Whether we like it or not, our clothes make a statement. Uniforms identify us with a particular team, business, or school. Our attire often pigeonholes us by profession. The white-collar, blue-collar distinction is still readily acknowledged. More superficially, in school brand name shoppers are given more respect, while secondhand thrift shoppers are seen as “not cool”, “out of style”, or just poor.
More interesting still is how clothing can reveal a particular philosophy of life, a particular worldview, or even one’s religious orientation. Conservative thinkers, for instance, often dress more conservatively as well. More liberal minded university students often express their libertarian views by the libertarian way they are dressed. Nose rings and tattoos often betray a frustration with the status quo, screaming loud and clear, “I’m not going to be like everybody else. I’m my own person. You’re not going to put me in a box.” Ironically, by striving to be different, they have placed themselves in a box for us—the alternative, non-conformist box. Meanwhile, a clean-cut, well-dressed person will still have the most success in a job interview.
These are generalizations, of course, and no one likes to be stereotyped. Yet, clothing always has and always will send a particular message. Even John the Baptist wasn’t immune from this law of life (Mark 1:6). So, just as our everyday lives exude a particular aroma—either drawing others to God or driving them away with their noses plugged, so also our “clothing” ought to have a certain appeal. Christians ought to clothe themselves in a way that is, as they say, “easy on the eyes.” Not in the Ralph Lauren or Abercrombie & Fitch sense. Not with designer shoes and thousand dollar suits.
Rather, we should dress ourselves with the attractive spirit of love and grace, spreading everywhere God’s new style of life—a life renewed by the Spirit and conformed to the attitude of Christ! The lifelong journey of Christian discipleship involves a beauty makeover from the inside out. Again, the Bible said it first:
Let your beauty not be external—the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes—but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight (1 Pet 3:3-4).
Christians ought to become a people who see past the superficiality of exterior labels, finding the beauty and worth of every human heart beneath any ragged and warn exterior. Like Samuel, we should remember that “God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). Or, as James challenges us, “As believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance” (James 2:1).
Instead, having clothed ourselves with Christ, we should “have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had” (Phil 2:5). Instead of focusing on others’ outward imperfections, we ought to see Christ’s perfect image shining through each child of God. “Though all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isa 64:6), we must remember that we too were all once prodigals running away from God when he so graciously welcomed us back. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, the first thing the Father does for his guilt-ridden child in this story is give him clean clothes, the family ring and new sandals to wear (Luke 15:22).
Jesus came not only for the beauty but the beast as well. He loved the unlovable. He died for the murderer. His life was stolen for the thief. Christ has traded our dirty rags for royal robes. He has clothed our nakedness and instructed us to do the same for others (Matt 25:36).
But how can you tell the real thing from a cheap imitation? Sometimes all that’s different is the name. Some black market brands steal the name as well – as with my five dollar “Foakley” (fake Oakley) sunglasses. Then what?