Growing up I was taught about modesty through talks at youth seminars, Sunday school, and youth group. I can remember being taught about tips and rules for how to be modest. While some of these tips are helpful, I grew up believing modesty was a set of standards that prevent you from dressing in a way that tempts men.
Looking back, this saddens me for two reasons. One, we have taught our young women that modesty is focused on us and our bodies. How do I keep myself covered up and prevent men from looking at me. Second, this teaching can demonize men and their thoughts and give girls the impression that men have no self-control. I have often myself said the phrase, “men are pigs” instead of remembering men are fallen human beings just as I am. These two responses take modesty and make the solution human-centered instead of God-centered. Let’s look at what the Bible says about modesty, keeping in mind that we will be looking for a solution that centers on God and His redeeming work in our lives.
I Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Whatever we do, we should do to the glory of God. This means when we get dressed in the morning we get dressed to bring glory to God. So how do we glorify God in our dress? Psalm 115:1 sums it up when it says: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.” So rather than getting dressed because we want to attract attention to ourselves, we dress in a way that would not distract from God being glorified. This can go to both extremes. We should not dress in a way that would draw negative attention and cause the focus to be on us or our bodies. We also don’t dress in the same long, brown garment every day because this would also bring the attention to us and away from God.
The heart of modesty is to honor and glorify God with every aspect of our heart and actions. This includes what we put on in the morning and why we put it on. Modesty must start with our heart’s response to God. When we make the focus on us and how we change what we wear, we rob ourselves the opportunity for God to show us the marvelous transforming power of His grace in our lives.
So why is it a sin if we dress immodestly? I’ve heard the argument that men will lust after women no matter what they wear, so why bother trying? Because, daughter of the King, when you dress in a way that draws attention to yourself, you are robbing glory from the One who has redeemed your soul. With all Christ has given for us, we must strive to give Him the glory He deserves. Until your heart’s desire is to please God in everything, you will not be in a position to make wise choices about modesty—or any issue of life for that matter.
So how do we practically live out modesty?
To any young woman that is living in her parent’s home, your first responsibility is to honor your parents (Eph. 6:2-3). God has placed you under that authority. You may not always agree with or understand everything your parents do. Ultimately, they are accountable for God to how they raise you. Remember, they are older and wiser and have much more experience than you. Submit to them humbly as God commands and receive His blessing.
Some of you may be under institutional guidelines for modesty either at school, college, or work. Once again, God has commanded submission to the rules that are placed over us, provided they are not outside of His laws (Romans 13:1-2). While you are under these institutional rules, God has asked you to obey them.
Wives, you are in subjection to your husbands (Eph. 5:22-24). That means if your husband has some standards of modesty for you, God commands submission. Again, your husband may not be perfect in this considering he is still a fallen human being. He is accountable to God for how he leads you, and you are accountable for how you submit to his leadership.
Submission to any authority is important, but it also is not sufficient. The next step (or first step if you are not under an authority) is to search out your own heart. Spend time seeking Scripture and praying. The way in which you dress is something that must be a conviction from the Holy Spirit. Look to the Bible for guiding principles. Then spend time in prayer asking God for the grace to know how you can glorify Him through your dress.
If you aren’t sure how to begin a personal study of biblical modesty, there are several places you can start. First, do a study on biblical womanhood. Do a character study of a woman in the Bible or a word study. Second, study God’s character. Learning about God’s character helps us to understand where we fall short of His standard of holiness. The more we understand God, the better equipped we are to obey Him in all aspects of life. Finally, seek godly wisdom and counsel from those older than you. Older women in your church have a great deal of wisdom. The Bible is clear that those who are older are wiser (Job 12:12). The younger generation should strive to learn what we can from them.
What does modesty look like in daily life? To the woman or girl in any stage of her life, ask yourself questions when you get ready. Will this outfit hinder others from seeing Christ in me? Do I want to wear this so people will look at me and how good I look, or do I think this will help me to properly serve God? This doesn’t mean you can’t dress in a way that looks nice. God has given us the ability to enjoy things we do on earth. The danger comes when we allow those gifts to take a higher priority in our lives than God intended.
One final word of caution I want to leave to any reader. Since modesty is a heart attitude that comes from a deeper walk with God, everyone will be in different places in their life. Many people will work through the issue and come out with different standards. There will be women in your life with both lower and higher standards than you. If you are concerned about someone, take them aside in private and speak to them in love. If someone you know takes you aside and confronts you on this matter, be teachable and understanding that they are (Lord willing) doing this because they love you and are concerned.
Modesty comes from a heart that is devoted to seeing God glorified in your life. This desire will grow as you spend time in His word and in prayer, getting to know God’s character better. Having a broader understanding of what pleases and displeases God will help you serve Him in all aspects of your life, including how you dress.
Rachel Hicks received her undergrad from Bob Jones University in Actuarial Science and currently works for Concentrix in Greenville, SC. She has served at camp and is very involved with youth, children, music, and other ministries at her local church.
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