Christian Modesty
How to Apply it Practically

 Christian modesty can be a pain to apply because everyone has their own idea of what is modest and what is not.

After becoming a Christian, I thought I was adhering to the rules of modesty but after getting "talked to," I discovered I was far from it (at least in their eyes).  Apparently I was a “stumbling block” to some of the guys at that school...and I was staff!

Unfortunately the call for modesty is often sounded with wrong motives. To learn more about the right motive for modesty read my page Modest is Hottest: A Deeper Look at the Motive for Modesty. In a nutshell, the popular slogan "modest is hottest"

  • equates purity with sexual desire,
  • uses shame as a motivator,
  • places too much responsibility on the female for men's lust
  • maximizes human glory instead of God's glory

But the Bible's call for Christian modesty is really about focusing on inner attitudes and character development instead of indulging vanity and having a superficial preoccupation with fashion. It has nothing to do with how the opposite sex responds. Read more about that in the link above.

I like what one author says, "There is no need to make the dress question the main point of your religion. There is something richer to talk of. Talk of Christ; and when the heart is converted, everything that is out of harmony with the Word of God will drop off. It is not your dress that makes you of value in the Lord's sight. It is the inward adorning, the graces of the Spirit, the kind word, the thoughtful consideration for others that God values...God does not want any one person to be conscience for another...There is no use in telling you that you must not wear this or that, for if the love of these vain things is in your heart, your laying off your adornments will only be like cutting the foliage off a tree. The inclinations of the natural heart would again assert themselves. You must have a conscience of your own."  (White, Child Guidance, 429) 

So, why am I about to share with you how to apply Christian modesty?

Because I believe there are many young ladies who are sincere but confused because of all the different interpretations of Christian modesty.  They simply don't know where to start or how to study the principles involved in Christian dress. Titus 2:3-5 says that older women should teach younger women how to be discreet. Modesty is one of the definitions of discreet.

As a new Christian I really wanted to be modest but I thought that meant I had to stop looking attractive and dress like an old lady.  Thankfully, those aren't your only two options. Pursuing Christian modesty doesn't mean you have to look like you're from the 1800's or look homely. Here are some principles to help you when you go shopping or when you're getting dressed in the morning.

1. Gender Distinction  

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” (Deut 22:5)  

The fact that it’s an abomination really gives a sense of urgency to understand how to apply it. Abomination means extreme disgust, hatred or loathing. As a Christian I certainly do not want to do anything that is an abomination!  

In many denominations, Christian modesty for females must include wearing skirts or dresses ALL the time.

Pants, they say, are too masculine. But in Bible times both genders wore a robe. And in heaven we all get a white robe (Revelation 6:11). So how do we define the distinction?

- Would it be violating Christian modesty for a man to wear a pink tie?
- Is it an abomination for a woman to be in the army, police force or work as a fire fighter? 
- Can a woman not wear her boyfriend’s coat when they are on a date and she gets cold?  
- Can men wear tights for ballet?
- What about unisex t-shirts?  

It would be a shame to impose our cultural conventions and make following them a moral absolute just so we can say we are following Christian modesty.

So what does this verse really teach? Is this verse just warning against cross-dressing?  How should this verse be interpreted and what applications regarding Christian modesty can we make from it today? 

The Bible Exposition Commentary of the Old Testament says it best, “The principle behind the law is that of separation from the world and recognition of God's order for men and women. It's a principle that helps us honor God and avoid confusion and sin. To say that we have to obey the letter of this law today is to miss the point.”  

God created us male and female and he wants us to maintain the sanctity of that distinction established at creation.  We should honor our gender roles with more than our plumbing. Effeminate men or masculine women are unnatural. Celebrate your God given gender by dressing in a way that suitable for a Christian lady or gentleman. Its best left up to the personal conviction of the individual on how they want to split hairs on the particular application of this verse.

2. Cover yourself appropriately.

Your body is the temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). That means it’s sacred.

Here is how Muhammad Ali, one of the most famous boxers of all time, described the concept to his daughter when he returned home from a trip and saw that his daughter’s clothes were immodest. Here is the story as told by one of his daughters:

My father took a good look at us. Then he sat me down on his lap and said something that I will never forget. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Hana, everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to. Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected. Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell. Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You've got to work hard to get to them."

He looked at me with serious eyes. "Your body is sacred. You're far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too." (Taken from the book: More Than A Hero: Muhammad Ali's Life Lessons Through His Daughter's Eyes.)

So how much should be covered? It seems so subjective. In an attempt to provide data for women, Alex and Brett Harris, (the twin brothers of Joshua Harris) created a website called The Rebelution: A teenagers rebellion against low expectations where over 200 women contributed questions about Christian modesty for men to answer. Over 1,600 Christian men ages 12 and up answered, not to tell women what to wear, but as a discussion to enlighten them with what they struggle with in response to how they dress. The questions covered a spectrum of areas like bathing-suits, skirts, pants, shorts, undergarments, hair, makeup, jewelry, shoes, posture/movement, etc. Not surprisingly, there were never any unanimous answers. For example, 65 men out there somewhere will have a problem with me showing my calves!

We should be concerned for the good of others (see Romans 14:7-19), not facilitating lust (or envy or disgust) by wearing revealing clothing, but we should also not be paranoid because somebody is going to lust even if you are wearing a burka. Christian modesty isn't the only solution for men's lust.

So let's look in the Bible to see if we can get anything a little more concrete.

After Adam and Eve sinned, they attempted to cover their nakedness with aprons. But the Lord saw these coverings as inadequate and made them with "tunics" which covered their front and back (even for Adam!) This indicates that bellies and backs should not be on display. 

The Christian Pundit shares some interesting insight on this. "God had to kill an animal in order to cover them, foreshadowing the fulfillment of the promise that Christ would die to cover their naked souls with His own righteousness. So our clothing must reflect the gospel reality of being covered."

And like Adam and Eve, what we naturally think is adequate is often not enough. The article goes on to explain how Scripture often uses the metaphor of believers being clothed in Christ's righteousness, as the Bride we are clothed with beauty; and as the Redeemed we are clothed in white robes. In contrast, a lack of adequate clothing is always associated with paganism, apostasy, or backsliding, and with God's judgment.  (Gen. 3:7; Is. 47:2, 3; Jer. 13:26; Nahum 3:5; Rev. 3:18, etc.).

So covering yourself adequately is primarily because of sin; hormones are secondary.

Application
- Raise your arms and see if your shirt comes up, exposing your belly. If it does, you can wear a tank top underneath.

- Sit down or squat and see if your shirt rides up or your pants ride down and expose your back or your underwear.

- If you are wearing a skirt, sit down and cross your legs. See if your skirt comes up too far, making it easier for people on the other side of the room to see in to your thighs.

- If a man taller than you were standing next to you and looked down, would they get an eye full of cleavage? If so, wear a higher cut shirt or a tank top underneath.

- A man once told me that Christian modesty covers the 4 B's; the Breasts, the Back, the Belly and the Butt (which includes thighs).

3. Be appropriate

I love skirts. I think they are actually more comfortable than jeans because they don't show your butt crack when you bend down and they don't squeeze your stomach when you sit down. I feel more feminine and cute too. Check out this pinterest board to see how cute modest skirts can be! But I just don't feel comfortable wearing them on all occasions.

Rock climbing, riding a bike, swimming, and jogging are some obvious occasions where it's just not suitable, and could even be dangerous! Cold weather is another occasion where sometimes pants can provide more warmth and protect your health. But even things like painting, gardening, playing on the floor with my kids or some house cleaning just call for some "I don't care if they get dirty jeans." I used to feel guilty when I worked at a Christian college and a student stopped by my house while I was wearing jeans. I felt like I wasn't being a good Proverbs 31 role model or something. But I've come to see that clothing should serve you. You shouldn't serve your clothes. They should enable you to function practically.

So don't feel like you have to look like you're going to church all the time just to adhere to the principles of Christian modesty. Dress appropriately for the occasion, dress appropriately for your age, and dress appropriately for the weather.

Christian modesty is, as I Timothy 2:9 says, “respectable”.

Application
- If you wear jeans, one way to help you know if they are too tight is to see if you can pinch the fabric on the thigh in the back. If you can't they are too tight.

- If you can't put anything in the pockets without a struggle or without it being obvious that you have something in the pockets, it's too tight.

- If you have to wiggle to get your jeans on, they are too tight.

- Still try to look feminine in whatever you wear.

- If you wear shorts, they should cover your thigh.

4. Be simple

I love bright colors. I love bold designs and unique "whoa, where did you get that?" clothing. Personal expression through clothing is not wrong. But there comes a point when I have to say, "It may be cute and flattering, but I don't need the kind of attention this outfit will attract."

I saw a girl one time at church with a ring on every finger of both hands, several bracelets on both wrists, a few necklaces and huge earrings. It was total overkill. Be simple. Let your natural beauty be the focal point. Go easy on the accessories, make-up, and flamboyant fabrics. When someone looks at you, will they think you are trying to imitate Hollywood, with your heart set on the world? Or will they see you as "a thankful servant who points to her Creator"? (source)

Dress in a way that the first thing people say to you is not about what you are wearing. Remember, "We judge of a person's character by the style of dress worn. Gaudy apparel betrays vanity and weakness. A modest, godly woman will dress modestly. A refined taste, a cultivated mind, will be revealed in the choice of simple and appropriate attire." (White, Counsels on Health, 601)

Application
- The first picture below shows a girl whose clothing is cute and flattering but screams "look at me!" The skirt is below the knees, the shirt has sleeves, she's not showing any cleavage, but the fabrics are not modest. It looks like a "worldly" outfit. She looks cheap. Not surprisingly this outfit can be bought at a boutique called sexymodest.com

Christian modesty must take into consideration the message you are giving with your style. Without words you can tell people what music you listen to, what you do on your free time, your status, etc. You can also convey attitudes like "I'm rebellious," "I'm easy" or "I'm vain." Never underestimate the first impressions you leave on people with what you wear. 

- Don't let your bra strap hang down on your shoulder. Not only is it a stumbling block to guys, but it also looks tacky.

- Also, it's not just what you wear, but how you carry yourself. Your clothes can be perfectly modest but your deportment can communicate something totally different.

5. Be culturally sensitive

In high school I traveled to Guatemala with my Spanish class. My teacher told us not to wear short shorts because the men there would think we were prostitutes. I paid no attention and got terrified one day when my friend and I were followed by several men on our way home from dance class.

The dress standard in the US is not the same as the dress standard in other countries. The same goes for sub-cultures within the United States. It is important to be like Paul who was "all things to all men" (1 Corinthians 9:22) for the sake of spreading the gospel easier. Dressing with Christian modesty will not cause needless offense or draw unnecessary attention to yourself. You can love your neighbor by being culturally sensitive.

Application
- If you are visiting your Grandmother's church where they dress formally, wear something more formal.

- If you are a missionary to the Middle East or Slavic countries you should wear a head covering

- A man wearing a Scottish kilt in the US would not be modest because he would be drawing attention to himself

- In Hawaii it's okay for men to wear a sarong but if they were on the mainland at a beach they'd get some strange looks. 

- If nakedness is the standard for indigenous people should missionaries wear strings and beads too? No. You can still minister successfully to a tribe without being lewd in your dress.

6. Be attractive

If you are convicted about adopting the principles of Christian modesty, you don't have to look ugly to do it. You can be modest without looking frumpy or "blah." God is the Creator of beauty and to look beautiful honors Him of whom you are made in the image of. You can be elegant without being extravagant.

Just because the world abuses the gift of beauty, we should not ignore the right use it.

The Scriptures teach that Christian modesty is for the purpose of developing inward beauty but not to the exclusion of external beauty.

Application
- Wear clothes that match

- Wear colors that compliment your complexion

- Wear clothes that fit properly

- Wear clothes that are up to date but not necessarily the latest fashion or trendy.

- Wear clothes that are clean, tidy, and neat (iron if necessary).

- When you get married, don't hang out in your pajamas all the time. Look good for your husband and children, not just strangers.

Conclusion
Christian modesty can be very exciting.  Olivia, a 20 year old blogger who gives practical wardrobe encouragement lives with the motto of  "Dressing outside your box, but inside His Book". She encourages others in the quest to be...

"Cute, but covered.

Stylish, but sensible!

Contemporary, but classic!

Feminine, but fresh!"

Of a Proverbs 31 woman it is said, "Strength and Honor are her clothing." (v. 25)

Back to top Christian Modesty See also Modest is Hottest: A Deeper Look at the Motives for Modesty


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