, why not? Are there ways in which you still need to put off what is old in your life? Are there ways in which you need to put on who you are in Christ?

PRAYER: Gracious God, as I consider my life, I can think of ways I have put off the old man and put on the new. Thank you for the grace that has enabled me to do this.

Yet, Lord, I also realize that there is more to be done. I cherish elements of my old self like a comfortable pair of old shoes. And there are parts of my new self that I have yet to put on with regularity. So, I pray, help me to do what I have been taught, so that I might be the new person you have created me in Christ to be. Amen.


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Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.

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