Gospel-motivated Modesty

“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 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.” (1 Peter 3:1–4 ESV)

What is Gospel-motivated Modesty?

So what is modesty? How about we define it by defining its opposite:

Immodesty is the self-focused motivation that uses the external to draw attention to self. It draws or allows attention to one’s physical beauty outside the confines of marital intimacy.

God gave each of us a body. The body is good. God made it. He will resurrect it someday.

God also made us sexual. He made our sexual parts too. By God’s design, those visual sensualities are to be reserved for the husband or the wife. Immodesty gives to others what is reserved for marriage. Immodesty uses the sensual power intended for the marital bedroom to draw attention and attraction in public. Why do you think advertisers use female bodies as they do? God made feminine sensuality powerful. Immodesty abuses that power for selfish purposes.

So hear this: modesty and immodesty begin in the heart. How should we feel about the woman who garnishes herself lavishly and sensually to gain approval? We should feel sad for her. That’s an empty way to live and relationships based on physical appearance are shallow and dissatisfying. Remember, Marilyn Monroe killed herself.

Modesty begins in the heart. With what? The humility the gospel requires. The gospel tells me that all my efforts to be accepted by God based on external measures are like filthy rags. The gospel tells me I am justified fully and completely by God based entirely on Jesus fulfilling God’s righteous demands for me on the cross. Because I am declared righteous I am fully accepted by Almighty God. My identity is in Jesus and through Jesus and because of Jesus. That’s what it means to be a Christian. “Modesty is humility expressed in a person’s dress.” (C.J. Mahaney)

What is modesty about? Modesty is all about him. My heart motive should be that everything in my life and body glorifies Jesus. I want him to be noticed. I want his grace in my life to be the thing that people find attractive. Peter says, your hair won’t evangelize your husband, but your attitude will. Your jewelry won’t attract attention to God, but your gentle and trusting spirit will. Focus on internal loveliness and a watching world and a watching husband will think, maybe there’s something to this Christianity.

Beauty Tips for Christian women (and Men Too)

Ask the right questions

Whenever you talk about appearance, legalists want lines and rules so they can feel self-righteous. On the other side of the spectrum are those who perhaps used to be legalists and now anything that sounds like talk about externals is repulsive. I can imagine all the “what about this?” questions that come from a message like this. Most of them are asking the wrong questions. Here are some right ones:

  • What is my heart motivation in this?
  • Who is being promoted by this?

 Gospel modesty doesn’t want to self-promote. It doesn’t want to magnify me.

  • How will this affect others?

You live in community with other people. Sisters, I really don’t believe you understand the male mind. What you think is cute or trendy often reveals body parts that don’t turn your brother’s thoughts to God. Since this is such a struggle and since you love your brothers in Christ, especially at church, men shouldn’t have to do the eye bounce. Could you love us enough to err on the safe side?

That’s not to say frumpy is beautiful (it’s not) or that godly women are as ugly as possible (they’re not). God wired you for adorning and beauty. Be fashionable without being sensual. Keep those sensual powers under wraps and then unleash them on your husband.

“Modesty wants God to be noticed.” (Tim Challies, Modesty Matters: Imperishable Beauty, Challies.com, November 13, 2013) That means when you are considering that new outfit, new hairdo, new tattoo, new whatever, you should ask, Is this going to draw attention to me or will it be a distraction from my goal of drawing attention to Jesus? Can I wear this to the glory of God? It’s one thing to dress culturally appropriate, it’s another to be culturally obsessed.

I think the goal is for dress and style to be a non-issue. To go unnoticed because it is neither ultra-stylish nor ultra not-stylish. One application for me is frankly what I wear when I preach. For years I always wore a coat and tie. Styles changed. I have too. I don’t really care that much because I don’t want anyone to leave the church thinking about my fashion or what I wear. I don’t want my style or lack of style to be a distraction. So I try to dress rather non-noticeable. I don’t want our church to get the idea that I think fashion and appearance are ultra-important. They are not. They only become important when they distract from the gospel.

Teach our sons and daughters early

If God doesn’t look at the outward but rather looks at the heart, what does that tell us about where our parenting emphasis should be? I feel this especially for our daughters who are growing up in a culture that objectifies them as sexual objects for men. Porn obviously does that, but normal and accepted teen culture does as well.

Sexting is a huge issue right now. Teenagers take pictures of their private places and send them to one another. It is the logical outcome of worth based on sensual appearance. This is why Miley Cyrus and Brittany Spears end up taking their clothes off for the camera. A sexualized identity inexorably leads them to do so.

So parents, how are you going to raise your kids to value what God values instead of what the culture values? Can I offer at least one guideline? Celebrate what God celebrates. Don’t celebrate what he doesn’t. As an example, we are coming off prom season at the local high schools. While thankfully there are many exceptions, it is dismaying to me to see Facebook pictures of young ladies in our church wearing outfits clearly designed to show off their body. Then parents post pictures celebrating their daughter’s immodest dress. With that much cleavage on display, what can even a godly young man help but think about? Trust me, that teen boy doesn’t need any help to think that way.

The real problem isn’t the dresses or the pictures; these are symptoms. Once a girl finds her worth from boys in her appearance, she will seek that approval in increasingly sensual ways.

The battle starts long before prom in what we praise and celebrate and how we form their self-identity. Yes, health is important and our bodies need to be cared for as good stewards. But body is not identity. Help your children find worth and value in the internal and eternal. In beautiful attitudes like kindness and love. Celebrate them in your home and reward them. Post those pictures on Facebook. Talk them up. Model Christian modesty yourself and your son and daughter will catch on.

For our sons, we need to mold their understanding toward character-based love. Dads, be careful how you speak of women and the things your son sees your eyes enjoying. Praise your wife and daughters for spiritual qualities more than physical. Then pray a lot.

Jesus is more beautiful

“How passionately are some foolish men in love with the external beauty which they see in some women? The exact symmetry of parts, and comely proportion of the body? The amiable features and lovely mixtures of colors in the face; the beauty of the eyes in their spirit, their quick and graceful motions, and amorous glances? How does this ravish the hearts of some fond lovers, although the most beautiful body in the world is no better than painted clay, dirt, and corruption enclosed in a fair skin, which sickness will cause to look pale and wane, death will quite mar and spoil? But the amiableness and beauty of Christ is more transcendent and permanent and, therefore, a more fit object for your love. Christ is fairer than the children of men. He is all fair, without any spot, altogether lovely, without any blemish or deformity.” (Thomas Vincent, Love for the Unseen Christ, p. 34.)

Gospel modesty…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. (1 Peter 3:4)

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

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