Modesty is such a hot topic in Christian culture, and I get it—walking out a lifestyle of modesty is a great way we can bring glory to God as girls who bear His name. But I am afraid we have gotten the narrative on modesty a bit wrong over the years. While we have been focusing on what we can or should wear and what we can’t, we have forgotten the whole point: the condition of our hearts.
Here are four things for us to remember about modesty.
1. The word “modesty” in the Bible actually isn’t even referring to the sexual aspect of what we wear.
In 1 Timothy 2:9-10 where women are told to “adorn themselves in modest apparel,” Paul is referring to not wearing over-the-top, elaborate, expensive clothing and jewelry. He isn’t talking about short skirts and skimpy tops. Does that mean there is no problem with wearing clothes that show a lot of skin? No, but it does illustrate an interesting point: True modesty is first of all about the heart and our motives for wearing particular items of clothing (which then carry over into those other areas of wearing revealing clothing). Paul is speaking to the importance of women not being haughty in what they decide to wear—that’s where true modesty begins.
2. God looks at the heart.
In 1 Samuel 16:7, God tells us that He doesn’t look at man’s outward appearance, but rather at his heart. Throughout Proverbs, too, the emphasis is always on what’s going on at the heart level: our motives, desires, beliefs and thoughts, which then lead to our actions. If we want to live as modest women, a list of rules isn’t going to help us, because behavior modification never leads to heart transformation. What we need is to walk by the Spirit of God. It is then that our hearts will be changed more and more into His image and His desire for how we live. Everything else—what specifically we wear, what we do and why—will flow from there.
3. I can’t tell you what your specific convictions ought to be—they aren’t outlined in Scripture.
So many times we want an easy 10-step program or list of rules to follow when it comes to modesty. But that isn’t how this works. I was recently asked on Instagram how I, personally, came to my modesty convictions, and while I can share that with you, what I can’t do is tell you precisely what your own convictions ought to be. When it comes to modesty, for me it is about walking by the Spirit, for then I will not give into the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
This means that I pray about what I wear, and see if it would line up with my profession of faith in Christ and my desire to follow, glorify and emulate Him. I also seek my husband’s viewpoint as a man (you could do this with your father), asking him if what I am wearing would cause any issues for my brothers in Christ that I wouldn’t want. I also ask myself if what I’m wearing would disrespect the personal nature of what my husband and I have together physically (you can ask yourself this with your future husband and marriage relationship in mind). All of those questions help me to determine for myself what is right for me to wear. Man-made rules and regulations simply do not suffice.
4. It’s not about hiding your body; it’s about cherishing it.
Psalm 139:13-14 tells us just how wonderfully God created each and every one of us. Modesty, therefore, is not at all about being ashamed of our bodies or desiring to cover them up because there is something wrong with them. Rather, we clothe our bodies in modest ways precisely because we do treasure the gift of our God-fashioned bodies. We know they are precious temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and are to be cared for and protected, not viewed, used or abused as objects. We adorn our bodies in modesty to protect and cherish this handiwork of God and also in order to protect, guard and uphold the preciousness of the physical aspect of the relationship we have with our husbands (or will have one day!).
Modesty, then, is not about a list of legalistic rules or operating from a place of shame and embarrassment. Rather, it is about glorifying God at the heart level and rejoicing in the bodies and blessings He has given us!