Are You a Modest Christian?

Have most young women today ever heard of the word “modesty?” Truly? If you were to stop the average 12 or 13 year-old girl on the street and ask her for a definition of the word “modesty,” what do you think she would say?

I’ll tell you. She’d say, “Huh?”

Looking back, I realize that before even becoming a Christian, I had a certain level of modesty about me. When friends chose to wear more provocative or sexy clothing, I declined. I never really felt comfortable in bikinis and often tried to cover myself.

But, now I know that modesty extends so far beyond what we wear. Modesty isn’t solely about mini-skirts and push-up bras. It is a state of being, a quality one holds. Modesty encompasses more than we assume, but even much of what we assume is wrong.

Our distorted definition of modesty can be blamed on lots of things…things like Facebook, television, popular music, movies, and of course, us. Mostly, we are to blame for not defining modesty in the correct terms.

For starters, I mentioned that modesty extends far beyond fashion. One definition says modesty is “having or showing regard for the decencies of behavior, speech, dress, etc.” I like that. Regard for decencies.

Decency. Yet another word that far too many people cannot accurately define, let alone model.

Which brings me to my second point. If we acknowledge that modesty is not limited to one’s clothing, but also applies to our behavior and speech, it would follow that modesty is not a requirement of only women.

That’s right. The need for modesty applies to both men and women. How do you like them apples?

I have to admit, I don’t think of men as being modest or needing to be. However, I do think of men, especially my brothers in Christ, needing to display a certain level of respect, self-control, and integrity. In other words, a regard for decencies.

I expect a Godly man to be aware of his speech and his actions, to be able to control his tongue and reflect Christ. Strange though that we never think of this as modesty, per se.

When the church talks about modesty, we tell young women to pull up their necklines, lower their hemlines, and not to bother packing that two-piece swimsuit for the college retreat. No navels. Ever.

We criticize girls for posting their vacation photos on Facebook. We mumble under our breath, “Harlot, heathen, minx.” I’m totally kidding because I really hope no one is actively using the word “harlot,” but you get the idea.

We do what so many of us are really good at doing: We judge. We judge the outer (wo)man. We judge her clothing…or lack thereof.

But, to be fair, God judges the heart and that is what He is interested in. If our definition of modesty has to change, well then, the Bible is a good place to start. The Bible never directly addresses the issue of modesty, but makes all kinds of references, including 1Peter 3:3-5:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.”

Right there the Word tells us that it is the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” that God finds most attractive. Now, I wouldn’t say I have a “gentle and quiet spirit” exactly, but these words are also translated as “humble” and “pure.”

And shouldn’t all of our Christian brethren be desirous of a humble spirit and a pure heart, whether male or female? Do we honestly believe that we can get away with foul language, indecent behavior, and judgement of others and still preach “modesty?”

Modesty outwardly reflects what is hidden in the heart. To quote author Hannah Farver, the pursuit of modesty forces us to ask ourselves,”Am I an example of Christ-centeredness? Or have I just gotten comfortable in the “Christian routine” and forgotten why I’ve chosen to live this way?”

How do you feel about modesty? Do you think it need apply to both men and women? How can we encourage modesty–a humble spirit and a pure heart?

31 thoughts on “Are You a Modest Christian?”

  1. I just spent three days at a conference with 70 youth ministers – of which about 10 were female. It was actually really encouraging to be around a bunch of men who were so godly in the way they spoke, and the way they cared for each other and for me.

    Point is, yep, guys need to step up and take on some modesty. But I’m pretty blessed to have been around a bunch of modest guys for a few days.

    1. Tamara,
      Isn’t it always so encouraging to be around a group of Godly men, reflecting Christ, and loving others? I don’t think we see this enough and you were obviously blessed to do so.

      Thanks for stopping over and commenting!

  2. Shalom!
    I think that, like many things, modesty has become a bit of a lost art so to speak. There is also a rekindling in the masses though. Both men and women, especially those in the Body of Christ, have a responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner that represents our Daddy’s House in a favorable way. We can encourage this in others through leading by example and showing the fun side of modesty, and other areas as well. Many of the purities that the Word calls for fell out of practice because people saw them as stuffy, restrictive, and no fun. Being a child of God is fun and we need to show that more! Be blessed!~

    1. Rose,
      Thank you for sharing such great, practical, and wise suggestions on how we can collectively pursue modesty.

      I think showing that there is life, not death–or fun, not restriction–is a crucial and well-made point.

    2. Rose,

      As I read your comments and the response from Nicole, I would like to say that you are that needed balancer between His Holiness and His Love that is sorely lacking in the Bride today, due to our own fault. I so enjoyed how you refer to Him as Daddy! Indeed, He most assuredly is! While others might be seeking the ‘deep theology of God’ and considering the writings of the early Church fathers and their present-day application (or lack thereof), you burst into the room with smiles, laughter, and an almost infectious joy that causes all of us to stop and say, “You know, we are blessed, aren’t we? What is it that we have to be so fussy about? His Love is our joy!” Thanks, Rose!

  3. I think one of the most immodest things women do is gossip. Of course men do it too, but for women is seems to be a social bonding ritual. But in all seriousness, it makes the heart ugly. I know that when I gossip, I feel like I created a second skin for myself, a layer of filth. For our gender, I think this is something we need to work on the most, more than our clothing choices, etc. in terms of modesty.

  4. I totally agree. To answer a question posed in this post, I like them apples quite a bit, thank you.

    It’s weird how this issue has been forced upon women solely when modesty and decency is a human issue. I don’t fit in at work because I refuse to disrespect my wife by talking about what girls I would bang when my boss asks. My modesty has literally been detrimental to my career.

    Another weird thing is I am close friends with the girls from Barlowgirl who have somehow become the spokes-girls for modesty and purity, when I asked them about it they said “It was never what we wanted, or asked for. It’s not what we talk about all the time or anything. We are just trying to live with purity and that seems so strange to most people that it sets us apart for some reason”

  5. This post was refreshing. Thank you. I struggle to verbalize to the students in the youth ministry I serve how God wants them to be modest. I think we have been concerned more about inches than the inklings of the heart. Thank you for this reminder.

  6. Indeed it is more than what you wear. Paul in his letter to Timothy writes:

    “…women adorn themselves in modest 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.”

    Most “christians” would quote the first part, but never the professing godliness and good works part. Also to the man:

    “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”

    There’s certainly a lot to say about “wrath” and doubting” from our part.

    Modesty is a virtue that we lack because culturally we have stripped it off its true meaning.

    1. Moe,
      Preach it, my friend. I almost used that verse from Timothy, but opted for the other.

      You said it well. We do not understand the true meaning of modesty. I love that I can always count on you, as a teacher, to uphold God’s Word.

  7. Modesty applies to men as well. Thanks for mentioning that.
    I deal with many youth ministers who think the “hip” thing to do is dress in the Rob Bell attire. Blue jeans, untucked shirt, and sometimes tennis shoes. Then they wonder why they are not getting any respect from their congregation. At least put on a pair of khaki’s and tuck your shirt in. Wear your cool stuff at the youth meeting, but not behind the pulpit. Looking like a slob when you preach is not modesty.

  8. Love it! Totally agree that there is more to modesty than clothing. Now, modesty {humility & purity} can most easily be seen via fashion choices but isn’t simply limited by that. I would agree this applies across the board, men and women, boys and girls! Thanks!!!

  9. Amen to modesty. I think in popular (Christian) culture, modesty is a quality labelled in “pink”, something only women and girls are encouraged to pursue. And as you pointed out, Nicole, women are so unfairly judged in this quest. Men on the other hand, are given a free pass for immodest behavior; dare I say in popular culture, it is even championed! Ladies, I am so sorry.

    But I believe strongly that modesty is out there for all of us to pursue. I must learn, as a man, to be humble and pure in the jokes I tell, the way I treat women, the movies I watch, etc. As Christians, we are empowered to choose the road of modesty, over immodesty, even when it slaps on us the label of “Socially Awkward.”

    Ha…maybe we can dream of a movement towards the day when we hear ‘ish like this, “Their so Modest” as medal contender on the list of compliments!

  10. Nicole,

    I’m commenting because I believe I can trust you to not delete me or ban me from your blog. (No, saying that doesn’t get old for me. It’s principle, dang it.)

    You ask us about modesty, from a Christian perspective.
    I would simply point to The Scriptures where we are told to ‘avoid the appearance of evil’. What do I mean by this? Simple:

    Guys: stop dressing like you’re an Occupy protester, bathe at least twice a week (whether you need it or not), OR stop bathing in AXE body spray and treating everyplace you go like a singles bar; dress according to your age (Mark Driscoll- you look as silly as Rob Bell); please note that ‘faux hawks’ are ridiculous-looking (as is any fashion trend done by those claiming Christianity to appear more like The World as a means of familiarity or bait) if you want a mohawk, then commit to it and shave the sides of your head; and stop with the tattoos. Tattoos are now blase and cliche. Be different. Let your skin remain virginal and without blemish. You’ll thank me later. (I have 17 tats as of this writing, which I attribute to a reckless and attention-seeking youthful me….I would magically remove them all if I could) Lose the mobile device that you seem to constantly be playing with…it makes you look desperate.

    Chicks: Don’t dress like a pop-culture skank; your breasts are not for me to see, but should be reserved for the sole pleasure of your covenant husband; if you wear too much perfume, people will wonder what smell it is you are trying to mask; if you have to jump off your bed and into your pants so they will go on, you are wearing pants that befit a female struggling with self-esteem, and not a righteous female; no tattoos for you, either- they make you look cheap and like you are accustomed to being used; lose the texting addiction.

    It can be said that you are only able to make a good first impression once, and also that you cannot judge a book by its cover. Both of these statements are rooted in modesty if you think about it.

    1. Donald,

      You do recognize, right, that the standards of modesty you’re espousing arise not from the Scriptures, but from your own experiences and preferences?

      For instance, you have tattoos that you attribute to “a reckless and attention-seeking youthful [you]”. But how can that mean that ALL tattoos on EVERY person arise from those same impulses (even just in our culture)?

      None of the advice you give is specifically scriptural – nor can it be, since what counts as modest is culturally bound (I can help but notice that you didn’t cite any of the biblical commands concerning modesty – they pertain mainly to hairstyles and jewelry).

      That doesn’t mean that you aren’t entitled to your opinion about what counts as modest, but I think it does at least mean your posture (and mine) should be one of humility and conversation, not judgment and condemnation.

      1. Judgment and condemnation?

        Really?

        Let’s see:
        1“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

        So go ahead, JR. Judge me in the same measure I did, if indeed what I did was judgment that so offends you. Did I not point out that tattoos are not of God, even though I had them myself? I judged myself for all to see, lest people would say I was being judgmental. But did you see that, or did you feel it was more important to play the role of sensitive, coffee shop christian with me?

        Why cite the Scriptures on modesty? Did not Nicole do that well enough? My contention and observations were made directly about what I currently see and experience in the real world, concerning His Bride (or those who claim to be in His Bride).

        Sorry, Nicole. My respect for you demands I realize I do not play well with others, especially emergent types. I am realizing that I should go. Much love, of course! You are genuinely legitimate.

        1. Okay I’m not sure what the root of our disagreement is. Are you saying that you’re not being judgmental? Or that you are judging but that’s okay? Or that it’s okay for you to judge but not me?

          Second, with regard to your tattoo comment, I understood both that you’re condemning tattoos and that you yourself have tattoos. My point was that you statement implies that everyone gets tattoos for the same reason you do, and further that all tattoos are wrong/sinful (am I misreading you?). If that’s what you’re actually saying, you have to do way more than just make sweeping claims. You’re assuming that everyone thinks the same way you do, and that your interpretation of a pretty complicated biblical issue (what our bodies are and how/why we mark them) is the one and only correct interpretation. That’s a dangerous arrogance.

          I didn’t ask for scriptures on modesty. My point was that you seem unaware in your comment that standards of modesty are culturally-bound, and therefore a much more grey area than you seem to feel comfortable with.

          When you set your standards of modesty up as the biblical standard of modesty – especially with as little justification as your comment presented – you’re at minimum *appearing* to be prideful.

          Finally, why call me an ’emergent type’? I’ve never self-identified as such, and it’s clearly a label you disdain. I’d rather you discuss with me as a person, not as an enemy/Other you’ve written off with a label.

  11. Nice post. What it made me think about:

    If we assume that fashion is an extension of our Person – that we choose what we wear to say something about who we are (or at least how we see ourselves), then the modesty discussion heads in some interesting directions.

    For instance, a woman might choose to display parts of her body culturally deemed to be sexual (the difference, for instance, between American women showing cleavage and African women who don’t wear tops at all). Why does she make this choice? What does that tell us about her? (“us” probably better her friends, family and faith community, not people who don’t know here and are thus judging apart from any relational context) What does that choice tell her about herself?

    And the same would apply to a guy. If a guy spends hours every week in the gym to have a particular kind of body, that he then chooses to display, what does that tell us about him?

    Lots of guys and gals are buying into the idea that our bodies are things we use mainly to enhance our pleasure. The purpose of my body is to be sexy/sexual. We lack a clear picture of how our bodies are integrated into a larger spiritual wholeness.

    To your point that modesty is more than just clothing, this helps us ask those other questions: is our speech modest, or are we feeding the hook-up/pleasure culture? Do my actions objectify other people or myself?

  12. You know what I like about this post? It is anti-religion (a.k.a “rules”) and takes the focus off of appearances and yet ups the ante, just like Jesus did in Matthew when he talks about what adultery and hate really are.

    As I read the section about modest speech and behavior, one thing that I am reminded of is how no one knows the rules of etiquette any more. And though some of these rules can get ridiculous, most of them are rooted in the idea of being concerned for other people. Thanks for writing this post.

    1. You paid me such a huge compliment. You have no idea!

      I agree to and you make an excellent point that “rules of etiquette” often do show concern and consideration for others…something you think would come naturally to us Christians, but alas…

  13. I like this. It’s much easier to make modesty just about the external, just like anything in the Christian life. However, God cares about our hearts and our motives. It’s funny, because before I ever knew God, I was a pretty “modest” person on the outside, too. This was no real reflection of who I was on the inside. It was more of an act. How beautiful is true modesty that begins with a heart touched by Christ on the inside.

    1. Katy,
      Great point that because a person appears outwardly modest, doesn’t mean they are inwardly also. Like you, I may have dressed a bit more conservatively, but I was far from God, far from holiness, and very much in need of a Savior.

  14. Very well said; A modest lifestyle is a Holy lifestyle. As a Christian man, I am often saddened when other Christian men think they can live Holy but not act, dress or speak modestly. I agree with you completely. Thanks for such an insight.

  15. great point about how modesty goes beyond externals, and that it applies to both genders…for me, I think of being modest as having a humble attitude, such as realizing one doesn’t have all the answers, and that we are all in process…Blessings, Nicole :)

  16. I’m a little late to the party Nicole but good post. I have lamented for years that in the American culture (to include Christians) people have quit wearing clothes. I mean by and large people wear costumes. They are generally trying to throw some image about themselves and have stopped merely clothing themselves. They have put on a costume learned the talk and the walk and have become someone else for the onlooker. It is a tragic loss of identity. One of the casualties of this phenomenon is modesty.

    Sadly, what is commonly accepted is experiencing a slide, a desensitization much like movie ratings. We can’t speak for the general populace but as for the followers of Christ let’s stop smudging His rep with our dress and our catastrophic need to “be relevant.”

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