Posted by: Moses | January 28, 2007

Holy Attire

All right, if you grew up in a church where you “dressed up to honor the Lord,” raise your hand. Mine is up. I would imagine a good chunk of evangelical Christianity’s hands would be up. That’s the way church is; you put on your “Sunday best” in order to be reverent and honor God. Or perhaps, instead you dress up in order to not “conform to the spirit of this age,” and thereby separate from the world through your dress.

There is a little bit of Biblical support for the first option. First, Old Testament priests had a very particular, distinctive garb that they wore into the temple. The High-priest’s robe was even more particular. The Israelites were instructed to bring their first fruits and the best that they had to offer to God. Second, the psalmists speak of coming before God in the “splendor of holiness,” which is probably a description of their fine attire. So dress up! Ah, but even the best of our righteousness and adornments are only “filthy rags” if they are brought for their intrinsic worth (Isaiah 64:6). Such outward adornments were not pleasing to God in themselves, but rather they pleased God as an illustration of Israel’s obedience and as a shadow pointing to what was to come (Hebrews 9:6-15). The principle of adornment for worship points to a more intense fulfillment within the New Covenant.

“Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” (2 Timothy 2:9,10)

God’s value system is clear. God wants beautifully adorned children! He wants daughters with jewelry far more valuable than pearls and gold. He wants them to spend far more time preparing themselves beautifully for Him then they could ever spend braiding their hair. However, He only cares for these adornments on their heart. This one time where Paul specifically addresses material garb, he says not to dress up, but rather to dress down. It seems that outward finery distracts from the adornment God desires. A daughter of God should dress modestly, and adorn herself with virtue; by doing so she becomes more gorgeous than any queen.

Throughout his writings, Paul speaks of “dressing yourself with,” and in various circumstances he lists a host of virtues to put on. Ephesians six describes our garb as defensive armor, consisting of Spirit-wrought virtues. In Colossians he speaks of stripping off the old man with his ways and putting on Christ. In Romans he speaks of putting on the armor of light, which is Christ. Paul repeatedly uses this vivid imagery of our external apparel to describe what God wants from believers. He uses our outward dress as a metaphor for what God wants, inward change, a faith that bears fruit. And yet with all this talk of dress, Paul never bothers to mention putting on a nice robe as a little way to honor God. It really would make a beautiful parallel, “Just as you adorn the outer-man, so also adorn your hearts.”

Two of the most poignant examples of God’s heart-based values are displayed in two passages, a rejection in the Old Testament, and an acceptance in the New. Samuel describes God’s rejection of one of David’s brothers saying,

“When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Eliab, was the strongest, best-looking logical choice. He was the best that Jesse had to offer. However, God chose David because God knew David’s heart. God knew that David was actually the best Jesse had to offer, even though he didn’t know it. David’s heart honored God. His heart honored God, not his rude shepherd’s garb.

The second example is in the Acts. Peter is astonished to realize the truth of God’s acceptance based solely on the heart. When he finally gets it, he declares to Cornelius’s household,

“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34)

In several of Paul’s epistles, especially when addressing Jews and Gentiles, he reiterates that “God is not a God of partiality,” or that “there is no partiality in Him.” God isn’t looking for a particular type of person, Jew, Goy, American, or Armenian; he’s looking for worshippers, who live out their faith. The single most stark, outwardly separating feature of a Jewish male is circumcision. Yet repeatedly Paul emphasizes that outward circumcision is worthless without “cicumcision made without hands,” a circumcision of the heart. No distinctive type of dress is even in the same league as circumcision, and yet God does not even care about circumcisions when juxtaposed against a faithful heart! Contextually following a discussion of earthly and heavenly values, Paul describes his ministry to the Corinthians:

“We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to be proud of us, so that you may be able to answer those who take pride in outward appearance and not in what is in the heart….And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised. So then from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view.” (2 Cor. 5:12ff.)

Paul wants the Corinthians to delve deep and see the hearts of their brothers. Particularly when judging a teacher, Paul wants them to not look on their presentation but their life. Ultimately he wants them to see that skilfull oratory, intelligent arguments, and a strong outward showing, mean nothing. It seems odd to me that now, we would be tempted to describe these three items as being “a good testimony for Christ.”

Christ does not care what we wear! The people around us may, but God does not. Let us be fully convinced in our own minds that we are dressing out of faith, whether dressing up or down, purging our hearts from dead works. Oh, but do not judge. If anyone is tempted in that respect, consider meditating on Romans 14 or even more specifically, on the warnings against clothing-based partiality in James 2:1-17. Judgment should be deferred to God in either respect, for “who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). Isn’t it wonderfully freeing that we don’t have to judge our brothers concerning issues of Christian practice? God, the sovereign guarantor of our salvation, is powerful enough to uphold our brothers, even if we might disaggree.

The second reason for dressing up, is short and logically self-defeating: to dress up for church so as to be set apart from the world. First, the world does dress up for special events. The world puts a huge premium on dressing up to match formal occasions. This is not exactly a unique, Christian separation. Someone might say, “Well I want to emulate the best.” Then why emulate business-men with their coats and ties? They form the most prominent section of our society whose reputation is stereotypically permeated with dishonesty, greed, and treachery.

The point is this, we could try to set ourselves apart by our dress, but it cannot work. Any external criteria is prone to fail, because it does not reflect the heart. If we attempt to emulate the best that the world has to offer, it is still just that, the best of the world. When someone sees a guy in a suit they do not say “Christian;” they say “wealthy,” “businessman,” or “wannabe.” Of course you could go and invent a completely unique “Christian style,” perhaps Monkish garb? However, that misses the whole point, and would be no more unique than Hindu robes or Jewish locks. But when the nations see real people who look just like them, living a fruitful, loving life in the Spirit, then they see a glimpse of God’s Kingdom instead of GQ.

God does not want a separate, distinctive sub-culture. He had that with Israel. He wants people from every culture who do justly, love mercy, and walk with humility toward God. Those are the distinctives that he wants to characterize his children. So do you wear a suit or not? Fear God, and don’t worry about it.



  1. Well thought out. I like it.

  2. well thought out and reasonable–gives your arguments but does not condemn. it’s true–people shouldn’t judge others on their dress–that’s God’s place. 🙂

  3. Nicely done. I agree with Molly, well presented without condemning. Of course I wouldn’t have minded a little condemnation. I’m impressed Nickerson.

  4. Well, good to see the much lauded humility of our leader heralded on my blog… 🙂 So do we have to address you as such? Or will Mario still suffice?

  5. No, “Mario” will not do. “You must not touch God’s annointed”. I am hereby known as “Most Great and Highly Exalted Leader of Veritas”

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