From Eden’s garden in Genesis to the eternal state in Revelation, there are many interesting mentions of clothing in the Bible’s narrative. Most refer to the physical clothing worn by the colorful characters of Scripture, their clothing often playing an important role in the story (e.g., Joseph). But the Bible also uses clothing as metaphor, either of our sinfulness (Isa 64:6) or our holiness (Rev 3:4). For a believer, clothing provides a helpful illustration for understanding the true nature of holiness in our lives and how we display it practically before God and other people.
Let’s answer some common questions often asked about physical clothing that might help us understand the spiritual clothing we wear and the holiness it displays.
What Should I Wear? – The Permanent Clothing God Provides
This question usually arises when preparing for school, work or an assembly meeting. It is important to be dressed appropriately for the occasion.
“What should I wear?” is also a good way to frame the ultimate question of my spiritual condition before God. Thankfully, in salvation, besides forgiveness, regeneration, deliverance from judgment, and countless other blessings, God has made us holy, clothing us with the garment of salvation (Isa 61:10). This is pictured in some familiar scenes throughout the Bible. Remember how Adam and Eve were given “coats of skin” provided by the Lord (Gen 3:21)? In the NT, the Lord Jesus told of the repentant son’s receiving the “best robe” from his father (Luk 15:22). Paul expounds this truth by teaching that at conversion, while very few of us realized it, we “put on the new man” (Eph 4:24) and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14). Holiness, we might say, is now the spiritual clothing we wear. It is a permanent, perfect garment that never gets defiled or wears out or goes out of style!
Does It Fit? – The Perfecting Clothing We Possess
Besides wearing the right type of clothing, the right fit is also essential.
Perhaps another way to consider our permanent garment of salvation is that it is perfectly “fitted” for our spiritual need. While it completely meets, in a general way, the condition we all have as sinners, it also, in a very personal way, is “tailor made” to meet our need as individuals. Salvation, in this sense, is not “one size fits all.” It specifically deals with all the unique and complicated ways in which sin has affected each of our hearts, minds, emotions, personalities and lives. Some of these issues may well take a lifetime to be fully exposed and dealt with practically, but salvation is perfectly and individually “fitted” to help each of us in this process.
How Do I Look? – The Practical Clothing We Present
Depending on who’s asking (and answering), great care must be taken in responding to this loaded question. It’s good sometimes, though, to get another opinion about the clothes we’re wearing because they reflect what we think about ourselves and affect our presentation to others.
The Bible also uses the same analogy of wearing clothing to teach us about the practical display of holiness in our attitudes and behavior. It focuses on our personal responsibility and will require two opposite and necessary actions.
Paul, as well as Peter, James and the writer of Hebrews, uses “put off” or “put away” not only to describe what God has done for us at conversion but also what we, as believers, should do now to divest our lives of all that is unholy. It’s not pleasant to consider but it is needful. Paul, speaking to Christians in Romans 13:12, refers to “works of darkness”; in verse 13, he further details that phrase as being sexual immorality, fleshly vices, fighting and jealousy. In Ephesians 4:22, he tells believers they have “put off [their] old self” at conversion, but now they must put away lying, stealing and corrupt talk (vv25-31). In Hebrews, perhaps thinking of the clothes of an ancient Olympic runner, the writer exhorts, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Heb 12:1). James concurs forcefully, commanding us to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness” (1:21). Finally, Peter lists our “old clothes” carefully and comprehensively as “all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1Pe 2:1). These are “clothes” the Christian should not be wearing, all the passages stressing the direct action that is needed to put off these “garments,” which are the antithesis of holiness.
Thankfully, the Bible emphasizes the positive and gives clear instruction throughout as to what we must “put on.” In Colossians 3, Paul delineates various inward attitudes to “wear”: “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (v12). These will inevitably express themselves in our actions in the form of “bearing with one another” (v13), “forgiving each other” (v13), and finally, “above all these put on love” (v14). He summarizes by saying, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v17).
There is a complete wardrobe of holy attitudes and actions ready for us to “wear,” which we must put on each day.
Why Do I Need to Wear It? – The Protective Clothing that Preserves
This might be the question of a child as mom insists that he or she must wear a coat on a cold or rainy day. They see it as an encumbrance, but mom knows it is for their protection.
If you will allow, perhaps another type of “clothing” that is used in a symbolic sense in Scripture is that of “armor.” It reminds us of another vital aspect of a Christian’s clothing, specifically designed for our spiritual protection and holiness. Paul first refers to it as “the armor of light” in Romans 13 and then describes the panoply in Ephesians 6 as “the whole armor of God” (v11), which is necessary for our survival in testimony. These various pieces of armor (especially the breastplate of righteousness) might be appropriately described as “armor of holiness” as well. They serve to protect us from the forces that are arrayed against the believer in this hostile world.
What I wear literally and spiritually matters. In salvation, God has given us a permanent “garment” of holiness that we can never defile. But each day there is a “wardrobe” of practical and protective holiness for every believer to “wear” for the glory of God, for an example to my fellow saints, for a testimony to a sinful world, and for my own preservation.
 Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.