Why is modesty important for the Christian woman? The reason is the gospel.
In both 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 2, the context of the command to modesty is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter and Paul remind their readers and us that Jesus, “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2.24) and “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6).
The perfect God gave his perfect Son to redeem sinners like you and me. And it is his grace that causes us to “grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2), enables us to “die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24), and compels us to wear clothing that reflects the gospel.
The gospel message is our motivation for modest dress. As my dad, CJ Mahaney explains: “The woman who loves the Savior avoids immodesty because she doesn’t want to distract from or reflect poorly upon the gospel.” The way Christian women dress should “not detract from but enhance their gospel mission” writes John Stott.
We have a gospel mission: not only to preach Christ, but to live in a way consistent with our profession of faith. As we preach the good news of the transforming work of our Savior, our dress should reflect His power at work in us.
May there be no contradiction between our gospel message and the clothes we wear. And may our modest dress be a witness to the One who gave Himself as a ransom for all.
Have you ever worn the wrong clothes to an event? I once heard the story of a woman who was invited to the White House for a function that she assumed was formal, only to find out that it was business casual and she was the only one wearing a gown. How embarrassing.
No doubt we’ve all got stories like hers, although they probably didn’t happen at the White House! But the most concerning wardrobe-fail of all is when a Christian woman wears the wrong clothes.
Thankfully, we know the dress code. God has provided us with a very clear pattern for a Christian woman’s dress. Not only has he told us what not to wear but he has also told us what we should wear.
The Apostle Paul sums up the Christian woman’s style: “I desire then…that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control” (1 Tim. 2:8–9).
First, note the imperative: “women should adorn themselves” (emphasis mine). In warning against excess, Paul is not saying, “Forget about your appearance. A Christian woman shouldn’t be concerned with how she looks.”
Quite the contrary—it matters a great deal what we look like. We are not to ignore our appearance; instead, we are to make a conscious effort to adorn ourselves, to look attractive.
The Christian woman does this by clothing herself “in respectable apparel.” This doesn’t harken back to your grandmother’s dress code; rather, it means that we make a deliberate effort to wear clothing and accessories appropriate to the woman whose life has been transformed by the gospel.
We take great care to dress in a way that honors the Savior.
What we wear should line up with, speak to, and be consistent with our profession of faith. Our dress should intentionally and carefully show our desire to glorify God in all things. And it should display the power of the gospel we have received to do just that.
So just as we would choose a summer dress and not a ball gown for an afternoon picnic, so a Christian woman should only wear clothing that is appropriate to a gospel-centered life.
The Right Clothes
by Elisabeth Elliot in A Lamp Unto My Feet
Only certain costumes suit Christians. To be otherwise dressed is inappropriate.
“Put on the garments that suit God’s chosen people, his own, his beloved: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience” (Col 3:12 NEB).
“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 13:14 RSV)
“You have all put on Christ as a garment.” (Gal 3:27 NEB)
“You must put on the new nature of God’s creating.” (Eph 4:24 NEB)
“You have discarded the old nature with its deeds and have put on the new nature.” (Col 3:10 NEB)
“Put on love.” (Col 3:14 RSV)
The clothes we wear are what people see. Only God can look on the heart. The outward signs are important. They reveal something of what is inside. If charity is there, it will become visible outwardly, but if you have no charitable feelings, you can still obey the command. Put it on as simply and consciously as you put on a coat. You choose it; you pick it up; you put it on. This is what you want to wear.
Do you want to dress like a Christian? Put on Christ. The act of honest obedience—the fruit of love for Christ—is your part. Making you Christlike through and through is his part.
For my heart:
In choosing what clothes to wear, whose attention do I desire and whose approval do I crave? Am I seeking to please God or impress others?
Is what I wear consistent with biblical values of modesty, self-control and respectable apparel, or does my dress reveal an inordinate identification and fascination with sinful cultural values?
Who am I trying to identify with through my dress? Is the Word of God my standard or the latest fashion?
Does my clothing reveal an allegiance to the gospel or is there any contradiction between my profession of faith and my practice of godliness?
What do my clothes say about my heart?
For my wardrobe (adapted from Nancy DeMoss):
With my dress, am I guilty of…
...exposing intimate parts of the body?
...emphasizing private or alluring parts of the body?
”[W]omen should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” 1 Timothy 2:9
My husband, CJ, received the following email last week, thanking him for his sermon on modesty. May we all be provoked and encouraged by this woman’s example!
Dear Sir, ?
I would like to thank you for sharing the message “The Soul of Modesty”—the Holy Spirit used it to convict me of things that needed to change. ?
If there were a way to attach a photo, I would include a picture of a pile of clothes on my bed that are leaving my house today. Low cut or short items or even things that I have ever received a second, sidelong, lustful glance while wearing are no longer an option for me—my closet is empty by about half.
I am discarding them to avoid temptation to slip back in to bad habits-especially in the light of summer’s dawn and the pressure I imagine will be there to “compete.” I am asking God for His help with this and the fruit of His Spirit in my life. ??
When I heard the message you shared I became aware that it is indeed a soul issue. And though it is no excuse, I feel that my “issue” with this subject has been ‘ignorance’ as you termed it—but not an ignorance of appropriateness but rather an ignorance of the underlying attitude attached to my behavior.
I felt it was important to “hold my own” and especially in regards to my husband to “stay on his radar.” But also, it cannot be denied that there is a spirit of arrogance and pride to my immodesty, a call for ‘undue attention to oneself’ as you said. This particular point was what struck to the heart of me and though it stung, I am grateful for your willingness to wield a lance.
As I struggled with what to do in response to the conviction I felt, I wrestled with “covering up” while my husband would still be surrounded and bombarded by images & women who have not yet heard the call to modesty (I truly love those women also and wish to reach out to them. It is my intent to start by example.) But, without any concrete answers of how to handle those feelings, I came to the conclusion that I would best respond by choosing to glorify God in this matter and do the right thing personally—leaving my fears and self image issues, as well as my husband’s heart, in His hands. I am trusting the Holy Spirit to continue to lead me through this as He has already been doing since I heard your message.
This also affects my children, and I hope to talk to my daughter about the changes I am making and what brought about that conviction. I hope that above all they will SEE a difference in me—not just my clothes but the heart underneath.
I will be praying that many more lives will be touched by this truth you’ve shared. ??
“As women, clothing and appearance are some of the most powerful and important means we have of sending a message about our hearts and our values. So here’s the question. What do your clothes and your appearance communicate about you? What message are you sending? Unfortunately, this issue represents an area where too many Christian women have accepted the secular world’s way of thinking, with the rationalization that ‘Maybe it’s okay so long as we just don’t go to the farthest extremes.’ That’s why we have to go back to the Word of God and ask, ‘What is God’s way of thinking about all this? What message should we be sending? And how can we send that message with our clothing and with our outer appearance?’” Nancy Leigh DeMoss
For more on modesty from Nancy check out:
Caution! Your Clothes are Talking
Philosophies of Beauty in Conflict
HT: Tony Reinke
A retweet of sorts. Last week John Piper tweeted “Teaching your eight-year-old daughter how to dress is not legalism. Modesty inbred preempts legalism.” He also linked to a provocative CNN.com article by a dad who challenges parents to take responsibility for the way their little girls dress.
To help you (and your daughters) preempt legalism and cultivate biblical convictions about modesty, we wrote a series a few years ago called Fashion and Following the Savior. We wanted to show that modesty isn’t an out-of-fashion, man-made rule but an essential quality for all women for all time who “profess godliness” (1 Tim 2:9-10).
And even if you think you’ve heard it all before, the virtue of modesty needs repeating, reminding, retweeting. For we so easily forget the loveliness of a modest heart and the refreshing beauty of modest dress.
With the changing of the seasons come the new fall fashions. As we stand in front of the dressing room mirror or our closet at home, John Calvin, the great reformer, has two questions for us. In short, he wonders, what do our clothes say about our relationship to God?
“Where is our gratefulness toward God for our clothing if in the sumptuousness of our apparel we both admire ourselves and despise others, if with its elegance and glitter we prepare ourselves for shameless conduct?”
“Where is our recognition of God if our minds be fixed upon the splendor of our apparel? For many so enslave all their senses to delights that the mind lies overwhelmed.” (HT: Justin Taylor)
If other words, what brazen ungratefulness is expressed if we proudly admire ourselves for the clothing God has provided, if we dress to attract the attention and admiration of others instead of drawing their attention to God, and worst of all, if we dress to “allure men sexually?” What kind of “thank you” is this to God for His good gift of attractive, comfortable, and warm clothing?
And how can our minds be fixed upon the goodness and the glory of God if they are consumed with thoughts of what we wear? If we are preoccupied with the latest fashions, which (like the grass) will be here today and gone tomorrow, how can we worship and love the eternal Savior with all our minds?
Sobering questions as we consider fall fashions. I am convicted.
Today on Dad’s blog you will find:
(1) an index to his recent modesty series
(2) discussion questions to go along with the series
(3) a downloadable PDF of the chapter where these posts originated (“God, My Heart, and Clothes”)
(4) and (YEAH!) a 35 percent pre-order discount for the book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (thanks to our friends at Crossway!).
I know we’ve already mentioned modesty once this spring, but it bears repeating. The fashion industry and our “porn positive” culture certainly doesn’t hesitate to push immodesty on us day after day, and so we must cling tenaciously to the gospel-promoting virtues of modesty and self-control.
To help us put on these virtues this fashion season, Dad has posted the first in a seven part series on “Modesty: God, My Heart, and Clothes.” These are excerpts from his chapter in a new book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World due out in September. (More on this book in the days to come!)
Even if you think you’ve already “heard it all,” follow along this week as he examines the qualities of a godly woman’s dress that are always in style.