“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” ~Jesus
“Tuck your shirttail in boy! And you better get back in that bathroom and part your hair! Ain’t no grandchild of mine going to the house of the Lord looking like a heathen.”
And so it began. From the time I was just a child, religion was already being beat into my innocent head with a hammer. Grandpa was a preacher, “So I better listen.” I would never talk back, a couple back-hands to the face stopped that idea even before I learned how to write my name. Not only that, but when I didn’t listen, I knew I’d have to go somewhere and hide because his hand was like a rock. He even bragged on how hard it was.
I always dreamed of running away, and one time I even did. Which, my quest for freedom didn’t last long because I got hungry and didn’t know what to do with my time. Hiding behind the bushes at school and walking through the neighborhood only lasted for so long. Mom and Grandpa didn’t even notice that I had run away, thankfully.
This was the mid-1980s, when Grandpa still had his thumb on every part of my mom’s life. She was young herself, in her early 20s. Mom hadn’t yet fallen off the deep end with her addictions, so she had full custody of us. We lived with my grandpa while Mom and Dad battled it out in the court system to see who would be awarded five kids. I hated living with Grandpa, and I missed my dad severely. This angry old man was stiff, cold, and a royal you-know-what. The beatings that came by way of a “godly man,” my own grandfather, was something I always felt the rest of the day. It was wrong what he did to us.
As time went on, my defense mechanisms to overbearing religious people grew in aggression. Through this man, Satan had warped my mind in regard to just how loving my Heavenly Father really is. I had a lot to unlearn. When I was little, if I showed up at Grandpa’s church with something wrong with my outfit, I’d be quickly grabbed by the ear and pulled into the back hallway for a fast butt-beating.
“I told you to change that shirt! C’mere! Don’t pull away from me or you’ll get it worse!”
I hated church. I hated religion. I hated everything that had to do with Sunday and dressing up. I was experiencing severe religious abuse, and my feelings were justified. The devil loved what my grandfather was doing to me. Lucifer and his demons got a sick thrill from the misrepresentation of God through this abusive preacher-man. The enemy starts out in our lives at a young age–some of us, even in the womb. His goals are to steal, kill, and destroy (see John 10:10). That includes the confidence of children and their idea of God.
Unfortunately, this happens to countless people all throughout the world, every single day. It’s no wonder Christians have such a bad rap, it’s because of those who are supposed to be representing God’s unconditional love–yet, they don’t. Instead, they represent legalism, bitterness, conservatism, and fear-mongering. God couldn’t care less about what you wear on any day, He’s concerned with your heart! Does He live there or doesn’t He?! Does He have the green light to live through you, or doesn’t He?!
“Yeah right, Matt! We are supposed to represent God in His house! We are supposed to look nice!”
Really? This facade of “looking right” on the outside began a long, long time ago. So long, even Jesus addressed it. Let’s see what He had to say about getting all cleaned up, on the outside:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27)
That’s a burn if I ever heard one. “You’re beautiful on the outside but on the inside you’re dead.” Wow.
Friend, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t dress nice. If you want to put on a 3-piece suit or a pretty dress, go right ahead. I’m sure God thinks you look great! I’m sure I’d think you look great. But what about the inside? Is it beautiful in there too? Is it handsome in there too?…This is what matters most to our Creator. Does the inside match up with the outside, and vise versa?
On the flip side, if you have God living in you and you want to wear a wrinkled shirt and have messy hair, you are beautiful and handsome too! God likes your style! So when old Betty Blue Hair makes a rude comment about your get-up, don’t go off on her and then call her an old goat. That will never match up with who you are inside. You are patient, kind, and loving. You are not quick to get angry (see 1 Corinthians 13, James 1:19).
The wise thing to do would be to kindly confront this Pharisee woman. Look her in the eye, be confident, and say, “Listen, I want you to know that when you make crude comments about my clothes and hairstyle it makes me resent you. I don’t want to do that because I’m not a resentful person. Further, I like how I look, so please keep your comments to yourself, okay? Thank you.” and then walk away. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. You didn’t let that stuff bottle up, and you didn’t have a come-apart. You confronted a person in a healthy way. Bravo! This type of thing makes God proud!
And do you see how the Holy Spirit worked through you? You didn’t flip out and then have to go back and apologize, but instead, you got your point across in a firm way. This is the good plan God has set for us in all of our difficult relationships–which is simply showing love and respect for people and for ourselves!
So today, my friends, know this: God is concerned about your heart, not your outfit. God is concerned about you growing spiritual fruit, not your blouse. God would rather you wear a black garbage bag for the rest of your life bag–and He live in you–than He would you only wear Armani suits, and He doesn’t. There is nothing wrong with a suit! There is nothing wrong with a nice dress! Wear whatever you want! But while doing so, begin to realize that you are already dressed up perfectly, because you are already wearing Jesus Christ!
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you for teaching me that I am the House of the Lord, and that I can wear whatever threads I please. For so long I believed that what I wore made me holy, but that’s 100% incorrect. We can dress up a team of monkeys in little mini-suits and dresses and sit them on the front row at church, that still wouldn’t make them holy. Only faith in Christ can do this! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of them have been hurt by whitewashed tomb people. The self-centered legalists have misrepresented you so drastically, these dear readers think you’re mad at them because of their style. Please reveal the truth! You’re not! You’re not even disappointed! All of our disappointments to you were taken care of at the Cross! YOU ARE PROUD OF US! WE ARE YOUR MASTERPIECES! And Dad, please help these brothers and sisters of mine to forgive those who’ve hurt them. Help me too. Yes, I’ve made the decision TO forgive, and Grandpa is dead, but I still have hurt feelings. Help me with my feelings. Please, strengthen all of us with your grace as we choose to forgive those who don’t deserve it–just like Jesus did for us. In His name I pray, amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 3. Get your copy here!