The Bible clearly teaches that vanity is a sin. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves” (Phil 2:3).
In our modern culture, vanity is a massive industry, or rather, multiple massive industries. There are the fashion and clothing industries, hair care products and services, makeup and other personal grooming products, and cosmetic surgery. If you watch TV, it seems three-quarters of the commercials are for vanity products.
So the question is: is it proper for a Christian to be involved with these vain things? Is it okay for Christians, for example, to get breast enlargement surgery or Botox treatments? Most Christians I know would probably say something like, “That’s too extreme and a sign the person is way too self-centered and vain.”
How about a nose job? “Well, I suppose it depends on how big the nose was before the surgery.”
How about wearing lots of diamonds and jewels? “There certainly are people who like to show off with flashy jewelry, but I would never do that—mostly because I can’t afford it.”
How about hair coloring and makeup? “Now, wait a minute, that’s getting rather personal, and I’m sure God doesn’t think it’s vain to want to look nice for my spouse.”
How about wearing an expensive gown or a tuxedo to a fancy party, like a wedding or a New Year’s Eve ball? “Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? I mean, people have to dress properly for certain occasions, don’t they?”
How about combing your hair and washing your face and wearing clean clothes? “Oh, now you’re just being silly. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you didn’t comb your hair and wash your face and wear clean clothes, you’d be a social outcast.”
Hmm, vanity is a tricky subject, isn’t it?
What does Jesus say about it? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black” (Matt 5:36). During the first century people could not change their hair color, but in our modern age of “L’Oreal, “Nice ‘n Easy,” and “Just For Men,” well, we can do all kinds of things to our hair color, can’t we?
Jesus wasn’t talking about vanity here, instead He was talking about swearing oaths, so this doesn’t really apply.
Later on in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry … about your body, what you will wear. Is not … the body more important than clothing? …. Why are you anxious about clothes? …. So do not worry” (Matt 6: 25,28).
In this section the Lord was speaking more about trusting God and not worrying, rather than the vanity of trying to impress others by our clothing. But can anyone honestly say there are not countless people in our culture, including many who sit in our pews each Sunday, who are obsessed with clothes and who have closets full of stuff, especially shoes, they never even wear?
So the subject of vanity is indeed rather tricky, isn’t it? Like most things in life, if we’re not sure which course of action is correct, we should ask ourselves a simple question: Are we doing this to glorify God or to glorify ourselves? If we’re honest, I suspect we’ll discover a great deal of our “vanity” efforts are done simply to glorify ourselves and impress others. If we dial back our vanity obsession, we may not look quite as spectacular as we’re used to, but we’ll be drawing closer to God. And just think how much money we’ll save!