To briefly revisit Part 1 of this discussion, we analyzed a few scriptures, discussed the depth of modesty, and established that modesty is a position of the heart in which an individual is aware of the intrinsic value that he or she possesses and actively stewards that value according to the commands and convictions found in the word of God. While the first part of this series on modesty laid a foundation for the rest of the discussion, this second part will look more to practical applications of what modesty really is and means.
As I suggested before, the concept of modesty, its foundational meaning, has nothing to do with suggestive clothing, but rather everything to do with the heart, with the way that we as individuals view ourselves and present ourselves to the world around us. The original definition of modesty is more closely related to humility and propriety than clothing choice. So, how does a more accurate definition of modesty apply practically to our lives?
Clearing Up the Muddy Water
There are so many articles that deal with individual aspects of modesty, and in doing so, miss the bigger picture. Although these individual discussions deal more in-depth with each aspect, the importance of those various aspects are lost because the reader is unable to see how each one fits into the bigger picture. I’m going to attempt to deal with all of the aspects in one go, although a little less in-depth, and weave them together in a way that completes the bigger picture.
Reminder: From here on out, I will be writing on the basis that modesty is defined as an issue of the heart and not the hem line.
Modesty is all about understanding exactly who and what we are in the eyes of God and presenting that in an accurate way to the world around us. It is all about our heart. Modesty is the words that we choose to say, or refrain from saying, it is the actions that we take or do not take, it shapes everything that we do.
When I read different articles and discussions about modesty, I find that there are 3 overarching themes or parts to modesty:
- Lust VS Attraction
- The Bikini
- Modesty Rules
I want to take each of these in order, break them down as I see them, and then reshape them to fit into the definition of modesty that I presented earlier. I believe that having all three of these aspects presented in a slightly different light and in a more holistic way will bring some clarity and perhaps relief to those struggling with the concept of modesty.
1) Lust VS Attraction
It has been my experience, and the experience of countless others, that lust and attraction are confused and equated within Christian circles. So many teenagers and young adults are misinformed about these two VERY different topics within the walls of a church, and that leads to false guilt and self-condemnation. Lust is not the same as attraction. Let me repeat that, lust is not the same as attraction. Attraction is natural, it is designed by God, and it is good. God wants us to experience attraction, He created it for us to enjoy, it is what draws us into relationship with the opposite sex. It is natural and it is good for you to be attracted to someone of the opposite sex. It is natural and it is good for you to want to kiss someone of the opposite sex. It is natural and it is good for you to experience sexual desire towards someone of the opposite sex. Natural sexual desire IS NOT sinful. The way that we steward our natural, God-blessed, sexual attraction determines whether or not we fall into lust. Lust, at its very core is covetousness. Coveting is obsessively desiring something that you do not have and cannot get. Lust is sexual covetousness. To lust is obsess (sexually) over an individual or a fantasy that started as a healthy and natural sexual desire. Lust is perverted attraction.
A sub-point within the lust vs attraction conversation is the idea of raising children, particularly young men, to be men of integrity. That usually ends at teaching boys and young men to fear attraction and avoid “temptation” at all cost. Integrity means wholeness, it means to be united, whole, complete. To be a person of integrity is to be a unified person. That means that we are consistent across all aspects of our lives (as best as a sinner can be). Having sexual integrity doesn’t mean that a man fears the desires of attraction that he has been blessed with by God or that he must flee every “temptation” by a woman. Integrity in our sexuality means that we steward our sexuality (our natural desires and our tendencies towards lust) in ways that are in keeping with the word of God. It means that we face situations that might be tempting and face them as men, filled with the Spirit of God, and steward our impulses and desires in ways that are holy before our God.
2) The Bikini
This is my “favorite” topic when it comes to conversations on modesty. There are so many discussions about the bikini and whether or not it is appropriate for Christian women to wear. Many times the creation and first appearance of the bikini is cited as being evidence enough for a Christian woman to never wear one again. The bikini is often blamed for being that thing that causes men everywhere to stumble and ‘sin’. So many people ask the question, “What’s the difference between being in a bra and panties and wearing a bikini?” Bible thumpers everywhere love to hammer the bikini with passages on modesty, the body as a temple, passages about stumbling blocks, and passages on lust. Honestly, I want to know what the big deal is. What’s so bad about a bikini? String bikini aside, there is very little difference between a normal bikini and a one-piece bathing suit. The only real difference is that a one-piece covers the stomach and middle and lower back. A one-piece bathing suit still accentuates the breasts and the pelvic area, same as the bikini. In fact, many one-piece suits bathing suits are decorated and designed to draw attention to the natural curvature of a woman’s waist. Regardless of where you might stand on this issue, I think it is important to consider a few things… 1) No matter what type of bathing suit you wear, you cannot prevent a person from lusting after you. If you wear a turtleneck or a two-piece, he will lust if he chooses to. 2) The intentions behind your clothing choices are far more important than what you actually wear. The question is less what are you wearing, and more why are you choosing to wear that? A woman can be more enticing in a form-fitting sweater and tight jeans if she chooses to present her body in an enticing way than if she interacts normally with men wearing a tank top and short-shorts. Presentation is everything. 3) The bikini is not ‘bad’, it is neutral. If you choose to wear one, do so in appropriate settings, give careful consideration to those around you, and select a bikini that is practical for beach activities and suitable for covering your body. If you choose not to wear a bikini, it is not your right to judge anyone who does wear one. They are no less modest than you, and you are no better than they are.
3) Modesty Rules
I have read the stories of many women who experienced certain ‘rules’ pertaining to modesty, rules that made them feel like objects of temptation rather than human beings, rules that made them feel responsible for the safe-guarding and protection of male sexuality, and rules that dictated appropriate and non-appropriate clothing. Let’s be honest, all of those ‘rules’ were laid out with good intentions and probably did some good. Are rules the best way to handle issues like modesty? No.
When women have encountered these modesty rules, they often come as a double-standard, with very strict regulations for women and little more than coddling for the men. Men are told that they are weak sexually and unable to control themselves and women are told that they must be careful not to tempt a man because he is weak. Let me be honest for a moment, if you tell a man he is weak (in any area) long enough, he will believe you and act weak. If you empower him to be strong and to be one who overcomes and to be a good steward, he will thrive in any area of life. Women, you are not responsible for a man’s sexuality. If he cannot control his thoughts when you are wearing a form-fitting shirt, then he was work to do. However, you are responsible for actively and intentionally dressing in ways that are appropriate and practical for what you are doing and where you are going. Wear things that you like, but don’t wear things just to make people (men) look at you. Women, when choosing clothing to wear you have the power to do one of two things, influence a man to see you as a beautiful work of art, as a masterpiece created by God, or to influence him to see you as a sex object, an object to be used, not admired and appreciated. ‘
Going back to the modesty rules, I want to pose a question… Can, or should we, mandate and enforce rules concerning dress across the Christian landscape? Is that the most effective way to spur spiritual growth in those around us? Perhaps, it would be more effective and more beneficial if we issued the challenge to take up the burden of manhood and womanhood and to steward our sexuality and our humanity according to the word of God instead of following a set of rules “because someone said so”.
It all comes back to the heart. How we respond to what we see, the clothes that we choose to wear, the conversations we have with others, how we raise our children to think about modesty and integrity and sexuality…it all stems from the condition of our heart. What motivates us to do what we do, say the things we say, or wear what we wear, our need for attention, or our desire to edify others and steward well the humanity that God has blessed us with? Modesty is a condition of the heart, not a measurement of how much skin we show or how tight our clothes are. Modesty is more than what we wear, it is how we choose to present ourselves to the world around us.
Romans 14:5b – “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” (NIV)