“Beauty doesn’t come through outward efforts, but from an inward surrender to Christ.” In this episode Leslie further unfolds the vision for heavenly femininity in answering practical questions that every Christian woman has faced when she looks in the mirror. Learn how to steward your body and adorn your appearance with lasting beauty that grows more beautiful with time.
Leslie Ludy: Hi everyone! It’s Leslie Ludy, host of the Set Apart Girl Podcast, and today we’re going to continue our series on feminine beauty — specifically talking about in the area of physical beauty, what is our role?
In the last episode we talked about the truth about physical beauty, and we talked about that real, lasting beauty can only come from Jesus Christ. So once we understand that all true beauty — both inward and outward — comes from Jesus Christ, then a lot of times the question comes up, “How does God want us to steward the physical body that He’s given us?” And that is what we’re going to focus on in today’s episode.
I want to start by telling you a little of my own story, and how I walked through some of these confusing issues in my younger years. During my young adult years God completely transformed my perspective on physical beauty as I described in the previous episode. I was set free from obsessing over my appearance, and I was filled with the desire to simply reflect Jesus Christ rather than try to draw attention to my own beauty or appearance. But I still had a lot of questions on the practical side of this issue.
For instance, how much emphasis should I put on my outward appearance? Was it still okay to wear makeup and trendy clothing? Was it possible to be physically attractive in a God-honoring way? This was really confusing to me because I saw a lot of contradictory messages among Christian women that I observed.
First there were the conservative circles in which many Christian women that I saw seemed to have abandoned any effort towards physical beauty or style. They completely avoided makeup, kept their hairstyle maybe ten years out of date, and wore drab, unattractive clothing like the shapeless denim jumpers over the clunky white tennis shoes. I don’t really know where that look came from, but to be honest I think it’s really scared off more women from homeschooling their kids than even the fear of driving a 15 passenger van! That’s a little bit of a side tangent, but that was something that confused me when I was a young teenager because I thought, Well, is it more spiritual to dress that way, and is that why these women are doing that? It’s almost like they’re trying to cover up any form of physical beauty or grace, or elegance that they have? And thinking that that was more spiritual. So whether it was intentional or not, the women who acted this way and dressed this way seemed to sort of convey the message that being feminine and attractive was wrong and unspiritual.
Then in more liberal churches, women often seemed overdone with long, curvy fingernails, heavy makeup, gaudy jewelry, ponderous hairstyles — if you picture a televangelist’s wife, you’ll know what I’m talking about — and I saw women like that too in the church. These women seemed to be conveying the message that the more they were noticed and seen, the louder personal statement they made, the more they would somehow bring glory to God.
And then when it came to younger girls my own age I usually saw one of two extremes — girls who weren’t even trying and girls who had adopted more of a self-focused, sensuality that they got from the world around them. Maybe they had slightly higher modesty standards while they were at church at least, but they were basically reflecting the beauty values of the world around them.
So out of confusion and frustration, I really began to search the Scriptures and study historical women of the faith to try to find God’s pattern in this area. I began to realize and discover that the same God who created the loveliness of the sunset and the flowers also has a pattern for a woman’s physical beauty. And it’s one that is not self-promoting and sensual, and it’s also not drab and unattractive. Instead it reflects a Christ-centered loveliness that shines from the inside out. So let’s take a deeper look at that pattern.
Question No. 1: What is Our Role in Physical Beauty?
Leslie Ludy: The first question I want to get into is what is our role in physical beauty? It’s very 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. Like I mentioned before, I’ve known women who don’t give any attention to their outward appearance because they think it’s unspiritual to. But Scripture makes it clear that God gave 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 that, “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.” And the word “cherish” here means to foster with tender care, which is really the opposite of to ignore or disregard. In addition, in Proverbs 31 we see that the Virtuous Woman that is being described here makes coverings for herself, and her clothing is fine linen and purple. This is not a woman who is careless and sloppy with her wardrobe, she is one who proactively dresses in a lovely, feminine, beautiful way that reflects the heavenly dignity and strength that 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 so carefully and purposely adorned with beauty to reflect the splendor and the majesty of the God who was worshipped there. Now because of Christ’s work on the Cross the temple of God isn’t in a physical location, it’s in the physical bodies of those who have entered into a covenant with Jesus Christ. So that begs the question, why should we be thoughtless towards the appearance of God’s second temple when such intricate care and beauty was put into the appearance of the first temple?
It’s important to realize that in some situations it’s not going to be possible to dress in attractive clothing, to nurture our physical bodies, or even take care of our most basic personal needs — such as in cases of imprisonment for Christ, or maybe other extreme circumstances like the women that we talked about in the previous episode when they were suffering for Jesus Christ. But the key truth that we need to remember is this — if we’re unable to tend to our outward appearance it doesn’t exclude us from reflecting the beauty of heaven, because beauty doesn’t come from outward efforts but from inward surrender to Jesus Christ. Stewarding our physical appearance is not the source of our beauty, it’s merely one way in which we can show honor to God. But if He calls us to a situation in which we can no longer have the ability to tend to our outward appearance, then obedience is how we honor Him and bring glory to Him, and that kind of obedience always results in amazing, outward radiance despite the fact that our physical beauty may be stripped away.
Question No. 2: How Much is Too Much?
Leslie Ludy: The second question I would like to address is the question how much is too much? Because as we steward and tend the physical bodies that God has given us, it’s important to do it from only one motive — to honor Jesus Christ and reflect Him in this area of our lives. Too many Christians have used this “stewarding” concept as an excuse to become preoccupied with their physical appearance in a self-promoting way. I’ve known guys who spend all their free time at the gym lifting weights, and I’ve known girls who are obsessed with their beauty or fitness routines all under the banner of “taking care of God’s temple.” If our motive is to draw attention to self through any aspect of our physical appearance, then it’s a pretty sure sign that this area of our life has gotten out of balance.
Here’s a truth that we really cannot forget — when our motive is self-glory instead of Christ’s-glory it is impossible to reflect the beauty of heaven through our appearance. Scripture makes it so clear that we are not to become preoccupied with our outward beauty, or let it become the primary thing that people notice about us. It says in 1 Peter 3:3, “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…” 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).
So if we tend to our physical appearance but we fail to tend to our soul, then we become like the white-washed tombs that Jesus warned about in Matthew 23:27. He said, “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.”
If you’re wondering whether or not your priorities are straight in this area, here are some questions that can help you discern whether your physical appearance is really in its rightful place and honoring to God. Ask yourself these questions prayerfully before God:
- Am I seeking security in my appearance, or in Christ alone?
- Do I find myself thinking about my appearance and constantly comparing myself to others?
- In social situations, am I more preoccupied with how I look then with reaching out to those around me?
- Do I spend more time and energy tending to my physical body then I do to my relationship with Jesus Christ?
- Or if I’m in a situation where I don’t feel like I look my best, am I still able to smile and be outward-focused, or do I become more embarrassed and withdrawn?
- Do I fear growing older; am I afraid of age? Am I desperately trying to maintain the look of a certain age, rather than being content with the age that I am?
If God is showing you that your physical appearance has an unhealthy focus in your life, I encourage you to take some time to ask His forgiveness, and consider specific changes that He might be asking you to make. For example, He might be asking you to deliberately limit the amount of time you allow yourself to spend in front of the mirror each day, or choosing to pray for someone whenever you’re tempted to obsess over your appearance. If you submit this area of your life to Him, He will be faithful to gently refocus your heart and mind around His priorities.
Question No. 3: How Can We Cultivate Lasting Beauty?
Leslie Ludy: And the final question I want to address is how can we cultivate lasting beauty? Our culture places a very high value on a specific age in a woman’s life. Usually it’s the late teens or early twenties when a woman is supposedly the most beautiful that she’ll ever be. And as a result many women spend most of their lives trying to stay at that “magic age” through dieting, fitness, plastic surgery, beauty products, and whatever. But to be honest the most beautiful women that I’ve ever observed were really not young, slender women at the peak of their youthful charm. They were godly, older women who had spent their lives growing, “in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” as it says in 2 Peter 3:18. As the Christlike radiance of their soul deepened and matured they became more outwardly radiant as the years passed. So it’s the opposite of our culture’s mentality that beauty fades with time. In God’s pattern, as we build our life around Him, beauty grows more beautiful with time.
Proverbs 16:31 makes a statement that is actually the complete opposite of our cultural mindset on physical beauty. It says, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness” (NIV). And “crown of splendor” in this verse literally means “beautiful, fair, and glorious.” So even though 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.
So allow God to renew your perspective on beauty replacing those cultural lies with His heavenly truth. Pursue Him and not physical beauty. When you walk in 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 the beauty that does not fade and only grows more beautiful with time.
I love this picture of heavenly beauty 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 whether we’re in a palace.
Leslie Ludy: I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. For more on this topic please read the article, Reflecting His Radiance. I pray you have a blessed and Christ-centered week!