My wife recently wrote a blog post on modesty called “Modesty Is More Than How We Dress.” It is excellent and as she read it to me I thought to myself, “There are some other things about modesty that I would like to say too,” and so I am! As a man I am always thankful when people, especially women, are reminded about modesty before the hot days of summer approach. Warm weather is often a signal for many women to flaunt their bodies under the guise of “needing to keep cool.” As a pastor I have often preached on modesty in the spring for the very purpose of encouraging the women in my congregation not to be like the world, especially in corporate worship (I Tim. 2:9-10; I Pet. 3:1-4). Yet modesty isn’t merely for summer, or for women for that matter. Modesty is for every season, for both men and women.
When we hear someone use the word “immodest” they are almost always talking about a woman wearing revealing clothing. And certainly there is a lot of this kind of immodesty in the world and increasingly so. But why do men and women dress immodestly? Why do they try to draw attention to themselves? Why do they want to stand out in the crowd to be noticed? Men and women often act immodestly in different ways and for different reasons, but in general they are trying to satisfy a need for significance.
Biblical Definition Of Immodesty
Biblically, immodesty is anything we say or do in order to attract attention to ourselves rather than give glory to God or love others as directed by the Word of God. With a definition like that it is easy to see how immodesty is not just about women wearing revealing clothing. Any time we try to get people to notice us, focus on us, or give us attention, we are being immodest. Imagine a woman showing up to the workplace today in a Victorian dress, covered from her chin to the floor with loose, flowing material, white gloves disappearing into her shirt sleeves, and virtually no skin exposed except her face. In the estimation of most she would be very “modest.” Yet if a woman were to wear such a dress to work in most contexts she would attract a lot of attention to herself making her, according to our definition—immodest. Similarly, if a woman were to wear a dress like that to church she would stick out like a beacon and draw much attention to herself. Thus she would again be immodest. If your definition of modesty is “wearing revealing clothing,” a woman in a Victorian dress would be very modest indeed, but even Webster’s dictionary will tell you that to be modest is to be unassuming, moderate, to avoid impropriety in behavior, manner, or appearance, or seeking to give credit to others. Notice the bottom line is not attracting attention to yourself. For the Christian we want to attract attention to Jesus Christ and not ourselves.
Different Ways We Can Be Immodest
Think of the kinds of things people to do attract attention to themselves. Yes, there is the skimpy clothing that both men and women wear to show off their bodies. A man works out, develops his muscles, and is proud of his physique, so he wears tight clothing to let people see his muscles. A young lady is proud of her young firm body and wears revealing clothing to get men to notice her. A young man grows his hair out, dies it multiple colors, and spikes it up so he can’t help but be noticed, even in a crowd. An older man works at getting really tan, wears a bright colored shirt with half the buttons undone to reveal his large gold chain necklace with an eagle claw. He wants others to notice he has money and a youthful spirit. You see someone with tattoos and they wear a tank top or whatever clothing or lack of clothing to show off their tattoos. They want to stick out and be noticed. I think you get the point. All of these examples are about people trying to attract attention to themselves. They are immodest. Their appearance is designed to make them stand out and draw attention to themselves for whatever reason.
It’s worth noting that immodesty is not merely about our appearance; it is about our behavior as well. The class clown is immodest. The boasting know-it all is immodest. The person who longs to be up front in the spotlight in order to get attention, fame, or power is immodest. Contrary to immodesty, the biblical mindset is how can I attract attention to God, to Jesus Christ, and give glory to God? The worldly mindset of immodesty is how can I get attention, fame, notoriety, and respect for myself? Yes, when someone desires to attract attention to their body to make someone lust after them, it is the sin of narcissism. Narcissism is an excessive or erotic interest in oneself or appearance. Certainly women are tempted by this brand of immodesty more than men. God made men to be visually aroused. Consciously or not, women learn that they can get attention for themselves by dressing immodestly and appealing to the sexual appetites of men. This is why advertisers, television programs, and movies employ beautiful women dressed immodestly. An immodestly dressed woman begs for attention, to be noticed, and lusted after.
I once was teaching about modesty in a marriage class and a very beautiful woman was present who just happened to be immodestly dressed. I had explained that women are often wanting a relationship and are willing to be immodest or immoral to get into a meaningful relationship. On the other hand men want sex and are willing to get into a relationship to get it. God made men to be visually attracted to the opposite sex and when a woman dresses immodestly it tempts men to lust. While looking is not lusting, staring often leads to lusting, and lusting is the mental sin of immorality (Job 31:1; Mt. 5:27-28; James 1:14-15). As I taught I gave some examples of how men are tempted to lust and what they are thinking or not thinking when they are lusting after a woman. After the class the immodestly dressed woman came up to me with her husband, her arms were mercifully folded across her chest and she said, “So you mean to tell me that if I wear clothing that reveals my body that I am tempting other men to lust after me, to have sexual fantasies about me?” I said, “Yes.” She then looked at her husband and said, “Is this true?” He said, “Yes.” Her face blushed red and she walked out. From that time on I never saw her dress immodestly again.
I use this illustration to point out that there may be some cases where women are clueless about the effect they are having on the men around them when they wear revealing clothing. Maybe they are just following fashion trends and don’t realize how what they wear, or don’t wear, impacts the people around them. This underscores the problem, they are thinking of themselves and not others. Biblical love is antithetical to immodesty. Biblical love is about thinking of others as more important than yourself (Phil. 2:3), doing what is best for them (I Cor. 13:4-8), pointing them to Christ, and encouraging them to give glory to God (I Cor. 10:31). Any woman who desires to give glory to God and love others will not transform herself into a visual stumbling block.
Richard Baxter, the 17th century English Puritan pastor, warned the women in his congregation- to avoid stoking the fires of lust in the hearts of men by the way they dressed when he said:
And you must not lay a stumbling block in their way, not blow up the fire of their lust, nor make your ornaments snares, but you must walk among sinful persons as you would do with a candle among straw or gunpowder, or else you may see the flame which you would not foresee, when it is too late to quench it.
The Root Sin That Produces Immodesty
The root sin that gives birth to immodesty and narcissism is pride. Pride desires to attract attention to itself, to be noticed, to stand out, like the flea on the elephant’s back who said, “Did you see how we shook that bridge we just walked over!” Pride is often the disease that everyone sees but the person who is infected with it. And truth be told, we are all infected with pride to one degree or another. Thomas Watson in his excellent work The Godly Man’s Picture gives four common displays of pride saying:
Are not those who are given to boasting proud? `Your glorying is not good' (1 Cor. 5:6).
1. Those who glory in their riches; their hearts swell with their estates. St. Bernard calls pride the rich man's cousin. `Your heart is lifted up because of your riches' (Ezek. 28:5).
2. Those who glory in their apparel. Many dress themselves in such fashions as to make the devil fall in love with them. Black spots, gaudy attire, naked breasts, what are these but the flags and banners which pride displays?
3. Those who glory in their beauty. The body is but dust and blood kneaded together. Solomon says, `Beauty is vain' (Prov. 31:30). Yet some are so vain as to be proud of vanity.
4. Those who glory in their gifts. These trappings and ornaments do not set them off in God's eyes. An angel is a knowledgeable creature, but take away humility from an angel, and he is a devil.
Rational Arguments Against Immodesty
There are some rational arguments against immodesty that might be helpful to consider. For the woman who desires to have a meaningful and lasting relationship, she would do well to remember that if she uses her body as bait to catch a man, she will get a man who loves her for her body. What sane woman wants to be loved because of her body, when she knows it will grow old over time and lose its youthful appearance? What woman cares little about a man loving her for who she is as a person and instead prefers that he sees her as an object of lust? The fact is you catch the kind of fish that are attracted to the bait you use. There are so many women giving men all the benefits of marriage without any commitment and then are often devastated and surprised when they discover their husbands or boyfriends look at pornography, are unfaithful to them, or leave them for someone else. A wise woman will look for a man who loves the Lord, a man who desires to give God glory in everything. A man like that will be committed to finding a godly wife and love her as Christ loves His bride the church. He will be so in love with who she is as a person, he won’t care that she is growing old and wrinkly.
It should also be considered that immodesty in many ways is repulsive and unattractive. When someone is very proud we are often offended by them. When someone is greedy for power or fame it is not an endearing quality. Even among unbelievers some forms of immodesty are seen as character flaws. The person who lies or badmouths a coworker to advance themselves in the company is despised. The person who dominates the conversation so that no one else can speak is looked down upon. The person who always wants to be the center of attention grows tiresome to their peers. Immodesty may be attractive to some people some of the time, but it is often unattractive to more people most of the time.
Finally, I would have you consider the folly of trying to get people to notice or like you because of how you look. Tattoos, body piercings, scanty clothing, exotic hairdos; tight, see through, or revealing clothing; being the clown, the comedian, etc., can get you some attention, but from what kind of people and to what end? If your self-worth and purpose in life hinges on people looking, lusting, and noticing you, what happens when they stop? What happens when your purpose in life ends? How are you going to love life and enjoy all your days if you can’t fulfill your self-centered desires? I will tell you what will happen, you will be miserable, alone, and empty inside. You will have few friends. The person who invests their life in self is the person who dies with few friends or ends life alone. “I Did It My Way” may have been a popular song, but it is a bad philosophy for life because only what is done for Christ and the glory of God will last. All else will be burnt up like so much wood, hay, and stubble (I Cor. 3:11-13).
Now imagine the person who does the exact opposite, the person who lives to give God glory and be a blessing to others. They are not trying to attract attention to themselves, but others, to promote others, to encourage others, and help others. They have many friends who love them for who they are, for their kind, loving, generous character, for their devotion to God, and desire to give God glory. That person will sleep well at night and have a bright hope for the future. They will have fulfilled God’s purpose for their life and have no regrets when they are dying except that they didn’t give and serve others more.
Picture in your mind a circle that represents you. And inside the circle picture a bunch of arrows pointing towards the center of the circle. That is what it is like when you are not living for the glory of God or for the love of others. You are always thinking about yourself, what you want, what you need, what you can get, and how you can be noticed. Picture that same circle with the arrows all pointing away from the center, pointing outward towards God and others. That is what it is like when you are living for the glory of God. You are thinking about how you can love God with all your mind, soul, heart, and strength, and how you can love your neighbor as yourself. You are not trying to stick out, but make God and others stick out.
Biblical Reasons To Avoid Immodesty
Immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God commanded them not to eat, they realized they were naked, sought to clothe themselves with fig leaves, and hid themselves from God in shame. God showed up, made them “fess” up to their sin, dealt out consequences not only for them, but for the entire human race that would come from them. He then mercifully clothed them with animal skins. In order to clothe them with skins the Lord had to kill innocent animals. Thus sin brought death, not only to Adam and Eve, but also to innocent animals who had done nothing wrong. In order to live before God without shame, blood had to be shed on Adam and Eve's behalf. Many things can be learned from the account of The Fall in Genesis 3.
First, sin brought a sense of shame. Shame is a proper response to sin and immodesty. However, if we ignore that sense of God-given shame we become more brazen in our sin, sear our consciences, and after a time can become so hardened in our immodesty and pride that we don’t care what God and others think, or how our sin affects those around us (Prov. 28:14; 29:1; I Tim. 4:1-2; II Pet. 2:13-14).
Second, shame makes us want to hide and cover ourselves in fear. Adam and Eve were naked before The Fall, but unashamed (Gen. 2:25). They had no evil or unholy lust or desires. After The Fall they were rightly shamed and fearful (Gen. 3:10). But think about it, the Lord is all knowing, all seeing, and yet Adam and Eve immediately clothed themselves with fig leaves. Why? They didn’t want the all knowing, all seeing Creator to see them in their nakedness. This is what sin does; it causes us to hide from God, to fear God, and to seek to cover up the consequences of our sin. Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus in Jn. 3:19-21 said:
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
Third, sin requires the death of the innocent. Sinners are unable to atone for or cover up their sins by anything they possess. They can do nothing to satisfy the perfect and holy justice of God. This is why God, after telling Eve that she would have pain in childbirth, promised that her seed would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). The first mention of the gospel came immediately after the fall. God promised that there would be a Savior, a Messiah, a Redeemer, who would be born of a woman and defeat the serpent, who is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, Savior, and Redeemer of mankind. He died on the cross, bearing our sin in His body on the tree; He was then buried, and rose again from the dead after three days proving He was sinless, that He conquered death, and is able to save forever those who believe in Him alone for salvation.
Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (Jn. 20:31)? Have you confessed with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believed in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (Rom. 10:9)? Have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior (Jn. 1:12)? Have you repented of your sin and turned in faith to Jesus Christ (Mk. 1:15; Acts 17:30-31)? If not, do so now! Don’t live your life with all the arrows pointing inward; live life with those arrows pointing upward and outward towards God and others. Live, act, and dress in order to give God glory and to be the greatest blessing you can be to others according to the Word of God. You have a purpose for existing that is greater than yourself. You exist to glorify God and enjoy God forever!
What We Should Expect From Those Who Do Not Love God
It is good to remember that without being born again by grace through faith in Jesus Christ people will not have a proper worldview. People will not desire to give God glory. They will not want to bless others for biblical reasons. The Christian has the Holy Spirit in them and the Word of God to guide them, but those who do not know or love the Lord are like a rudderless ship in the midst of a storm. They are tossed to and fro by their lusts and the evil influences of the world. Face the facts; men and women are going to be immodest. We should expect it. We should anticipate it. But we must not despise them for being lost, blind, and governed by their lust. We must remember that if it were not for the grace of God we would be like them or worse! No, we must pity them, pray for them, love them, and live out and share the gospel before them. If we desire to have them change from immodesty to modesty in a way that gives glory to God, it must happen through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Consider that you can get an immodest person to dress or act modestly by coercion, bribery, or threatening. You might be able to do it through the law system or peer pressure, but such motivations for change are external, not internal. They don’t give glory to God. An immodest person is immodest from the heart and no amount of external motivation can help them with their heart problem. Even if you could restrain the evil of their heart, their hearts are still evil and rebelling against God. Jesus made it clear that the heart is the factory of sin in Mark 7:21-23:
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.
Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change a person’s heart. It is only faith in the person of Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected, that can transform a person from the inside out. Therefore, if we wish to help others glorify God and live for the blessing of others, it must start with the gospel. The gospel, when received and believed, transforms a person into a new creature in Christ so that old things pass away and all things become new (II Cor. 5:17).
How We Must Live In An Immodest World
We can’t expect those who do not love God to live in a God-glorifying way. We can’t expect people to dress or behave modestly when they have no reason to do so. We must have mercy on them. We must guard against despising them, looking down on them, when they act like we would act if we didn’t know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Summer is approaching and though immodesty is in fashion all year around, it can be particularly intense during the warmer seasons. Here is a plan of attack to be among the world of the immodest without becoming like them.
Take pains to pray. Ask the Lord to help you avoid the sin of immodesty and to “lead you not into temptation.” Ask Him to help you give Him glory and be a blessing to others in what you wear, how you think, and what you do. Ask Him to give you boldness in both living out and preaching the gospel before unbelievers.
Take pains to examine your own life. How are you dressing? How are you acting? Are you lusting for power? Are you grabbing for attention? Do you want fame and great things for yourself? Read the Scriptures and pray through them, examining your own life in light of what God says in His Word. Ask God to reveal any wicked way in you and to lead you in the paths of righteousness (Psa. 139:23-24).
Take pains to guard your heart. Guard your heart with all diligence for your entire life flows from your heart (Prov. 4:23). Men, make a covenant with your eyes not to gaze at women (Job 31:1). Don’t look, stare, envy, or lust after immodestly dressed people (Psa. 119:37; Prov. 6:25; Mt. 5:27-28). Don’t go where you know you will be severely tempted and if you have to go, be on guard, make plans to avoid sinning, asking the Lord for help (Prov. 22:3; 27:12).
Take pains to live out and speak forth the gospel. The world is changed, countries are changed, and cities and cultures are changed when individuals are first changed by the gospel. You can’t fix hearts through political activism, making laws, or threatening and bribing. You can’t change hearts by complaining, griping, or hiding in a holy huddle with others. You must be in the world, but not of the world (Jn. 17:15-17). You must let your light shine before men that they may see the difference Jesus Christ has made in your life and in hearing the gospel repent, believe, and give glory to God (Mt. 5:16; I Pet. 2:12).
Let us make it our goal every season of the year to be modest, to live for the glory of God, and be a blessing to others in how we think, act, and dress.