The Christian life can be defined by what we put on and what we throw off.
“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” commands Paul, “and make no provision for the flesh.” And, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” writes the author of Hebrews, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”
Putting on and throwing off is not only a spiritual matter, because what is in our spirits and in our minds is exactly what shows up on our bodies. What’s in our spirits and our minds impacts what we wear, what we show to other people about ourselves, what we seek to throw off from ourselves.
40 minutes north of here is the border between North and South Korea. On that border every day, there is a clash between two very different ideas of what you should put on and what you should put off. And it’s easy to hear, because they broadcast to each other over giant loudspeakers.
North Korea calls for people to put off any foreign influence and to put on Kim Il Sung. And North Korea is quite serious about that. It spends 40% of its national budget on all the ways people are to put on Kim Il Sung. There are 40,000 statues of Kim Il Sung. It’s impossible to walk from your home to school or your office without passing by these statues. But you must do more than pass by these statues. North Koreans must wear Kim Il Sung buttons, so that every time you see another human being, you are reminded of Kim Il Sung. You are created in the image of Kim Il Sung.
It’s a bizarre situation, and it affects the people of North Korea deeply. They look different than South Korean people. Not just because of the buttons, but because putting on Kim Il Sung shapes them in every way.
But is it really so different on the south side of the border?
South Korean society also answers the question of what we should throw off and what we should put on. And you can hear the South Korean answer to that question at the border also. Because at the border, what is broadcast into North Korea is KPOP. What is launched by balloon and drone and smuggled into North Korea is Korean dramas. And KPOP and Korean dramas have a very clear answer to the question of what you should throw off and what you should put on. The putting on part is easy: We should put on whatever the stars wear. Whatever clothing, whatever hairstyles, whatever words they use.
But there is also a throwing off. First of all, we are to throw off the clothing, hairstyles, and words that were used in last week’s popular drama, popular KPOP song, because those things are now out of date, out of style. And we also are to throw off all of the other things that are out of date and that don’t make us happy any more. Relationships, even marriages that have lasted 40 years. Now in Korean society we are told to throw these off. We throw off limitations on our morality because they make us unhappy. So we throw off the idea that we should not live together unless we are married. We throw off the idea that we should not have sex until we are married.
Now today there are new things coming to Korean society that we are going to be encouraged to put on and throw off. We are to throw off the limitations that sex should be between men and women and put on the idea that sex should be with whoever makes you happy. Put on whatever makes you happy, and put off whatever makes you sad. And then next week, when you are taught through Korean dramas and KPOP to be happy about something different and sad about something different, then throw off everything from last week and put on everything from this week.
It turns out that what happens on the north side of the border and what happens on the south side of the border are both problematic. In fact, they share a common root. The common root is that we are to throw off the glorious image of God in which we are created, and put on the tattered uniform of the human imagination, whatever it dreams up and idolizes that week.
And that is why, in truth, God is not welcome on either side of the border. On either side of the border he is thrown off, and you are urged to put something else on.
As Christians living in South Korea, we should not pretend that South Korean culture does not affect us. Of course it does. It affects us deeply. If you look at Christians, we look no different than others in South Korea. If you listen to us, we sound the same as others in South Korea. We are putting on what South Korean culture encourages us to put on, and throwing off what South Korean culture encourages us to throw off.
And very soon we will see the church struggle in South Korea. Because South Korean culture moves further and further away from any kind of biblical root. South Koreans are being urged to put on more and more things that are hostile to God and throw off more and more things that reflect his image. The South Korean church is both asleep and silent as more and more of these things slip into the church. And soon the South Korean church will have to face to question of homosexuality as a lifestyle and gay marriage as an acceptable form of marriage. The churches in America and Europe had put on so much of their culture and thrown off so much of God’s that when homosexuality and gay marriage came, they meekly put those on, too.
What about you?
What are you throwing off, and what are you putting on? Whose directions are you following in making that decision? If you think you can put on both the things of Christ and the things of popular Korean culture, you are lying to yourself. You know that when you get up in the morning you can only put on one outfit. What some of us do is to put on the things of Korean culture six days a week and then put them off one day a week so that we can put on Christ when we come to church.
But the thing that we must remember about putting on and throwing off is that the Bible teaches us that putting on anything other than Christ will ultimately make us miserable. It may make us happy in the short term, but that will never last. And we certainly see that in Korea. Worldwide surveys say that this is one of the least happy countries in the world to live in. Because we are always dissatisfied with what we have put on, so we throw it off and put something else on, and it doesn’t make us any happier.
But to put on Christ will bring you permanent joy. Yes, it will make you look and sound different in South Korean society. You will look and sound more out of place here than a North Korean would. But that is what you are called to do: Not to put on KPOP stars and Korean drama actors and actresses, but to put on Christ. It is a costly thing to put on. It will cost you more than designer clothing. Those who bear that image north of the border, it costs them their life. But the time is soon coming when those who put on Christ south of the border will suffer serious consequences for that, too.
Are you ready?
Substitute the United States for South Korea! We lived in West Africa and I saw more commitment to Christ among the people with nothing who lived in the Bush, then I see in the U.S. Those with the most materialism think they are blessed, when in fact I wonder if it isn’t the exact opposite. Your article is fantastic. I am saddened.