by Jim Harmon

Part I
Reason to be Concerned

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” — Matthew 5:8

The headline marks another nail in modesty’s coffin: “Nudity takes off…The clothing-optional lifestyle is becoming big business, and nobody’s blushing.”

The CNN/Money article went on to explain that a “relatively affluent customer base” has made nudism a major growth industry. Nude recreation is no longer confined to an isolated “nudist colony” here and there; rather, it offers “a wide variety of activities to a growing audience.” The report states that in addition to a large number of clothing-optional resorts, “There are nude cruises and motorcycle rallies, clothing-free hiking and camping. A charter airline ran a nude flight, and at least three nudist summer camps for teenagers are in operation.” Noteworthy in the headline is the phrase, “and nobody’s blushing.” It implies that there was a time when to “blush” or feel embarrassed was a natural response to public indecency.

Fashion reigns

Nudism packages itself as cutting-edge leisure and entertainment. It coincides with the trend in popular fashion which is, to speak bluntly, toward nakedness. Fashion designers seem fixed on the idea that less is more, vigorously promoting that which is trendy, physically revealing, and sensual, not only for the beach, but for the street and ballroom as well. Their marketing is hip and persuasive, primarily aimed at an eager audience of teens and young women (e.g., The Express’s “Recklessly Sexy Jeans”). It matters not whether a garment is a suitable fit or style for the wearer: it’s all about wearing what is popular. It is not surprising that Americans readily accept these styles (1 Cor. 2:14). What is truly troublesome is that many in the church have bowed the knee to the pied pipers of provocative fashions, as if to say: “What I wear is my business.”

To speak of modesty or standards of modesty today is to risk branding oneself as naïve, impractical, out-of-date, and a prude–and even worse–a meddler. Modesty, says Jeff Pollard in his book, Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America, is a “controversial” and “thorny” issue for the church. Strange, but true. Principles of modesty are woven convincingly throughout Scripture. Through various events and direct instruction, modesty is shown to be one of the character traits that marks God’s people. Modesty is akin to the godly qualities of humility, discretion, purity, and self-control, yet it’s a topic that remains essentially unattended in the area of Christian instruction. That said, here are some thoughts that frame this commentary:

  • Modesty, as addressed in both the Old and New Testaments, is important to understanding the holiness of God.
  • Biblical modesty is not a matter of law; it is a state of mind or disposition, ultimately reflecting the “hidden man of the heart.”
  • Considerations of modesty should moderate how Christians speak, behave, and adorn themselves, particularly in public and mixed company situations.
  • Parents who are indifferent to their preteen’s or teen’s (boys and girls) desire to dress in many of today’s fashions are putting their children at risk for social and spiritual problems later.

It is the clear teaching of Scripture that Christians are not to just acknowledge a higher standard, but to live to the highest standard. It is the standard of purity and holiness. That standard is convincingly set forth throughout the Word of God, revealed in various ways in various settings. It may be most simply yet powerfully declared in these words: “ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44, 45; 1 Pet. 1:16). Also, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; (Eph. 5:1). These are sobering words: they link us uniquely to God and obviously bear serious, Biblical significance.

Simply explained, God’s call is that Christians are to be different ― distinguishable from the popular culture in how they think and conduct themselves (Matt. 5:16). They are individually and corporately to be a “peculiar people” (Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9). This truth emerges in the earliest pages of Genesis; Scripture proclaims God’s righteous standards and that He graciously defines limits to our liberty. Christians are to regard themselves as “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11), not loving the world nor the things in the world (1 John 2:15). In the sense of Romans 12:1-2, Christians are to be non-conformists, not just a subculture on cruise control, but a counterculture that by nearly every measure “marches to the beat of a different drummer”— the Lord Jesus Christ.

A small word with a big meaning

In our fast-moving, transient society, people often never get connected with important, foundational history. This mid-16th century view of modesty, defined by its parts, gives a helpful perspective:

  1. humility: unwillingness to draw attention to your own achievements or abilities.
  2. sexual reserve: reserve about nudity or sexual matters, especially a preference for clothes that keep much of the body covered.
  3. shyness: lack of confidence when speaking to others or stating opinions, and the tendency to be uneasy or embarrassed in company.
  4. simplicity: lack of grandeur or ostentation.
  5. moderationmoderation in size, scale, or extent.

A modern dictionary (1953) defines the word “modesty” similarly:

  1. Placing a moderate or low estimate on one’s own merits; not forward or boastful.
  2. Evincing, or arising from, lack of boldness, presumption, display, etc.; moderate, unpretentious.
  3. Observing the proprieties of sex; chaste; decent.

Formal definitions of modesty have remained relatively unchanged. In terms of practical application, the concept has substantially left the public mind. As recent as the early 1900’s modesty was taken seriously and was at the heart of the Christian concept of “decent” clothing. The first swim suits for women, for example, consisted of bloomers and black stockings, covering the woman from her neck to her ankles. Styles continued to change, but a woman’s figure was still basically concealed through the 1800’s. When the bikini hit the market in the 1960’s, it was apparent that the practice of modesty had been reduced to having the private parts covered. And so it is today.

Clothes came in with sin

While some see a concern for modesty as “just another wave of legalism slapping upon the shores of Christian liberty,” the truth is that the necessity and practicality of modesty rests firmly in God — His nature, His grace, and His will. It is first evident in God’s response to a disgraced Adam and Eve in the garden. When the first couple recognized that they were naked, they “were afraid” and “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Gen. 3:7-10). In a moment, the naturalness and beauty of their original state became sinful, shameful nakedness. Guilt, shame, and disgrace entered human history.

It is instructive that Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover themselves by sewing fig leaves together was not sufficient. But God was gracious; He covered them, providing coats of skin (Gen. 3:21). Contrary to the popular illustrations of Adam and Eve with their fig leaves, God’s covering was not a loin skin for Adam and a fur bikini for Eve. Rather, the Greek word for the garments is kuttoneth, understood to mean a tunic, coat, or dress — essentially full body covering. Matthew Henry, 17th century pastor and commentator, explains:

See…God’s care for our first parents, notwithstanding their sin. Clothes came in with sin. Little reason have we to be proud of our clothes, which are but the badges of our shame. When God made clothes for our first parents, he made them warm and strong, but coarse and very plain; not robes of scarlet, but coats of skin.

While there are important exceptions, “nakedness” in the Old Testament often suggests weakness, need, and humiliation (Deut. 28:48; Job 1:21; Isa. 58:7). The first experience of guilt was expressed as an awareness of nakedness. The marriage relationship is one of those exceptions. As a “one flesh” union, God has granted that a husband and wife are to not only enjoy and serve one another in every way, they can stand together before God and one another, naked and unashamed.

Some may contend that because the word “modest” does not appear in Genesis, principles of modesty cannot be drawn from it. But Biblical principles and spiritual truths are often revealed and demonstrated through literal events. In this case, the extent to which God covered Adam and Eve establishes a moral principle that is reinforced throughout the Old and New Testament, and is to be a moderating influence regardless of cultural trends or changing times.

Modesty in action

While our word “modest” appears only once, for example, in the King James Version of the Bible, different words related to modesty are often used. How they relate to modesty is made clear in their Greek meanings. Consider kosmos, kosmios, and kosmeō. The word “modesty” comes from kosmios which means orderly, proper, decent, modest, respectable. The root word kosmos, from which kosmios and kosmeō are derived, refers to order, adornment, decoration. It also signifies the world, or the universe, as that which is Divinely arranged (Matt. 13:35; John 3:16; 1 John 2:15; James 1:27). These terms are used in three passages from the epistles of Paul and Peter:

1 Timothy 2:9-10 – In like manner also, that women adorn [kosmeō] themselves in modest [kosmios] apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

The context relates to public worship, though the principles set the standard for other occasions as well. It is apparent that while the woman should not seek to exalt herself or satisfy public expectations with inappropriately expensive or conspicuous, prideful fashions, she need not resort to styles that are plain or outdated. The Scriptures picture a moderate policy, one that considers modesty, what is appropriate for the occasion and, by implication, one’s body style. In today’s market, there are still many fashions that would be suitable to this standard. The word “shamefacedness” in the above verse carries with it the idea of an innate moral quality that causes blushing or a sense of embarrassment or shame concerning that which is dishonorable (e.g., nakedness, immodesty).

1 Timothy 3:1-6 – This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour [kosmios], given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

While there are many who desire to lead in the church, Paul’s high call for church leaders reminds of James’ caution to those who would desire to teach (James 3:1). Paul carefully lays out high standards, qualities that portray the mature Christian man. Principles related to modesty are obvious. Though Paul is speaking specifically of church leaders, Scripture as a whole teaches that these qualities should be evident and increasing in every Christian man, though the popular culture around him idolizes an extreme kind of guy — independent, bold, daring, and sexy.

1 Peter 3:1-4 – Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning [kosmos] let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

The apostle Peter urges modesty in dress and demeanor, emphasizing that what is truly important in one’s adorning [kosmos] is the inner life, the “hidden man of the heart.” It is the character of the inner life that forms and is expressed in conversation, demeanor, and clothing preferences. Said differently, the way one talks and behaves is an indicator of the state of their conscience toward God (Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 2:19). Again, while Peter is specifically addressing wives in this passage, it is obvious from other passages that his instruction has much to say to believers in general.

Contending with moral indifference

We are living in a time of moral confusion, and our generation’s indifference to moral concerns is reflected in many of today’s styles. Christians should be concerned that many fashions, particularly for women, are harlot-like and amount to public undress. In both cut and cloth they selectively expose and emphasize certain areas of the body. Whatever fashion statement the wearer intends to make, it certainly can’t be “I’ve got a secret.” Instead of being appreciated for her well-ordered taste and feminine beauty, her “adorning” will more likely arouse an unholy interest, even lust, in the minds of male onlookers.

This is a problem that naturally bleeds into the church. It’s serious because it brings distraction and confusion, compromising the cause of Christ. Guarding against it does not necessarily bind anyone in some form of legalism. The church that is silent regarding issues like this diminishes its ministry and shortchanges its followers in doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

Modesty, to use the vernacular, is “a God thing.” It is also an appealing character trait and an effective defense against various forms of immorality. Even if the church doesn’t speak to the issue, believers are still personally responsible to be growing in Christian character and virtue, rejecting those ideas and practices that are not in harmony with the Scriptures. The apostle Paul focused the subject with some urgency: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).

Part II
Loving the Things in the World

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 1 John 2:15-16

The apostle John’s laser-sharp exhortation embodies the essence of how Christians should manage their lives in a world that “lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). The apostle Paul echoed John’s warning: “And be not conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2a).

The Lord, as He did with Adam and Eve, grants His people great freedom, but to “love the world” is not one of them. The “world” in this context is the whole human scheme of things, organized in terms of human wisdom to attain a human goal, without reference to God, His laws, His values, or His ultimate judgment. The world, by nature, is hostile to the Word of God.

It is the world in which Jesus said “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). There will come a time when this “spiritual house” will be finished. Christ’s church will be perfect in its completeness, just as the Father planned. Until that time, the world is so arranged that everything we come in contact with from the time we are born has been conceived, shaped, or influenced in some way by worldly ideas, standards, or practices. This includes the clothes we wear. The consequence is the obvious trend in popular fashion against modesty and toward public “nakedness.” This should be a particular concern for the church in that revealing and provocative styles pepper not only every public venue today, they often strut in the sanctuary as well.

The fashion industry is creative, colorful, and dynamic. It radiates celebrity and glamour. Yet like television and the motion picture industry, it is a stronghold of self-interest and self-expression that has no regard for Christian values, particularly modesty. The gurus of fashion have long mesmerized an adoring public, which each year eagerly anticipates the designer’s proclamations of what it should be wearing. For many, talking about and wearing what is “in” is a ruling principle in their lives. Whether the issue is “hot” fashion, the latest Harry Potter book, or the opening of a mega grocery store, the frenzy that surrounds these occasions attests to what it means to “love the world” and “the things that are in the world.” Jeff Pollard, author of Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America, makes this observation regarding fashion:

The fashion industry does not believe that the principle purpose of clothing is to cover the body; it believes that the principal purpose of clothing is sexual attraction. This is the very opposite of Christian modesty.

Signs of the times

For evidence, one needs look no further than the windows and walls of many of our clothing stores to see large, explicit displays. Victoria’s Secret, for example, leaves little to the imagination in marketing its “Very Sexy, Very Now” and “Fun & Flirty” fashions. Victoria’s Secret has long been targeted for boycott by The American Decency Association because they “aggressively use eroticism in marketing their product.” Abercrombie and Fitch go even further in featuring barely-clad college-age youth in a recent catalog. They are also on the ADA boycott list.

On their Web site, the ADA questions the lack of concern in the church. “Where is the outcry,” they ask, “especially from those in the Christian community? Too often those within the church live no differently than those outside.” They add this warning:

The marketing tactics used by Abercrombie & Fitch, are beginning to be followed by other companies. If A&F continues its push, with little public outcry, expect a deluge of pornography in the marketplace in the not so distant future.

Amid the fashions that do not honor God, there are numerous attractive, stylish, and complimentary choices that do. Regrettably, it’s the daring, on-the-edge choices that tend to capture the public’s fancy. Quoting from Part I:

We are living in a time of moral confusion, and our generation’s indifference to moral concerns is reflected in many of today’s styles. Christians should be concerned that many fashions, particularly for women, are harlot-like and amount to public undress. In both cut and cloth they selectively expose and emphasize certain areas of the body. Whatever fashion statement the wearer intends to make, it certainly can’t be “I’ve got a secret.” Instead of being appreciated for her well-ordered taste and feminine beauty, her “adorning” will more likely arouse an unholy interest, even lust, in the minds of male onlookers.

The attire of a harlot (prostitute) has a distinctive look that is designed to draw attention and stimulate desire (Prov. 7:10). Whether for street wear or dress-up, the fashions listed below succeed in sidestepping modesty in some way, casting reminders of the attire of the harlot. They represent the kind of merchandise that should be on every Christian’s First Thessalonians 5:21 list (“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”).

Halter tops

Tube tops

“Tanks,” “Tees,” and “Camis”

Sheer blouses

Low-cut shirts and blouses

Mini skirts

Low-rise jeans

Short shorts

Dresses with low-cut fronts or backs

Skirts and dresses with side slits

From a Christian perspective, problems with any garment should become self-evident by examining it to determine if anything about its design or use “appeals to the flesh.” For example, the camisole, a short negligee jacket for women, was originally an undergarment. Obviously, as a short and lacy outer garment, it offers a new opportunity to “look sexy.” Dressing to look sexy is an invitation to lust. Lust, of course, is a sin which especially men are cautioned in Scripture to avoid. Is it not then a stumbling block for others when Christian women dress in revealing fashions?

Fashion emergencies?

Notwithstanding the condemnation of “nakedness” in the Old Testament and the New Testament’s clear teaching on practical modesty, these styles tend to confirm that what is popular is not necessarily stylish. For example, bare mid-riffs, the combination of the short tee shirt or cami and low-rise pants, often reveal unflattering tummies, unexceptional navels, and unbecoming tattoos. Body types being what they are, these styles quickly make a myth of the idea that one style fits all. Also, dyed and bleached jeans may not be particularly revealing, but the patterns often accentuate the private areas. Instead of eliciting an appreciation and respect for God-given feminine beauty, they tend to expose the wearer’s naiveté.

We shouldn’t be surprised. “Sexy” is the operative word for many stores catering to pre-teens, teens and college-age customers. Express features a pant line it calls the “Sexy, low-rise, slim-fit fashion story” as well as “Recklessly Sexy Jeans.” Limited punctuates its wall décor with artistically scripted slogans — “Smart – Modern – Sexy;” “Casual – Sexy – Cool;” “Sexy Sweater;” and “I Love Sexy Pants.” This kind of marketing has proven effective in turning heads and stirring emotions, particularly among youth and young women whose world revolves around Cosmo Girl and Britney Spears. Other stores, such as Rampage, The Gap, and Miller’s Outpost feature essentially the same styles, but seem more restrained in featuring with the word, “sexy.”

Men’s fashions typically are not as revealing. However, some males (pre-teens to college-age) have adopted Hip Hop fashion, wearing their pants so baggy and low off the hips that one wonders how they stay up. These styles are imitative of those popular among inner-city youth. Even though graceless and cumbersome, they are said to be “cool.” (“Cool,” of course, is that exceedingly elastic word that represents an unarguable endorsement of the object of its attention.) Graceless quickly turns to vulgar (in female fashions, as well) when the wearer’s underwear and “butt-crack” show as they lean over or sit down. That said, a greater reason for concern, particularly for parents, is that these fashions cannot be easily separated from the influence of Hip Hop culture and the explicitly sexual lyrics and imagery that permeate many of its stage events and music videos.

It is in the area of beach attire and swimwear for women that modesty is most openly ignored. For many sun-worshippers, water enthusiasts, and beach athletes, wearing the legal minimum is the norm. Carousing spring breakers push even that line, rewarding bosom-baring exhibitionists with rousing hoots and whistles. As was pointed out in Part I, modesty was a common consideration in women’s swimwear right up to the 1900’s. Styles were designed to cover a woman’s figure from neck to ankles. It had to do with the prevailing view of “decency.” Today, skimpy attire that one wouldn’t dare wear to school, on the streets downtown, or in the mall, is considered “okay” for the beach or the pool.

It’s not just about clothes

Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. — 2 Tim. 2:22

At the beach or pool, nakedness is on parade, not in a programmed or published medium, but in real time. Yet Christians, even those who diligently avoid certain movies, television programs, and literature because of offensive content, happily join in. Author Pollard makes this sobering point:

Swimwear not only legitimized nakedness but its Siamese twin, voyeurism. The female form was no longer a fantasy hidden under layers of cloth and petticoats: it was now a stark, sensual reality for all those who wanted to look.

A voyeur is one who obtains gratification from seeing sexual objects, acts, or scenes. Voyeurism is most commonly associated with sexual perversion, “Peeping Toms” and the like. It represents the antithesis of purity of mind and conscience. A God-fearing Christian will not succumb to this kind of behavior, but Christians should not underestimate the tendency toward voyeurism that can be stimulated by continued exposure to forms of indecency. Seemingly innocent “girl watching” and “boy watching,” unadvised and ungoverned, will eventually numb the conscience. Impure thoughts will engage the mind freely.

Voyeurism (though it’s not called that) is today a mainstream pastime, popularized effectively by Playboy magazine. The magazine, with its slick format and striking photography, fronts an unholy but thriving empire of celebrity, glamour, sensuality, and sex.

Sports Illustrated has joined the party with its annual swimsuit edition. But guess what? The issue is not really about swim suits! Even though its photographs are contrived, silly, and even vulgar, SI has successfully amended the meaning of “sports illustrated” to take advantage of an ever-growing market. Add the World Wide Web, and the voyeur’s field of dreams has no boundaries.

Almighty over all

In the days of old, God laid on Israel what might be characterized as The Great Requirement:

And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD’S thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is. (Deut. 10:12-14)

God had ordained Israel as “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). He set specific standards regarding faith and conduct. Issues of purity and rites of purification were major issues for the people. The apostle Peter, invoking the Old Testament language that signified God’s stamp on Israel, reminded his readers of their position and duty as New Testament priests. Notice his phrasing that points to moral purity.

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Pet. 2:9, 11-12).

Moral purity will express itself in forms of modesty. Purity in thought and modesty interrelate as the means by which one can “abstain from fleshly lusts.” Together they reflect a “heart” that desires to please God and to be considerate of others. Yet modesty is really not so much about dress, as it is undress. Modes of undress have long been characteristic among heathen peoples. Christians were often noted for their modesty. Today, the distinctions are blurred. The church, to its shame, is mimicking the world in matters of purity and modesty. While moral purity is a personal issue, it is first a Biblical issue and not to be open to private interpretation (2 Pet. 1:20).

Who is to be pleased?

It’s clear from Scripture that Biblical modesty and popular fashion represent opposing world views. Biblical modesty is of God; popular fashion is not. When it comes to modesty, there is the risk of getting legalistic. Throughout history institutions have enforced certain codes of dress to bind their people to a certain ethic to assure a certain outcome. But it is not legalistic when precepts of Scripture that are intended to inform men’s minds and consciences are brought to bear in a matter. In this case, diverse and relevant principles of modesty, embedded throughout Scripture, are to rule over the opinions and preferences of men. For the Christian, every question involving dress and undress ultimately comes down to whom does he want to please — God or man? Who sets the standards that Christians are to live by — God or man? Who said, “ye shall be holy; for I am holy” — God or man? The answers are easy; putting them into practice is not.

The apostle Paul warns, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” (1 Cor. 15:33). Paul’s term, “evil communications,” carries the meaning of associating with “bad company.” Christians are in bad company when they are apathetic or complacent about the worldly influences that swirl around them. The psalmist’s insight is vitally instructive for believers today:

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. — Psalm 119:9-11

Part III
The Heart of the Matter

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. ― Joshua 24:15

Joshua’s command to Israel, coupled with his own declaration to serve the Lord, should be a ringing reminder in every Christian household. From the beginning, God’s people have lived, and live today, in the land of the “Amorites,” no matter where they are. The challenge for God’s people, simply stated, is to live in that foreign land, a land that “lieth in wickedness,” yet without becoming like the foreigners. Matthew Henry explains:

Joshua puts them to their choice; but not as if it were indifferent whether they served God or not. Choose you whom ye will serve, now the matter is laid plainly before you. He resolves to do this, whatever others did. Those that are bound for heaven, must be willing to swim against the stream. They must not do as the most do, but as the best do. And no one can behave himself as he ought in any station, who does not deeply consider his religious duties in family relations.

While Henry’s insight could be applied to many situations, ground rules for dealing with issues of modesty are certainly apparent in his idea that Christians “must be willing to swim against the stream,” and that “They must not do as the most do, but as the best do.”

As stated in Part I, Christians are called by God to live not to just a higher standard, but to the highest standard; that Christianity is not merely a subculture that is biding its time until the rapture, but a counterculture that desires above all to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10). The apostle Paul was most emphatic in admonishing the Corinthians:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).

Glorify…your body?

It is clear that fashion retailers whose advertising is sexually-oriented, promote controversy as part of their marketing strategy. Controversy and popularity seem to go hand in hand, particularly with a “fashion-lovin’ public.” The fashion industry has a stranglehold on every category of the buying public ― from crib to coffin. Fashion designers are revered as the seers of our time, knowing just how we should be adorning ourselves. We advertise their products free of charge, simply for the privilege and pleasure of being seen wearing their logos. We are “slaves to fashion.” Image is king. In many ways, however, we are play-acting, continually trying to fit in with that which is popular. It’s a treadmill, and it’s moving faster and faster, scooping up younger and younger fans as it goes.

It used to be that diamonds were a girl’s best friend, with clothes and cosmetics right behind. Now, cosmetic surgery has taken a place at center stage, not just among showgirls, but business women, homemakers, and teenagers as well. There seems to be a prevailing discontent, and a competitiveness, that can only be satisfied if one can create a brighter, lighter, tighter, and sexier self. A young professional woman, the subject on a television fashion makeover show, made this telling comment: “In this dress, I feel like a present; I’m going to walk into the party and I won’t be ignored.” For the Christian woman, dealing with the demands and expectations of fashion can be a tug of war: The lure from the street is “glorify your body;” the call of the Bible is “glorify God in your body.”

Modesty begins at home

“Do new sexually themed ads send the wrong message to teens?” was the topic of discussion on Dayside, a daytime, audience-participation television program. Our initial response may well be, “Duh!” But that would seem to not take the issue seriously. So the task is to listen closely, hoping to learn something. Several mothers complained of their inability to monitor everything their children are watching or reading. A marketing representative defended advertising with sexual imagery and word-play because “companies have a right to differentiate themselves” in a very competitive market. He said the ads in question wouldn’t be as effective if parents and other critics didn’t draw so much attention to them. He advised parents to point their youngsters to stores whose clothing lines are “trendy, but not trashy.”

The marketing representative rightly, and predictably, made the case that it’s really up to parents to set guidelines and standards for their children. Dr. Laura Schlessinger hammers home the same point in her book, Parenthood By Proxy ― “Don’t have them if you won’t raise them.” Scripture takes the view that parents know what’s best for their children. Christian parents have the obligation, and the authority, to traininstruct, and discipline their children, as well as model Christian behavior before them (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). Children also have an obligation: to obey and honor their parents (Eph. 6:1-3).

God promises blessing to obedient children. That should be a powerful motivation for Christian parents because they love their children and want God’s blessing upon them. Today, many parents have developed a pattern of responding to their children rather than instructing and training them. They spend a lot of energy negotiating with their children, often lowering some standard in the process. Parents have been seduced by self-esteem propaganda (e.g., “My son is student of the month at…”) and the very liberal idea that a family should be a mini-democracy. The result is child-centered family relationships that may have more in common with anarchy than Biblical order and harmony. Muted in this scenario is the work of discipline, particularly spanking, attributable to the confusing and often contradictory counsel from psychologists, therapists, and other professionals. God’s perspective on discipline is unmistakable: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” (Prov. 13:24).

Joshua declared before all the people, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” For Joshua, serving the Lord was a family affair. His was a right-side-up view of family. Christian parents, standing together as “benevolent dictators,” should be teaching their children respect for the holiness of God in every area of life ― even when they don’t like it. Parents who model and enforce Biblical moral and ethical values consistently in the family home are protecting their children by setting standards of thought and conduct that will help keep them anchored spiritually and socially as they mature.

A wake-up call

It’s apparently a common practice on campus, but it can be a crime ― misdemeanor sexual battery. The newspaper article asked the question: “UCSB butt grabbing: Harmless fun or personal violation?” The article led with this perspective:

For many young people, the touch of a strange hand on their behind while walking down Del Playa on a Friday night is something routine, a part of the culture of late night parties fueled by alcohol.

But some women say butt grabbing isn’t a harmless flirtation ― it’s an unwanted personal violation.

According to the article, campus police have observed that “both men and women seem to grab each other in equal numbers on Isla Vista streets.” It went on to describe what can only be regarded as confusion and naiveté among students, male and female alike.

Attitudes that result in behavior such as “butt grabbing,” testify loudly to the demise of modesty. Fashions that are designed to exalt the ego and attract attention to self and the flesh are a central influence in driving modesty into exile. Further, it’s painfully obvious that it’s a short jump from butt grabbing to other forms of sexual abuse, including rape. Parents, in particular, cannot be complacent about these realities and their effects in shaping the attitudes of their children.


Those who claim to “love the Lord,” and yet wear these styles, testify to little more than their lack of discernment and confused loyalties. They put their personal reputation and the integrity of their Christian witness at risk. The Bible speaks of those that are “double-minded,” and warns that they are “unstable” in all their ways and receive nothing from the Lord (James 1:7, 8). More serious, particularly in the church, they pose an unholy distraction and a stumbling block for others. The Bible warns that if a man looks with lust upon a woman he commits adultery in his heart (Matt. 5:28). Temptation and lust form a deadly alliance. Its power can be likened to being caught in a whirlpool. James explains:

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. (James 1:14-16).

Willing to err

A pastor, writing of his own experience with sexual sin, estimated “that about 50 percent of the men in a typical church are quietly ― and sometimes desperately ― struggling with sexual addiction.” As exaggerated as this seems, it is apparent that an alarming number of men are playing in a game that they can’t possibly win (Prov. 9:17, 18).

Adam didn’t get away with blaming God and Eve for his failure. Likewise, Christian men can’t blame the way some women dress or even “the way we’re wired” for their voyeuristic transgressions. Scripture is clear: it’s fundamentally a matter of discernment, self-discipline, and self-control (Mark 9:47; Rom. 12:2; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Titus 2:6). A wise man will do his best to avoid situations that invite impure thoughts and lust (Luke: 9:23; 1 Cor. 6:18). He will do this through faith in God and in His power (1 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 3:20; Phil. 4:13). He will do this because he fears God and doesn’t want to offend His holiness (Ps. 51:4; 2 Cor. 5:9-11, 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:2-5). He will do this because he understands and fears the consequences of disobedience (Heb. 12:9-11; James 1:13-15). And knowing that lust rarely remains a private matter, he will do this on behalf of his own reputation (Prov. 22:1; Eccl. 7:1a) and out of consideration for others (Eph. 5:3; 1 Thess. 4:6, 5:22).

Job made a statement that every man should wear as a badge. Against accusations of hypocrisy, Job responded with this focused and timeless defense: “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1). Henry believes that Job could make that vow because “He understood the spiritual nature of God’s commandments, as reaching to the thoughts and intents of the heart.” For Christian men, adopting Job’s pledge would provide a potent safeguard against ever having to make a defense.

“If you love me…”

Rules and moral standards are giving way to opinions and feelings; privileges are becoming rights; and authority is questioned at every turn. Yet Christians need not be wringing their hands or gritting their teeth. Christians are to have a disposition of thankfulness regardless of circumstances. The Lord could expel every evil in a moment if He so chose. That said, the particular temptations that assail Christians are not really the issue: Scripture treats troubles and temptations as common to every day life (John 16:33; 1 Cor. 10:13; 1 Pet. 1:6, 7). The paramount issue is always how Christians choose to respond to them (John 14:15; James 1: 2-4).

Adhering to a modest, godly standard of dress will require Christians to be thoughtful and selective in their shopping. It also requires being willing to be chided, even ridiculed, for the sake of reputation and the cause of Christ. This is good. These are not burdensome tasks when the law of Christ is “written in our hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2, 3). To mindlessly follow the crowd and bow down to the trendy and fickle affections of the day is not good.

Modesty is not just a footnote to a list of Christian qualities. Nor is it a matter of anyone’s preference or opinion. Modesty is an enduring moral principle. It emerges in God’s covering of Adam and Eve in the garden; it is evident in the “holy garments” of the high priest (Ex. 28:2) and the regulations that governed the dress and conduct of the priesthood (Ex. 20:26, 28:42); it is clear in the instructions of the apostles Paul and Peter; and it is magnificently reflected in the white robes that will adorn God’s saints in heaven (Rev. 6:11, 7:9, 13, 14). On the other hand, immodesty, in its many manifestations, is sinful behavior. The church gives lip service to the problem, but seems to lack the heart to draw guidelines (Isa. 29:13; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Without clear markers, immodesty, like “leaven,” will increasingly have its way (1 Cor. 5:6; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). In neglect and complacency, Christians give the devil opportunity (Eph. 4:27), and willfully turn away from that which gains the Lord’s blessing (Ps. 1; Matt. 5:3-12).

Jesus must have astonished His disciples when, instead of promising relief from Roman rule, He announced that they could anticipate God’s blessing “when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” He then informed them that they were “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:11, 13, 14). Jesus’ weighty pronouncements must have caused His listeners great pause. They probably would have liked some practical details. Yet only through the process of time would they comprehend that God had charted their lives to be ones of responsibility, duty, purpose, and blessing ― in His service.

Too often, Christians behave as if God’s gracious purpose in salvation is to assure their happiness and fulfillment. And since they are saved by grace, they can live somewhat casually, enjoying worldly pleasures, because God will always forgive. After all, “we sin every day.” The apostle Paul had this sobering warning:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:10, 11a).

The Bible says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). To think lightly of sin is to think lightly of Jesus (John 14:15). To think lightly of sin is to think more highly of self (James 4:4-10). To think lightly of sin is to ignore its consequences ― death (Rom. 6:23). Something dies when a Christian sins.

To be Christian is to be maturing in character and virtue (Col. 1:9-12; 2 Pet. 1:5-11). Christianity is ultimately about God, and that He has graciously, uniquely, and purposefully qualified every believer to live a life that pleases Him, a life that will be a testimony to His love, His holiness, and His sufficiency.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” ― Matthew 5:16

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.― Ephesians 5:15-17

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