Outward Appearance – Part 4

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Vanity is always sinful.  “For men shall be lovers of their own selves… proud… highminded…” (II Tim.3:2,4). This was the original sin of Lucifer: “His heart was lifted up in pride because of his beauty.” (Ezek. 28:17a), There is no such thing as a healthy touch of vanity; it is Satanic. Vanity is a matter of the heart. It is something only God can see with accuracy. Men see the outward appearance, but they cannot see the heart. Vanity is an issue of the intention, motive, and purpose of heart. We might THINK we see it in others, but only God knows the heart for sure. Therefore, we ought to be looking for it in our OWN heart – not in others. If others are vain, it is a matter between them and God.

Examples of vanity.

The scribes and Pharisees. “And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces” (Mark 12:38). They loved to wear their long robes so that men would think they were holy and special. Everything they did was to be SEEN of men. They prayed to be SEEN of men (Matt. 6:5). They disfigured their face that they might APPEAR unto men to fast (Matt. 6:16). Jesus was not rebuking them for wearing long clothing, or for praying or fasting. But He was rebuking their VAIN motives: Whatever they did, they did it to be seen of men… so that others might think they were really spiritual. There was nothing wrong with what they wore, but there WAS something terribly wrong with their motives: to be seen of men. They dressed to attract attention to self. That is always wrong. They tried to STAND OUT in the crowd.

Women and men can dress in a show of vanity in order to stand out in the crowd and to attract attention to SELF. That’s wrong. While the articles of clothing they wear may be perfectly fine, their MOTIVES are wrong. If you dress in order to turn heads and attract attention to SELF, then your heart is not right. That’s proud vanity. This sin is not the exclusive property of women. Men can be vain about their outward appearance too. Spending of time in the gym to stay fit is good. There is profit to that. But spending an inordinate amount of time in the gym to impress people with your physique is vain and sinful.

This sin of vanity can be expressed in lots of different ways. Those who dress like a rock star are usually guilty of this kind of vanity. Why do you think they dress in such “shocking” styles? To attract attention to themselves and to stick out in the crowd. They love the attention. Why do you think young people dye their hair purple? It is not because they really believe that it looks good on them. It is to attract attention to themselves and turn heads. I don’t mean to burst their bubble… I know they think that they are wearing a new innovative style, but long before today’s teenagers ever thought of wearing purple hair, my grandmother had purple hair! I remember that it made quite an impression on me as a young boy. When she came home from the beauty parlor and the sun shone on her head, her hair was purple! I remember staring at it. She was a trendsetter. There was nothing wrong with purple hair then. And there is nothing wrong with purple hair today. But there IS something wrong with a Christian attracting attention to self. That is vanity and pride. “Look at me!”

That’s what wrong with wearing the latest, flashiest, cutting edge new style. They are designed to turn heads. As believers we don’t object to the style itself. But we do object to the heart attitude that says, “Hey, look at me! Aren’t I something?”  That’s vain pride and God hates that attitude. The style itself is inconsequential. Styles that look flashy and “way out” today, often become the norm, and in ten years, everyone will be wearing it. But then it will no longer turn heads. Then it will no longer attract attention to self. Then it is perfectly acceptable.

There are Christians today who are pushing for their rights to wear the flashiest new designs… the cutting edge rock-star style clothing. They demand the right to wear the purple hair and other (by today’s standards) bizarre styles. Here’s the argument they often use to ridicule anyone who suggests that believers should use restraint when choosing clothing. They say, “100 years ago Christians used to fight about wearing high button boots! How silly!” We could ad many other illustrations, but this will suffice.  They liken the fundamentalist who takes a stand on such issues to the Pharisees of old, who strained at gnats and swallowed a camel. They poke fun at how silly those arguments sound today. And they DO sound silly by today’s standards. But you can’t judge what was happening 100 years ago, or even 30 years ago by today’s standards. I was saved a little over 30 years ago. When I first showed up at a Christian church, I had a full, bushy beard. At that time the rest of America was clean shaven. Virtually the only men in the whole country who wore beards were Hell’s Angels and Hippies. Fundamentalists frowned on beards. They were taboo. Now of course there is nothing wrong with wearing a beard. Jesus wore a beard. But there IS something wrong with purposely sticking out like a sore thumb. The Lord convinced me that in that that day and in the atmosphere and environment that existed in that day, it was not wise for a Christian to wear a beard. It drew attention to self AND it associated a person with a movement he really would not want to be associated with. For me, then and there, wearing a beard became WRONG.

Thirty years later, America is no longer clean shaven. Beards are no longer considered a taboo. They are perfectly acceptable by our culture – and thus perfectly acceptable for a Christian. A man with a beard no longer turns heads or raises eyebrows. He no longer sticks out like a sore thumb. No one is going to assume he is a Hippie or a Hell’s Angel. Beards have become mainstream once again.

If you minister in China, a believer should dress like the Chinese and not stick out like a sore thumb. The same is true in North Americatoo! The flashy clothing of the rock star turns heads today. A Christian ought to avoid them – not because the style is wrong, but because they are attention getters. If high button boots had the same effect (turning heads; attracting attention; raising eyebrows) then believers one hundred years ago would have been wise to avoid them, not foolish. In 50 years, many of today’s rock star styles (which seem flashy by today’s standards) will be the norm and may be worn by us all. But in that day, because they are the norm, they will no longer draw attention to self. That’s why styles change daily – because people want the newest, the latest, the flashiest style that will turn the most heads. They will pay top dollar for that style. That spirit of vanity should be avoided by the believer.

A good rule of thumb is: Don’t stick out like a sore thumb! And it’s not ONLY the rock star fashions that make you stick out. Dressing like the Amish has the very same effect… and ought to be avoided too. It is equally wrong. It is also vain when we wear old clothes, or old fashioned clothes in order to “look” humble and thus to draw attention to self, or to make people think that you are spiritual because you don’t waste money on clothing. That is a show of false humility which is but another form of vanity and pride. It is the pride of life, religious showmanship, and it is worldly to the core. Vanity takes on many forms… some are quite subtle. On the other hand, a Christian ought not to live on the very cutting edge of fashion either. Nor should a Christian insist on clinging to the fashions of yesteryear. Either extreme has the same effect. They both shout out, “Look at me! Aren’t I something!?” Dressing like a rock star is often an expression of worldly pride. Dressing like you lived in 1800’s is often an expression of self righteous pride. And God hates pride regardless of its outward form. Vanity is a matter of the heart, not style. And God looks at the heart. We should not be obsessed or preoccupied with style. Such an obsession is a vain idolatry.

Be sensible. Don’t become a slave to good looks… looking young.

Our culture virtually worships youth and good looks. It is quite worldly for a Christian to do the same. Today there are many MORE things a woman might do to make herself look good than in years past. What about cosmetic surgery? What about liposuction, tummy tucks, changing one’s eye color with contact lenses, face lifts, nose job, finger nails, tanning salons, etc.? While none of those things are wrong in themselves, it is possible to go OVERBOARD in the area of looks. Be aware that there is an invisible line that can be crossed that separates between a sensible, natural desire to care for one’s appearance, and a proud, slavish, worldly vanity. Nobody can tell you exactly where that line is… but it does exist.

Be led of the Spirit… and remember that heavenly things are MUCH more important than earthly things. It is the HEART and meek and quiet spirit that makes a godly woman truly beautiful (I Peter 3:3-4).  Learn to be content with the body God gave you. Learn to accept and appreciate the various stages of life. It is not necessary, natural, or even possible to look twenty forever. There is wisdom in the old saying, “If the barn needs painting, paint it!” But don’t become obsessed with your looks. That is vanity. We will all be getting a new body one day.


Clothing ought to be appropriate to the gender of the person. Why? Because the Bible says so! Consider the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 22:5 – “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” Women are NOT to wear men’s clothing and men are not to wear women’s clothing. This verse presents truth that is clear and transcends dispensations. In the beginning God made them male and female. And there isn’t any other kind! The principle is true and one which we intend to uphold. It condemns the practice of transvestites. It forbids cross dressing, dressing like the opposite sex.

Interestingly, the Bible never tells us exactly what the clothing of a man or a woman IS, and for obvious reasons. That depends upon where you are and when you are. It changes from nation to nation, and from century to century. What men and women wear is determined by the cultural norms of that nation or region.

What about women in pants? Often the argument is made from Deut. 22:5 that women should not wear pants because the Bible forbids a woman from wearing man’s apparel. This question is a little tricky to answer, and requires a little thinking. The first point to make is that the Bible does not say that pants are the apparel of men. Pants as we know them today are not even mentioned in the Bible. Clothing was completely different in Bible times. One hundred years ago, it would have been safe to say, in Western society, that pants were the apparel of men. That was true in the days when only men wore pants. They were not the norm among women. But that is not the case today. Today women DO wear pants and it doesn’t cause heads to turn. It is common place. It is no longer considered odd or even masculine because the cultural norms have changed. One hundred years ago, a godly Christian woman would do well to avoid being on the cutting edge of that change, and leading the charge for women to wear pants. That would have drawn attention to self. It would have had a different MEANING then. But a century later, it can hardly be said that a woman wearing pants causes you to stick out like a sore thumb. It is quite the same issue as the change in society’s acceptance of men’s facial hair from 1970 to today, or the change that occurred when men stopped wearing tunics and began wearing pants.

It takes time for the thinking of people to adjust to cultural changes. We are at the tail end of that cultural change, and it is understandable why some folks believe women should NOT wear pants. Obey your conscience. If your conscience won’t let you as a woman wear pants, then wear a dress. But be careful about sticking out like a sore thumb. I wouldn’t advise it if you are going skiing or on a bike ride. It is not modest if you fall.

What about men in dresses or skirts? It would certainly be wrong for a Christian man in North America today to start wearing a dress or a skirt. Not that skirts are wrong or immoral on men, but because it would turn heads. And it would associate you with a lifestyle you might not want to be associated with. It would be considered the garments of a woman… according to the cultural norms of 21st century North America. As Christians we need to be sensitive to the cultural norms wherever we are. For men in 21st century North America to be in accordance with Deut. 22:5, we say, “Don’t wear a skirt.”

But what did Jesus and the apostles wear? They wore what would be considered a dress, women’s apparel by our standards! Men for centuries have worn kilts in the British isles. They still do on special occasions. It is not considered feminine. I recently received a missionary letter that reads as follows: “WHILE IN FIJI DO AS THE FIJIANS DO.  For Formal occasions Fijian men wear tailored wrap-around skirts called sulus.  (the missionary and his son) adopted this custom with gusto, appreciating the breeziness of a skirt.” In the Middle Eastern men wear long dress-like robes. As long as they are modest, clothes really have no meaning apart from meanings that any culture attaches to them. What one culture identifies as masculine (sulu) another culture might identify as feminine. Again – to the Jews I became as a Jew. To the Fijians, I became as a Fijian. It is extremely provincial (and a bit arrogant) for us as Americans to make up rules of dress (that might be sensible and reasonable for one location) and then to apply them across the board to every culture around the world. I’m afraid that’s what folks do when they say that pants are for men and skirts are for women. That is NOT a universal truth. It just isn’t true around the globe… and the Bible wasn’t written ONLY for North Americans living in our generation. The Bible principles are truein every generation and in every region of the world. Be careful with the application of those principles. Perhaps that’s why Deut. 22:5 is as generic as it is. Each culture develops what they deem to be acceptable dress for males and what is acceptable dress for females.

What is the real intent of Deut. 22:5? The passage does not forbid any particular article of clothing. Rather, it forbids cross dressing. It forbids the practice of transvestites, who dress like the opposite sex on purpose. In the days of Moses when this was written, men and women both wore robes that seem almost identical to the modern eye. However, there must have been some obvious differences. Perhaps embroidery or female clothing, or softer fabric, or the color, or a belt. There was obviously SOME identifying distinction which was given a meaning in that day, and which distinguished man’s clothing from woman’s clothing. The command of the passage is: don’t cross that line! The point is that one’s gender should be crystal CLEAR by our outward appearance. If your clothing and hairstyle causes people to do a double take to see if you are male or female, then you need to make some adjustments in your outward appearance to comply with this passage.  That is confusion and a clear violation of this passage.

Should woman have their heads covered during worship time? The answer to the question is a resounding YES. A Christian woman SHOULD have her head covered, because the Bible says that if she does not, she is dishonoring her head (I Cor. 11:5). Paul was speaking here about a veil worn by women in that day, in that culture. Some have dismissed this as a purely cultural issue that is irrelevant today. This is more than just a cultural issue. It is recorded here as a command, addressed to the church. God expects Christian women to obey. However, Christians disagree on exactly HOW to obey this passage. I Corinthians 11 deserves a thorough study, but that is not the purpose of this paper. For now, a brief overview will suffice. The first three rules of interpretation are: context, context, context! The context here is God’s order of authority… the headship of a man, especially in worship (vs.3). In God’s order, the man was in a position of authority over the woman, in marriage and in the local church. The woman was NOT to try to BE like a man, LOOK like a man, or usurp authority OVER the man. She was to be in submission. Therefore, Paul set down some rules… ordinances for the churches (vs.2). The woman’s identity AS A WOMAN was to be crystal clear, even though the male and female garments of that day looked quite similar from a distance. The woman was to have a SIGN of femininity upon her head. In that culture the sign of the feminine gender was the veil worn by woman. Hence, Paul tells those women to WEAR their veils during times of worship, so that there would be no disruption in the ORDER of worship. The veil was an outward, visible sign of the fact that she was a woman, and thus under the authority of the man.  Paul tells these ladies to wear their veils, for if she took OFF her veil, it was like taking off her sign of submission to male authority. It would indicate she was trying to disrupt God’s order of male leadership. So Paul orders the ladies to wear their veils as a sign of submission or she would dishonor her head. Paul was concerned about this important principle of male leadership. He was not so concerned about women’s fashion. Hence, he wrote in verse 15 – that a woman’s long, feminine looking HAIR could also serve as her covering, and thus as a sign of submission. In other words, if a woman’s hair was obviously FEMININE, that too could serve as a sign of her submission. Thus, she was not trying to look like a man or to usurp authority. It wasn’t the style or fashion of a particular culture, but the underlying principle of submission that is important. So ladies, you have the liberty to express your gender either by the veil Paul mentions (which is similar to what women wear in the Middle East today) OR by a feminine hairstyle that makes your gender CLEAR!  Some ladies seek to make their gender clear by wearing a feminine looking hat during times of worship. Although a Western style hat is a cultural adaptation and does not have the same meaning as the veil did, if a woman’s purpose is to display clearly her gender, and thus her submission to authority, then she is fulfilling the underlying principle in this passage. Wearing a hat is perfectly acceptable (though we believe not required) before God. While believers may honestly disagree concerning the head covering, we should ALL agree on the main point of this passage. A woman should be in submission to male authority and demonstrate it by clearly LOOKING like a woman.

Should men wear jewelry? Earrings? Necklaces? Dyed hair? Cologne? What is the Biblical principle? We live in a confusing world. We are seeing more and more men wearing earrings and jewelry, which in previous generations was only worn by women. It is clearly CONTRARY to the principle in Deut. 22:5 to give the appearance that a man is dressing like a woman. Right now, however, our culture is going through many changes. The motivation behind these changes is usually problematic. The fashion moguls do NOT have godliness high on their list. Gradually, our society is accepting these changes in men’s appearance. Like it or not, our cultural norms are changing. Some of the changes are innocuous and some are poisonous. As Christians, we should at least acknowledge that the Bible does not condemnjewelry on men. In Exodus 3:22, God commanded the Jews to put jewelry on their sons and daughters as they left Egypt. Exodus 32:2 also makes it clear that men wore earrings.  Exodus 33:4 states that men wore ornaments (ornamental pins or medallions of some sort).  Daniel wore a gold chain about his neck (Daniel 5:29). Joseph wore rings and a necklace (Gen. 41:42).

Jewelry on men WAS acceptable in Bible times. It did NOT violate the principle of Deut. 22:5. It did not connote femininity, or God certainly would not have told men to wear an earring. But over the centuries, cultural norms changed, and the Western world went through a period wherein jewelry was generally accepted as feminine only. But now, our culture is changing AGAIN.  Cultural norms never stay the same; they are always in flux. It is the fluctuation that often gives rise to friction and controversy.

Here is some pastoral advice. We acknowledge that the times are changing, and that (for example) earrings on men (and nose rings on women) are becoming more and more mainstream in America. No longer are they worn only by Hell’s Angels and Hippies, but even business men working at IBM wear them. In another ten years or so and they will probably be completely mainstream. BUT, the change is not yet complete. A man wearing an earring is still considered a bit near the edge. It doesn’t turn as many heads as it used to, but it still turns some. For that reason it is wise for Christian men to avoid it today, not because it is wrong or immoral, but because it might draws attention to self, raise eyebrows, and could even offensive to some older folks. Christians SHOULD be considerate of others.

Christians tend to go OVERBOARD on these issues – in BOTH directions. Some fundamentalists (with good intentions) take the easy route which borders on legalism. Often (without thinking it through) will say, “Earrings on men are wrong. It’s women’s apparel. It’s sin.” That is an oversimplification which tends to distort the truth. Upon hearing such a message, some thinking young people will show them verses where God commanded some men to wear earrings. The easy, legalistic route will quickly cause you to lose credibility in their eyes.

On the other hand, in Neo Evangelical circles there are folks who love to play the “liberty card” every chance they get, especially young people who love these new styles. (What’s wrong with this!? Prove it! Show me a verse!) Those folks give young people the impression that you can wear what you want and you don’t have to be concerned about ANY of the issues we are raising. That too is an oversimplification of truth, and detrimental in the end. There ARE other issues about which to be concerned, other issues to consider: modesty, testimony, gender to name a few.

So young men listen up: You claim the LIBERTY to wear earrings, and a necklace, and dye your hair, and wear the latest brightly colored new styles, etc. [Now they even sell skin cream for men… It won’t be long before they start peddling make up for men.] And I suppose that you could make a technical argument for any ONE of those items individually. BUT if the overall image that you project is the unisex look, then you have clearly violated the principle of Deut. 22:5. Today they have come up with a new term: metrosexual. It is defined as “an urban heterosexual male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his hair and clothing and his feminine side.” The definition is telling. It implies that men have a feminine side. The Bible says that God made them male and female: not a mixture of the two. It is quite clear that there is an agenda to merge the two sexes into a unisex.

The GENDER of a Christian should be crystal clear. And young Christian men today should be aware of the fact that the fashion designers are often gay and have an agenda that is contrary to godliness and to manliness. For us to ignore that fact would be folly. If you buy all the stuff they are promoting, and dye your hair, and have it curled and fluffed up, and go to the tanning booth, and wear earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, feminine looking clothes, and carry a handbag, — you’re going to look like a girl! And that’s wrong! Period. Therefore, though you have great freedom in Christ, you don’t have the liberty to look like a woman… or for women to look like a man.

The world system, (which for us in America includes Hollywood, the media, and Madison Avenue), is attempting to conform our young people to their agenda. In our culture, there seems to be a concerted effort to get our young girls to look either like hookers or like boys, and our young boys to look like girls. The Bible says, “And be not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Some cultural changes are neutral and innocent. This one is NOT. Blurring the line between male and female is evil and we need to stand AGAINST this trend. In the beginning God made them male and female. God didn’t make anything in between.  That should be apparent in our outward appearance.

NEXT: Outward Appearance – Part 5: Issues for Both Sides to Consider

PREVIOUS: Outward Appearance – Part 3: God is Interested in Every Aspect of My Life

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