An Open Letter About Modesty From A Brother In Christ
Dear Sister in Christ,
Okay, before I begin, I get it. You’re tired of talking about modesty. You’ve put forth some effort to conform to all these different standards being thrown at you, but no one ever seems to be satisfied. I know what you must be thinking. “Don’t they know modesty is a hassle? I’m just trying to look fashionable and attractive. People at church continue to stress the importance of modesty while the boys give more attention to the girls in more revealing clothing. Not to mention the fact that no one seems to have any standards of modesty for them anyways.” All this confusion, legalism, hypocrisy, and double standards is just about enough to make you stop caring about modesty all together. What’s the point anymore?
Well let me tell you, I’m tired of talking about modesty as well. I understand. However, we have to keep talking about it as long as it continues to be a challenge in this sexually saturated society.
Keep in mind that immodesty gets so much attention because it’s a visible sin. As saints trying to please God, we can’t ignore sin (I Corinthians 5:2, 12). As long as immodesty is around us, we will continue to have to deal with it. “But aren’t there much deeper problems to worry about? Isn’t immodesty just a physical external thing?”, you might ask. Yes! I concur completely. However, even though immodesty is external, the way we choose to present ourselves is directly connected to our hearts and has great significance on our souls. My hope in this letter is to get to the heart of the matter. I want to thank you for all efforts you’ve already made to be modest. I want to clarify some misconceptions about modesty, and I want to remind you of the real reason you should be concerned about modesty.
So thank you! I rejoice that you care enough about your soul and the souls of others to conform everything in your life to God. That’s what life is all about. The only real reason you should care about modesty is because God cares. He’s the real reason to modest, and if He is your reason, then be assured, whatever sacrifices you make are worth it. The world won’t understand, but we do, because we know He rewards those of faith who seek Him in all things (Hebrews 11:6).
But why does God care about modesty? God cares about modesty because He is a holy God who calls us to be holy as well (I Peter 1:16). Sexual perversion is unholy, and its participants are unholy (I Cor 6:15-20). Sexual perversion includes any sexual activity outside of a marriage relationship (Hebrews 13:4). That includes lust (looking, thinking, desiring sexual things outside of a marriage) (Matthew 5:27-28). We are also told that anyone who is a stumbling block to others is also held accountable (Matthew 18:6-7). This principle is used to condemn the man for divorcing his wife and tempting her to commit adultery (Mathew 5:31-32). So if there is someone lusting after a person who has presented herself in a sexually appealing way, both parties are guilty of sin, whatever side of the equation they may be. Proverbs also illustrates that one who draws others into sexual sin is condemned along with the one drawn into sexual sin (Proverbs 2:16-19, 5:3-6, 6:24-29, 7:6-23). God wants you to be modest, because God wants you to be holy, pure, and free from sin. God wants you to be these things because this is how He can have a relationship with you, and if you want to have a relationship with Him, then you should care about modesty as well (Psalm 15:1-2).
Okay, now let me deal with some misconceptions. It’s not that your body is some evil, shameful thing that needs to be hidden. Just as sex is a good and pure when confined to the marriage relationship (I Corinthians 7:1-5, Hebrews 13:4), so your body (all of it) is something good and pure to be celebrated in the confines of marriage (Proverbs 5:15-20). But just as sexual activities outside of a marriage relationship are sinful, so revealing sexual parts of your body outside a marriage relationship is sin. So preserve the body that God gave you until you can use it in the way that He has planned.
Modesty is also not just a girl’s problem. I am aware of the double standards we have for genders, and they frustrate me as well. Sure, there might be gender differences that tend to make modesty more relevant to women than men, but the principles apply to both genders. I see no reason why our standards for how much we expect women to cover their bodies should be any different than our standards for men. Any male who thinks his opinion on modesty should be heard better be ready to live according to those same standards (Luke 6:31). A girl wearing a tank top can be a stumbling block for me, so I prefer girls to wear T-shirts instead. For that reason, I have chosen to not wear tank tops in mixed company (much less go shirtless). People might think it’s silly for a guy to care about that, but that’s only because we’re so conditioned by our double standards. Your job is to not let these double standards discourage you in your pursuit of holiness.
Still, I know what you might be thinking: “If a guy wants to lust, I can’t control that! No matter what I wear, some creep can think sinful thoughts about me. So why am I held responsible for that?” Those are fair questions. Allow me to clarify something. Lust is a choice. Lusting is the choice to indulge yourself with sexual thoughts. God can demand a man to abstain from lust because, regardless of what any person might be wearing, we can choose to not indulge in sexual thoughts. Sexual attraction, however, is not a choice. A man will be attracted to sexual things because God made him that way (He made women that way too). However, a man needs to be led by the Spirit, and not by his fleshly desires (Romans 8:13). A man will be attracted to the many sexual images that surround him on a daily basis, but he must choose to not indulge in lusting over them.
Let me provide an analogy. Imagine you see something cute. A puppy or kitten. A newborn baby. Or perhaps newborn baby taking a nap with a puppy and a kitten.
What happens? You swell up with warmth, and an involuntary “awwwwww” escapes your mouth. Why? Because that’s what happens when you see something cute. You didn’t decide for that puppy or kitten or baby to be cute. They inherently are. You couldn’t stop thinking it’s cute even if you wanted to. Imagine if that warm fuzzy feeling of cuteness is sin. Imagine you are sinning every time you squeal in adoration over something adorable. What could you do about that? How could you stop? You can’t help but think it’s cute. That’s not even a conscious decision. You’d have to look away. You’d have to stop going to pet stores. You’d have to avoid new couples at church with their newborn babies. Cuteness is all around, but you have to make sure you don’t lust after it.
This is kind of what it’s like to be a guy. We didn’t decide for you to be so appealing. God did. God made both sexes to be that way. And it’s a blessing that he did! However, it’s a blessing that can only be enjoyed in marriage. So, a man’s responsibility is to not lust over the things he is sexually attracted to by keeping them from his eye sight. Your concern is to make sure you aren’t one of those sexually appealing things his eyes have to avoid. Here’s the conclusion: you aren’t in sin because someone is lusting over you. You can’t control that. You are in sin if you are presenting yourself in a sexually appealing way. You can control that.
Let’s now discuss one last misconception. Based on all that I’ve written and what you’ve been told, you might be under the impression that you need to dress modestly for men. You need to dress modestly because it’s what the man needs and wants, right? Wrong! You are dressing modestly for God! Peter tells us that the way a woman presents herself is what makes her “precious in the sight of God”. God’s opinions and standards are the only ones you need to be pleasing, because He is the only one you need to be concerned with pleasing.
So why is everybody else busy telling you how to dress? Some brethren are “mature [and] because of practice, have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Not everyone in your church pew knows the difference between good and evil equally. Who are the saints you trust and admire the most? Go to them and seek their wisdom in discerning what is modest or not. Be willing to listen to them even when they might seem prude and outdated. It’s not that you have to submit to their standards, but because of their wisdom, they might have a more accurate understanding of God’s standards. They are just trying to help you know how to please God more. And learning how to please God more ought to be your primary concern (Ephesians 5:17).
You might not believe me, but the concern I have for my sisters’ modesty is for their own sake. Yes, it’s helpful to me when my sisters dress modestly, but I have to deal with sexually appealing things from the world 24/7. It’s not like my sisters in Christ are the problem. It’s not like I can’t control myself when I’m at church. I’m not concerned for my own holiness, but for theirs. If I see a sister dressed immodestly, I worry about her sin and standing before God. If I scrape up enough courage to make a comment to a girl about her clothing, I do it because I want to help her know how she can be more pleasing to God.
You are a beautiful and wonderful person. I know this because God made you, and even better, Jesus bought you. So “glorify Him in your body”. You can stop worrying about pleasing people. That will never be motivating or satisfying to produce true holiness. Instead, consume yourself with trying to please your true husband. When that is our true intention, modesty is no longer an issue, and we can finally stop talking about it.