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Nonconformity in Appearance

(Genesis 3:7,21; Numbers 15:37-40; Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 1:14,15; 1 Timothy 2:9,10; 1 Peter 3:1-4)

Lesson 12 -- second quarter 2001
May 20, 2001

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2001, Christian Light Publications

Which should come first?

I have met plenty of people who bristle, squirm or get defensive when the subject of outward nonconformity comes up. Some of them try to "get off the hook" by asking questions such as this: "Which should come first, the outer expression or the inner conviction?" They seem to think they can "win" no matter what answer they get. If you tell them the outer expression should come first, they inform you such a view encourages and supports hypocrisy. If you tell them the inner conviction must come first, they let you know God hasn't given them such a conviction. Either way, they feel they don't need to practice nonconformity of appearance.

Is there then no right answer to the question?

I suggest answering their question with a couple of questions: "Regardless of which of those comes first, does God want His people to look like the world? What does the Bible say about the matter?" I expect that most committed Christians will know intuitively that the answer to the first question is negative. They may need some help with answering the second question. (That's where you come in; are you ready?!)

Once you agree that God doesn't want His people to look like the world, you have agreed that God does want His people to be nonconformed in appearance. Then you are finally ready to answer the original question: "Obedience should come first." Ideally, we want obedience in appearance to result from conviction. However, if you belong to a family or a congregation that requires nonconformed dress, then you obey even if you don't have the conviction. That is not hypocrisy, unless you pretend you have the conviction to go with it.

Principles to guide our dressing

The issue of how the believer should dress can raise plenty of questions...as well as hackles. I'm not too concerned about the hackles. The questions definitely interest me, especially as they concern principles that guide our choices regarding personal appearance. Here are several principles to help us:

Message. Many who resist nonconformity protest that we shouldn't be reactive and negative. In other words, we shouldn't react to how the world looks by trying to do the opposite. Guess what? I agree! Just because the world's shirt collars have the pointy things aimed down the front doesn't mean I'll seek nonconformity by having my wife put them on the back and aimed skyward. Unless I know the world's collar type has an ungodly message or motivation, I do not think it is a nonconformity issue. However, I think that dresses with a waist seam that has a pronounced downward point in the middle do have an ungodly message and/or motivation and should be rejected as a pattern.

Simplicity. Personally, I like the moderate use of lace, I enjoy embroidered designs on garments, and I "get a kick" out of the shock effect of a glaring shirt. But I have chosen to avoid these things in our family because I believe they violate the principle of nonconformed simplicity. It seems to me that simplicity has to do with attractive functionality that does not seek to satisfy the ego and glorify self.

Modesty. God forbid we should want to dress immodestly. But we can get careless, even in our simple clothing. "Plain" trousers that fit tightly fail the nonconformity test. Even a cape dress can be made too snug here and there, accenting what God intends to be hidden. Always choose modesty!

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