When I was in the 6th grade, I started taekwondo. I was a chubby, shy kid back then and my parents wanted to teach me some discipline so I started training under a 10th degree black belt, which is the highest rank you can get up to. There were photographs of the Grand Master Kwan in the front of the studio and it showed his forehead going through about a foot of concrete. I saw that and said, where do I sign up?
When I first put on the uniform as a white belt, I was inflexible, I was lacking confidence, I was awkward in my kicks. But a few years later, by the time I was 15 and I had my black belt, I had undergone a transformation.
Our studio was big on respect. If you messed up or the tone of your voice was slightly disrespectful, you would be doing 20 knuckle pushups. Whenever a black belt entered the studio, the highest ranking belt would call the entire class to attention and we would bow to him as a class altogether and then each one of us would bow as the black belt made his way to the back to change. As a 15 year old kid, I had people in their 50s and 60s bowing to me because I outranked them.
When I compare how I felt when I first put on the uniform with the time when I put on the uniform a few years as a black belt, there is no comparison. Same uniform, but I was a different person. What made the difference? Many years of practice.
Consider an athlete who puts on the uniform for the first time during a summer practice versus the same athlete who is putting on the uniform the day of the championship game. All of the difficult practices and the games played in between make for two very athletes. Same uniform but the person who puts on the uniform at the beginning of the season is vastly different from the person who puts on the uniform before the championship.
Consider a private who puts on the uniform for the first time during boot camp versus the the private who has graduated from boot camp and is now a soldier. He puts on the same uniform years later before going into battle, but he is a changed person.
Same uniform but two different people because the person has changed during the process. Practice makes perfect. The same applies for the Christian. As a new convert, we put on the Christian uniform. We put on Christ. We put on his qualities of compassion and humility and love, but at first, we feel like imposters because there is an immense gap between the standard that Christ sets and where we are. But like the athlete who has endured many grueling practices and games over the course of a season, the Christian also has closed the gap between Christ and himself over the course of a lifetime.
The soldier puts on the uniform and the uniform symbolizes bravery and courage and honor. But as an 18 year old, pimply faced high school graduate who just entered the army, he is not feeling courageous nor honorable. But by the end of boot camp, the gap has closed a little bit. The Christian, we are ever closing the gap between Christ and ourselves as we put the Christian life into practice and we become more and more like Christ.
Something like compassion doesn’t come naturally. I am much more compassionate today than I was 20 years ago when I first became a Christian. Why? Because I practiced compassion over the years. What about humility? Humility was really hard 20 years ago. It is still hard, but I hope I am more humble today than I was 20 years ago because I have been put into many situations where I had to exercise humility. At first, it felt like an act. The gap was immense because I put on humility knowing full well that I was still proud and arrogant on the inside. But I obeyed. I put humility into practice. Over time, humility became more natural. Christ is like a garment at first, but over time, the garment and who we are underneath become indistinguishable. Because we have become like the garment on the inside, we have become Christ-like.
Here are some applications based on the message.
First, spend some time this week examining your heart and repenting of specific sins. One area is speech. Put away the sins of speech: negativity, bitterness, angry words, gossip, slander.
Second, put on Christ in terms of your speech with other believers.
15 And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.
Be thankful. Use your words to verbalize your thanksgiving to God and others. Be specific.
16 Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.
Col 3:16 speaks of admonishing others. I think this verse teaches us an important lesson about our speech and the attitude and heart behind our speech. You can see someone in sin or doing something wrong and you can say the right words, but in the wrong way. This verse needs to be read in context. We are to admonish others. We are to use our mouth to speak and correct sin where there is sin.
But how are we to admonish others? Col 3:12 – we are to admonish with a spirit of heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Col 3:13 – we are to admonish with a heart that accepts and forgives, even those who have a complaint against us. Col 3:14 – we are to admonish with a spirit of love because we don’t want to lose the brother or sister we are admonishing, but we want to maintain unity. Col 3:15-17 – when we admonish, we do so in a spirit of peace and thanksgiving. Think of a person who is constantly singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in their hearts and consider how that person would admonish you.
In parenting, there is a lot of admonishing of children, and I know as a parent when I am admonishing out of impatience and annoyance and when I am admonishing out of genuine love and patience.
Third, put on Christ in terms of your speech with non-believers.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the • mystery of the • Messiah , for which I am in prison, 4 so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak. 5 Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. 6 Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.