Heaven, hell, and what to wear

What does ‘dress for success’ mean to a Christian?

Books have been written on how to dress for success. Dress up, the books say. People will respect you and then they will pay attention to what you have to say. We are told that we will never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The well-cut suit and power tie is standard uniform for business leaders, politicians and anyone who wants to influence people and gain their trust. The well-groomed person, dressed in expensive clothing, is making an effort to impress us with their success and social standing. Others have apparently showered them with money to be able to dress stylishly, so we should trust them too. It is a subtle signal (and it has always had the effect of influencing people) so it is a surprise to read that the apostles dressed in rags [1 Corinthians 4:11].

1 Corinthians 4:11

To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.


Does this suggest that Christians should deliberately be the opposite of the world and be unkempt and shabbily dressed? Not at all. Paul and the other apostles dressed in rags because they were poor. They were rich spiritually, but financially impoverished [2 Corinthians 6:4-10]. Dressing in rags should have made it harder for them to have their message accepted. But God wanted their power to come through the Holy Spirit, rather than through techniques of human persuasion [2 Corinthians 12:9].

2 Corinthians 6:4-10

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 12:9

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.


We should recognise another factor too: The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Under the Old Covenant, Aaron, the High Priest, was dressed in beautiful garments “to give him dignity and honour” [Exodus 28:2-5].

Exodus 28:2-5

Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor. Tell all the skilled men to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve Me as priest. These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve Me as priests. Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen.


Jesus is our High Priest in heaven [Hebrews 8:1-2] — and during His time on earth He dressed simply. The apostles, as we said before, dressed in rags.

Hebrews 8:1-2

We do have such a High Priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.


Why is there such a contrast between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

The Old Testament — also called the Law of Moses — pointed to spiritual truth and the coming of Jesus. The New Covenant, sealed by the blood of Jesus, brings us close to God and changes our focus to heavenly realities [Hebrews 10:1a]. The New Covenant in Jesus fulfills the types and shadows of the Old Covenant.

Hebrews 10:1a

The Law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves.


By way of further example, under the Old Covenant the priests had to burn incense [Exodus 30:7-8]. Under the New Covenant we learn that incense was only a type and shadow. Incense, in a Christian sense, is the prayers of God’s people [Revelation 5:8].

Exodus 30:7-8

“Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the LORD for the generations to come.”

Revelation 5:8

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.


So ... how should Christians dress for spiritual success?

Firstly, the Bible says that attractiveness should come not from outward adornment but from a quiet spirit [1 Peter 3:3-4].

1 Peter 3:3-4

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.


Secondly, we should recognise that God wants our power to come from Him – [1 Corinthians 4:20] – rather than through using the methods that secular people use to persuade and to influence.

1 Corinthians 4:20

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.


Thirdly, the New Testament tells us of three ways to dress for spiritual success, but they have nothing to do with real clothing. They are pictures – to help us get our minds around an appropriate spiritual response.

  1. Put on the Armour of God [Ephesians 6:10-17]

    This has to do with the daily decision to promote Truth (and Jesus is the Truth – John 14:6), personal righteousness, the gospel, God’s way of salvation and the life of faith.

    Ephesians 6:10-17

    Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

    John 14:6

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

  2. Clothe yourself with Christ [Romans 13:14]

    We represent Jesus. We should ask God for help to adopt the gentle manner of Jesus and to desire what He desires.

    Romans 13:14

    Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

  3. Be dressed in white linen [Revelation 19:7-8]

    Here is another example of earthly matter representing something spiritual — in this case, righteous acts, or acts of loving kindness, which is the proper response that Christians should have, as recipients of God’s gift of salvation [Galatians 5:6].

    Revelation 19:7-8

    Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!
    For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.
    Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
    (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

    Galatians 5:6

    For in Christ Jesus …the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.


Next time you listen to a preacher, make a conscious effort to look past the way the person is dressed — which should not particularly impress you — and let God’s Spirit speak to your heart.

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