Alicia is a member of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan. She wrote this essay for the Protestant Reformed Scholarship.
A sexy body, skimpy clothes, and tons of makeup cover magazines, television shows, advertisements, and almost every other area where we look. The idea of appearing good is a very popular concept in the world, even more so today than it was in Bible times. One cannot help but be bombarded by the “image” of what one is supposed to look like and act in order to be accepted in today’s world. It is this major misconception, the immodesty of the times we live in, that needs to be looked at from a Christian standpoint.
What is modesty? Modesty does not just refer to the way that one dresses but also implies how one speaks, one’s gestures, and one’s actions. These are all included in modesty. Modesty is a spiritual gift wherein we are called to order ourselves in a morally upright way which will then give account of our humble and godly hearts. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way: by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Ps. 119:9). This verse implies that not only do immodest temptations come from the sinful world around us, nor only from the devil, but from our own sinful flesh. We need to cleanse our way and our life. The only way to cleanse it is by taking heed to God’s word. By grace may we say, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, 0 Lord: teach me thy statues” (Ps. 119:11, 12). The Lord must teach us how to walk in modesty.
The Bible admonishes us to walk in Christ, which includes the way that we conduct ourselves. The basis of this walk in Christ is the fact that we have received Christ and partake of Him by faith. We have full forgiveness and atonement for sins, covenant fellowship, friendship with God, and the spiritual rule of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This means that where ever Christ is, so we are spiritually. We have the mind and life of Christ and thus become more and more like unto Him through our lives, receiving Him in increasing measure. While currently our possession of Him is imperfect because of sin, we do have Christ principally in fullness. Therefore we are called to walk in Him.
II Corinthians 6:14-18 teaches us the antithesis and thus calls us to walk the correct way. We are told not to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” and how we dress, speak, gesture, and act may either associate us with God or with Satan. We are called in this passage to “come out from among them, and be ye separate.” Verse 16 also describes our body as being the temple of God. Therefore, since it is God’s temple, shouldn’t we make it resemble His sanctuary, the place where He dwells, rather than that of the world? Another passage calling God’s children to walk in Christ is Colossians 2:6-7 wherein we are told to be “rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.”
Although there are other ways to depict modesty in a person, the most common way is according to how one dresses. It is common in our day and age for short skirts, tight pants, and low cut shirts to appear on young women. The victims of dressing immodestly usually are the women. They use this means to try to lure the men with their bodies, using their bodies as if they were simply an object. This is not only completely wrong but also degrading. I was so disgusted with this way of thinking and how it showed up in all the stores a couple of years ago. Even Kohl’s, the “family store,” got pulled into this way of thinking which could be seen with their shorts, all of which were too short to wear in public, and shirts running two sizes too small so that the clothes were designed to give the clingy look. This angered my friends and me, and we talked about it at some length because we didn’t want to start dressing like that. It seemed to be all the stores were willing to sell.
The Bible reflects the need of Christian women to fight against the world’s idea of dress and life. It is not a new thing that only women in the twenty-first century have to deal with. In I Timothy 2:9, the Apostle Paul gives instructions to young Timothy regarding the life of members of the church in his day. The question came up of how the women should conduct themselves. God’s word demands that “women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.” The correct way is given in verse ten of this chapter wherein women are told to array themselves instead “with good works.” This idea is reiterated with the teaching of God’s word in Proverbs 31:30 which states that “favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.” This is a very important concept, which everyone must still learn. While it is still common for women to apply makeup and worry about their waistline and other petty stuff, the Bible teaches that this stuff does not matter because it will all fade away. This not to say that young women have no right to try to make themselves pretty but the important question is how, and for what reason? Women must question whether they realize what true beauty is in God’s eyes. Another passage implying this idea is I Peter 3:2-5telling the women how to correctly adorn herself, not with the outward but rather the “hidden man of the heart.” The only thing with lasting value is the things you do, the way you live your life. Living a godly life allows one to touch so many people in so many different ways, leading and guiding by example. God seeks this to give Him glory, rather than the outward appearance of a person.
Our confessions summarize the teaching of the Bible regarding a chaste and modest behavior in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 41. Question and answer 108 states: “What doth the seventh commandment teach us? That all uncleanness is accursed of God; and that therefore we must with all our hearts detest the same, and live chastely and temperately, whether in holy wedlock or in single life.” The next question and answer 109 gives more instruction on this idea by saying: “Doth God forbid in this commandment only adultery and such like gross sins? Since both our body and soul are temples of the Holy Ghost, He commands us to preserve them pure and holy; therefore He forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever can entice men thereto.” These questions and answers evidence the important fact that the consequence of immodesty is usually lust and other perverse sexual sins.
While women may be victims to the immodesty of dress, it is the men who are most commonly the victims of immodesty concerning behavior and words. They give in to the woman’s desire to be flattered and begin to boast about their person and their actions. While the women are trying to make the men lust with their clothes, I believe that more often than not, women do not realize how large of an influence their dress has on men. Men who already have a harder time with sexual desires as evidenced by history, find it all the harder to resist the normal temptations when a women’s conduct and dress all but invite him to act on his impulses.
While the Bible repeatedly warns against the sin of lust, the Bible also tells us how to flee and fight this sin. The Biblical calling for us is self-control or temperance. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:2ff says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” The world will use various means to lure to wickedness, but we have to be aware of it and be prepared to stay one step ahead of them. The Bible tries to prepare us by repeatedly telling us over and over again of the wicked and the methods they might use. The Bible tells us that Christ reconciled us “in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight” (Col. 1:22). This big and hard job just evidences to us that we need daily conversion. We need to put off “fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry…anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Col. 3:5, 7). We also need to put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another…” (Col. 3:12, 13).
One Bible passage seeking to warn us of the methods that the ungodly use to entice us to their lifestyle is Colossians 2:8. God says to us as Christians, “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Paul is here warning us that the world will try to spoil us. We are, after all, in a spiritual warfare wherein the world is trying to capture us to their dress, speech, gestures, and action. They seek our heart, mind, and soul to bring under the captivity of evil. Their method uses the philosophy of men rather than the Word of God. They warn us to keep up with the times and accuse us of not living life, but rather staying in our shell. This is a common insult hurled; one I experienced everyday whether at my lifeguard job at Jackson or when I didn’t participate in the dances and drinking and “fun” that college life has to offer. These people who try to bring us to their way of thinking, these deceivers follow the principles of the world. They seek after pride, rebellion against God, lawlessness, lust of the flesh, and the “eat, drink, and be merry” philosophy. These are the type of people that we as Christians must be on guard against, those who oppose our walk in Christ and seek to turn us from our life of faith. The most important thing to remember is that Christ must be first in our lives, rather than having fun or worrying about what others might think of us. Only then will we be established in the faith and able to walk modestly. Then, the praise, honor and glory must go to God, whose example we pattern our own lives after, and gives us the desire and power to live this antithetical lifestyle.
This idea of modesty is especially important to preachers and teachers because their lives especially, must be lives of moral purity, above reproach, and free from unethical works of darkness, lying, dishonesty, cheating, lust, covetousness, evil speaking or false representation. The Church Order, Article 8, especially sets this idea out for us by giving a list of exceptional gifts that we must be assured young men have who seek the ministry. What are these gifts? They include godliness, a genuine piety and consecration to God in the fear of God. There is also humility, a humble heart and grace to forget oneself and set desire entirely on God. Third is modesty, a well-balanced and well controlled life which is virtuous in moral and ethical judgment. Fourth is common sense, an intellectual sharpness so that by one’s own reading and study one is advanced beyond others. A fifth spiritual gift is that of spiritual wisdom, a discretion, sound judgment and ability to discern truth and error, right and wrong. The last spiritual gift spoken of is that of public address wherein one is given the ability to express oneself, preach, speak publicly, and develop thought logically. While this article is laying out the gifts to be seen in persons who desire to enter the ministry but have not pursued the regular course of study in preparation for it, by way of implication is laying down the gifts that ought to be found in all ministers of the word. And of course I bring up this article of our confessions because one of the gifts that is necessary is modesty. So this could also be applied to teachers. While the preacher is a role model for his congregation, a teacher is a role model for the children that he/she teaches. The modesty which appears in one’s dress, speech, gestures, and actions must therefore be correct and serve as an example for the students rather than being a hindrance. One can only imagine, especially in an older classroom setting, if a young teacher, male or female, dressed seductively. The male students would not think of their studies but rather would entertain or fight against lustful thoughts of the teacher. The young women would be tempted to try to imitate or even outdo the teacher to gain the attention of the young men. I have witnessed this kind of distraction in the classroom. It is the responsibility then, of these role models to act accordingly, as role models ought to behave themselves and most importantly with the honor and respect that their position accords to them.
In conclusion, modesty or immodesty is the battle one faces as one tries to live one’s life. This decision governs how we conduct ourselves and therefore deserves the highest consideration. The world seems to be pulling at us from all sides encouraging it daily, but God by His Spirit and His word, the Bible, is also pulling on us, demanding that we walk in modesty, by walking in Christ. This is the conflict that we experience every day, whether we are shopping at the mall, seeing advertisements, or in our day-to-day contacts. Will we listen to God or Satan? Will we try to please God or our sinful flesh? Will we live as flowers of Christ or pleasers of men? This is something that we need to not only pray about but also study God’s Word and what it has to say on this matter. In studying the Bible one can clearly see that the walk that we choose to live must not be that of the world, but rather a walk in Christ. This idea is especially important for Christian teachers and ministers because their movements and actions are scrutinized more. This life of modesty cannot be done in our own strength for if left to ourselves we would follow our inclinations and live the easy life. We are weak and sinful, but this life can be attained by grace, looking to the author and finisher of our faith, our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the ultimate example.