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Garments of Salvation

By Eric M. Pazdziora

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

—Jesus (Matthew 6:28-30, NIV)

Why do we worry about clothes? Ever since Adam and Eve’s sin made them ashamed of their nakedness, there’s something about the subject of clothing that makes people a little tetchy. Just ask, “Is it OK to wear this?” and everybody will chime in with an opinion until you’re too dizzy to care.

Jesus, of course, was talking to people who were worried about whether they’d be able to get any clothes at all, helping them remember God’s faithfulness to provide. Lots of other things make people worried about clothes, though. Am I overdressed? Am I underdressed? Is this tie too geeky? Will that skirt be too chilly? Is this too revealing? Will that cause a brother to stumble, or will he stumble on his own? Why exactly is it so horrible to wear white after Labor Day? And of course the all-time classic: Does this make me look fat?

Living under a system of rules is a great recipe for worry. Especially religious rules: if you have to do the right thing to glorify God, what if you do the wrong thing? Yet most Bible teachings about clothing are crammed with moralistic, rules-based readings of Scripture, especially once they get to “modesty.” I think we’ve missed the point.

One way to read the Bible, as I’ve described elsewhere, is to treat it as God’s Little Instruction Book. You scour it to find out what it says on topics X and Y and Z, and then tell us the instructions we have to follow. That’s where most teachings on modesty seem to come from. “See? There’s a verse in the Bible with the word ‘modest’ in it, so you can’t wear that!”

That’s problematic. For all the fuss people make about it, the Bible’s instructions about modesty aren’t terribly concerned with clothes. The Greek word translated “modesty” (kosimos) just means “well-ordered,” like the universe or a good library. The only place in the New Testament it refers to clothing for women, details like fashion and cut and fabric aren’t discussed; apparently it’s more important that women “adorn themselves… with good deeds” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). It’s used only once more, about an elder’s moral character (1 Tim. 3:2), where it’s translated “respectable,” or “of good behaviour.” The Lord’s looking at the heart, and we’ve made it about the outward appearance.

These aren’t the rules we were looking for. If anyone thinks these verses say anything about skin or skirts or jeans or shoulder straps or dresses or shorts or swimsuits or necklines or hemlines or sunbonnets, they’re committing eisegesis—reading things into the Scripture that simply aren’t there. So if we treat the Bible as a book of rules about what to wear or not to wear, it comes up surprisingly short. “Dress reasonably” is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go to any specifics at all. That’s not what we would expect if God was giving us an instruction book. What can we do?

We could play the part of the Pharisees, making up extensive lists of rules about what counts as “modest” or not, then enshrining them as “biblical principles.” We could become lazy legalists, checking hemlines with tape measures and calling it “an issue of the heart.” We could get all chauvinistic and tie it to the sin of lust, blaming the way men sin on the way women dress. (Never mind that James explains, “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust,” not “by what someone else wears.”) We could try to find a reasonable middle ground, invoking Romans 14, saying that Scripture expects us to come to our own conclusions based on our cultural context.

Or we could read the Bible the other way.

When we look at the Bible to find rules, as the example of “modesty” shows frustratingly well, it becomes a morass of vague, conflicting ideas and banal moralizing. We’re left trying to insist that our favorite proof texts are more definitive than they are, and facing strong temptations to legalism and pharisaism. Even if we found clear rules and laws, how could we expect to live up to them, anyway? As C. S. Lewis quipped in another context, this is “the discovery of the mare’s nest by pursuit of the red herring.”

The other way of reading the Bible is the way Jesus interpreted Scripture. It involves a simple, but very challenging, readjustment of the way we look at things.

What if the Bible isn’t a book of moralistic platitudes? What if there’s a bigger, bolder, more glorious theme that everything else in it points to?

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27, ESV)

Jesus said that “all the Scriptures” have something to say about Him. A daunting claim, to be sure, unless of course you’re the Son of God incarnate. On other occasions He went even further, calling out the Pharisees on their elevation of the Bible above the Person it’s about:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40, ESV)

The Scriptures point us to Jesus. If we make obeying the Scriptures more important than seeing Jesus in the Scriptures, we’ve missed the whole point of the Scriptures.

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24, NASB)

If we don’t let the Scriptures direct us to Jesus in everything, even in what we think of as the Law, then we’ve failed to get the lesson the Law itself is there to teach us. God isn’t concerned with making sure we can check off a list of idealized behaviors. God wants us to— well, I’ll let Jesus say it:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 ESV)

The “work of God” is singular: Believe in Jesus. Check.

When we read the Bible as a book that’s meant to point us to Jesus, we start to see the big picture. It’s the Gospel. We can’t possibly keep the Law, so Jesus came to die to set us free from sin and let us live by grace instead. By comparison, nit-picky moralistic rules about clothes seem paltry and trifling. Who cares about hemlines when you can look at the beauty of grace?

Yes, that one verse mentioned earlier says “modesty,” but it says it as an application of the idea that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (see 1 Timothy 2:1-10). The point isn’t “Keep this rule.” It’s “Look at Jesus. Look at the salvation and mercy and redemption and reconciliation with God Jesus gives you in the Gospel. Show people the Gospel in the way you act. For instance, don’t act as though clothes are the most important thing in your life; that would be Jesus.”

This is where it gets really interesting. Although that’s the main verse people try (wrongly) to make a rule from, it’s not an isolated example. When the writers of Scripture talk about the Gospel, they start talking about clothes. Not legalistic rules about clothes—clothing as a metaphor for salvation.

I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
(Isaiah 61:10, NIV)

Clothing is a persistent image of salvation throughout Scripture, from God covering Adam and Eve’s nakedness in Genesis to the choir of redeemed souls clothed in white in Revelation. It goes like this:

Our sin covers us in shame like dirty garments. Even our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). And then we have to stand before the King. What could be more humiliating than showing up in the throne room covered in sewage? But the King has something to give us:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”

Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”

Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by. (Zechariah 3:1-5, NASB)

We can’t clean our own clothes. Some stains don’t come out. So God gives us new clothes, clean clothes, garments washed white to cover our shame.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:18, NIV)

Salvation is a new beginning, coming home, starting over again. When the Prodigal Son came home, the first thing his father did was to show his welcome and forgiveness by giving him new clothes.

But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:22-24, ESV)

You were covered in ashes, mourning, despair, filthy clothes from a pigsty. God wants to dress you in beauty, gladness, joy— the garments of praise.

[God has sent me] to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3, NIV)

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.
(Psalm 30:11-12, NIV)

The message of the Gospel is that we don’t have to clothe ourselves with our own righteousness, religious efforts, or good works. We’re clothed in Christ Himself.

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:14, NIV)

The message of the Gospel is that when we’re clothed in Christ, we become like Christ.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV)

The message of the Gospel is that in Christ all things are going to be transformed, changed, made new. Christ covers death itself with resurrection, immortality, and victory. At the end of things, we’ll take off our worn-out earthly bodies and be given new, immortal ones to wear.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54, NIV)

That’s how the Bible looks when we read it as a book about Jesus. And we wanted to trade that for rules about “modesty”?

The truth is that you don’t have to worry about clothing. God will provide it for you.

You don’t have to worry about spiritual clothing either. You don’t have to worry about righteousness. You don’t have to worry about holiness. You don’t have to worry about being pure, being good enough, being clean, measuring up, being saved, having joy, being loved, being comforted, having everlasting life.

God gives you those, too.

Image Source

Eric M. Pazdziora is a regular contributor to Quivering Daughters. In his other time, he’s a composer, author, editor, and pianist. His music includes an album of original hymns entitled “New Creation,” featuring his wife Carrie on vocals, and an up-and-coming band called Thornfield. To hear Eric’s music or to read more of his writings, visit his website at www.ericpazdziora.com.


20 comments:

  1. I always found it interesting that the "shoulders to knees" rule in the Bible was for the priests; and the reason given was to keep them decent when they climbed up to the altar. It almost seemed to imply that the only important thing was keeping their private parts covered. As for the torso, I suppose if they were working on an altar with fire and possibly splattering fat, it would be most unwise to hang out bare-chested.

    No one wanted to discuss it when I tried to point that out as a child. But I never forgot. They base so much of their dress code on that, it DOES seem to merit deeper study.

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  2. Pippi, yes, I always found those bits in Leviticus rather amusing, with the implied picture of a priest accidentally mooning all the worshipers. Easy to see why God wouldn't want that! I haven't run across it myself, but there are some obvious large problems with saying "You need to dress this way because the Levitical law said the priests should dress this way." For one thing, you're not a Levitical priest….

    Sarah, thank you!

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  3. Wow…THANK YOU so much!!! I have been looking for something like this for I don't know how long. I've wanted to write a post saying that modesty is more of a heart thing than anything else but I was unsure because everything online and in books tells you the "cover up" stuff. It definitely makes more sense though when you actually look at the bible. I was given about four places where God speaks about "modesty" in the bible yesterday and most of them didn't even seem to have anything to do with it, while one or two spoke about adorning yourself in good works. It made me wonder where people get those dress code ideas anyway.

    Thank you again! You've given me the confidence to write the post that is on my heart. Do you mind if I link to this post?

    Elizabeth

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  4. Elizabeth, you're so welcome! That's exactly right: "Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart." And yes, feel very free to link wherever you like.

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  5. I have talked to many friends still trapped in legalism about the modesty issue. The round and round arguement is always "yes, God looks on the heart, but what does our heart say when we choose to not cover our bodies?" There's always a long bit about the weaker brother, appearance of evil, all of it. And I always ask "how modest is too modest? Who decides? Would you wear a flour sack from your wrists to ankles if a man in your church had a lust problem?" There's never an answer. BECAUSE GOD NEVER WANTED US TO HAVE THIS DEBATE. He never gave us an answer because He knew we would pervert it, just like we pervert so much of His Word.

    Sigh. Keep writing. I posted this link on my facebook today, plus sent it via email to a friend still in the trap.

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  6. Jill, how frustrating! Have you pointed out the many Bible verses about the sin of judging by appearances?

    I was just commenting on someone's site the other day about the "appearance of evil" dodge. What they think: Avoid anything that could resemble evil. What it means: Avoid evil, whatever form it takes. Including the form of judging your neighbors by what they wear.

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  7. That article was positively excellent! I had to forward it. I hope it gets spread across the world!

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  8. Thank you, Dawn! I hope so too!

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  9. I am enjoying your articles full of wisdom. I also appreciate your attempts to expose deception. Regretfully, I was deceived at one time and caught up in the legalism of clothing issues. After the death of my beloved daughter things became clearer. My daughter unfortunately became involved with drugs, I am sure her mother's over zealous christianity and attention to detail caused her much pain and attributed somewhat to the choices she made. There are so many verses to dispel this legalism of clothing. Remember the enemy knows scripture and desires to put us into bondage. Where the spirit of God is there is liberty. His yoke is easy, Each day has enough trouble of its own. I could go on. It is people and our relationships with them that are important. Not the clothing we wear. We need to show "love" to each other and stop splitting hairs over silly rules on clothing. If I could get one moment back with my daughter, clothing would be the least of my concerns. In fact, she could dress however she wanted, listen to whatever music she desired etc., I would not care for one second what she did, but I would enjoy "her." We need to enjoy each other and love each other. The time is short. You will not get the time wasted being concerned about clothing back. Use your time wisely, love each other and let this be your focus. Learn from my regret, and look at the big picture. Don't let the blood Jesus spilled to free us be for naught. We are free. Free to love each other and live in the glorious freedom He has given us. We will never be perfect, and all the concern and worry in the world will not change that. Our lives are a mist, a vapor in God's great expanse of time. Let's serve HIM and praise HIM and put the enemy and his lies about clothing under our feet. Thank you for listening, and please forgive me if I sound preachy. I have deep pain over my daughter's loss that will never heal until I am with Jesus. I just have to speak out about this legalism and hopefully I can spare someone else the regret I live with.

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  10. Anonymous…I have no words. I can't imagine how you feel but thank you for being here and sharing your experience and your heart. May our Lord Jesus continue to heal and comfort you, my friend….

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  11. Anonymous — my heart breaks for you. I remember also the way that Jesus condemned those teachers of the law who made heavy burdens for other people's backs. It is those teachers of patriarchy who stole your liberty and your daughter's, and will have to answer for it to the Lord. May the God of all comfort wrap you in His healing presence until that day when every tear is wiped away

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  12. Anonymous – Thank you so very much for your comment, which is probably the most touching one I've ever received. I wish I had any words that could comfort you for your loss, but thank you for sharing your story and your hard-earned wisdom with us. It's truly a deep reminder of why we do everything we do. I'm humbled to realize that God is using my little writings to encourage people in situations beyond anything I can imagine. May you continue to find your comfort in Christ!

    P.S. I may have to pilfer your comment and post it on my website; it's that important.

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  13. Dear Eric (and Hillary),

    This is my favorite article! I know I say that every time I read something here, but really, this time I mean it. 🙂

    Eric, I was rejoicing by the end of the article, savoring each of the Scriptures you included. Honestly, you should submit it to some fancy, high-paying magazine…or just leave it here and let us all enjoy it for free. 🙂

    Romans 14 has become such a helpful guide in my own life on these non-biblical issues. It's not that God is relative AT ALL, but that I can trust the Holy Spirit to guide me, AND I can trust the Holy Spirit to guide others (perhaps in different directions on the same issue – like clothes, homebirth or hospital birth, homeschool or public school, organic or non-organic food,…I could keep going all day…). Paul says that it is the IMMATURE or WEAKER brother that needs all the rules, not the stronger brother! I have found such release here – to think that rules are not a sign of maturity in the faith! Anyways, I noticed that you do not really like the use of Romans 14 in this kind of a discussion. Could you explain why? I would like to not misuse Scripture, and perhaps I have been reading Romans 14 wrong…

    Also, in the comments, you mentioned how the modern Pharisee uses the "appearance of evil" dodge. And I'm wondering, in the light of Jesus and the liberty He frees me to enjoy, where does this "avoiding evil" fit? What should our reply be to this sort of thinking? As a homeschooling mother of three, I am approached by legalism in all sorts of camouflage, so much so that we no longer do a local co-op. Of course, I suppose I would like to avoid the appearance of evil, but to be honest, it never really crosses my mind as I move through my day. Isn't this just a moment-by-moment life with Christ?! So, it comes as no surprise to you, I'm sure, that I have been told that I put too little emphasis on sin – Can you believe I've been told that!??? – because I speak too boldly about freedom from this "evil." Repeatedly, I have been asked to put more emphasis on the sin and the evil that we are battling (in this world, and they would say, in our very nature – I would disagree here.).

    Wow. Again, great article. Long comment. Thanks for your wisdom, brother!

    Resting in Him,
    Karen

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  14. Do you believe in eternal security? That I can do anything I want and I will still get into heaven? Or do you believe that I can turn my heart away from Jesus and turn to my own selfish lusts and therefore fall away from the gift of eternal life?

    Also, do you believe in any moral standards? It sounds in this article like you are saying I can dress however I please – is that what you mean?
    It is all about Jesus I agree!!!
    But didn't Jesus say that if we are following Him others will be able to tell it?
    A lot of people put way too much emphasis on looking right on the outside and following a certain set of rules. This is wrong! Our salvation is not gained through legalist dress standards. But it sounds like you are saying dress doesn't matter at all. Is that really what you mean?

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  15. Karen — I certainly didn't mean to give the impression that I dislike the use of Romans 14! What I said in the article is that, as you quite rightly observe, it can be used as part of finding a "reasonable middle ground" on controversial issues. However, I do dislike when it is used just as another moralistic formula (e.g. "Let's all get along and agree to disagree because the Bible says so") rather than, as Paul specifically positions it, an application of the larger point of the Gospel (Romans 1-12!). Does that clarify?

    For "avoiding evil," I'd say you're already very much on the right track. In context (see 1 Thessalonians 5:11-28) "avoid any form of evil" is one of a long list of exhortations about living in Christ–"rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances" etc. From the verses immediately in front of it– "Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good…" — some make the case that the specific "form of evil" Paul had in mind was false prophecy, which would include legalism and rules-based religion!

    Sure, we should avoid all forms of sin, but the way to avoid it is not to be obsessed with rules but to look to Jesus, as you're already doing. I actually wrote a full article about this here: Turn Your Eyes Upon…

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  16. Anonymous #2 — My personal take on eternal security (which is of course a complicated and disputed issue) is that, since it's true that salvation depends on God's grace alone, not my works, then the Christian life and sanctification also depend on God's grace alone, not my works. This is because of what Paul says in Colossians 2:6– "Just as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." (I wrote an article on that here.)

    So the question is not whether I can hold on to my salvation but whether my Savior can hold on to me. And of course He can; He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Phil. 1:6). Romans 8:39 says "…nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." I am a created being, so I am not able to separate myself from God's love for me.

    The thing about moral standards is that they don't actually do a thing to stop anyone from doing whatever they please. Did the commandment against idolatry stop the Israelites from worshiping a golden calf? Standards can't stop you from breaking them; they just sit there on the page and point out where you've failed. In fact, Paul says "the strength of sin is the law" (1 Corinthians 15:56). The right use of a moral standard, as pointed out in Galatians, is this: "The law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). When we see we can't keep the standard, we see our need to have faith in Jesus.

    Jesus used the analogy of a tree and its fruit, or a vine and its branches. "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5). The right behavior comes not from having the right set of standards but from being the right kind of person, and Jesus can make you that when you let Him.

    Jesus did say that if we are following Him others will be able to tell it– but not by the fact that we keep all the right standards. He said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) We can only do that by abiding in Him. And, as Paul says, the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8).

    My other observation is that it's extremely dangerous to confuse God's moral standards in the Bible with our own interpretations and applications of them, which is where too much of the discussion of clothing tends to go. Jesus had severe words to the Pharisees for "preaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). We make our standards too easy (any lazy fool can put on clothes!), so we start thinking we've succeeded when actually we're failing completely– and we miss the Gospel in the process.

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  17. (Yikes, long comment! Maybe I'll have to make that into a blog post!)

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  18. Eric,

    Thank you so much for your reply, and your answer to my questions. I'm so glad you knew I wasn't trying to be rhetorical, I really do want to see Romans 14 the way it was intended to its original readers. I admit, probably I err on the side of "let's all be peaceful and get along and just 'Romans 14' this non-biblical issue" far too much. Good to think about, for sure…

    So thankful for your words, full of grace and wisdom.

    Many thanks,
    Karen

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