Modesty. It’s an age-old word that makes most people cringe on the inside, even in the church. Debates about modesty have divided believers while most definitions of its meaning have no true gospel foundation. The term modesty has always seemed to be a mysterious word that is tiptoed around but never grasped or studied.
Most people are afraid to embrace the subject and others reject whatever it might mean. We walk on eggshells around the subject when it is brought up and don't press in too hard, afraid we might crack open something deep within the recesses of our hearts that we would rather not deal with. When I was younger, the term modesty always brought to mind the picture of a nun like Maria from The Sound of Music; fully covered from head to toe with no color or creativity. This didn't sit well with my love for fashion, or my desire to create through clothing.
When I was in middle school, this definition of modesty never seemed that appealing or hopeful for me fitting in with my peers. I vividly remember wanting to wear a mini-skirt because “all” (well, not all, but it seemed like everyone) of my friends were wearing them. I would do everything to get my parents to buy me one, but they never would. My mom would always explain to me that I didn’t need to show my body to everyone and that it wasn’t appropriate for a girl who loved Christ. Then came the string bikini debate. It seemed that “all” (again, it wasn't everyone) of my friends were wearing them to the beach, but once again, I wasn’t allowed to wear them. I knew my parents were protecting me and loving me, but in those strong, hormone-driven, over-dramatic moments of being a middle schooler wanting to fit in, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear string bikinis, too. Without realizing it at the time, my mom was teaching me that how I dress conveys a message. What did I want others to hear from my outward appearance? I had to choose.
By God’s grace, I grew up in a home with parents who feared the Lord and taught me to honor Him in whatever I do, including the clothing I choose to wear. My parents modeled for me what it meant to live a life that looks different from the world and mirrored Christ. However, even in their teaching, shepherding, and loving, I still needed to learn for myself why modesty was so important. I needed to understand how modesty affected my clothing choices and how it related to my walk with God.
Thus began a pursuit to understand this term and uncover the mystery to what modesty truly means. For years I have sought the Lord on this subject and studied His Word in search of "the secret." You know what I found? There is not a list of do’s and don’ts in the Bible pertaining to modesty. There isn’t a skirt length or a color or a style listed for all Christian women to wear. What I found was better than this. I discovered the gospel that unshackled my heart from the law and altered my desire to look like the world. Modesty isn’t a list of rules, it is a reflection of our hearts. The gospel sets us free from our longing for worldly affirmation to live in the love of Christ, Who purchased our bodies for Himself.
Dressing in Fig Leaves
Our hearts are naturally bent toward self-gratifying sin. Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, sin has plagued the world God originally created to be good and perfect. Now, man is born sinful. We have all fallen short of the glory of God and desperately need the blood of Christ to atone (or cover) our sins (Romans 3:23, Hebrews 9:13-14). The first clothing ever worn by man and woman was fig leaves. These fig leaves were a pitiful attempt by Adam and Eve to cover their sin. But God, in His great mercy and grace, killed an innocent animal to provide for them durable, warm clothing. This was the very first death in the Bible. Blood was required to be shed by an innocent animal to cover the sin of Adam and Eve.
Around two thousand years later, Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary. Being perfect and sinless, Jesus was the Messiah the Israelites had been anxiously waiting for. After 33 years of living, teaching and performing miracles, He surrendered His life to death for our sake. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). His perfect blood was shed to cover our sins once and for all. Our sin-stained hearts have been washed by the blood of the perfect Lamb who was slain and purchased us back from death.
We have all tried to hide behind "fig leaves" -- whether it be our clothing, our appearance, our wealth, our family, or our good deeds. When we, as women, wear clothing that barely covers our bodies, we are covering up insecurity, a need for affirmation, or self-gratification. Just like Adam and Eve, we try to hide behind what we are capable of doing. These fig leaves are insufficient at best. They crumble and fall and leave us without protection. In the same way, when we try to hide behind very little clothing, we are using “fig leaves” to draw the attention back to ourselves. What fig leaves have you been hiding behind? God's grace has covered you with Jesus' blood. You are not our own, you are His.That includes your body and your clothing.
The Intent of My Heart
Throughout high school I still wanted to wear two pieces. Even into college I truly didn’t pay much attention to the reasons why I wanted to wear a bikini. If you were to ask me during that time why I wanted to wear a two piece, I would have said because I wanted to get a good tan (which didn't make sense considering I didn't wear clothing with low necklines or an exposed belly). But deep down I knew the reason revolved around where I placed my worth. I wanted to look like other girls and get affirmation through my body like others seemed to be receiving. I found my worth in my beauty and outward appearance. The intent of my heart was never to glorify Christ by wearing a bikini. The intent of my heart was to glorify myself.
"THE GOSPEL SETS US FREE FROM OUR LONGING FOR WORLDLY AFFIRMATION TO LIVE IN THE LOVE OF CHRIST, WHO PURCHASED OUR BODIES FOR HIMSELF."
In the same way, we have to evaluate why we wear what we wear. As Christian women who are ambassadors for Christ and “citizens of heaven,” which kingdom are we representing through our clothing and dress? The attitudes of our hearts directly affect the way we dress and the message our outfits send to the world around us. Do we point others to Jesus? Or do we distract them from the gospel? Our lives should look the same behind closed doors at it does at church. Our dress should be a reflection of who we worship. We either worship God, others, or ourself.