Does God Care About What I Wear?

by Dr. Rick FlandersO

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.  And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.  And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?  And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.  And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?”

(Genesis 3:6-11)

A few years ago, a prominent conservative preacher said in so many words that the Bible says nothing about what Christian people should wear.  Frankly, I was stunned by the statement because I knew that clothing is an issue from the beginning of the scriptures to the end!  To be more specific, it is a fact that can be verified that the subject of clothing is brought up first in Genesis 2:25, then at least once in more than half of the books of the Bible, and all the way to Revelation 21:2.  To say that God’s Word has nothing to say about clothing is to ignore many passages of scripture.

Certainly, principles of dress do not constitute a cardinal doctrine of the Faith[; or and] it would be possible to give them too much importance in the grand scheme of things.  However, the Lord Jesus taught us that even the “least” of the commandments is to be observed and taught, and that rewards in the Kingdom will be based somewhat on our attention to detail (see Matthew 5:17-19).  He also said that there are “weightier matters of the law” such as “judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23).  In other words, everything in the Bible is important, but some things are more important than others.  Although clothing and dress are not the most important subjects addressed in the Bible, they are important enough for Christians to pay attention to them.

There are three reasons we wear what we wear: for adorning, for covering, and for symbolism.  All three are mentioned in I Timothy 2, where women are admonished to dress modestly.  Verse 9 tells them to “adorn themselves” (adorning, or enhancing appearance), “in modest apparel” (the Greek of the original speaks of an appropriate long garment for covering), “with shamefacedness and sobriety” (symbolism). These three aspects of dress are also emphasized in other scriptures.


In Genesis 2:25, we are told that Adam and his new wife “were both naked…and were not ashamed.”  In their original state of innocence, they were not ashamed to be naked.  Then, after they had sinned (as recorded in Chapter 3), “they knew that they were naked” (verse 7) and they sought to cover their nakedness with aprons of fig leaves.  Then God asked him why he was ashamed of himself and afraid (verses 9-10).  When Adam said that he was ashamed to be naked, the Lord made an issue of his nakedness.  Adam and his wife were ashamed to be naked because they had sinned (verses 11-13).  They were now fallen creatures, and not the innocent, holy beings God had made them to be.  Evidence of this was the shame they felt over being naked.  So they tried to cover themselves, but the aprons they made were not acceptable to the Lord.  Then God Himself made them proper clothing.

“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.”

(Genesis 3:21)

There is great doctrinal significance in God’s making these coats for Adam and Eve.  The Bible teaches that men are reconciled to God through the atoning sacrifice of Christ and through the imputation of His righteousness to the sinner who believes in Him.  These truths are carefully expounded in the third, fourth, and fifth chapters of Romans.  More than once, the Bible pictures the application of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account in terms of clothing.

“I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem.”

(Job 29:14)

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.”

(Isaiah 61:10)

“And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him.  And unto him he said, Behold I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.”

(Zechariah 3:4)

The Lord Jesus used this symbolism in a parable He told of a man trying to get into a banquet without the proper garment (Matthew 22:11-14).  The Book of Revelation represents the imputed righteousness of Christ as linen robes worn by the saints (Revelation 19:7-8).  Clothing represents the idea of God providing the righteousness lost by mankind in the Fall.  This is its first and primary meaning.  The Lord slew an animal so that its skin could be used to make coats to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve after they had sinned.  The first death after the Fall of Man, and the first blood shed, was that of the animal that was sacrificed to make these coats for Adam and Eve, and this sacrifice pictured the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to atone for our sins.  The coats pictured the application of His righteousness to those who believe in Him (Read Romans 4:4-7).

The first two human beings were naked but unashamed until they fell from innocence through sin.  Immediately after they had sinned, they felt guilt, shame, and fear (see what the Bible says in Genesis 3:6-10), and sought to cover their naked bodies.  God also saw the need for them to be clothed. But He deemed the aprons they had made as inadequate, and He made them “coats” to wear.  Why did both God and the people He made want their nakedness covered?  Other than its meaning in regard to imputed righteousness (which Adam and Eve would probably not have understood), the reason is not apparent immediately.  Evolutionists certainly have a hard time explaining why human beings are the only creatures that wear clothes. Christians must admit that Adam and Eve would not have been worried about sexual temptation, since the man and his wife were the only representatives of their respective genders in the whole world at the time. Why then did the first people clothe themselves?

Men are clothed, not just for the sake of other human beings, but for God.  Before we sinned, we were perfect, with nothing of which to be ashamed.  After we sinned and had become fallen creatures, we had good reason to be ashamed.  Clothing says, “I am a child of disobedience, a sinful being, and I am ashamed of myself.”  I Timothy 2:9 says that modest apparel symbolizes “shamefacedness.”  We cannot make ourselves innocent again, but one thing we can do about our fallen condition is be ashamed of it.  This is what clothing is about.  The history of mankind teaches that when cultures are influenced by a healthy fear of God, the people cover themselves, but when societies rebel against morals and God, they take their clothes off.  Respect for God and a correct view of the human condition cause men to cover their nakedness.

In John 21, we find the story of Peter’s brief return to the fishing business.  Undoubtedly discouraged because of his failure to stand for His Lord the night Jesus was arrested, Peter decided to give up on the life of discipleship to which he had committed himself when Christ called him three and a half years before.  Even the Lord’s resurrection had not encouraged him to go on with his commitment.  We do not read of any conversation up to this point between Peter and the risen Christ concerning his threefold denial.  Probably because of the sense of failure and unworthiness his denials had brought him (remember Matthew 26:69-75), Simon Peter got six other of his fellow-apostles to “go a fishing” on the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) where before following Jesus he had followed the career of a professional fisherman.  This was not to be just a night of recreational angling; it was a forsaking of their apostleship and a return to their old career.  The Bible says “that night they caught nothing” (John 21:1-3).  Then the next morning, a man on the shore called out asking how they had done (verses 4 through 6).  They told him that they had caught nothing, and he replied by suggesting that they cast their net on the right side of the boat.  When they did so, they immediately pulled up a “multitude of fishes.” Then   John, the beloved disciple and the writer of this account, recalling a similar incident in the past (look up Luke 5:1-11), turned to Peter and said, “It is the Lord” (John 21:7).  Upon hearing this, the Bible says, Simon Peter “girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.”  Now let me ask you a question: When you are getting reading to jump into the water and swim, do you normally put clothes on, or take clothes off?  When Peter had swum to the shore, the Lord Jesus was waiting for him, ready to ask him questions that would move him to rededicate his life to discipleship and ministry (verses 8-22).  Why then had he put on a coat before jumping into the water?  It was because he was swimming ashore to meet the Lord.  He had to cover his nakedness.  Incidentally, the term “naked” in this passage and almost always in the Bible does not mean “nude.”  It means “not wearing enough clothes.”  We clothe our bodies out of respect for the Lord and shame for our sinfulness.

The next time in Genesis (after the account of the Fall) the issue of nakedness and clothing the body is addressed is in the ninth chapter.  There we find the account of Noah’s drunkenness (perhaps resulting from an ignorance of the effects of fermentation) and his son’s sin of looking on his father’s nakedness.  Read this account in verses 20 through 27.  Ham was the son who “saw the nakedness of his father,” and his son Canaan and all the Canaanites were “cursed” because of it.  The other two sons of Noah “covered the nakedness of their father” by laying a garment on their shoulders and entering the tent backwards so that they “saw not their father’s nakedness.”  Elsewhere in the books of Moses, seeing one’s father’s nakedness is regarded as a very bad thing (see Leviticus 18:6-8).  As a matter of fact, male nakedness is rebuked more often in the scripture than female nakedness!  The covering of the body is important to God, and the Bible teaches us to take great care in this matter.

In Exodus 20, right after the record of the Ten Commandments, the Lord gives instructions about how to build an altar for sacrifice in the wilderness.  These instructions include a stipulation that a priest not “go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon” (verses 25 and 26).  In Exodus 28, provision is made for the priests to wear “linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach” (verses 40-43).  In Exodus 32 we read the account of Israel’s festivities around the golden calf, and it is written that “Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies” (verse 25).  The idolatry, debauchery, and blasphemous sacrilege were made worse by the fact that the people didn’t wear enough clothes. It is easy to see that the first books of the Bible, and all of God’s Word, treat nakedness and clothing as serious issues.


As we have noted, another aspect about clothing addressed in the Bible is its function as adornment.  We run into this in Genesis 41, where it says that Joseph “changed his raiment” before appearing before the king of Egypt after being released from the dungeon.  His prison garb was not appropriate adorning for an audience with Pharoah. The Bible notes in many places that men are to be properly dressed for the occasion. The principle of imputed righteousness is treated not only as a matter of symbolic importance in clothing, but also as a matter of adorning.  Remember Isaiah 61:10 and Revelation 21:2.  When we “dress up” we are acting out the fact that our acceptance before God involves being appropriately prepared to meet Him, through the adorning of Christ’s righteousness.  Christians ought to “dress up,” not in a way that draws attention or praise to themselves, but in a way that brings glory to God.  They are told to “adorn themselves in modest apparel” (I Timothy 2:9).


We have already seen that what we wear has symbolic significance.  A Christian author has titled her book on this issue, [Your Clothes Say It for You].  There is the wonderful doctrinal significance of clothing as a type of the imputed righteousness of Christ.  There are also many ways that clothes symbolize important things in everyday life.  Uniforms identify those who wear them as police officers, servicemen, postmen, firemen, nurses, and security guards.  However the first and most fundamental symbolic message of clothing involves conveying to the world whether the wearer is male or female.  And the Bible deals with the subject of gender-distinction in clothing and appearance, too.

“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.”

(Deuteronomy 22:5)

“Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?  Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?  But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”

(I Corinthians 11:13-15)

When we announce our gender loud and clear by the clothing we wear, we are rejoicing in the way God made us.  Genesis 1:27 says that the Lord created us “male and female.”  The difference between the sexes is not just in a few bodily features.  Every cell in our bodies identifies us as male or female.  Our gender is not merely an incidental fact about us; it is part of who we are!

Department stores, even after years of societal pressure to blur the differences between the sexes, still separate their clothing sections as Men’s and Women’s.  The symbolism of clothing in regard to sex is also evidenced on the little signs that identify the men’s and ladies’ restrooms with figures wearing either a pair of pants or a knee-length skirt!  Every society makes this distinction, at least to some degree.   Clothing ought to distinguish gender-identity, and generally it does.  Throughout history it has.

There may be disagreements among us regarding just what particular garments symbolize, or how to interpret particular passages of scripture, but it cannot be denied that clothing carries messages, and that the Bible speaks to the significance of such symbolic messages.  Should a follower of Christ wear a sweat-shirt with words or pictures on it that convey an immoral message?  What about clothing that does not have writing or pictures on it, but nevertheless communicates an immoral message?  Proverbs 7 tells a story about a married woman with immoral intentions who goes around wearing “the attire of an harlot.”   She was not a prostitute, but she dressed like one. Will anyone deny that a woman can convey an immoral message by her clothes?  Is anyone confused about how “the attire of an harlot” might look?  The symbolism of what we wear is important.  A believer can convey a false message by his clothes.  He might not want to say anything wicked, but this is why he must not wear clothing that conveys these messages.

Recent decades have brought to Western cultures a decadent trend to normalize and accept homosexual behavior.  Along with this trend has come the tendency to feminize men’s apparel and to make women’s clothing look masculine.  Of course Bible-believing people must resist the homosexual trend, and part of resisting it would be rejecting gender-neutral dress.  Do we believe there is a “gay gene”?  No intelligent Christian does, nor does anybody who has researched the issue.  One famous physician (not a Christian) has said that if people are “born that way,” it is strange that so many born-homosexuals end up in prison!  The Bible handles homosexuality as perverted and sinful behavior, and not as an inborn trait.  Homosexuals, from the Biblical perspective, are not born; they are recruited, corrupted, persuaded!  And since homosexuality is learned behavior, to confuse the young about their sexual identity is highly dangerous and irresponsible.  Much should be done by parents to get their children to conform their lives to their genders.  They should dress them appropriately as boys or girls, and encourage them in gender-appropriate interests and activities.  Of course there are interests and activities appropriate to either gender, but there are many that are rightly regarded as masculine or feminine pursuits.  To ignore this fact is to expose children dangerously to the pro-homosexual propaganda of our day.  Take the symbolism of clothing seriously by bringing up children to identify with their gender.

Dress issues are important one way or another throughout the Bible.  The three aspects of clothing emphasized in I Timothy 2:9 (adorning, covering, and symbolism) are taken up and discussed in other passages.  We are to adorn ourselves with dress appropriate to the situation, as the righteousness of Christ is our adorning in the sight of God.  We are to cover ourselves, not only to guard against sexual temptation, but also for the fear of God.  We are to wear clothes that symbolize God’s view on things, to which we also should be committed.  God does care about these things.

But doesn’t the Word of God say that the Lord looks on the heart, and not on the outward appearance?  Actually it does say that, but that is not all it says in the particular passage that makes this statement.  The passage is the account of David’s selection as the new king, found in I Samuel 16.  The prophet was told that the man God had chosen to replace King Saul was among the sons of Jesse.  At Jesse’s house, he met each of the sons, one at a time.  When he saw the oldest, a tall and good-looking fellow, he assumed that this was the Lord’s choice for king. But God said,

“Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”

(I Samuel 16:7)

The verse does say that God looks on the heart, but that is not all it says.  It also says that man looks on our outward appearance.  The most important thing about a person is his heart, but the outward appearance is important, too.  God focuses on the heart, but man’s impression when looking at our outward appearance is still a serious issue.  Verse 12, which tells about the prophet meeting the shepherd boy that God had chosen to be king, includes a description of how David, the man after God’s own heart, looked on the outside: “ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to.”  His heart was the most important thing about David to God, but his appearance mattered, too.  Later in the same chapter we are told that when David was recommended for an important post, which God would use to move him forward in the divine plan for his life, somebody complimented him for his skill (verse 18), his valor, his wisdom, and for being “a comely [good-looking] person.”  God does care about how we look on the outside.

Do We Care?

Certainly, Bible-believing people should care about their dress in the light of what God’s Word says.  Every Christian ought to subject all of his ways to God’s approval, and be interested in pleasing the Lord in how he or she dresses.  Believers need to search the scriptures to find out what they teach about these issues, and then adopt personal dress standards based on these teachings.  Preachers and churches need to teach what the Bible says about clothing, and not fear what man may say.  We cannot give up a teaching of the Bible under pressure from the world to conform to its standards. Church members need to stand with their pastors when they take a scriptural stand on issues such as these. As we seek His face for the revival we so badly need, let us seek to please God in all that we do.



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