In October, I posted “Ode to a Crape Myrtle” in which I extolled the many delightful features of one of the trees I hold in highest esteem in my landscape. The numerous desirable characteristics allow crape myrtles the distinction of being multiple-seasons-of-interest plants. One of my favorite traits, its exfoliating bark, provided the spiritual tie-in for that post, the mandate to put off the old and put on the new. Now that a new year is upon us, a time when we often take stock of where we’ve been and where we want to go, it seems appropriate to delve more deeply into the concept of putting off and putting on.
In one of several recorded confrontations with the Pharisees, Jesus warned it isn’t enough to become presentable on the outside by putting something off. Superficial change isn’t what’s required. Instead, it is necessary to embrace Jesus and put on his ways or risk finding yourself in a worse state than before. We find the story in Matthew 12: “When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”
Fortunately, Scripture is full of examples of not only what to put off, but also what to put on. A passage in Ephesians 5 is one of the most comprehensive on the subject. Some of the paired put offs/put ons therein include: falsehood/truth; stealing/making a living honestly; unwholesome talk/speaking that which builds others up; bitterness, rage, and anger/kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. It seems like a daunting task, this business of becoming new, but Scripture assures us “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Just like the crape myrtle gradually sheds its outer bark, exposing the beauty that lies beneath, we can be certain the Spirit will help us put off our old ways, revealing more and more the One whose attributes we are called to put on.