What Does a Christian Look Like?

By David M. McNabb

There was a time, not too long ago, when you could not only see a Christian coming a mile away, but you could even tell which denomination they were from. At a glance, you could determine if someone was from the Assemblies of God, Church of God, or some other church.

Some Christian and quasi-Christian groups are still quite distinguishable: the Amish, with their characteristic beards, clothing, and lack of all things modern; their less conservative "cousins," the Mennonites, with their modest dress and prohibition on anything that they have determined to be too prideful, such as chrome; the United Pentecostal Church, a "Jesus-only" sect whose women have long hair and long dresses; Mormons, who claim to believe in Jesus, but are arguably not Christian, whose "missionaries" go from house to house in dark pants, backpacks, and white shirts with their typical black name tag on the left pocket that says "Elder so-and-so;" etc.

In contrast, "mainstream" Christianity has become nearly indistinguishable from the ungodly. At some point, the religious folk, who had previously been consumed with the idea that "the clothes make the Christian," decided that the outward appearance was irrelevant. Virtually everything was fair game. Not everything became acceptable at once, and not in all Christian circles, but, over time, the number of previously prohibited things that had become permissible has continued to grow. Now, whatever your style, there is a church, somewhere, where you will fit in.

That is not to say that the unbeliever should be shunned because of their appearance, but the Bible admonishes that the believer should be Christ's representative in every thing: conduct, speech, work ethic, appearance, etc.

Jesus confronted the Pharisees and scribes about their hypocrisy, as recorded in Matthew chapter 23. In verses 25-28, Jesus said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity."

Because of these words of our Lord, it is often promoted that God is not interested in outward appearances in the least, but only in the condition of the heart. Jesus clarifies His position in verse 23, ". . . these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."

God dedicated much of the Scriptures to how His people should act and look. Those who would have us believe that it is an outmoded faith that requires some outward expression deny the impact of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary on the life of the believer. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for having only an appearance of holiness. If one truly repents, and is converted, then is the heart made pure. The result, then, must indeed be a change in the lifestyle of the convert. The outer man cannot help but reveal the regenerated nature of the inner man.

So, where is the line between holiness and legalism? Is it out of line for a Bible-believing body of believers to instruct its people that God, while first considering the status of the heart, does indeed have a position with regards to our outward appearance?

Does God care how we dress? How would we know? Many Christians today like to say, "The Holy Ghost is my guide. If there's something I need to do, He'll tell me." True, the Holy Ghost is now given, and Jesus said that He would lead us into all truth. But where is the truth into which He will lead us? It is in the Bible, as Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17).

Jesus said that, when the Spirit of Truth is come, when He is guiding us into all truth, that " he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak" (John 16:13). Would the Spirit, while guiding Holy Ghost-filled believers along life's path, speak contrary to the word of God? God forbid! Especially since it is He that inspired men on the content of the Holy Scriptures. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works," "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16,17).

In our zeal to fulfill the "great commission" to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, we must be careful to do the rest of what our Lord commanded, and teach them to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded us. Furthermore, we must remember that the words of our Lord are not limited to what is printed in our Bibles in red ink, but encompasses all of the Scriptures from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21. He said it all. It is all true. It is all relevant to you and me today.

Does the Bible address the subject of clothing? What should we, as children of God, wear? To answer this, we must ask yet another question: what is clothing for?

Immediately after the account of the creation of man, in Genesis 2:25 we are given this piece of information, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." After that they had eaten of the forbidden fruit, "the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons" (Gen. 3:7). When Adam and Eve lost their innocence, having obtained the knowledge of good and evil, God did not have to tell them that they needed to be ashamed of their nakedness. This they knew instinctively. They looked at themselves, and decided that if they covered certain parts, it would be sufficient to hide their shame. Likewise, in modern times, people believe that a bikini swimsuit or spandex shorts are sufficient to satisfy the requirements of modesty. This is the syndrome mentioned to the church at Laodicea, in Rev. 3:17, "thou . . . knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."

God, however, felt that barely covering certain parts was simply not enough. The aprons they had made were not going to cut the mustard. So, in Gen 3:21, "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them."

Today, Christianity often gets caught up in the latest fashion fad, and simply goes with the flow. Mini-skirts, bearing as much of the leg as possible, and short shirts and low-rise jeans, bearing the midriff, are just a couple of examples of clothing that is intended to be provocative. The Bible deals with the evils of sensuality in great detail. In fact, there is very much said in God's word about sex, and all of its pitfalls when it occurs anywhere outside of the bonds of matrimony. All revealing clothing is a trick to draw the eye, and incite lust. Having achieved that goal, the inevitable progression is given in James 1:15, "Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." The devil uses clothing as a means to achieve his end, keeping mankind in slavery to sin. God has called upon us to dress modestly, that we, in no way, would cause one another to sin.

Some Christians teach that the Scriptures forbid the use of any jewelry, even going so far as to prohibit the wearing of wedding rings. No such blanket prohibition can be found in the Scriptures. Gifts of jewelry are mentioned in Scriptures for various reasons: to show political status (Gen. 41:42; Dan. 5:29), to show joy at someone's return (Luke 15:22), as a gift for a betrothal (Gen 24:22), etc. God, by the prophet Isaiah, declared that, as a result of their disobedience, He would remove His glory from their midst. He went on to tell them what would be a visible sign that He had removed their blessing, "In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, . . . The chains, and the bracelets, . . . and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, . . . and the earrings, The rings, and nose jewels, The changeable suits of apparel. . ." (Isa. 3:18-23).

Apparently, God was indeed concerned with the inner beauty of His people. Because they had become wicked, proud and perverse, God was going to cause the things that enhanced their outward beauty to be removed so their outer man would be in line with their inner being. So, too, is it with God's people today. Peter said, "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Pet. 3:1-4). Peter was not informing us that it is a sin to wear jewelry, to set our hair, or to wear fine clothing. What is meant here, is that our real beauty, that which will really affect others for Christ, is what is inside. Our true beauty is not what we wear, but who we are by the grace of God.

Of course, our outer appearance can certainly hamper our testimony, and we become less effective if we allow ourselves to do things, such as wear jewelry, to excess. We must always be aware or our own motives, and whether what we do, say and look like will advance or deter the cause of Christ.

As to the current trend to do what can only be described as mutilation, it is troubling that the Christian community has been shown to offer little resistence to it. Piercings in the tongue and face, tattoos, and other similar actions appear to go contrary to the Christian walk. The Lord said, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:28). Obviously, many who have had tattoos have later turned to God. Without enduring a painful procedure, they will have that permanent reminder of a part of their life before they received the great gift of eternal life. However, after having been delivered from the bondage of sin, we are called to be as Paul, who said, "From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Gal. 6:17). It is the righteousness of our risen Lord which should be prominently displayed in every aspect of our lives. In all things we must remain pure: unspotted from the world, and cleansed from all the filthiness of the flesh and spirit (James 1:7; 2 Cor. 7:1).

But the appearance of a true follower of Christ is not limited to what is put on the body. It also includes what is put in the body. True, Jesus said, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man" (Matt. 15:11). That does not, however, give the believer a free pass to overeat.

The word "sodomy" conveys all kinds of filthy, ungodly activities. It comes from the name of a wicked city, destroyed by God: Sodom. If you ask someone just exactly what Sodom's sin was, the response will frequently be "homosexuality." Although that was probably a particular problem in that city, the Bible indeed tells us what Sodom's sin was in Ezek. 16:49. "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy." While most Christians recognize the ill effects of alcohol, the sin of gluttony often gets a free pass. Solomon said, "Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way. Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags" (Prov. 23:19-21). Here the drunkard and the glutton are put together because they go together. Solomon said again, "Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!" (Eccl. 10:17).

Obesity in the United States has spread to epidemic proportions. Sodom's problems: pride, too much food, too much leisure time, and not enough caring for those in need. That could easily describe the state of not only the Union today, but also the state of many churches. The relatively few churches that still condemn sin and promote holiness often focus on the "big" sins: sexual misconduct, theft, murder. Meanwhile, even among the most ardent disciples of God's word, overeating is as widespread as among the heathen. God wants us to be healthy, and is more than willing to stretch out His healing hand to us, but He requires us to be good stewards of our body: the temple of the Holy Ghost. What a hindrance to the Gospel, when we, while trumpeting the benefits of temperance, allow ourselves this excess.

Historically, church leaders have hinged religion on a set of rules of conduct. It is necessary to know what the Lord wants us to do, and yet, religion - true religion - is not something you do, it is something you are. James said, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).

John Williams Jones, in his short article "The Character of Lee," described Gen. Robert E. Lee as "a Christian without hypocrisy." No greater testimony to our regenerate lives by the blood of Jesus could ever be imagined. If we are claiming that something is at work on us on the inside, and displaying a contradicting message on the outside, the ungodly will quickly recognize the hypocrisy, and reject our message. Meanwhile, we may also cause our brethren to stumble and fall.

What does a Christian look like? A Christian displays the love of Christ from within, and the life-changing, overcoming power of Christ without. A Christian is not subject to the capriciousness of passing fads, nor to the need for self-gratification. A true Christian pursues a godly path, with a godly attitude, being mindful of others, and behaving in, and displaying, the will of God in speech, dress and action. A true Christian does not limit God's involvement in his or her life to Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, but includes Him in every part of every day, and every decision.

"See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:15-17).

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