Might modesty matter? Is what we wear really an issue?
From both my reading of the Bible, and the witness of the Holy Spirit within me, I believe that it does matter, it is an issue. Also, I believe that to a large extent, the clothing that the fashion and retail industry promotes and provides for women and girls nowadays is becoming increasingly more sensual and immodest. Consequently, as Christian women, we will each need to think and pray through this matter for ourselves and any family members that we are responsible for. Let me explain to you why this is so.
But at the outset let me just give you the basic definitions of modesty:-
“Behaviour, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.”
The Original Purpose of Clothing
Originally, the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, did not need clothing.
Genesis 2:25 states;
“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”
They were not ashamed because they had not violated any of God’s holiness by sinning at that point. There was no lust, immorality or lewdness in those days. The human body was the perfect creation of God. However, after Adam and Eve chose to sin and disobeyed God, that perfect holiness was lost forever, as a sense of shame came upon them, that required the covering of their bodies from that time onwards.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” Genesis 3:7
We discover in this first book of the Bible that the fig leaves that they used as the first ever human “clothes” were not an adequate covering for the human body in God’s eyes, as we are told that God Himself made them their first modest set of clothing.
“Also, for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21
This primarily speaks to us that animals had to die in order to “cover” their sin (later the Lord Jesus died to cover our sin), but it also tells us that nakedness in public is sin or shameful and needs to be adequately covered, in a way that is acceptable and pleasing to God. This is the most important part of this whole modesty debate. This is an issue that matters to God; and if we are part of His Body, the church (ekklesia) we will want to please Him with our bodies and how we cover the nakedness of them. So, the very basis of modesty comes from a desire to honour God, and to reflect God’s ownership of our bodies.
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Without this reason, this just becomes a subjective debate over what constitutes modesty, or worse, whether or not modesty is even an issue at all! I have read some blogs who argue, “God created the human body and the body is beautiful and natural!” It seems that there is a spiritual war going on to make modesty and holiness a side issue of the prudish and old-fashioned. But modesty actually has a purpose from the heart of God, that it is central in our relationship with God. We are either obedient to His ways or a stubborn, rebellious and prideful people, bent on going our own selfish way.
To emphasise this point I would like you to consider that not only does the Bible start with this issue, in Genesis, but it also ends with it too, in Revelation.
“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent.” Revelation 3:18-19
Essentially clothing is a necessary covering of the body due to the effects of sin in the world.
Modesty is both a Head & a Heart Issue
I have come across those who make immodest clothing a salvation issue. And yes, it can be an indication that the person who professes to be a Christian, yet wears some forms of immodest attire, is in fact not truly born-again of the Spirit. But I need to say that much of the immodesty we see amongst professing Christians may be mainly due to ignorance or naiveté. Sometimes it is just a case of wanting to be fashionable and not understanding the effects that the clothes have on others.
If this is the case, they may be either in need of teaching about clothing and modesty (a head issue) or be in need of prayer support in their personal battle in this respect (a heart issue). Maybe it’s both, and they may need your gentle, loving kindness, teaching and prayers in this sanctification battle process.
Let me encourage you, if you are lacking knowledge about how to choose, adapt and wear clothing that is modest and pleasing to the Lord, that there are lots and lots of sites with information for Christians on the internet. There are also clothing stores that offer outfit suggestions that may be helpful. Keep reading this post as I have some suggestions for you also at the end.
The Heart of Modesty
If you enjoy getting attention from men when you are wearing something that is perhaps rather immodest, then I want to ask you to examine your heart before God. I admit that I have had to do this, and that is why I can testify that God is faithful, and He will help you to purify your heart in this regard.
I believe that this is a battle for the sanctification of your soul; for purity and holiness, for obedience, for being conformed to the likeness of Christ. It is the battle of the flesh versus the Spirit, it is the battle of dying to self and the world in order that you can live for serving the Lord more fully.
Life is not a picnic in the park or a pleasure vacation, but rather a daily battle to take up your cross and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you live your life for flaunting your beauty on a self-occupied ego trip, then you may realise that God is edged out as self takes centre stage. If you have a strong sense of pride in your looks and appearance, then you are at the mercy of the enemy of your soul, deceiving you and leading you down a wrong path. If your heart is constantly attention-seeking with your attire and appearance, then you will, no doubt, attract “the flattery of men” rather than the commendation from God. Each of us must ask ourselves, whose affirmation would we prefer to receive, man’s or God’s?
We all know that our clothing makes a statement about us. It can speak of materialistic wealth or status, or sexuality and provocativeness, or simply a desire to fit in with the world. Alternatively, it can be a message of Godliness, propriety and modesty, making a statement that God is your owner, and that you are indwelt by His Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 12:34, Jesus made the statement,
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
We could quite reasonably add to that, to say,
“out of the abundance of the heart the body dresses.”
And yet, it has to be said that a person can be very modestly dressed and still have a wicked heart, just as others can be immodestly dressed who possess a right heart but are simply naïve and untaught. It is all about your heart! It’s not just about what you wear.
Scriptures on Modesty versus Sensuality
I will just give you a few of the relevant scriptures to refresh your mind on this issue.
“…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 Timothy 2:9-10
“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—
rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2
“Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Romans 13:13-14
“Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” Romans 14:13
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” Galatians 5:16-17
“For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” Galatians 6:8
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4
“And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it…” I Cor. 12:23-24
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15-17
Modest Attractiveness is Good
Now I want to add at this point, that it is perfectly OK to dress in an attractive way. Naturally, as females, we would want to do this. It is perfectly OK to be beautiful or to “make the best” of ourselves. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be attractive and pleasant to the eyes of other people, though we must always be careful that we don’t cross a line to this becoming something that we actually crave.
There is a difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract.
This does need to be stated clearly, as when perusing the internet for modesty articles you may come across writings that can make you feel ashamed to even be a woman! You can end up feeling like you ought not to have any female shapeliness and need to wear a plain, dull-coloured sack or a Muslim black garment! This is the path to bondage to “the commandments of men” rather than the instruction from the Lord God. Some writers appear to advocate that women ought to wear 18th century attire and others advocate no bright colours or patterns to draw attention to yourself! I disagree with such writers for the following reasons.
God created colours and patterns.
As Christ’s followers, we should be delighting in the beauty He gave us by enjoying colour, texture, creativity, skill, and even the beauty of figure and form that are all gifts from a benevolent Creator to His creatures. We should be an adornment to creation.
Consider what the Lord Jesus said as part of the Sermon on the Mount about clothes.
“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Matthew 6:28-30
Here Jesus taught faith in His provision rather than worrying about our clothes. And yet we must note that He also said that He would clothe us in like manner to how the Father has clothed the flowers (which are more colourful and artistic than the splendour of King Solomon’s clothing).
Also, consider that the “Proverbs 31 woman of noble character” was clothed in purple and her household in scarlet. (v21-22) These too are bright colours, not dark and dowdy at all.
So what we choose to wear comes from an understanding that we are creatures who bear the image of our Creator; He who created all beauty, patterns and colours in the first place. We are to be good stewards of His gift of creativity to bless His heart and bless those around us as well.
Wearing 18th century, or any other historic period-clothing, could perhaps just be an unnecessary way of drawing attention to yourself. This could be self-defeating and create more problems for you than it solves! There are better ways to deal with the modesty in clothing issue rather than to simply go back in time. I believe that it is possible to make reasonable accommodation for current fashions without compromising biblical principles, as long as it doesn’t cross the line and become a modesty issue.
Also what constitutes modest changes somewhat in different periods in history as well as different cultures. God’s standards, of course, remain constant, but whether an exposed ankle is modest or not has certainly changed.
Biblical Beauty & Standards
So, let us bear in mind that the Bible is not against beauty and good appearance, as such. Indeed, this is often praised in Scripture, when various women are complimented on their outward appearance; such as Rebekah, Rachel and Esther, who were described as very beautiful women. The cultivation of good appearance is approved of, but this must be practised with maturity and modesty in the use of clothing.
Although the Bible does not say exactly how much skin our everyday clothing should cover, there is certainly enough written within its pages to guide us. It is interesting to read about the priestly garments in Exodus 28 which are made by gifted artisans both for “glory and beauty,” as well as to “cover nakedness.”
“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest.” Exodus 28:2-3
“And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs.” Exodus 28:42
Notice the layering of clothing. Undergarments, full length tunic and a coloured and patterned top layer. This is certainly food for thought.
On the other hand the lack of adequate clothing was always associated with paganism, apostasy, backsliding and with God’s judgment. See the following examples:- Nahum 3:5, Isaiah 47:2-3, Jer 13:26, 2 Sam 10:4.
Our Current Immodest Society
I would ask you to consider for a moment the story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” Perhaps unbelievers who wear revealing clothing actually believe the lie that they’re not really indecent, just like the Emperor in the story. And similarly, those who are looking on are often too afraid to speak the truth for fear of being thought hopelessly ignorant or old-fashioned, or legalistic.
I have decided to be like the little boy in the story and come straight out with the truth of the matter – “The Emperor/worlds fashions are naked!” Let’s be honest!
And then if we are all honest, we will certainly have noticed that sensuality and lust are running rampant in our Western society. The world (and the enemy of our souls) is working overtime to erase any standards of modesty whatsoever!
Both male and female clothing have reached a ridiculous level of immodesty and provocativeness. Even clothes that actually do cover the skin are still primarily designed to accentuate and highlight the body shape. Many people now wear form-fitting clothing that actually offer little more than a body-painted effect. These are unmistakably designed to draw your eye to the sensuality of the body of the wearer.
Clothing that would have been considered underwear in previous generations is now promoted as outer clothing. Parts of the body that would have been covered are now flaunted; with holes, slits, spaghetti straps, plunging necklines and bare midriffs becoming common place. See-through chiffon materials are worn without anything underneath to cover the body.
Sadly, this downward change is becoming particularly hard to communicate effectively today to the younger generation. Like the tale of the frog being boiled to death in a slowly heated pan of water, the youth do not have a sense of the rising “heat” in today’s fashions because it’s all they have ever seen or known.
In my office job I have to contend with seeing every part of people’s bodies, that I really wish they had the sense to cover up! There is a blatant disregard for modesty or for how other people are affected by their lack of appropriate clothing. Many, people live with the obsession on their appearance and their intention is to get attention on their bodies. And it is not only clothing, it is tanning, hair styling, footwear, and make-up too, that consumes all their time, interest and money. This is the world we now live in, and as times go on I believe the situation will only deteriorate. It is as Jeremiah wrote:
“Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?
No! They were not at all ashamed,
Nor did they know how to blush.” Jeremiah 6:15, 8:12
Consider also that the Bible specifically calls attention to the way an immoral woman dresses.
“And there a woman met him,
With the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart.” Proverbs 7:10
Why does it do that? Because that is one of the main ways that men are tempted, through what they see!
Shopping For Modest Apparel
It can nowadays feel like quite a challenge for women when shopping for clothes to find things that are decent and modest. But I trust that if you have at least begun to think things through about the type of clothes you can wear that you will be able to put together a collection of suitable, yet still pretty and attractive, outfits.
Please do remember to pray always that God will teach you and lead you and purify your heart. If you simply attempt to follow a list of rules but your heart is not in it, then you will no doubt find ways around the rules.
Remember that your primary aim is to COVER your body to please God in His Holiness,
“…because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:16
Your secondary aim is to prevent yourself from feeling sensual in your clothes, as this can cause you to think, feel and behave wrongly in your interactions with others around you. The consequences of this is that you can act as a stumbling block, both to yourself and to others. Remember your flesh is at war with the Spirit of the Lord within you. The battle is fought in your heart and mind daily. So consider carefully and ask yourself in total honesty, “Am I seeking to please God with my choices of attire or am I wanting attention for myself and my flesh?”
Modesty checks on clothes to cover you
Here are some suggestions to help you, that I have adapted and added to, from various websites and blogs that I have found in my own searching for information about this topic.
- Think about tops. Is your chest area covered? Cleavage is still your breast and needs to be covered, even when you move about and need to bend down. You can utilise layers under a garment that has too low a neckline or you can sew together any gaping gaps or sew a small swatch of fabric to make an item modest. Spaghetti-straps and halter-tops – best not to wear these as too much of your flesh is on show. Perhaps cover them with a jacket, cardigan or other top layer.
- Think about length. Is your skirt/dress long enough to cover your upper legs, even when sitting and bending down? A good guide is knee-length or longer.
- Think about your middle. Are your midriff and back covered; even when you move and bend and stretch?
- Think about fitting. How tight are your clothes? Too tight is not right, is now my motto! Skin-tight clothes can be way too revealing. I now just use form-fitting T-shirts as layers for warmth in cool weather and look for something that fits a little looser. Try to stay in the range of semi-fitted to loose-fitted clothes. Things that drape nicely on the body are good. This goes for trousers, pants and jeans too – they need to have some slack. Leggings are really like thick tights and so always need to be covered with a dress or skirt. Yoga pants are similarly too tight and revealing and will likewise need a longer top to cover you modestly.
- Think about the fabric. Is it too clingy, revealing too much? Don’t wear thin stretchy material that is so tight across the body that it hugs every square inch. Is it too sheer and see-through? In the case of skirts that become see-through when the light is behind you then wear an underskirt. See-though chiffon blouses can perhaps be worn with a loose non-see-through layer underneath. I have found that layering clothes is a great way of retaining modesty.
- Think about the design. Are there any key-hole gaps or slits that would be better if you sewed up the holes and gaps? For instance, with sleeveless shirts you need to be careful of the armholes gaping – you may need to sew them up. Also, if wearing a button-down top, look in the mirror sideways and move around to see if there are any gaping holes that expose the chest. Pin or sew the gaps to retain modesty. Designers are also making clothes with cut out areas, openings and zips and other means, that are no doubt designed to create sensual thoughts. Please consider this aspect of clothing too.
- Think about underwear. Is all your underwear concealed? Showing your bra-strap is not good. Trousers/jeans that are low-cut and reveal underwear are also not modest. Underwear should be fully covered and hidden from sight.
- Think about colour. White and pale colours are great but unfortunately they can most often be see-through. Dark colours, on the other hand, are a natural concealer. If any item is see-through you will need to wear a camisole top or similar item underneath that is not see-through. Wearing fabric that has a flesh-colour that gives an illusion of nakedness when worn as outerwear isn’t really modest either.
- Think about swimwear. Normally this is underwear on the beach in public! However, I have just found another blogger who recommended the following site for alternative, modest coverings for swimming and beach use. They offer tunic dresses, skirts and leggings in lycra – meanttobemodest.com It’s worth considering adapting her ideas in any case.
- Good advice:- always check yourself in a mirror to see if you look modest. If you are unsure, bend, sit, stretch and see if you remain modest as you move.
- General advice:– While you can’t cover up too much, you can certainly err in the other direction. So if in doubt, just add more clothes.
When you are trying on clothes remember that if it makes you FEEL sensual then it probably IS sensual, and isn’t therefore modest. If you feel that something about the clothing is giving you a struggle in your heart saying, “Look at me, look at my flesh,” then that is a caution that it may not be right for you. We need to take particular care if we are breaking free of a wrong self-centred, sensual way of dressing, in order to live more in modesty and holiness. The Lord may have you for a while walking a wide berth from ungodly attire until you have understood His standards for you.
Finally, I would like to ask you to be very honest with yourself about your motives for the outfits you choose to wear.
- Why do you dress like you do?
- What kind of reactions are you trying to get?
- Is your heart right in God’s sight?
If it is not, then I encourage you to start afresh right now, and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for all past wrong actions and choices and then ask for His wisdom and help for how to go forward in increasing purity and holiness, so as to please your Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
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