The Sweater Effect: How the Gospel Unravels Your Soul
I have always been intrigued by people whose belief in Jesus came through some type of drastic conversion. Thieves to philanthropists. Murderers to evangelists. Philanderers to dedicated family men. They experienced the ugliness of sin firsthand and turned to Jesus out of desperate need. Salvation from sin and self. They threw off the old cloak and traded it straight up for an eternal one—a covering weaved by the hands of a gracious and loving God.
But my experience with the Gospel has looked much less like rags to riches (in the spiritual sense) and more like an old sweater.
I asked Jesus into my heart when I was three years old. On a warm, summer evening in Indiana, I knelt down beside my daddy and asked Jesus to save me from my sin. While I have no doubt I became God’s child in that moment, I didn’t understand fully what God had saved me from. I didn’t realize what type of sin I was capable of committing. I loved Jesus, no doubt. But over time, I built my identity less on the Gospel and more on what a good person I was becoming.
I wore my morality like a favorite sweater.
And, boy, do I love a good, comfy sweater. In fact, I’m wearing my favorite right now—a thigh-length beige number I’ve had for four years. Ben says it looks like an old-woman robe, but it’s so dang comfortable I just don’t care. Soft from wear and versatile enough to throw over just about anything from a sundress to yoga pants, I. LOVE. THIS. SWEATER.
What I love most is how it makes me feel. Cozy. Collected. Just the right length, it covers my insecurities—namely, the ample rear that earned me the nickname “B.C.” (or “Bubble Cheeks”) in high school. But here’s the reality: I’ve never had a sweater last more than six, maybe seven, years. I’m already dreading the day I see that first snag. The day the unraveling begins.
Morality, my ability to “be a good person,” became my favorite spiritual sweater covering my imperfections.
Kindness and compassion can make you feel pretty good when you think the virtues begin and end with you. You look at the murderers, the child abusers, the pornographers around you, and you start to feel all warm and cozy in your self-righteousness. Little did I realize that the Gospel wasn’t done with me. Over the course of the last six years, Jesus has slowly been unraveling my ideas about just how “good” I really am.
It all began with a single thread—an angry outburst at my husband or a wave of jealousy upon seeing a friend displaying her perfect body on Facebook. That lone string peaked out from my otherwise perfect sweater. Like most people, I didn’t give the thread much more than a passing thought. I probably tucked it back in and chocked it up to a one-time event.
But a few weeks later, I noticed another string hanging from the hem. This time, it was a bigger, more-obvious flaw. Upon closer inspection, I saw that part of the string was still connected to the sweater. I couldn’t leave it there for all to see! So, I pulled and tugged until it broke free, hoping that stray thread was the only one of its kind.
Then I saw it: the small, irreparable hole I’d been trying to avoid. My soul couldn’t hide from this one, but I tried all the same—proverbial knitting needles in hand. But the more I tried to save my cozy morality, the more it began to unravel. String by sting, the soul beneath the sweater was laid bare.
Instead of an obvious sinner-to-saved conversion, my experience with the Gospel has been like this slow unraveling.
At age three, I saw just enough of my sin to know I needed God, but it’s taken me years to see my soul’s ugliness—the selfish motivations, pride, self-reliance, and (dare I say it) narcissism. I need a transformation of the soul, not a comfortable sweater to hide the ugly.
Being a good person, like a sweater, doesn’t last forever. Sooner or later, we begin to unravel.
For me, the temptation to exchange God’s reality for morality will always be there. I want to think I’m better than I really am at everything . And that . . . THAT . . . is why I need the Gospel daily. I need God to continue pulling at the threads of my self-rightousness, to remind me of who I am and why I need Him. The Gospel’s impact on our lives is not a one-and-done event. Most of us need the Gospel now more than ever.
Friends, Christianity isn’t about becoming a good person. The Gospel is about seeing ourselves for who we are, leaving us no choice but to draw closer to God, to ask Him for more, to long for His presence, and to spend eternity in community with Him and His Church.
The Gospel is about relationship. First, our relationships with God, and then our relationships with each other. Its about you and me and God and His death-defying love for us. It’s about becoming unraveled and together throwing ourselves at His feet, realizing our glory means nothing and His means everything.
So while the sweater effect leaves us naked and knowing, God covers our ugliness not with a temporary sweater but with the grace and love of a Savior. Together, may you and I have the courage to ditch our pursuit of “being good” and instead put on the desire for God and His continued Gospel—no matter how unraveled we become.