10 Truths Taught by the Clothing Metaphor in Scripture

A metaphor is used to illustrate unfamiliar ideas through the means of familiar objects and Scripture often uses the common object of clothing as a picture of man’s standing before God. There are scores of instances where Scripture uses the metaphor of clothing in order to picture one’s standing before God. We find instances of no clothing, of soiled clothing, of clothing changes, of clothing being washed, and of clean clothing – all in support of the metaphor of clothing as a picture of one’s right to stand before God. In this article, we are going to take a deeper look and summarize the many important spiritual truths that are taught through the use of this metaphor.  

First, as has been demonstrated, these garments show one’s standing before God, but they can be more precisely identified as picturing one’s righteousness or lack thereof. The pure, white garment represents a man’s righteousness while a soiled or missing garment is a metaphor for a lack of righteousness and any being who wishes to have a relationship with God must be clothed in the former, i.e. they must be righteous. Consider this statement found in Isaiah 61:10 (in addition to the host of passages offered in our last article on this subject):

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Throughout the entire context of this chapter in Isaiah, the prophet is rejoicing and reciting the blessings that are going to come to the covenant people of God. It is clear that the Church is the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy as the allusions found throughout the passage are undeniable: the people have the Holy Spirit, they have liberty, they are priests, they will be known among the nations, etc. The point is that God has clothed His people (the Church) in a garment that enables them to be in covenant with God. This garment is called a “robe of righteousness.” Further support for this assertion can be found in mentions of the “breastplate of righteousness” in Isaiah 59:17 and Ephesians 6:14.

It is important to point out that the following is not a complete systematic theology of righteousness, because to do that we would have to consider all of the biblical instruction on the topic. There are other metaphors, figures of speech, principles, precepts and paradigms that teach us all that we need to know about the subject. These ten truths are only those which are taught through the use of the garment metaphor. For instance, the truth that one is made righteous through faith alone is found in several biblical texts (i.e. Romans 3:22-25, Ephesians 2:8,9) but, it is not the garment metaphor that is used to teach this particular truth. Therefore, here are ten truths about our righteousness that are taught by the use of the clothing metaphor:

  1. Righteousness only comes by way of atonement. (Genesis 3:21, Revelation 7:14)
  2. God only makes covenant with those who are righteous. (Exodus 19:10-14; Ezekiel 16:8)
  3. Only those who are righteous can dwell in God’s presence. (Zechariah 3:7; Revelation 7:9, 22:14)
  4. Not only does righteousness come only through atonement, but under the New Covenant, righteousness only comes through Christ’s death. (Revelation 7:13-14; 22:14)
  5. Righteousness is necessary for salvation. (Isaiah 61:10; Matthew 22:11-14; Revelation 19:7-8)
  6. Righteousness is a part of our protection. (Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:14)
  7. Our righteousness can be stained, soiled or defiled. (Zechariah 3:7; Malachi 2:16; 2 Peter 2:20; James 5:2; Jude 23; Revelation 3:4)
  8. Our righteousness can be removed. (2 Corinthians 5:3-4, 10; Jude 23; Revelation 16:15)
  9. Only those who persevere in righteousness will enter glorification. (Ephesians 5:27; 2 Peter 3:14; Jude 23; Revelation 3:5, 19:8)
  10. Our righteousness will be a permanent, present reality in heaven. (Revelation 4:4, 6:11, 7:9, 7:13-14, 14:12, 19:6, 22:14)

Once we have entered into a righteous state via faith, the garment metaphor demonstrates that we are then obligated and empowered to persevere in righteousness in order to obtain eternal life. Our right standing before God, our garment of righteousness is a gracious gift that cannot be earned, but the deeds which follow can defile that garment or leave it incomplete (Revelation 3:2). This is why Paul told the Corinthians that they did not want to be “found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:3-4) and why the believers in Sardis are called to keep their garments clean (Revelation 3:4-5). Christ told the church in Laodicea to repent and clothe themselves in white (Revelation 3:17-18). It is also clear that the righteousness represented by clothing is not an “entity” or a “quality” so much as it is a way of life. Revelation 19:3-8 explicitly states that the linen of the white garments in heaven is made from the “righteous deeds of the saints.” The very fabric of these metaphorical, protective garments is made from our works of obedience, our faithfulness to the covenant.

Therefore, through the clothing metaphor we understand that we desperately need to be clothed in righteousness if we hope to be saved at the judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10). This most essential of clothing is cleansed only by the blood of Christ. This clothing must be kept clean if we are to obtain the prize. We are made righteous through the death of Christ and we are kept righteous through constant Holy Spirit-empowered submission to our Lord Jesus Christ in the relationship of covenant.

Strive to keep your garment spotless.

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus . . . to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—

he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. – 1 Timothy 6:11-16