It all started when I was in junior high. Since I was in a private Christian school, we often had talks about remembering school rules like the dress code. This usually didn’t bother me too much since I have always been conservative in the way I dress. But I will never forget one of these modesty discussions because of one of the comments made by my teacher. Mrs. Giles was probably my favorite teacher I have ever had, and this comment illustrates one of the reasons why. She told us in her southern Alabaman accent,
“Remember girls, as Gandalf said in The Lord of the Rings,
‘Keep it secret, keep it safe.”
Needless to say, we all laughed so hard! And almost any time I tell this story today, people still laugh. In the end, although this was definitely meant to be humorous, it also made a powerful point. When Gandalf told Frodo this, Frodo had no idea what the Ring was, the power it had, or the potential danger it posed for him to have it in his possession. For that matter, Gandalf was not entirely sure himself, but until he had the chance to find out, Frodo could not take any chances. Gandalf instructed him to keep the Ring hidden (not telling anyone he had it) and to guard it securely (making sure no one could steal it) until they knew the truth about it.
As I got older, I began to appreciate this analogy for modesty more and more. Men and women alike have also been given a power, although it isn’t from a gold ring. This is the power to attract attention to our bodies in the way that we present ourselves. The problem is most of us either are unaware of the how great this power is or we use our knowledge of this power to bring the attention to ourselves. But I also think that our misunderstanding of the biblical perspective on this topic has provided much disdain for it that needs to chance in the church. Modesty is about so much more than what we wear; it’s a lifestyle that reveals a humility of the heart and the spirit through our attitude and our actions.
After I began to understand this, I became quite passionate about this topic and have come to do much research over the last few years of my life. Although I had always been aware of needing to dress modestly, I began to desire to understand why I should, and I eventually came to realize that modesty is not just about your wardrobe; it's a lifestyle of humility that is usually reflected by your wardrobe. I want to walk you through my understanding of what biblical modesty looks like, how to live that out in our world today, and some of the stories of how I came to discover these truths for myself. Because most of the discussions associated with this topic are directed at women, I am assuming they will be my main audience for this post. But I think men should also read this to not only understand what women struggle with in this area, but also to see if any of these truths can also apply to you. I think you will all be surprised. These are the three qualities that I believe lead to a lifestyle of modesty.
Assurance In Our Value
When I see a young women dressed immodestly, my first thought is that her understanding of her value and worth as a human being is messed up, because it obviously isn’t coming from the right source. When a girl dresses that way, she is communicating that the attention she get from the way she present yourself is the where she find her worth. If she doesn’t get the attention she wants, she doesn’t feel affirmed and will often go to greater extremes to regain that affirmation. There is something wrong with her understanding of the way God sees her. She either doesn’t know how valued she is in God’s eyes, or she's been told but then forgot her value in God’s eyes, or she has chosen to disregard the value she has in God’s eyes. These paths usually result in a women seeking human approval for the worth they already have in God’s eyes. As a Christian young woman, my ultimate reason for dressing modesty is my understanding of my value, and it comes from what Jesus did for me on the cross.
Let me illustrate. Have you ever watched a movie where the guy gave up his life for the guy? Those are some of the worst tearjerkers, right? That’s because in watching those moments on screen, we can't help but desire that for ourselves. We see how pure and true that man’s love is and we can’t help but think, I wish I had a guy that loved me that much.
Well ladies, I have good news for you – you do have someone that loves you that much. His name is Jesus Christ. Not only is His love so deep that He is willing to lay down His life for you, but he actually did lay down His life for you. Have you ever let that truth sink in? Jesus died for you. Coming to understand this fully will literally change your perspective of yourself and everyone around you.
What does this have to do with modesty? Well, if you really believe that Jesus died for you, you natural response is going to be to live your life in gratitude for that sacrifice. You are going to want to obey God’s instructions for your life not because you’re obligated, but because you are genuinely grateful for His sacrifice. 1 Corinthians 6 19b-20 reminds us:
“You are not your own; you were brought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.”
If we remember we were brought with a price, our natural conclusion will be in honor God with what we choose to do with our bodies, and that definitely includes how we dress. We need to teach this generation of Christian young women how to dress like they believe they are redeemed by the blood of the One that loved us enough to die for their sins. I think that’s a value lesson for all of us to learn.
An Attitude of Humility and Grace
Attitude is everything when it comes to modesty. In addition to communicating that she has a misunderstanding of her value, a young women dressed immodestly is also communicating that she has a bad attitude that ultimately represents that her heart is in the wrong place. Whether it be selfishness or anger or something else, they is something wrong with the condition of her heart. You can absolutely see that based on what clothes she is wearing. Most of us don’t think of that, but it’s true. Your clothing (or lack thereof) reflects the condition of your heart. What makes this interesting is that there can actually be occasions when a woman may be appropriately dressed, but is being immodest in her attitude by arrogant or pride, like when she dresses in such a way to outshine everyone else on purpose. Either way, the way you present yourself on the outside will represent where your heart is on the inside.
I feel like most of the direct references to the concept of modesty in the Bible are difficult for us to understand, because there were speaking to a different time and place. But I found this video of David Platt (author of the book Radical) breaking down these cultural references in the best way I’ve ever heard 1 Timothy 2:9-10 explained. This video is totally worth taking the time to watch.
When we are properly living out a lifestyle of modesty, we are reflecting an attitude of humility that worships God with our life and demonstrates God’s grace through good works. We will be living our lives as an act of worship and not have the desire to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves. I love what Platt said at the end of the video when he said,
“Let us raise us women across this church that get us every day, including Sunday, thinking humbly, ‘How can I dress today and what can I do today that will draw the most attention to the glory of my God?’ That’s not easy in today’s culture. That’s totally against the grain.”
When we do the opposite, choosing to draw attention to ourselves instead, we are taking attention away from God. One of my favorite authors on the topic of modesty, Dannah Gresh, put it this way in an interview.
“Any time we dressed immodestly...we’re bringing glory to ourselves. I think that’s the greatest sin of immodesty, is that we’re saying ‘Look at me’ instead of saying ‘Look at God.’”
David Platt also said in that video,
“Remember the One you are competing with for attention.”
Now I don’t think this means that we need to dress frumpy, dumpy, and out of fashion, but that does mean that our attempts to present ourselves well should never compromise your witness or distract anyone from seeing the God you profess to worship, as it is reflected in your attitude and your actions. If anything in your wardrobe hinders this, then you probably need to think twice before you wear it.
This is a slideshow from when I taught a Jr. High girls Bible study at my church last fall on this topic. We used Dannah Gresh's book, The Secret Keeper: The Delicate Power of Modesty. I learned so much about modesty as I did my research for these lessons, as well as teaching the girls in general. Aside from the fun pictures of our time together, there are some references to videos I used with the lessons as well as a song in the background that reflect what I believe the concept of modesty to be all about. It’s called Don’t Look At Me by Stacie Orrico. I think the lyrics speak for themselves.
Awareness of Our Secret
In addition to having assurance in our value and an attitude of humility, we must also develop an awareness of the logistical reasons for dressing modestly. This is the part of the conversation where most of you would expect me to pull out the “causing our brothers to stumble” argument, which personally drives me nuts. Although we should not desire to cause anyone to stumble, I think that is false motivation. Returning to the Frodo-Gandalf story, Frodo had absolutely no idea how powerful the Ring was or why he needed to keep it secretly secure until Gandalf returned. When Gandalf educated Frodo on all he learned about the Ring, Frodo became aware of the threat the Ring posed on the Shire and knew what he needed to do to keep that power out of the wrong hands. But it wasn’t until Gandalf told him that he was aware of the power that was in his possession.
The same is true of our physical beauty and our bodies. Most of us are really rather unaware of how powerful we are in regards to our sexuality, or at least how special that power is. The truth is that God designed human bodies to be attractive, specifically to the opposite gender. Dannah Gresh terms this ability as the power of allure. It's pretty incredible to think that God designed our bodies that way. There’s actually a verse in Proverbs that illustrates that a woman has the ability to intoxicate a man by her sexuality. That’s pretty strong language! Although a lot of people don’t necessarily equate immodesty with sexual immorality, they are very much connected to each other. As a Christian woman, my goal should be to dress myself in such a way as to save the deepest secret of my beauty for just one man. Anything outside of that will separate me from God and keep me from His better plan for my life.
Unfortunately, it is also true that there are many that know the power their bodies have and choose to use that to their advantage to get attention and have control in their situation. But as I said earlier, if you really believe that Jesus died for you, your natural response is going to be to desire to obey God’s guidelines for the way we dress out of gratitude. Yielding our wardrobes to Him will come naturally if we choose to think of it in this way. If that’s not the case, then your heart is not in the right place about it.
The way that I believe we should view this power is as an incredible gift from God. If we really believe that we are valued in God’s eyes, I think we should believe that our sexuality is a special gift, one that is taken for granted in our culture today. Although it is not something to be ashamed of, there is a right time and a right place to use it – and that’s within the context of marriage between a man and a woman. Revealing anything that was only meant to be for your husband’s eyes cheats him and yourself out of the full beauty of this special gift. We would all be a whole lot better off if we began to see it that way.
I’ve have been led on an incredible personal journey that led me to understand modesty in this way. From writing and delivering a sermon on modesty, to teaching a Bible study about it, to writing a spoken word poem on the topic, God has developed a passion within me to declare the truth on this subject. I may even write more about it in the future, but for now I feel like the poem I completed this summer is the best way to summarize my conclusions. If you have found anything I’ve said in this post to be inspiring, please consider sharing this video, for it hasn't gotten very much response. [There is also a link to my modesty sermon at the end of the video if you are interested]
“Now, I’m not going to give you a list of fashion do’s and don’t
Because if I ask you to go through your closet, you probably won’t
But I will ask you a question with wisdom I need to impart:
What does your clothing reveal about the condition of your heart?”