The girl in the plaid mini-skirt. I wonder if that’s how they thought of me at first, before they knew my name. I can’t blame them for that. It was a really short skirt.
During my freshman year of college, I met a group of Christians on campus who invited me to a Bible study. I wasn’t a believer. But if you’d asked me, I would have said I was, quite adamantly. The fact is, I knew so little about true Christianity that I had no idea that I wasn’t saved.
A couple girls from InterVarsity (the Christian group) invited me to go with them to the Friendship House, where they had some of their meetings and get-togethers. They brought me to Greg, one of the staff leaders, who kindly asked me some questions and chatted with me. I honestly can’t remember anything of our conversation.
But I do remember what I was wearing.
Later on, after the meeting, I got breakfast with one of the girls. She looked uncomfortable as she said, in a lowered voice, “Greg asked me to remind you to dress modestly.”
Man, that was embarrassing. I felt my cheeks redden as I looked down at my outfit. I hadn’t questioned it before, but now I suddenly came face-to-face with the clothes I’d chosen to put on that morning.
Why am I dressing this way? I wondered. Is it really wrong?
A few months later, after many loving Christian peers prayed for me, shared with me, and helped me understand the Bible, the Lord converted my soul and I became a true believer. My thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors began to change. Everything centered around Jesus and finding out what pleased Him, rather than myself. Others recognized the difference in me, and some didn’t like it (for instance, my ex-boyfriend). God did an amazing work in me and continues to do so by His grace.
I wish I could say the modesty issue ended the day I was saved. But that would be a lie.
People still confronted me about my clothing choices. And they were right. Yet there was a bigger problem hidden under the surface of what I wore–a problem few could ever see. My struggle with immodesty went deeper and affected more areas of my life than I had imagined.
A MODEST HEART
Most people, when they hear the words modesty and immodesty, think of clothing first. I’ve been guilty of this presumption, too. We need to be reminded that the outer manifestation is the fruit of the principle of modesty within the heart.
When I was unsaved, my appearance wasn’t the only thing that revealed it. The way I acted and spoke also reflected my unregenerate heart. I was immodest: prideful and unashamed of my sin, an attention-seeker instead of a God-seeker. The mini-skirt was merely one of the many rotten fruits in my life.
To be modest, first and foremost, has more to do with humility, restraint, and decency in attitude and behavior than just the way we dress. Humility–that we would not think too highly of ourselves, but have a proper view of ourselves in our sinfulness and mortality. Restraint–that we have a temperate disposition, able to control our passions and not let them control us. And decency–that we would be respectful, mindful of others and not expose ourselves in any explicit way.
Once we realize that modesty is rooted in the heart, we recognize this truth: we can wear baggy clothes, or even cover ourselves from head to foot, and yet still be immodest in our hearts and behavior.
The way we conduct conversations, handle relationships, and present ourselves to others are all indicative of the level of our modesty–not just our physical appearance.
So how do we grow in modesty as women? The apostle Paul addresses this question in 1 Timothy:
I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. -1 Tim. 2:8-10
I included verse 8 (about men) for a reason. Here, Paul charges men to pray in a holy manner, to forsake wrath (sinful anger) and doubting (disbelief). Pretty simple.
But then there’s that little phrase, “in like manner also.” That transition indicates a connection between his instructions for men, and those for women. How are they related? My belief is that both have to do with how to please God in our worship of Him. Not that women can’t pray (we must). But the commands for women in verse 9 are specific to us and show us how to honor God (like those we saw in the post on femininity last time).
Notice that, even though clothes are mentioned, attitudes are, too. Clearly our modest apparel is a reflection of the propriety (that is, reverence and honor) in our hearts. A modest heart doesn’t rely on costly jewelry or fancy hairstyles to make it beautiful. Instead, it seeks more eagerly to adorn itself with godliness and good works.
A MODEST APPEARANCE
That being said, modesty does have to do with what we wear.
In today’s society, any standards for modesty are pretty much non-existent. The only thing not yet acceptable is complete nakedness (except on nude beaches I guess), and let’s pray it never gets to that point. It’s nearly impossible to find decent clothing for women in stores anymore. Sometimes it’s hard for me to grasp why girls would dress the way they do, but then I remember–I was there at one point, too.
But what about biblical standards for modesty in dress? The difficulty is that the Bible does not specifically lay out every aspect of what it means to dress modestly. But there are a few things we can assume:
- Nature itself teaches us that exposing sexual body parts is wrong; this is to reveal our nakedness, which is biblically, a curse (Isaiah 47:3 and others).
- The partial exposure of the same parts is also seductive and sensual (e.g. cleavage).
- Other areas of the body, like the stomach and upper thighs, can be provocative if shown, though less obviously so.
Most would agree with me on the first two bullet points, but some might have a bone to pick with me on my last one!
I can only explain how I’ve arrived at my convictions. I used to wear bikinis, until I went on a missions trip where we weren’t allowed to wear them. I wore a one-piece instead. That was when I realized that bikinis were basically the same as a bra and underwear. (Some have even less material than our underclothes.)
Maybe you agree with me on the bikini, but my position on thighs might be more or less conservative than your view. And that’s okay. This is where the biblically-informed (!!) conscience comes in. I believe that the upper thigh should be covered because it is close to the groin area and often provokes sensuality. I personally am okay with wearing a dress an inch or two above the knee, but not any higher. I don’t want to expose my thighs too much. Some ladies hold to at the knee or longer, and I highly respect that. I’d prefer that, but have a hard time finding dresses sometimes.
There are other factors that could come into play here–the tightness of the clothes, straps of tops, etc. But the Bible-fed conscience is our best guide in these things.
Regardless of where you land on these issues, we need to keep in mind that our goal should be to glorify God in everything. Notice that we’re over a thousand words in, and I haven’t mentioned the whole you’ll-make-men-stumble argument. I think that’s obvious, and we certainly have an obligation to protect our brothers, but our focus should be on pleasing the Lord–even if men claim to have no problem with the way we dress.
So why does all of this matter, anyway? Aren’t there more important things?
MODESTY AND THE GOSPEL
Yes, you read that title right.
Don’t worry, I’m not advocating for works-based false righteousness or salvation-by-modesty. But this issue does relate to the gospel, and very much so.
Modesty should be a fruit of the work of the Spirit in our hearts. We aren’t saved so that we can be the same person we once were, and live the same sinful life we once lived. God forbid! On the contrary, the Word makes it very clear why God saved us through Christ:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. -Titus 2:11-14
We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. He is the one who gave Himself for us and died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. This is central to the gospel. But the gospel message extends into our daily lives as regenerate believers.
The reason we were saved–the whole reason we exist–is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That means being like Christ–“denying ungodliness” and being “zealous for good works,” which include modesty in thought, behavior, and appearance.
This is not easy! And I still struggle with modesty at times, even 7 years into being saved. But that doesn’t mean we give up. There is so much at stake.
When we are immodest as Christians, we are tainting our reflection of the gospel to the lost and dying people around us. We are saying, “You can believe in Jesus yet still dress and act like the world. You can be prideful and irreverent. You don’t have to glorify God in how you look or speak.”
But when we’re modest, our testimony stands out. We say, “God has called us to be pure in His sight, to honor Him in all we do. I don’t have to strive to be seen like the world does. I can be content and humble, because God’s acceptance and love is more than enough for me.”
Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This a verse that’s often taken out of context. But don’t cringe yet–let’s use it the right way. “All things” means “all things I’m called to do as a believer in serving the Lord.” Being modest is one of those things.
Beloved sisters, we can be modest through Christ who strengthens us. All for His glory.