Prom season and warm weather are here, and with both come posts, articles, and pictures from people with opinions on all sides of the modesty issue. Because of the passion with which this is discussed, I’d much rather shy away from the discussion and return to finishing my finals and picking out nursery colors!
However, I cannot avoid the discussion simply because it is uncomfortable. The more I read, think, and pray about this, the more concerned I become that we often muddy the water on this issue. While I understand that there are judgment calls that must be made, we cannot throw up our hands and say that the Bible does not offer us any guidelines on modesty. I believe that the Holy Spirit is more than capable of clear communication, and because of this, I want to humbly offer you my story about modesty, a brief analysis of what the Holy Spirit says, and a simple, logical standard to help us make sure that our clothes reflect the glory of our God.
As I gained my independence as a teenager—living on my own, driving my own car, paying for my own clothes—I was swayed by the world’s voice on the modesty issue. In many ways, I stepped further and further into the world. As I did, I found that I liked the ease with which I could pick out dresses, the comfort of my short athletic shorts, the flattering way in which my tops fit, and the tan I got laying out by the pool. There really were many benefits of dressing like the world, and my fleshly side liked these conveniences and benefits. To the frustration of my fleshly desires, though, I also had a heart that desired a relationship with God. The closer I grew to God, the more disenchanted I became with the benefits that worldly clothing offered me. Comfort and cuteness faded in the light of the glory of God. The more I conformed myself to the patterns of the world (Romans 12:1-2), the further my heart drifted from God. The more I conformed myself to the character of Christ (Romans 8:29), the less appealing revealing clothing became. Because of this realization I became convicted of the war that this form of worldliness was waging on my soul.
The Holy Spirit confronted me on this issue, through Galatians 5:16-17: “[W]alk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another. . . .”
In trying the world’s way I learned this: dressing immodestly will wage war on your relationship with God. My desire to wear less clothing came from a desire for superficial comfort, a desire for ease, a desire to fit in with the world, and frankly, a desire to try to look better than (or at least as good as) those around me. The more my heart desired these things, the further I drifted from the sanctification that is required to see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). As I became less sanctified, I drifted further away from the God Whom I was claiming to love.
Through the word of God, and some fitting words from people who loved my soul, I became convicted on the issue of worldly dress. Even at this point of conviction though, I was conflicted in my heart about what standard I should use to define modesty. After all, the Bible does not directly answer the question of how short is too short or how tight is too tight. Frankly, I also was confronted with many illogical arguments from people who were trying to think biblically about the issue, and that confused me. However, the more I studied and prayed, the more I began to realize that the Bible is much more explicit about the topic of modesty than we like to admit. If we can take a moment to turn down the volume of the world, and shut out the fleshly desires of our hearts, then the issue becomes much clearer. In an effort to encourage my fellow Christians, I would like to offer a brief examination of 1 Timothy 2:9-10, and then present to you one simple and logical standard by which we can judge our clothing.
When we open our Bibles to examine to 1 Timothy 2, we find that Paul wrote these instructions on modesty as part of an urgent message from the Holy Spirt. He was concerned that he would not be able to deliver it in person, and needed to convey specific instructions on how “people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). Remember though, these instructions are not simply for Christians when they enter into the church building. We enter into the household of God when we are adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:14-17). Therefore, these instructions are for the everyday lives of those who live as a part of God’s family.
1 Timothy 2:9-10 speaks directly to the women, saying this: “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.”
Upon becoming convicted of my struggle with modesty, here are the following resolutions I made based on the deep meaning of these verses:
(1) I will adorn myself with proper clothing: This phrase can also be translated as “modest,” or as clothing that represents good behavior. The way I dress will reflect a heart that has no desire to elevate myself above others, fit in with ungodly people, or attract attention to my body. I will be careful not to condone clothing (through social media or conversation) that does not represent this good behavior. My clothing reflects a heart that is in awe of God, and is willing to decrease myself in order to increase my Savior.
(2) I will dress modestly and discreetly: These words denote the idea of shamefacedness, awe toward God, and the ability to judge and discern what is holy. My clothing will demonstrate an understanding of the holiness of God, the glory of God, and a desire to draw attention to the good works God does through me. My clothing does not reveal a heart that wants people to focus on my body or beauty. I will dress in such a way that demonstrates respect for those around me, and respect toward my Creator. I will have the self-control to please God, rather than serve my personal comfort or desires.
(3) I will not overdress: Contextually, these orders are not an attack on the items themselves—braids, gold and pearls are not inherently sinful (see 1 Peter 3:3)—rather, they are an attack on a heart that desires to impress others through finances or worldly, ostentatious fashion. It is not wrong to be fashionable, or look our best, but we must never elevate ourselves through the fashion we choose. I will not wear clothing designed to draw attention, impress others, or show myself off. I will wear clothing that reflects a heart that is actively resisting the seduction of our fallen world. I will dress in such a way that shows that my heart does not belong to the world, and in such a way that does not place undue focus on my dress.
(4) My clothing will be proper for a woman making a claim to godliness. Last, Paul sums up the modesty issue by telling us that the way we dress should be consistent with our claim to godliness. My clothing must represent my profession of Christianity. I cannot claim to be a daughter of God, while dressing like a daughter of the world. I cannot profess a heart that loves the holiness of God, while dressing in a way that represents a higher love for comfort or style. I cannot profess to be a friend of God, while imitating the dress of swimsuit models, my non-Christian peers, strippers, or every fashion model. I cannot profess a heart that desires God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, while dressing in a way that imitates our ugly, broken, sinful world. I cannot profess to respect the blood of Jesus that is washing me from my impurity, while dressing in a way that encourages impurity in myself and others.
In summation, modesty is a reflection of a heart that humbly submits to God. C.J. Mahaney fittingly reflects on 1 Timothy 2:9-10, saying:
“All respectable apparel is the result of a godly heart where modesty and self-control originate. Your wardrobe is a public statement of your personal and private motivation. And if you profess godliness, you should be concerned with cultivating these twin virtues: modesty and self-control. Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is humility expressed in dress…. Immodesty, then, is much more than wearing a short skirt or low-cut top; it’s the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It’s pride, on display by what you wear.”
Modesty is a heart issue—but it’s a heart issue that becomes evident each time we step outside of the house. This does not mean that we become judges of who is or is not saved based on a hemline. I know from personal experience that much immodesty originates from a lack of understanding, or a desire for comfort and convenience.
Because this issue is so indicative of what is going on in the heart, though, we do have the responsibility to encourage our fellow Christians to follow these instructions. I often need encouragement to continue adhering to this commandment. The noise of the world, the sin of our culture, and the selfishness of my heart make it difficult to honestly and purely apply these beautiful words from the Holy Spirit. Because of this, I want to humbly offer one logical and simple standard that might help us back up our profession of Christianity through our clothing. It is as follows: I will not wear clothing that reveals or accentuates any part of my body that only my husband should touch (this includes my breasts, my thighs, my midriff, etc.).
I present this as our standard not because men are obsessive animals who have no choice but to lust—I’ve yet to run across a verse in the Bible that teaches that. In fact, I’ve only found verses that teach the opposite: Men can and should control their minds (Matthew 5:27-28). (I am not suggesting that we have no responsibility to people of the opposite sex. We should never present ourselves as stumbling blocks in any matter [Hebrews 10:24, 1 Corinthians 8:9, Luke 17:2]. The Holy Spirit does not explicitly emphasize this as a reason to be modest, though the Scripture implicitly teaches it in many places.)
I present this as our standard because I cannot deny that by revealing (or drawing attention to) parts of my body that ought not be touched, I put myself in serious danger of scorning what the Holy Spirit commands in 1 Timothy 2. Revealing parts of my body to the world that God created to please my husband moves me further away from His holiness, away from sanctification. It puts me in terrible danger of violating Ephesians 5:3, as I am dressing in a way that certainly hints at sexual immorality. It moves me toward lasciviousness and unchastity. When I dress in a way that is revealing, I fit the very definition of impropriety, immodesty and indiscretion. As I make choices to reveal these parts of my body, I begin to present a heart that is desiring the world over a heart that is desiring God’s holiness.
Dressing modestly does not earn me entrance to heaven. When I stand before God on judgment day, the only thing that can get me into heaven is the blood of Jesus. However, if I’ve lived my life in a way that scorns that precious blood, there will be no sacrifice for my sin (Hebrews 10:26-31). I will have to stand before the judgment seat—not washed in the perfect blood of the Lamb—but on my own merit. If there is one thing I know, it is that my own merit is nothing before the holiness of God. Because of this, I must daily ask myself this question: Have I dressed in a way that reflects the humility, love, respect, and self-denial that Jesus has demonstrated for me on the cross? As adopted children of the King and Judge, may we make daily choices to conform our hearts to His holiness and sanctification, not to the flash and fun of the world. May we dress in a way that reflects an appreciation for the precious blood of Christ our lamb. Also, may we spur one another on to love and good works, and encourage each other to be the godly women who change the world through our words, our conduct, our love, our faith and our purity (1 Timothy 4:12).
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:14-19).