Clothed and Unashamed: A Theology of Clothing

By Cade Campbell

Earlier this week Amy and I drove into town to pick up some new winter clothes – some sweaters and jackets. A few things in our closets have gotten worn and tattered so we needed to replace them. So we went shopping. After nearly six years of living north of the Ohio River, I’m still not adjusted to or prepared for the winters. It gets much colder here than it does in south Mississippi! But we do what we can, and part of doing what we can includes making sure our wardrobe is ready for the cold, making sure our closets have enough scarves and gloves and boots.

As I was sorting through my winter clothes in my closet I was reminded again how important our clothing choices are. It really does matter what we wear. We’ve heard that “the clothes make the man,” and while we may not fully buy into that, we do want to dress appropriately. Whether we’re dressing in a ballroom gown, trying to present ourselves as hipster, or just trying to convince ourselves that Doctor Who was right about bowties being cool, deep down we know that the clothes we wear make a statement about the person wearing them. And the clothes we wear keep us alive. We don’t want to be stuck outside too long in a t-shirt, flip-flops, and Chubbies if there’s a blizzard outside. A person may endure a brief polar plunge, but some warm clothes are going to be needed if that plunge isn’t going to be permanent. Our clothing has consequences.

And the Bible agrees.

We might not think of the Bible as a book about fashion, or a book with an underlying theme of “best and worst dressed.” It’s certainly a long way from a Land’s End catalog, but it does spend a large amount of time considering what we wear. The Bible implies that the very fact that we wear clothes reveals far more about us than our personalities or the current season. Clothes are a wholly theological affair:

The Bible begins in the shade of a fertile, tropical rainforest. Eden is the sanctuary of God on earth and the home of God’s vice-regents of his new creation. It is the base of operations for his cosmic enterprise to fill the earth with images of himself. Adam and Eve, the first humans, thrive in this environment. It’s where they belong. It’s where they are most themselves, and the Bible describes this innocent kingdom by describing them as “naked and unashamed.”

We read that statement and nervously pull at our collars. What on earth does that mean? We’re not comfortable thinking of Eden as the original nudist colony. So what’s so significant about the fact that they were “naked and unashamed?”

Well, the significance is profound. These two humans, the only created beings shining forth the image of God to the cosmos, were wholly satisfied as creatures living in relationship with God. It’s not merely that their bodies were perfect. Nor is it simply that they didn’t know any better. The fact that they lived innocently without clothes reveals the startling truth that there was nothing, literally nothing, between them and God and between them and one another. They were in such a perfect union as a married couple and as the friends of God that nothing else mattered or could matter.

But then things changed.

Adam and Eve got trapped in an early morning conversation with a cobra. They took the unholy initiative to transgress God’s command and assume God’s authority. They ate the fruit that was poisoned with the serpent’s lies, and suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, they knew, deep down they knew that something had gone really wrong. In one horrible moment they had become the original cast members for Naked and Afraid.

Up until that time their skin had only felt the warmth of each other’s touch and the perfumed coolness of Eden’s breezes. Now it seemed the snake had breathed a frostbitten front through creation. They felt a chill. They stepped back from one another, dropping each other’s hand from their embrace. They suddenly felt panicked, trapped, exposed, ashamed, dirtied, and destitute. In that moment they realized that their nakedness was only as good as their obedience to God, and now their obedience to God was a train wreck. Now they no longer liked what they saw in each other or in their own reflection. So they had to run. They had to hide. They had to cover their shame. They were no longer the perfect royal family of God’s earthly kingdom. Now they were fugitives.

So now they had to find something to wear.

So they did. They hid from God and from one another in the tall grassy thickets growing on the edge of Eden. They sewed fig leaves into pajamas. They tried to cope. But their attempt at coping was really pathetic. Their fig-leaf PJ’s couldn’t relieve their guilt. Neither could their backwoods hideout conceal them from God. He knew where they were, and in the most amazing act since the first moment of creation, the creator called out to the creature-convicts. They fearfully crept out from the bushes, caught red-handed with fruit stains still on their lips and fig-leaf robes barely covering anything.

In that moment God could have struck them dead. He could have wiped their memory from creation and begun again with another lump of muddy clay. He could have, but he didn’t. Instead he gave them mercy. As they began their exile out of Eden into the thorny wildernesses of the world, he took fur-robe skins and provided them their first real set of clothes to cover their nakedness. He could have exposed them for the little nightmares they were. Instead, in love he covered them in grace (Genesis 3:21 ).

The rest of the Bible tells the story of how this good God continues to cover the sins of his beloved and continues to clothe them in the remarkable wardrobe of the gospel. Jacob presents his beloved son Joseph with a robe of many colors (Genesis 37:3 ) that is stained with blood as he is swept off to Egypt, only to be turned into garments of fine linen that Pharaoh clothes Joseph in after he is released from prison (Genesis 41:42 ). We sing with David the truth that God removes our tattered sackcloth and clothes us with gladness (Psalm 30:11 ). We watch Isaiah rejoice because God has clothed him with the garments of salvation (Isaiah 61:10 ).

Then the unthinkable happens. The divine tailor, the one who clothes himself in glory and clothes his people in grace, steps into the story and instead of wrapping himself in unapproachable light, he wraps himself in swaddling clothes. He grows, and he teaches, and he tells us what God is like.

Jesus tells us about a prodigal son covered in pig-sty manure-mud who is embraced by the loving Father, who then covers his son’s shame by giving him his golden signet ring and clothing him in his best robe, his robe. So the bankrupt prodigal walked home wearing the ring of the heir and the robe of the master of the house (Luke 15:21-23 ).

Jesus warns us about the danger of entering into a marriage feast without the needed attire (Matthew 22:11-14 ), expressing the very real importance of being clothed for the occasion.
Jesus confronts a demon-possessed man who was known for three things: his uncontrollable madness, his graveyard home, and his constant nakedness. Then he meets Jesus. The demon is cast out. The man is healed, and we’re told that the townspeople come out and see the amazing sight of the formerly insane and naked-necrophiliac sitting by the edge of the sea at the feet of Jesus, outside the tombs, very much alive, and miraculously “clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35 ). The God of Eden was still walking in the cool of the day and clothing the shame of forgiven fugitives.

Then he does the most amazing thing of all. He goes to a cross. He becomes the curse. He embraces our shame. He covers himself in our own sinful nudity. In one dark and horrific moment this God who clothes fugitives is taken as a prisoner himself. He is mocked. He is wrapped in a scarlet robe and offered false-worship. A thorny diadem is placed on his brow (Mark 15:17 ), and then he is taken to Golgotha, and there he is stripped naked, exposed to all the world, suspended between heaven and earth, stapled to a tree to die.

And the executioners crouched at the foot of the cross with the naked God above them, casting lots to divide his clothes between them (Luke 23:34 ).

And it is in this one moment, this shocking and horrific moment, that God, by wearing our shame and nakedness, secures the unending life of his people in his presence, clothed in him forever. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, believers are clothed with the Spirit (Luke 24:49 ) and are the guaranteed heirs who are assured of walking into the heavenly mansion, a ragtag group of prodigals all wearing a shiny signet ring and a brand new robe of royalty.

That is the hope of the gospel, the great joy of the wardrobe of grace. The work of God is and always has been to clothe his children, to usher us into a new garden, another Eden, an Eden shining and shimmering with the glory of Christ, a world where we will not be “naked and unashamed,” but as living, breathing, displays of his suffering’s victory, we will be a people who stand clothed in Christ, “clothed and unashamed.”

So the storyline of the Bible begins with the tattered attempt to sew a wardrobe out of our own efforts, to piece together fig leaves to undo the damage that we’d done. But the story of the Bible ends (and then truly begins) with sons and daughters of Adam and Eve living in paradise again, fully in the presence of God, and reigning forever in the wardrobe of redemption. The book of Revelation describes the redeemed who live into eternity as those who are “clothed in white garments” whose names will never be blotted out from the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5 ), because they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14 ).

We will truly sing into the ages, living the never ending reality of the song we sing now on earth…

“When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.”

In Jesus Christ, his children will always be dressed best, for we will always be dressed in him.

You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.

Cade Campbell, a native of south Mississippi,  is Associate Pastor for Preaching and Discipleship at First Baptist Church Henryville, Indiana. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCadeCampbell.


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