After disputes over worship music, possibly one of the most debated issues in conservative church culture is what should be worn to church. Are only suits for men and dresses for women acceptable? Are shorts too casual?
Before delving into an answer to such a question, a prior issues needs to be settled: What does it mean to be biblical? Does quoting a few Bible verses or appending a few references to an essay make something biblical? To be “biblical,” Christians must allow the Bible to speak for itself and allow the storyline of Scripture to unfold according to its own plot and structure. Merely cherry-picking Bible verses does not do justice to what Scripture really is: God’s very words telling story of redemption through Christ.
Scripture unfolds with four great “chapters”: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. The unfolding nature of the biblical drama is relevant to the application of Scriptural commands. Therefore, following what Scripture teaches about a certain topic or theme across the whole canon gives Christians the fullest meaning of the Bible. In this case, the theme of clothing can be traced out in all four “chapters” of the biblical storyline.
In the beginning, God created everything good. In fact, Adam and Eve were “naked and not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). There was no shame in nakedness because there was no sin. They would not shame each other over their bodies because there was only sinless, mutual delight in one another. Therefore, clothing was not necessary.
Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Thus sin and death entered into the world. When Adam and Eve sinned, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked” (Gen. 3:7a). In other words, they had moral awareness of what had happened. And they felt shame over their bodies because of sin. Adam and Eve attempted to sew clothes together to cover their nakedness (Gen. 3:7). The first attempt to make clothing was to cover over sin. Clothing, then, I think signifies the glory that was lost in the fall: “God ordains clothes to witness to the glory we have lost, and it is added rebellion to throw them off.”
Quickly after man’s rebellion, God steps in and provides a promise for redemption (Gen. 3:15). In a dramatic picture, God even slaughters an animal and provides clothing from the skin of an animal to replace humanity’s fig-leaves (Gen. 3:21). The significance of God’s action is twofold. First, it testifies that God, not man, provides redemption. Second, sacrifice is the means of redemption. From God’s action of clothing the man and the woman, I also see clothing as a picture of redemption. When we look around and see people dressed in clothes, it should point us to the fact that God has clothed us in perfect righteousness before His sight through the sacrifice of Christ.
At the Second Coming, all of God’s people are “clothed in fine linen, with and clean” (Rev. 19:14). Whether these clothes are literal or not is not germane to the discussion. What does matter is that the clothes picture the final and full forgiveness of sins, and the church standing before God without blemish or spot (cf. Eph. 5:27). So I think that when we see imperfect, stained clothing today, it points us to future glory which we will receive as the church on the Last Day.
So clothes signify three things: the glory humanity lost in the fall, the redemption which is provided in the sacrifice of Christ, and the future glory that the church will receive on the Last Day.
 John Piper, This Momentary Marriage (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009), 37.
One thought on “A Theology of Clothing”
Thanks Chris for a well thought out theology of clothing. We had a discussion about this at our Christmas party last night so I’ll pass along your blog. Found a typo on part 1 under consummation…I think you meant withOUT blemish…at least I’m hoping that’s the case for all our sakes :). Merry Christmas and keep writing!