I wish it did because that would be easier, but Jesus doesn’t give us a list of clothes we can and can’t wear. And that’s probably a good thing because His picks would likely revolve around 2,000 year old fashion and I’m not a fan of robes unless they are of the Jedi variety. While the Bible doesn’t list articles of clothing that are right and wrong, it does talk quite a few times about modesty. Here’s a few:
1 Timothy 2:9-10 — Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
Proverbs 11:22 — Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.
What is modesty? We are sexual. Our bodies were made with our sexuality in mind. That sexuality is very good, holy, sacred, beautiful, glorious, and deeply enjoyable within the context of marriage. That’s where God intended for our sexuality to come out and have fun. It’s like a fire that belongs in a fireplace which causes devastation when it leaves that context. Outside of the context of marriage, our sexuality isn’t good, it’s sinful. It’s not holy, it’s common. It’s not sacred, it’s profane. It’s not beautiful, but perverse. It’s not glorious, but shameful. It brings shallow enjoyment and lasting pain. Our sexuality is meant to be private and kept for the context of marriage. That’s the goal of modesty. Modesty’s goal is to keep our good sexuality private between self, God, and spouse.
We can do that by dressing in ways that don’t put our sexuality on display. It’s pretty obvious that there are some things we can wear that draw attention to our sexuality. If a guy walked up in boxer-briefs or a girl walked by in a mini skirt and tube top, it’s far-fetched to imagine any of us could look at them without the thought of their sexuality crossing our minds.
But modesty is also more than that. It’s not just about how we dress. It also encompasses the way we speak, our body language, the way we flirt, and more. Modesty seeks to keep our sexuality private in all areas. Most commonly, the topic comes up regarding clothes, so more on that later.
So that’s what modesty is. Why is it important?
Please note that everything I say below is true if you switch the genders, but I’m a guy so that’s the perspective I’ll write from.
Modesty honors God and the purpose He designed for our sexuality. As we saw in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and Proverbs 11:22, God cares about this. That means we should too. If God wants us to be modest, then we should strive to honor Him in that. Ephesians 5:22-33 is an amazing passage that tells us that God’s purpose behind human marriage and sexuality transcends the things of this world. In fact, human marriage and sexuality are designed by God to reveal glorious truths about the oneness of the Trinity and the union between Christ and His church. What we often don’t realize is that when we go outside of God’s plan for marriage and sexuality, we are actually twisting and perverting the very tool that God desires to reveal Himself to the world through. Our modesty is wrapped up in something that is so much bigger than just “It’s my life, I’ll dress how I want."
Modesty helps others in their struggle with lust. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus tells us that lusting after someone is just as sinful as committing adultery with them! That means that as we seek to follow Christ and obey Him, we need to battle lustful desires and keep our hearts far from that sin. I’m a pastor and I consider myself a fairly godly man by the grace of God, but, if a woman walks by in a tight and low cut red dress, guess what I’m going to think about! Hint: It’s not chess!
I’m not saying that whatever sexual thoughts I linger on are her fault. Not at all. My thoughts are my responsibility and as a Christian it’s my duty to take any lustful thoughts captive for Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). However, what a blessing it would be in my life and the lives of many men, if that woman woke up that day and decided to dress in a way that would not stir up a battle in my heart and mind when she walks past me. What a burden lifter she would be if she understood that her dress could actually help or hinder her brothers in Christ. Praise God for women who realize that!
Modesty attracts the right kind of attention. Christy (my wife) has always dressed modestly. When I first met her, I thought to myself, “She’s pretty.” When I heard her pray, I thought, “She really loves God.” When I saw how she treated people, I thought, “She’s really compassionate.” Eventually, I realized I really loved this woman and I wanted her to be my partner, my wife, and the mother of my kids. At that same time in my life, there were other girls I knew, even at church, who did not dress modestly. Do you know what I thought when I first met them? “She’s hot!” And that was it. Apart from an initial physical attraction, I had no desire to pursue them.
Christy’s modesty allowed me to be attracted to the things that really matter. Her modesty allowed me to be won to her by her love for the Lord and her character. And now that we’re married, I have the privilege of seeing just how smoking hot she is. Sorry dudes, that’s all for me and not for you.
Whether you are a man or a woman, please listen. Dressing modestly will prevent you from attracting people who are only after sex. It will help you to attract attention from people who are pursuing you because they actually like your personality and your character. Dressing immodestly will call the attention of people who are after you because you are HOT! The problem is that they are seeking a relationship with you for mostly physical reasons. They aren’t looking to be faithful and committed. They aren’t looking to walk together with you in faith toward Christ. And there won’t be much to stop them from dropping you to chase the next HOT person they see walk by.
Modesty keeps our hearts yearning for God’s approval and not man’s attention. Wrapped up in part of the reason we want to dress immodestly is the desire we have to feel loved and worthwhile. Dressing in sexually revealing ways is an easy way to get the attention of others. It feels good when guys or girls pay us that kind of attention. It can even feel good knowing that other guys or girls are jealous of our looks. But ultimately, that’s not the kind of attention that is going to satisfy the deep needs of our heart and soul. John 12:43 is a reminder to us that we need to long for God’s approval and not the approval of others. When we dress immodestly for that kind of attention, we are disobeying God in order to gain the praise and approval of men. As Christians, we should obey God because His approval is our chief desire.
So, how do I dress modestly?
Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t give us a list. So any attempt to answer this is going to be pretty opinionated. My recommendation is that you think this through prayerfully and talk it through with fellow believers. Every culture and context is going to have different opinions on this. I’m not going to call you a sinner if you don’t hold to my particular opinion on the issue. But each of us needs to actually be thoughtful and prayerful about this so that we have an intentional and biblically-guided opinion.
Here’s mine, I hope this doesn’t offend you:
- The Underwear Rule: If it’s pretty much the same as underwear, then it belongs under the rest of your clothes. Two piece bikinis, the shortest of short shorts, speedos, etc. I can’t comprehend why a woman would blush at the thought of being seen in her bra and panties yet not bat an eye when walking down the beach in a bikini. It’s the same thing!
- Cleavage is a no-no. The Bible talks about that part of your body as something for your husband to enjoy in Proverbs 5:19. Leave that for your husband.
- Fingertip Rule: A good rule of thumb when determining if a dress, skirt or shorts are too short is to place your arms at your side and make sure your clothing goes at least as low as your fingertips. Basically, let’s not play a game of "How much thigh can I show before I’ve given you a peek at the goods?” This applies to guys too.
- Skin Tight Ain’t Right: Super tight, curve-revealing clothes are out of bounds. If you had to jump fifteen times to fit into those jeans, feel like your shirt is going to break when you breathe, or I can tell what kind of phone you have when it’s in your pocket…change your clothes. When outfits are so tight that they leave nothing to the imagination, you might as well be naked. Again, this applies to guys too.
- Shirts On: Guys, seriously, quit finding excuses to take your shirt off and show off your abs. Sorry Matthew McConaughey, this applies to you too. (Girls too, but I really hope that’s obvious).
- Midriff Coverage: Your belly button should be a ninja. Unseen.
Here’s some things we might hear in objection to modesty dress codes and how I’d respond as straightforward as possible.
No one sells modest clothing. It can be hard to find modest clothes, especially for young girls. But they really are out there if you look a little harder. If you think dressing modestly is right, then go the extra mile to find clothes that work. Since modest swim wear is especially hard to find, check out this link: http://www.reyswimwear.com
Tight clothes are more comfortable. Maybe. I personally find that hard to believe. But if super tight is really comfy for you and you are convinced that tight clothes are not modest, then you need to make a decision. What’s more important to you? And just because tight is more comfortable for you, that doesn’t mean non-tight clothes are crazy uncomfortable or painful.
This is just my style and not about sexuality. Well, if your style is revealing your sexuality, then your style is immodest. Since immodesty is dishonoring to God, it’s time to change your style.
I’ll look ugly if I dress modestly. Well you won’t look super sexy. And that’s the point. But you don’t need to dress sexy to dress well or to dress beautifully. And sadly that’s a distinction people don’t seem to make much these days. Please don’t believe the lie that the only way to look beautiful is to look sexy.
Alrighty, that's enough out of me. May God give you the wisdom to discern how you can honor him with your clothing.