Modesty. It’s an age-old word that makes most people cringe on the inside, even in the church. Debates about modesty have divided believers while most definitions of its meaning have no true gospel foundation. The term modesty has always seemed to be a mysterious word that is tiptoed around but never grasped or studied.
Most people are afraid to embrace the subject and others reject whatever it might mean. We walk on eggshells around the subject when it is brought up and don’t press in too hard, afraid we might crack open something deep within the recesses of our hearts that we would rather not deal with. When I was younger, the term modesty always brought to mind the picture of a nun like Maria from The Sound of Music; fully covered from head to toe with no color or creativity. This didn’t sit well with my love for fashion, or my desire to create through clothing.
When I was in middle school, this definition of modesty never seemed that appealing or hopeful for me fitting in with my peers. I vividly remember wanting to wear a mini-skirt because “all” (well, not all, but it seemed like everyone) of my friends were wearing them. I would do everything to get my parents to buy me one, but they never would. My mom would always explain to me that I didn’t need to show my body to everyone and that it wasn’t appropriate for a girl who loved Christ. Then came the string bikini debate. It seemed that “all” (again, it wasn’t everyone) of my friends were wearing them to the beach, but once again, I wasn’t allowed to wear them. I knew my parents were protecting me and loving me, but in those strong, hormone-driven, over-dramatic moments of being a middle schooler wanting to fit in, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear string bikinis, too. Without realizing it at the time, my mom was teaching me that how I dress conveys a message. What did I want others to hear from my outward appearance? I had to choose.
By God’s grace, I grew up in a home with parents who feared the Lord and taught me to honor Him in whatever I do, including the clothing I choose to wear. My parents modeled for me what it meant to live a life that looks different from the world and mirrored Christ. However, even in their teaching, shepherding, and loving, I still needed to learn for myself why modesty was so important. I needed to understand how modesty affected my clothing choices and how it related to my walk with God.
Thus began a pursuit to understand this term and uncover the mystery to what modesty truly means. For years I have sought the Lord on this subject and studied His Word in search of “the secret.” You know what I found? There is not a list of do’s and don’ts in the Bible pertaining to modesty. There isn’t a skirt length or a color or a style listed for all Christian women to wear. What I found was better than this. I discovered the gospel that unshackled my heart from the law and altered my desire to look like the world. Modesty isn’t a list of rules, it is a reflection of our hearts. The gospel sets us free from our longing for worldly affirmation to live in the love of Christ, Who purchased our bodies for Himself.
Dressing in Fig Leaves
Our hearts are naturally bent toward self-gratifying sin. Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, sin has plagued the world God originally created to be good and perfect. Now, man is born sinful. We have all fallen short of the glory of God and desperately need the blood of Christ to atone (or cover) our sins (Romans 3:23, Hebrews 9:13-14). The first clothing ever worn by man and woman was fig leaves. These fig leaves were a pitiful attempt by Adam and Eve to cover their sin. But God, in His great mercy and grace, killed an innocent animal to provide for them durable, warm clothing. This was the very first death in the Bible. Blood was required to be shed by an innocent animal to cover the sin of Adam and Eve.
Around two thousand years later, Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary. Being perfect and sinless, Jesus was the Messiah the Israelites had been anxiously waiting for. After 33 years of living, teaching and performing miracles, He surrendered His life to death for our sake. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). His perfect blood was shed to cover our sins once and for all. Our sin-stained hearts have been washed by the blood of the perfect Lamb who was slain and purchased us back from death.
We have all tried to hide behind “fig leaves” — whether it be our clothing, our appearance, our wealth, our family, or our good deeds. When we, as women, wear clothing that barely covers our bodies, we are covering up insecurity, a need for affirmation, or self-gratification. Just like Adam and Eve, we try to hide behind what we are capable of doing. These fig leaves are insufficient at best. They crumble and fall and leave us without protection. In the same way, when we try to hide behind very little clothing, we are using “fig leaves” to draw the attention back to ourselves. What fig leaves have you been hiding behind? God’s grace has covered you with Jesus’ blood. You are not our own, you are His.That includes your body and your clothing.
The Intent of My Heart
Throughout high school I still wanted to wear two pieces. Even into college I truly didn’t pay much attention to the reasons why I wanted to wear a bikini. If you were to ask me during that time why I wanted to wear a two piece, I would have said because I wanted to get a good tan (which didn’t make sense considering I didn’t wear clothing with low necklines or an exposed belly). But deep down I knew the reason revolved around where I placed my worth. I wanted to look like other girls and get affirmation through my body like others seemed to be receiving. I found my worth in my beauty and outward appearance. The intent of my heart was never to glorify Christ by wearing a bikini. The intent of my heart was to glorify myself.
“THE GOSPEL SETS US FREE FROM OUR LONGING FOR WORLDLY AFFIRMATION TO LIVE IN THE LOVE OF CHRIST, WHO PURCHASED OUR BODIES FOR HIMSELF.”
In the same way, we have to evaluate why we wear what we wear. As Christian women who are ambassadors for Christ and “citizens of heaven,” which kingdom are we representing through our clothing and dress? The attitudes of our hearts directly affect the way we dress and the message our outfits send to the world around us. Do we point others to Jesus? Or do we distract them from the gospel? Our lives should look the same behind closed doors at it does at church. Our dress should be a reflection of who we worship. We either worship God, others, or ourself.
Since Christ purchased my body on the cross, I am to steward it as a tool for His glory. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:19-20 tells us this truth:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (*emphasis mine)
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (*emphasis mine)
Our bodies are more than a shell, they are the temple of the Living God. In the Old Testament, the temple was cared for with extreme attention to detail. In Exodus, there are chapters of instructions given by God as to how the temple was to be set up and cared for. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two. This veil originally separated the people from God’s holy presence. His sacrifice opened the door for the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. We are now the temple of the Living God.
The more I studied this, God began to reveal to me that my body is a sacred trust. I was comfortable tithing 10% of my money, giving the Lord my singleness and deepest needs, but I was using my body for my own glory. In college I also struggled with an eating disorder that revolved around my need for affirmation of my outward appearance. Through my eating disorder, I worshiped my weight and pant size more than my Creator. Once I had lost twenty pounds and was practically skin and bones, I felt that I was stripped of my beauty. As God began to heal me from this struggle, He also rewrote my definition of beauty. It took me reaching rock bottom before I began to truly grasp that my body was not my own, it was, and remains, the Lord’s.
A Gospel Perspective
Modesty is more than we have deemed it. It is not about rules and regulations, but about the state of our heart and the object of our worship. Our clothing reveals where we find our worth. My husband never saw me in a bathing suit when we were dating or engaged. As we pursued a God-centered relationship and prepared for marriage, I wanted every part of my body to be for Greg only. I didn’t want any other man looking at me the way he would be able to. I didn’t want to ever wear something that would cause another man to stumble, nor did I ever want Greg to be around women who were dressed in a provocative way.
When I gave myself to my husband on my wedding night, I truly learned that our bodies are a sacred gift meant to be enjoyed only in marriage.Our bodies are a living temple of the Holy Spirit and Christ dwells in us. The more we realize that we are His and His ambassadors to this world, the more our wardrobe will change as well as our sensitivity to the lengths of what we wear and how our clothing fits.
The Gospel is the standard we are to hold for our clothing. I don’t want to live in a gray area, causing other believers to stumble or question. I want the way I dress and live to point to Christ, including what I wear. I have learned that a life lived at the foot of the cross embraces Christ in every area of our being — in our work, our waiting, our wardrobe, our worship and our words. 1 Peter 3:3-4 is a beautiful reminder: “Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” Modesty is about our heart’s intentions and where we find our worth.
Beauty That Lasts
When people look at me, I want them to see Christ. I want them to see a life lived for His glory, not for my fame. I want them to see someone who has been changed by the Gospel and looks different from the world. Modesty is no longer a list of rules and questions, but it is a matter of what will bring God glory and what will encourage others. For me, that means making a choice to dress in a way that displays the gospel rather than distracts from it.
Covenant Eyes wrote an incredible definition of modesty:
“Modesty is a respectable manner of adorning one’s body and carrying oneself, born out of a freedom from a worldly definition of beauty and worth, and motivated by a hatred of sin and a desire to draw attention to God.”
Did you read that word “freedom”? Modesty sets us free. It sets us free from the law to live to Christ. It sets us free from keeping up with the world’s standards and living in vain. Modesty is an act of worship. It is a way of life. Dressing modestly will not make you an outcast or unfashionable. Instead, it will enhance the beauty that matters and won’t fade…the beauty of Christ in your heart.
Sisters, may we walk in the grace of God, seeking to please Him alone and honor Him through everything we do and wear. When we get dressed in the morning or go shopping, I pray that our motive in what we wear is love for Christ, love for others and respect of God’s creation and holiness. May the world look at us and know we are His disciples and long to know Jesus through our lives.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)