“And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God'” (Genesis 35:2-3 NKJV).
Many today insist that they not be judged on the basis of appearance. Clothing is, in their view, unimportant, and they should not be evaluated on the basis of wardrobe, hair style, or other cosmetic and physical factors.
Although there is much undeniable truth in some of these assertions, it also remains true that one’s outer appearance often makes a defining statement. When in south Asia I sometimes wear clothing traditional to those cultures. On one occasion a local worker saw me in such a garment and, surprised, asked, “Are you a Muslim?” I had not previously been aware that in that particular region the clothing I was wearing was identified with the Islamic population.
I saw an interview once where a person was called a “biker.” She was quick to respond, “I am a cyclist, not a biker; bikers wear leather – cyclists wear spandex.” The difference between those who ride motorcycles and perhaps belong to gangs and those who ride bicycles is far broader than just their clothes, but one may often tell to which group a stranger belongs by observing his or her clothing.
In Genesis 35 God has called Jacob to return to a place where he had once appeared in a vision; a place Jacob named Bethel, meaning “House of God.” In preparation for worshipping God, Jacob required his family to do three things: put away all idols; undergo ritual purification; and change their clothes.
Perhaps the clothing Jacob’s wives and children were wearing were simply worn and soiled and he wanted them to be clean and at their best before God. More likely in my view however is that they were wearing things associated with their idols. Perhaps they had religious designs on them. Whatever the reason, Jacob wanted them dressed appropriately for their journey.
In the New Testament there is relatively little said about Christian dress. James makes it clear that humble, even dirty, clothing does not disqualify one from God’s assembly and fine clothing does not make one more acceptable (James 2:1-9).
One of the most detailed discussions of dress is that of 1 Timothy 2:9-10. “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.”
The Christian woman (and this principle applies equally to men – 1 Timothy 6:11) is to be defined not by the fashions she wears but by the things that she does and the character she displays. One’s outer appearance may testify to pride, greed, and the desire to be noticed. Christians should shun such motives and seek humility (James 4:7-10).
One of the first and most basic requirements of Christianity is repentance (Luke 13:3, 5). Among other things, to repent is simply to change. One must change one’s beliefs, one’s attitudes, and one’s actions (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:17-24). Such changes will inevitably lead us to change our outer appearance – and our clothing – as well.