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“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, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.”

(1 Peter 3:3-6)

One can easily observe the fixation our society has with outward appearance, especially a woman’s outward appearance, simply by glancing at the magazine racks at a nearby grocery store. Seductively dressed cover models pose with headlines that claim to reveal how you can achieve the look that will instantly captivate that someone special.

Our text does not say that it is necessarily sinful to want to look good. However, “the hidden person of the heart” is much more important. Now, that might sound like good news. “Great, I don’t have to worry about my gray hairs (or lack of hair), my lack of height, or my middle-aged body. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But what does God see in our hearts? The picture is not pretty. Genesis 8:21 tells us, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked.”

I think the reason why it’s such a temptation to focus on outward appearance rather than the inner person is that it’s easier. With a nice hair style, nice jewelry, nice clothing, and the right amount of makeup, people can conceal their physical flaws. And, because of something called the “halo effect,” people who are outwardly attractive are assumed to be better people-to have more inner beauty than others.

The Pharisees focused more on outward appearance than on “the hidden person of the heart” too. It wasn’t so much that they tried to make themselves look physically attractive, but by their outward works they tried to make themselves look more righteous than everyone else. And they did look more righteous. And because of the Pharisees’ outward righteousness, the people assumed that they had superior inner righteousness as well.

But the Lord always gets to the heart of the matter. The outward works of the Pharisees couldn’t hide their unclean hearts from the Lord. No amount of jewelry or makeup can hide our unclean hearts from the Lord either. And so, the Lord shows His heart to us.

We see God’s heart for us in the person of Jesus-God in human flesh, Who came into this world to live a perfect life for us. Yet, He did so with “no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). There was nothing physically attractive about Jesus’ bleeding and dying on the cross, yet that event is the most beautiful event in history. Because our hearts are so ugly by nature, Jesus lived, died, and rose again for us to cleanse our hearts from sin and give us eternal life-so that our hearts could be filled “with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit . . . very precious in the sight of God.”

Sarah is given as an example of one with this gentle and quiet spirit. Sarah was physically attractive (Genesis 12:11), but her true inner beauty came from her love for the Lord, her faith in His promise, and her quiet obedience to Him.

Styles and fashions change, hair becomes gray, jewelry tarnishes, and clothes wear out. But there is a beauty that lasts. We are beautiful because God has made us His own through Christ.

It is not necessarily sinful to want to look good. However, “the hidden person of the heart” is much more important.

Robert Sauers is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Winter Haven, Florida, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions