Andrea, a podcast listener, writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I struggle a lot with having a negative body image based on an internalized cultural ideal I’ve had ever since I can remember. What does inner beauty really mean from a Christian perspective?”
She is so right to represent thousands of women who, I think, are hurt and infected by what they see on endless advertisements and endless TV shows where women are presented with amazingly consistent expectations that external savvy, external strength, external cool, external beauty, and external sexiness are the norm. Oh, how we need to help these women fight the fight of letting God speak to them as powerfully as the world speaks to them. So the Bible really, really does address this question and cares a lot about it. Let me just take one passage and answer her question — what is inner beauty? — from it.
Pursuing Inner Beauty
First Peter 3:3–6 is the passage. These four verses have a pretty clear answer, I think. So let me just start reading and make some comments. “Do not let your adorning be external — he’s talking to the wives here — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.” Now I will stop right there and notice that this is really crucial. He is not talking about particular kinds of hairdos or particular kinds of jewelry being the problem. We know that because he says, don’t let clothing be your outer beauty. Well, he doesn’t mean don’t wear clothing. You must wear clothing.
When he says, “Do not let your adorning be . . . the clothing you wear,” he doesn’t mean stop wearing it like you stop wearing a certain hairdo or certain jewelry. He means, don’t let your clothing be your focus here. Don’t put your main energy there on the clothing. Put your main energy inside. I would love to free women from this. It seems to me that some put so much energy and so much time into their hair and their eyes and their clothes and it seems very sad to me. And I think I can say with a pretty high degree of certainty that it isn’t worth the effort. Simple hair, simple makeup or none, and simple clothing are generally more attractive than heavily made-up faces and hair.
Beauty in God’s Eyes
But let’s go right to the heart of the matter in verse 4: “Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a quiet and gentle spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). Now notice six things from that amazing sentence.
1. Be concerned with how you are seen by God.
“Let your adorning be the hidden person.” So this means, hidden from man, but open and clear to God. This means that your concerns should be with how you appear to God, not to people. Excessive concern with outward beauty means that we are enthralled with the wrong audience.
Hidden. It is supposed to be hidden, only seen by God. Now it is going to bear external fruit — behavior will be affected by these inner qualities, but that is not the focus. It will bear fruit, but right now it is hidden.
2. The real you is the hidden person.
“Let your adorning be the hidden person.” What you want to pursue — what we all want to pursue — is being a kind of person, not presenting a kind of persona. What a tragedy to give our lives to painting a mask — a persona — and neglect the person that is inside and real. The persona is just artificial. It is only what people see on the outside.
The real you is not your face. The real you is the hidden person. It is being a person. It is an awesome thing to be a person — a person in the image of God: a person, not a mannequin; a person, not a model; a person, not a doll. We shouldn’t treat ourselves like dolls and mannequins. It is a glorious thing to be a person. That is where our energy should go.
3. Cultivate your heart.
“Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart.” Well, what is the heart? The heart is the seat of the affections and the will. That is who you are most deeply. The body is always a presentation of the heart, never the other way around.
God has a heart — that is, affections and will — from all eternity. God never had a body until the incarnation. He was glorious because he had a heart that was perfect and beautiful. So when we have a heart, and we cultivate a heart, we are akin to ultimate reality. Bodies came later. They are not the essence. They display the essence. The heart is the essence.
4. The beauty of the heart lasts forever.
“Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty.” One of the reasons God prizes this beauty so highly is that it lasts forever. It is called imperishable. The body gets old. All the makeup we use on it is just not going to work eventually. Outward beauty is going to fade away, whereas the heart can get more and more beautiful and God delights in it because it lasts forever.
5. Resting in God
“The imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” Now why is gentleness, meekness, tranquility, quietness so precious to God? I think the text tells us why. It reveals that we are restfully trusting in God. We are hoping in God, not in man. We are trusting in God, and that is why we have peace and we can be meek and tranquil and quiet and not troubled or anxious, not fretful or frantic. So it is beautiful to God because when a woman has a peaceful soul — not fretting about how she looks — it shows that God is her portion and she is banking on God. And that is right there in verse 5. It says this, “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves” (1 Peter 3:5).
So hoping in God produces this quality and that is why God finds it so beautiful and so precious. And that is the audience we really, really want to please.
6. Quiet Strength
Here is one more word from the text. The reason meekness and quietness and serenity and these hope-filled attributes of inner beauty count so with God is because they make a woman fearless. I don’t want to close leaving the impression that these words — meekness and quietness and tranquility — somehow produce a pansy.
These women are lionhearted, because that is what it says. “You are [Sarah’s] children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6). I mean, that is the kind of woman you want, right? A kind of woman who is quiet, peaceful, serene, meek, fearless, bold, not frightened in anything. My guess is that the woman who gets up in the morning and spends endless hours on her face and worries about her figure is frightened all the time. She is very insecure. But we want mighty women of the word, mighty women of God who are fearless. And that comes from hoping in God and that comes from cultivating this inner beauty. And so, I would love to be a means of rescuing women from a lot of wasted time and wasted effort.