Take Off the Grave Clothes

God’s Word tells us that aside from accepting Jesus Christ, everyone is dead because of his or her sin. It may be hard to accept this as reality, especially since the unsaved people are clearly walking about, eating, drinking, and doing all the things that living people do. Nevertheless, the spiritual reality from God’s perspective is that without Christ, we are all as good as dead. This is because all mankind has sinned, and the spiritual law that God established when He set up the universe is that the consequence of sin is death.

What a frightening sight it would be if we saw people from this spiritual perspective. I imagine it would look like a zombie horror movie, dead people ambling about with vacant stares, covered in rotten clothes as they do their mischievous deeds. How amazing it is that when we accept Christ we go from the inevitable state of everlasting death to our new reality of everlasting life. [1]

1 John 3:14a
We know that we have passed from death to life…

Regrettably, just because we are now raised to life does not mean that we automatically shed our rotten grave clothes. God did His part when he gave us a new life. Now it is our responsibility to take off the putrid rags of our old ways and do the hard work of transforming ourselves to comply with the new holy nature that lives inside us.

Romans 6:4
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

This new life is not just something we live and enjoy at a future time, rather, we have an obligation right now to live in a manner that is consistent with it (Rom. 8:12).

Raised from the dead.
Death is the worst weapon the devil has in his arsenal against mankind (Heb. 2:14), and one of the most emotionally painful things anyone can endure is the death of a loved one. In the Gospel of John there is a very powerful record that tells about the death of Lazarus, one of Jesus’ close friends. When Jesus came to Lazarus’ village he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33) when confronted with the grief of the dead man’s sisters and others as they led him to the tomb. Twice we are told how he was “deeply moved,” and that he wept.

It was four days earlier when they had prepared Lazarus’ body for burial in the typical Hebraic fashion of wrapping it with spices in linen strips. [2] Then they laid the body in a stone grave carved out of the hillside and sealed the entrance with a large stone. Now many in the crowd let out a gasp while others shook their heads in dismay as they heard Jesus command, “Take away the stone” (John 11:38). Martha, Lazarus’ sister, spoke her concern when she said, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39 NASB). This crowd was very familiar with the stench of death and the bloating of a body that quickly occurs in the heat of the Middle East.

Nevertheless, obedient to his command, some men stepped forward and rolled the stone away. The crowd convulsed back, some placing their hands over their noses and mouths as a pungent odor of putrification and death began to fill the air. Jesus, never one to be fazed by the critics or unbelief in a crowd, loudly commanded with a voice of heavenly authority, “Lazarus come out!” (John 11:43).

Silence fell on the crowd as they waited anxiously, everyone staring into the inky blackness of the cave. The questions on everyone’s mind: “Is he really going to rise?” and, “What will he look like after four days of death?” The critics and unbelievers, ready to unleash another salvo of venomous judgment upon this man from Galilee, were in shock as they saw something move inside the tomb. Like a scene taken right out of a Hollywood horror movie, the dead man shuffled forward, his hands and feet wrapped, and his head covered with a grave cloth. Mouths agape, no one knew what to do as they all stared in shock and awe. Jesus shook them back to reality when he commanded confidently, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:44).

Let’s take off the grave clothes.
Like Lazarus, in Christ we too have been miraculously raised from the dead. The first thing Lazarus needed to do after being raised from the dead was to “take off the grave clothes.” Standing at the entrance to the grave, Lazarus did not hesitate one bit in getting his fetid death garb off. Also like Lazarus, in a figurative manner we too need to take off our grave clothes so we can walk in the newness of our resurrection reality. Unfortunately, unlike Lazarus, shedding our coffin attire—the sinful ways of our old self (“old man,” KJV)—requires a lot more effort than merely stepping out of some rancid grave rags.

Ephesians 4:22 and 24
(22)You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self…
(24) and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Without any hesitation, we should be ripping off the sinful ways of our past when we understand that we have been given new glorious attire. God has given us a new holy spirit nature and we have clothed ourselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). It now becomes our responsibility to live in a way that conforms to our new wardrobe, our new inner holiness.

Transformation is hard work.
Transforming ourselves to be like Christ demands of us discipline, hard work, and persistence. Where we once lived according to the ways of this world, with worldly passions, lust, greed, pride, jealousies, and every kind of evil thought and desire; now we are to live with holiness and righteousness.

Titus 2:12
… say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

Living this way is hard work and does not come “naturally.” Rather than being passive travelers on the broad roadway of this world, we must actively place our steps on the narrow pathway of above. Transforming ourselves into the image of our new nature requires a constant effort. We must learn to recognize when we are deviating from the path, and then we must work to get our thinking back on track.

The Apostle Paul compared upgrading our thinking to the ways of heaven to be like offering ourselves as “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1). Nowadays, most of us who live in the western world have little concept of the costliness of what a “sacrifice” really entailed. In the ancient world, a sacrifice represented giving up something that cost you a lot of time, money, or effort. The cost of sacrifice really hit home as people stood watching their offering turn into ash as it burned up on the altar. Similarly, becoming a “living sacrifice” by taking off the grave clothes of the sinful nature is hard work and it too costs us much time and effort.

The battle rages within.
Having both an old and a new nature means that a battle rages inside us as our two natures come into conflict with each other.

Galatians 5:17
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

On the one hand, we are pulled to serve our fleshly desires, our sinful ways, and ourselves. At the same time, our new spiritual nature nudges and prods us to conform ourselves to the new image of Christ inside. Every wise general knows that winning a war demands great effort and sacrifice, but it also requires the use of wise strategies and tactics.

Ephesians 5:15:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise.

Where you look is where you go.
One of the strategies we can employ is thinking about our thinking and watching what we watch. When I was fourteen years old I became drawn to motorcycling. After riding a friend’s motorcycle one time up and down a backcountry river road, I became hooked on this newfound freedom. The wind whistling in my ears and the feeling of two-wheeled flight gave me a type of euphoria like I had never enjoyed before. I soon learned the lesson that every cyclist eventually understands, that “where you look is where you will go.” Staring at the hazard in the road ahead caused me to steer directly into it, and that in turn caused me to go down. That day I experienced the hard lesson of the motorcyclist saying, “that there are only two types of bikers, those who have gone down, and those who will go down.”

Like motorcycle riding, if I stare at the potholes and hazards ahead in my life, I will have a tendency to steer into them. Focusing on sinful behavior seems to produce a greater propensity in me to sin. In our efforts to live the transformed life, instead of focusing on where we do not want to go, it proves much more effective to keep our eyes fixed on the One we want to be like.

Commit your ways to the LORD.
Throughout the ages God has provided a goal that His people should focus on. Beginning with Adam and Eve, God promised that He would send a savior that would crush the serpent’s head. [3] Hebrews chapter 11 is a wonderful synopsis of many of the “greats” of the Bible, whose faith was undaunted in the face of great adversity because of their great focus on gaining a “better resurrection.” Another way of saying, “Focus on the things of God,” is that we should “commit our way to the LORD…” (Psalm 37:5a).

The English word “commit” in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew word “galal.” One of the difficulties in understanding the true meaning of “galal” is that in Hebrew it has a very concrete meaning, whereas the English word “commit” is somewhat abstract.

The Hebrew word “galal” meant to be “rolled up” in the sense of a twisting together. We are to “commit” our ways to the Lord in the sense that we become twisted together with God. The tangible example of the peppermint candy cane, with its white and red parts twisted together, serves as a wonderful illustration of what it means to be “committed’ (galal) to God. Although the red and white parts are still two separate ingredients, they have become one and cannot be broken apart. To be committed to God is to be twisted up with Him, so that although we are separate from Him, we are one with Him in purpose and action.

When our ways are completely aligned with His ways, our thoughts and deeds matching His desires, then we can truly say we are “committed” to God. Jesus was so fully rolled up in God that he could say to Philip, “Don’t you know me, Philip…? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Christ’s ways were inseparable from God’s ways, which is why he also said, “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine” (John 17:10a). That’s the kind of “commitment” God wants us to have, and that is what our focus should be on.

Losing our focus.
We sin whenever we choose, intentionally or not, to part ways with God. Electing to walk the path of potholes instead of his roadway of righteousness, we unwrap ourselves from Him. It is as if we prefer to put the grave clothes back on instead of wearing our garments of grace and holiness. The choice is really quite simple: are we going to offer ourselves to sin or be instruments of righteousness or holiness?

Romans 6:13a
Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God…

When we sin, if we retrace our footsteps we will find that it always begins with the mindset, “my way, not yours God.” From a very early age every child demonstrates some degree of self-centeredness. Experienced parents are familiar with the selfish refrain of “Noooooooo,” often times followed by the mantra of “MINE! MINE!” Our little dears think little of selfishly yanking a toy out of the hands of a playmate. Unfortunately, merely growing taller and older does not eliminate our inner inclination to “take care of ourselves.” Selfishness lives in us all and while some may have an easier time overcoming it, at times we all hear the whispers in our head saying, “But what about meeeee?”

Our drive to take care of ourselves, “old number one,” actually harms and hinders us more than it does us any good. Selfish people are miserable, empty, and unhappy people. We must always be on guard to give more than we receive. Clean, fresh, and healthy water must be flowing. A body of water that is only receiving soon becomes stagnant and foul, suitable only for producing sickness and even death. Instead of putting on more soiled death rags, we should be concentrating our efforts to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14).

Following the nudges of the spirit.
Like the caterpillar transforming itself into the butterfly, we need to shed the chrysalis of our selfish, self-centered, egocentric old man nature. We can do this when we obey God, doing what He says to do by serving and loving others. Thankfully the gift of holy spirit provides the spiritual nudges and prodding to help us “get off ourselves” and to get on board with the ways of Christ.

Galatians 5:24 and 25
(24) Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
(25) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Jesus promised that he was going to send his followers a “helper” that would teach and remind us of everything he said.

John 14:26
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

The word “counselor” is translated from the Greek word “parakaleo,” which literally means to summon or to call to one’s side. What actually happened when a person was “called to one’s side” depended on what was needed at that time. This is why “parakaleo” has been translated as “counselor,” because the type of counsel would vary depending on what was needed. The gift of holy spirit provides what we need, whether it be encouragement, correction, or reproof as it works to teach and to remind us where our focus should be. The more we obey, the more we become sensitive to its guidance and the easier it is to listen to its soft voice. We must be careful not to ignore or disobey it; otherwise we can become calloused and deaf to its whispers. Simply put, the more we obey, the more we hear.

Be prepared to roll your sleeves up and go to work!
The Bible tells us to discipline ourselves to be godly (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 1 Tim. 4:7). Temptation often precedes sin, and we can take comfort in knowing that God has promised that there is no temptation that we will ever be confronted with that we cannot overcome.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

The above verse gives us no excuse or wiggle room when we choose to sin.

Putting off the former ways of the world is going to be both hard work and very uncomfortable. Jesus compared the dedication required to do this to the cutting off of your hand or foot, or plucking out your eye if it causes you to sin (Matt. 5:29 and 30). There is nothing easy or pleasurable about that. Likewise, God never promised that the transformed life would be easy, but He does promise that we will be rewarded greatly for doing it. We can bear up and there is always a way out, but only if we choose to take off the grave clothes.

Endnotes

[1]Being saved from death is matter of confession. “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 and 10).
[2] We know from the record in John 19:38-40 that it was Jewish burial custom to wrap a body “with spices, in strips of linen,” which is what they did with Jesus’ body.
[3] God said, speaking to the Serpent of the coming Messiah, “…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

4 comments

  1. Praise God 🙂

    1. Thank you for this sermon.Thank you for being obedient to God’s call to make these truths available to everyone.To God be the glory!

  2. Early in my walk, I heard a message regarding the grave clothes. It so resonated within me that now, 40 years later, this message lies at the center of the message for this generation of believers. Every form of resistance I’ve seen in my brethren can be traced to the failure to remove the grave clothes.

    I just finished a short message about grave clothes….again and placed it in various places on Facebook and will be adding it to my website as well. While I sat here remembering about the first time I heard this message, not knowing who the one is that ministered this message, I thought I would search the internet and save every worthwhile link I could find for future reference should I feel the Spirit of the Lord leading me to write an in-depth account.

    Then I came to your site and read your message. I have to confess, his message, by far, is the best I have read ever. I would love to share your message on my own site with all the links and credits to be added. May I have your permission! Thank you!

  3. Thank you for sharing this I am doing research on grave clothes for my message Sunday night . I hope it will be alright if I reference some of the scriptures you used ?

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