Clothed in Color

"Think about the last time you appealed to someone to make an ethical change. What did you say?" by Denise Hodgman (from Issue #535)

by Denise Hodgman

ColorsOne day, while I was giving a friend a ride home, she started to tell me of a situation that was troubling her.

Her brother-in-law was being unfaithful to his wife, her sister. Already they had gone through several cycles of his “cheating,” being found out, being thrown out, being taken back. Now it was happening again.

What would you say to a man like this? I started thinking of what I would say if one of my brothers-in-law were doing that same thing to one of my sisters.

I think I might say something like, “Don’t you know what you’re doing is wrong?! Don’t you know that you are hurting my sister?!” And I’d probably be thinking, “Why are you being such a jerk?”

My friend then told me what she had said to her brother-in-law. She told him that his children are getting old enough now to realize what is going on, and that they love their mother. She said that if he wants his children to esteem him, and not side with their mother against him, then he needs to change his ways.

I was struck by the difference in our appeals! She appealed to honor and loyalty. I appealed to guilt and a code of right and wrong behaviour.

Motivating Change

Think about the last time you appealed to someone to make an ethical change. What did you say? Maybe it was your young child, or maybe an adult child. Maybe it was an unsaved neighbour. Maybe it was a teen in your youth group. Or maybe it was a coworker.

When someone is headed in a direction opposed to God’s desires, what do we usually do to inspire change? What will motivate that person to make a moral change?

All cultures and people groups hold a sense of when things are not as they should be – and a realization that the situation needs to be fixed. Some cultures tend to think of this in terms of “guilt & righteousness.” Others do so in terms of “shame & honor.” Others in terms of “fear & power.” Still others in terms of “pollution & purity.”


“Value Sets” in Scripture

These pairings are moral “value sets.” All cultures have all of these, but tend to favor one above the others. And all of these moral value sets are biblical. Examples and teachings of every one of them are found in Scripture.

The “guilt/righteousness” moral value set tends to use terms of a judicial system such as punishment, law, grace, etc. The concept of Christ as “substitute” appeals the most.

The “shame/honor” moral value set tends to use terms of a patronage system, using words such as “glory, curse, blessing, naked, adopted, hidden,” etc. The concept of Christ as “elder brother, protector, guide” rate highest.

The “fear/power” moral value set tends to use terms of warfare, with words such as: “control, kingdom, defeat, surrender, conquer,” etc. The concept of Christ as “victor” is most appealing.

The “pollution/purity” moral value set tends to use terms of cleansing and health with such words as: “defiled, washed, unclean, deformed,” etc. The concept of Christ as “purifier” appeals the most.

Pictures of God’s Truth

All of these descriptions are found in God’s Word, and all are pictures God uses to communicate the truth of His perfection and our imperfection. Each of these moral value sets shows our absolute dependence on Christ to restore what we have destroyed.

But the importance that is placed on these moral value sets differs from group to group. One value set has greater influence towards moral change than does another. One presentation of Christ’s efficacy is more appealing than another – even though Christ is entirely sufficient for all peoples.

The key is to understand what motivates the people we are communicating with. What motivates, inspires, appeals and connects with me may not be the same as what connects with them.

I have heard mothers try to motivate their children to change their behaviour by saying that, unless they conform, an evil spirit will attack them. I have heard other mothers state that, unless their kids conform, they will abandon them. Others will threaten punishments or promise rewards. These are all clues to which moral value set holds the most influence.

Turning Attention to Christ

Think of your favorite color. The prism encompasses all colors, but certain colors draw certain people. I love teal. Any object of that color will capture my attention fastest. Those who love me will present me with gifts in that color. For them to acknowledge and cater to my preference does not mean that they nor I deny the other colors. We are both simply recognizing what will most likely draw my attention and appreciation.

We love Christ and we love people. We long for people to turn their attention and appreciation to Christ. Therefore let us clothe Him in the color that will most likely appeal to them!

To do so requires that we become a student of the audience. We need to observe and learn … when they talk about what is wrong in this world and what evils upset them the most … when they talk of bringing restoration into an awful situation, and what solutions they put forward … how they train their children – what motivators do they appeal to?

Please pray for us as we reach out to Canada’s First Peoples. And, as you reach out to those around you who have not yet put their trust in Christ, ask yourself … what would be “good news” to them?

HodgmansWondering about your own value set? … check out

Rollie & Denise Hodgman serve in Prince Albert, SK in urban and media ministries.

(from Northern Lights issue #535)