Reflecting His Radiance

Reflecting His Radiance

A Biblical Perspective on Physical Beauty

by Leslie Ludy | October 1, 2016

sat nervously among a small group of other teen girls, gazing at a gorgeous, slender blonde as she took her place at the front of the classroom.  “I think I saw her in a Cover Girl commercial,” my friend Stacy whispered to me in an awe-struck voice.  We stared enviously at the woman’s flawless skin, impeccable make-up, and ultra-chic clothing.  She was an instructor at an eight-week modeling course that we had signed up for; a program that promised to transform us from awkward, insecure teenagers into graceful beauties who would turn heads everywhere we went.

“Anyone can become a model,” she said, flashing a dazzling smile, “or at least look and act like one!”

I wanted to believe her words, but I was a bit dubious.  At fourteen, I spent the majority of my free time trying desperately to improve my appearance and wardrobe.  But despite my best efforts, I always felt far more like the ugly duckling than the beautiful swan.  I could never seem to land on my “personal style” or gain the magnetic confidence that the popular girls always seemed to have.

Going to modeling school, I’d been told, would be a great way to gain the beauty and style skills that would help me feel good about myself and gain respect from other people.  And besides, it would be a great boost for my music aspirations—teaching me how to pose for photo shoots and carry myself with the self-assurance that I needed in order to be successful as an up-and-coming artist.  (The fact that it might also help me gain more male attention did not escape my notice either, though I certainly didn’t voice this out loud to my parents when I was attempting to convince them that taking the course was a good idea.)

Looking at the picture-perfect woman who stood before us, I couldn’t imagine myself ever gaining that kind of breathtaking physical beauty or spot-on style.  Insecurity had plagued me for years.  When I looked in the mirror, my flaws and imperfections glared back at me relentlessly.  The reality was, my flaws and imperfections had become an obsession.  Everyday at school, I would study the features of other girls my age and wish that I had somehow been born with someone else’s hair, skin, face shape, or body type.

Over the following weeks, I was taught how to apply the latest make-up and skincare products, how to style my hair in a trendy way, how to eat right for maintaining my ideal weight, how to walk and stand with feminine poise, how to dress with the most up-to-date trends, how to look my best in photos, and even how to speak confidently in front of a television camera.

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Ironically, focusing on improving my physical beauty didn’t actually help me feel more beautiful.  Sure, I learned the “right” way to apply mascara and the colors of lipstick that looked best with my skin tone.  But there was always someone else to compare myself to—like our gorgeous teacher, or other girls in my class who seemed to have been blessed with amazing natural beauty, or photos of stunning models showcasing the newest popular “looks”.

As a result of the modeling course, I had a bit more beauty know-how, but I didn’t have the unshakable confidence I craved.  In fact, I spent two more miserable years wallowing in insecurity, despite the countless hours I spent on my clothing and appearance.

It wasn’t until I encountered Jesus Christ in a life-changing way that I began to realize I’d been looking to the wrong source for confidence and security.  As my soul drew near to Him in an intimate and personal way, I began to see that chasing after the unattainable standard of physical beauty promoted by our culture was like trying to find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow—it was nothing more than a fool’s errand.

The more I learned how to build my life around Jesus Christ and find my identity in Him, the more I was set free from my preoccupation with physical beauty.  The more I began to see things from His perspective, the more hollow the pursuit of outward allure became.

THE MORE I BEGAN TO SEE THINGS FROM HIS PERSPECTIVE,
THE MORE HOLLOW THE PURSUIT OF OUTWARD ALLURE BECAME.

I finally started to grasp the reality that “beauty is fleeting” as it says in Proverbs 31:30 (NIV).  “Fleeting” in this verse literally means “a vapor; a breath; something transitory and unsatisfactory.”  In other words, chasing after physical beauty was like chasing after the wind.

Hearing the words of a graphic designer who worked for a major clothing brand confirmed this truth:  “In real life, no model ever really looks like what you see in commercials or magazine ads,” he admitted.  “We take a normal looking woman, scan her image into the computer, and digitally change nearly everything about her appearance so she can look like a living Barbie doll.”

Even my picture-perfect modeling teacher had used artificial measures to achieve her head-turning beauty.  Plastic surgery, state of the art skin treatments, and extreme diets caused her to look the way she did.

Nothing about the sensual, alluring, turn-heads-on-the-street kind of beauty I had always longed for was real or lasting.  It couldn’t bring happiness or satisfaction.  And no matter what standard of physical beauty I might achieve, I would never actually “arrive”—there would always be someone more beautiful to compare myself to.

As I saw the hollowness of our culture’s version of physical beauty, my priorities completely changed.  My desire to be noticed for physical beauty was replaced by a desire to simply reflect Jesus Christ.  

Yet there were still many questions that remained in my heart.  As I was being shaped into a Christ-centered woman, how much emphasis should I place on my outward appearance?  Was it still okay to wear make-up and trendy clothing?  Was it possible to be physically attractive in a God-honoring way?

It was a confusing issue.  I looked to other Christian women for examples of how to navigate this area of my life.  Few appeared to have clear answers.  In conservative circles, many Christian women I observed seemed to have abandoned any effort toward physical beauty or style.  They avoided make-up, kept their hairstyle ten years out of date, and wore drab, unattractive clothing; such as shapeless denim jumpers over clunky white tennis shoes.  (I’m not exactly sure where this look originated, but I’ve been told that it has scared away more potential homeschoolers than perhaps any other roadblock, which I don’t doubt!)  Whether intentionally or not, the Christian women who dressed this way seemed to convey that being feminine and attractive was wrong and unspiritual.

In more liberal churches, the women often seemed overdone, with long curvy fingernails, heavy make-up, gaudy jewelry, and ponderous hairstyles (i.e. just imagine most televangelists’ wives and you’ll get the picture!).  Women who adorned themselves this way seemed to believe that the more they were noticed and seen, and the louder personal statement they made, the more they would bring glory to God.

And when it came to younger girls' beauty standards in Christian circles, I usually saw one of two extremes: those who weren’t even trying, and those who had adopted the self-focused sensuality of the world—with perhaps slightly higher modesty standards, at least while they were in church.

Out of frustration and confusion, I began to search the Scriptures and study historical women of the faith to search out a better way.  Surely, I reasoned, the same God who created the loveliness of the sunset and the flowers must also have a pattern for a woman’s physical beauty.

As I asked God to show me His perspective, I slowly gained a vision of His heavenly pattern for feminine beauty—one that is neither self-promoting and sensual, nor drab and unattractive, but instead reflects a Christ-centered loveliness that shines from the inside out. 

Any woman who has been transformed by Jesus Christ can exude this heavenly pattern for outward beauty—regardless of her age, body type, or specific physical traits.  Let’s take a deeper look at what God’s Word tells us about feminine beauty.

The Outward Evidence of an Inward Reality 

During World War II, a beautiful young woman named Darlene Deibler was captured by the Japanese while serving with her husband as a missionary in New Guinea.  She was separated from her husband and placed into a women’s work camp, where she lived in dirty, over-crowded barracks, doing hard labor in the hot tropical sun.  Her soft, fair skin became rough and weather-beaten.  Her slender body became ravaged by diseases such as dysentery and beriberi, which caused her legs to swell out of proportion, while the rest of her body shriveled into a gaunt, unnatural thinness.  One day, some young boys who also lived in labor camp shyly told Darlene that they thought she looked like a movie star.  “Thank you, boys,” she replied, tears welling in her eyes.  For months she had watched her physical beauty slowly melt away, but it blessed her to realize that others still saw beauty when they looked at her—and she knew it was the beauty of Jesus Christ.

Proverbs 31:25 says that a virtuous woman is “clothed with strength and dignity” (NIV).  The word “strength” in this verse means “supernatural valor” and the word “dignity” means “glory, beauty, and splendor.” These qualities cannot be obtained from any fitness routine, diet strategy, make-up technique or clothing trend.  They can come from no other source but Christ.  When a woman finds her satisfaction and joy in Jesus Christ, she reflects His breathtaking valor, glory, beauty, and splendor.  Others notice Him shining through her eyes, reflected in her smile, and radiating from her demeanor—no matter what may happen to her physical body.

I once heard about two young women in China who were disowned by their families because they gave their lives to Christ.  Without possessing anything but the clothes they wore, the girls traveled on foot from village to village, sharing their faith with anyone who would listen.  They slept in the woods and trusted God for every meal.  Though they had no ability to polish or maintain their outward appearance, people regularly came up to them and asked why their faces were glowing with radiant beauty.  “Whatever it is that makes your eyes and faces shine like that,” they were told, “we want it too.”

As these stories demonstrate, the source of all true beauty is not earthly, but heavenly.  Any beauty apart from Jesus Christ is hollow, vain, empty, and fleeting—nothing more than a mirage.  But beauty that flows from His life within us is world-changing and eternal.  Our outward appearance takes on the beauty of heaven as He transforms our soul into His likeness.  That is why women like Darlene Deibler and the two young women in China seemed so beautiful to others, despite the fact that their physical beauty was so significantly changed.

BEAUTY THAT FLOWS FROM HIS LIFE
WITHIN US IS WORLD-CHANGING AND ETERNAL

If you are struggling with insecurity about your outward appearance, the solution is far more simple than you realize.  Take your eyes off yourself, and turn your gaze to Jesus Christ.  Immerse yourself in His Word and His presence.  Become transfixed upon His beauty and splendor.  As you gaze upon Him, your outward appearance will reflect His radiance—just as Stephen’s face looked like the face of an angel as he gazed into heaven, and just as Moses had to put a veil over his face because it was so radiant after being in the presence of God (see Acts 6:15, 2 Corinthians 3:13).

Physical Beauty: Understanding Our Role

Once we understand that all true beauty—both inward and outward—comes from Jesus Christ, the next step is to understand how God wants us to steward the physical body He has given us.

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that since real beauty comes from Christ and not from worldly measures, that we should put no effort into our outward appearance.  Yet He gives us our earthly bodies not so that we can neglect or disregard them, but so that we can steward them for His glory.  Ephesians 5:29 tells us, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.”  The word “cherish” here means “to foster with tender care”—which is the opposite of “to ignore and disregard.”  Additionally, the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 dresses in clothing of "fine linen and purple” (31:22).  This is not a woman who is careless and sloppy with her wardrobe, but one who proactively dresses in lovely, feminine, beautiful clothes that reflect the heavenly dignity and strength God has given her.

1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit”.  In the Old Testament, God’s temple was carefully and purposefully adorned with beauty to reflect the splendor and majesty of the King who was worshiped there.  Now, because of Christ’s work on the Cross, the temple of God is no longer in a physical location.  Rather, it is in the physical bodies of those who have entered into a covenant with Jesus Christ.  Why should we be thoughtless toward the appearance of God’s second temple, when such intricate care and beauty was put into the appearance of the first temple?

Of course, in some situations it is not possible to dress in attractive clothing, to nurture our physical bodies, or even to take care of our most basic personal needs—such as in cases of imprisonment for Christ or in other extreme circumstances, such as those faced by the women we discussed earlier.  If we are unable to tend to our outward appearance, it certainly doesn’t exclude us from reflecting the beauty of heaven.  Why?  Because beauty does not come from outward efforts, but inward surrender to Christ.  Stewarding our physical appearance is not the source of our beauty; it is merely one way in which we can show honor to God.  But if He calls us to a situation in which we no longer have the ability to tend to our outward appearance, obedience is how we honor Him.  And like Darlene and the Chinese girls demonstrated, that kind of obedience results in incredible outward radiance—despite physical beauty being stripped away.

How Much is Too Much?

As we steward and tend to the physical bodies that God has given us, it’s important to do so from only one motive—to honor Jesus Christ and reflect Him in this area of our lives.  Too many Christians have used the “stewarding” concept as an excuse to become preoccupied with their physical appearance in a self-promoting way.  I’ve known many men who spend all their free time at the gym lifting weights and many women who are obsessed with their beauty or fitness routines, all in the name of “taking care of God’s temple.”  If our motive is to draw attention to self through any aspect of our physical appearance, then we can be sure that this area of our life has gotten out of balance.  When our motive is self-glory instead of Christ-glory, it is impossible to reflect the beauty of heaven through our appearance.

WHEN OUR MOTIVE IS SELF-GLORY INSTEAD OF
CHRIST-GLORY, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO REFLECT THE
BEAUTY OF HEAVEN THROUGH OUR APPEARANCE.

Scripture makes it very clear that we are not to become preoccupied with outward beauty nor let it become the primary thing that people notice about us:  “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart” (1 Pet. 3:3-4).  And Paul reminds us that “bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8, emphasis added).

If we tend to our physical appearance but fail to tend to our soul, then we become like the “white-washed tombs” that Jesus warned about in Matthew 23:27:  “Woe to you…hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” 

Here are some questions that can help you discern whether your physical appearance is truly in its rightful place:

Am I seeking security in my appearance, or in Christ alone?

Do I find myself often thinking about my appearance and constantly comparing myself to others?

In social situations, am I more preoccupied with how I look than with reaching out to those around me?

Do I spend more time and energy tending to my physical body than I do my relationship with Christ?

If I’m in a situation where I don’t feel I look my best, am I still able to smile and be outward-focused, or do I become embarrassed and withdrawn?

Do I fear growing older?  Am I desperately striving to maintain the look of a certain age, rather than being content with the age I am?

If God is showing you that your physical appearance has an unhealthy focus in your life, take some time to ask His forgiveness, and consider specific changes that He may be asking you to make.  For example—deliberately limiting the amount of time you allow yourself to spend in front of the mirror each day, or choosing to pray for someone whenever you are tempted to obsess over your appearance.  If you submit this area to Him, He will be faithful to gently refocus your heart and mind around His priorities.

Beauty That Grows More Beautiful

Some of the most beautiful women I’ve observed were not young, slender women at the peak of their youthful charm.  Rather, they were godly older women who had spent their lives “grow[ing] in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).  As the Christ-like radiance of their soul deepened and matured, they became more outwardly radiant as the years passed.

Proverbs 16:31 makes a statement that is completely opposite of our cultural mindset on physical beauty:  “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness” (NIV).  “Crown of splendor” in this verse means “beautiful, fair, and glorious.” While our culture insists that age diminishes our physical beauty, God says that age actually enhances it when we choose to walk the way of righteousness.  

Allow God to renew your perspective on beauty—replacing cultural lies with heavenly truth.  Pursue Him—not physical beauty.  When you walk the way of righteousness, physical beauty will be the natural result.  Not the culture’s idea of physical beauty, but heaven’s pattern for feminine loveliness: a radiant, Christ-reflecting woman who shines with a beauty that does not fade, and only grows more beautiful with time.

I love this picture of heavenly beauty found in Psalm 45:10-11:  “Listen, O daughter, Consider and incline your ear; Forget your own people also, and your father’s house; So the King will greatly desire your beauty; Because He is your Lord, worship Him.”  As we come away from the ways of this world and fix our gaze worshipfully upon Him, He adorns us with His beauty; a beauty that comes shining through our lives whether we are in a prison cell or a palace.

AS WE COME AWAY FROM THE WAYS OF THIS
WORLD AND FIX OUR GAZE WORSHIPFULLY
UPON HIM, HE ADORNS US WITH HIS BEAUTY

If you desire your life to shine with an unfading beauty that only grows more beautiful with time, this is the secret:  fix your eyes upon the Author of all true beauty.  When all is said and done and this world passes away, we will realize with absolute clarity that “charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting” (Prov. 31:30 NIV).  Out of all women, only those who fear the Lord will be beautiful for eternity.  May you and I be counted among them.