Dress to Show Off the Heart, Not the Body

This post is by Chelsea Morris who was asked by Renewal Staff to write on this topic.

Christian female modesty. Most of the time when women hear or see these words, one of two reactions occurs: 1. They cringe, get uncomfortable, and want nothing to do with it or 2. They get defensive, and decide that no one should have anything to say about what they wear. I write this hoping that you will do neither. I write this hoping that you will prayerfully approach a topic that is difficult and something that society doesn’t really pay much attention to, but something that the Bible and Jesus wants us to take a look at. I’m writing this as a woman who is learning, growing, and maturing in my concept of modesty and how it needs to be incorporated into my daily life. Ultimately, I want to be more like Jesus – and that means dressing myself in a way that is glorifying to Him. Sisters, walk with me through this and know that I am with you. I have experienced almost every reaction to this topic as possible, and so I understand the confusion, frustration, and discomfort that you may have. I am for you in this.

Seek To Be Hidden, Not Exposed

First off, I want to take a look at what the Bible says modesty is not. We see in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 that modesty is opposite of braided hair, gold, pearls, or costly attire. This text isn’t about the expensiveness or fanciness of the way that women were dressing. Instead, it’s about the attention that was drawn by women dressing in these ways. Back in Paul’s day, these extravagant choices in attire were seen as distracting and were greatly associated with sexuality. While we might not view these choices in attire the same way anymore, that’s not to say that we don’t have clothing today that elicits these same ideas. When women today dress in tight and low cut clothing that shows off their skin and curves, they are dressing in a way that is distracting and sexual. – just like the braided hair, gold, pearls, or costly attire that Paul talks about. While yoga pants and crop tops might be the “popular” things to wear, they aren’t exactly the most Christ-honoring things to wear. Immodest clothing points to our body. Yet, if we believe in Jesus and in what He did for us, then we shouldn’t want the focus to be on us. Instead, the focus should be on Christ. And that’s exactly what we need to all inspect: our hearts and motives and intentions behind the clothing that we wear. Are we wearing clothing to attract attention, fit in with culture, or because it’s easy? Modesty is not about flaunting your body, drawing attention, or gaining the looks from others. Modesty seeks to be hidden in Christ—not exposed to the world.

Dress to Show Off the Heart, Not the Body

The same passage in 1 Timothy 2 tells women that they should dress respectably, with modesty and self-control. Then a little further down in the passage Paul says that women who profess godliness should adorn themselves with good works. What do you see with self-control and good works that you don’t see with braided hair, gold pearls, or expensive clothing? The heart. There is a Christ-exalting motive behind self-control and good works. You see someone’s heart in the way they act and serve. You don’t see this with earrings and bracelets.  1 Peter 3:3-4 tells us, Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. Women are told repeatedly throughout Scripture that beauty comes from the heart – a heart that is fearful of God and is seeking after Him each day. We all have read or are familiar with Proverbs 31. Can you find any point that she is talked about in terms of outward beauty? I can’t. She is clothed with strength and dignity…beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (vs. 25, 30). Our inward modesty should be reflected in our external choices of clothing.

Sisters, Please Serve Your Brothers Out of Love

Now that we have an idea of what the Bible says modesty is and isn’t, I want to move to another important aspect of modesty: the impact that it has for our Christian brothers. This is probably where you will want to have a gut reaction of defense, anger, and/or confusion. I ask that you stop and pray against these reactions, so that you may have clarity and willingness to try and understand something that’s really hard for us women to wrap our minds around.

Men are innately visual beings. God made them this way with purpose and with great pleasure. What this means is that men live their day-to-day lives through a series of images, and it impacts literally every single part of their day (school, church, home, work, friendships, marriage, sports, etc.). However, this visual nature doesn’t come without struggles and challenges, especially for a man who is seeking to know and be like Christ. What I mean is that when a man sees a woman, he doesn’t just see a woman. Anything that you may have uncovered or give way to being uncovered, he sees – and his imagination sees even more – and it typically becomes a more sexualized image than you may feel you give off. This isn’t saying that men are all perverted, lustful individuals. They have control over their thoughts. They have control over their sin. Men are responsible for these things. Feel free to read the article addressed to men here. But what I’m saying is that men are in constant battle against the images that are thrown in their faces every day. Think about simply walking through a mall – the pictures and advertisements around every corner that are of women in very minimal clothing. A man has to fight his own mind against each and every one of those images that are literally right in front of him. So throw into that mix the women who walk around him in tight pants, short shorts, and low shirts. We may not have control over the advertisements or over what other women wear, but shouldn’t we want to honor and love our brothers in Christ well by wearing clothes that don’t add to their battle for their thoughts? If the roles were reversed, wouldn’t we want to be honored in that way? I know I would be.

Here’s what I would recommend: Ask the men in your life about this struggle area of theirs – I’m sure that they can give you insight and opinions that you would have never even considered before. A heart full of love says to your brothers, “What can I wear that will help you?” If you’re wanting to grow in your understanding of men and how they’re wired so that you can better serve them, I highly encourage Through A Man’s Eyes – Helping Women Understand the Visual Nature of Men by Shaunti Feldhahn and Craig Gross.

What You Treasure Will Guide Your Fashion

I think modesty comes down to a simple question: What do you treasure? This is where the rubber meets the road. Because when Jesus is all we want—I mean, really all we want—we will be obedient to Him, even in our clothing. We will take every outfit captive and submit it to Jesus. Yes, this may mean we will look strange to the world. But I’ll take strange to the world if it brings glory to God.

I understand that some of you reading this have just never given a lot of thought to your clothing. But start today. Being a disciple of Jesus is about letting Him and His Word press into every aspect of our lives. This means really taking into consideration every part of your life and how it aligns with what Jesus tells us we should be, do, and say. We should take every thing back to Him and to seek His guidance on it. I pray that you will all take this concept of modesty to Him in prayer and further into His Word. I pray that Jesus would be all that we want, and that we will aim to glorify Him in every aspect of our lives.

Aim For Holiness

I have not given a list of what to wear and what not to wear. As soon as standards are given, people object, “Legalism!”  But we cannot confuse standards with legalism, because they are not the same thing. Will your standards of what you wear change when you bring your fashion under the Lordship of Jesus? Will your standards change when you seek to bring attention to Jesus and not your body? Will they change when you seek to serve the eyes of Christian brothers? They most certainly will and you will probably find yourself having your own list of things you will wear and things you will not wear. This is not legalism. This is growth in holiness. Aim for that. Aim to please the Lord. Decisions of clothing will change with a changed heart. You will arrive here with a heart full of love and for others. And your heart is very important to Jesus. Your heart is where your actions and words and fashion come from--and all should be used to point towards the Lord (1 Peter 4:11; Matthew 15:18; James 1:22-27).