Do Clothes Make the Man or Woman?

By Mark D. Roberts

February 20, 2019

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-24


No doubt you’ve heard the saying, “Clothes make the man.” Many attribute it to Mark Twain. But in fact he inherited this saying from others, adding his own unique twist: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” You can find versions of “Clothes make the man,” minus Twain’s addition, in Shakespeare and the medieval Christian theologian, Erasmus.

Ephesians 4:22-24 does not say that clothes make the man or woman, but it does relate the notions of clothing to human life in a curious way. Verse 22 reads, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self . . . .” A more literal translation would be, “[You were taught] to take off your old human being [anthropos in Greek].” Then, verse 24 says that you were taught “to put on the new human being [anthropos] created to be like God. . . .”

According to the metaphorical language of this passage, clothes don’t make a man or woman. Rather, it’s almost as if clothes are the man or woman. Ephesians 4:22-24 shows that new believers in Christ were taught to take off, not their literal clothes, but their old human being, their old self, their old way of living. But they weren’t to remain unclothed in some spiritually naked state. Rather, they were taught to put on the new human being as they might put on a new suit of clothes. (At the moment, I am skipping over the middle part about being made new. I’ll pick that up later.)

In the next few days, I’d like to examine this passage more closely. For now, it’s worth observing that, as we have seen before, Christian living is not merely a matter of adding something new to your pre-Christian way of life. You don’t just put on church attendance, Bible study, and the doing of good deeds over your otherwise intact lifestyle garment. Rather, Christian living involves a radical putting off of your old human being, your old self, your old behavior. Then, you put on a whole new human being, a new self, a new way of being, thinking, and living.

So, your literal clothes don’t make you what you are. Rather, Christ makes you who you are as you respond to him fully, getting taking off the clothes of your old self and putting on the clothes of your new self in him.

Something to Think About:

Have you experienced being a Christian as a matter of taking off and putting on? In what ways? If not, why not?

Are there ways in which you still need to put off what is old in your life?

Are there ways in which you need to put on who you are in Christ?

Something to Do:

Take some time to reflect on the first question above, perhaps writing in your journal or talking it over with a trusted confidant. Thank the Lord for his help in putting off your old self and putting on your new self.


Gracious God, as I consider my life, I can think of ways I have put off the old self and put on the new. Thank you for the grace that has enabled me to do this.

Yet, Lord, I also realize that there is more to be done. I cherish elements of my old self like a comfortable pair of old shoes. And there are parts of my new self that I have yet to put on with regularity. So, I pray, help me to be the new person you have created me in Christ to be. Amen.

Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Don’t Buy This Jacket

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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