A couple of days ago I began a short series on modesty. It is not my intention that this series will say everything about modesty. Rather, I am trying to corral our thoughts and lead them in a specific direction and I think that direction will become clear today. I acknowledge in advance that this final entry in the series will inevitably be unsatisfying in some ways. But hang in there and I think you will see the value in thinking about modesty in this way. First, though, you may want to read The Heart of Modesty and Imperishable Beauty.
Yesterday we looked at two principles from 1 Peter 3:1-4. We saw that the crucial difference between immodesty and modesty is that the primary concern of one is being noticed while the primary concern of the other is God being noticed. There is a third principle we need to take from this text and it is a simple one: Modesty matters. Modesty makes a difference because God uses modesty to glorify himself.
Peter begins this whole section by holding out a great possibility: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” He assures the women he is writing to that modesty matters because it allows them to put their Christian character on display. This Christian character can serve as a powerful form of evangelism. These women needed to choose whether they would draw attention to themselves by defining beauty only in relation to outward things or whether they would draw attention to God by defining beauty primarily in relation to inward things. If they chose the latter, they would be living witnesses of God’s grace.
Remember, Peter was writing to a very specific group—to women whose husbands were followers of a different faith. Maybe these women thought the way to win their husbands was to go with the brute force approach and to nag their men into the kingdom, or maybe they went with the approach that involved crying and begging and pleading. Peter tells them not to do any of this. Instead, they are to put aside immodesty and focus on godly character. Their kind and respectful conduct will give such evidence of Christ in their lives that it may even draw their husbands to the Savior. In this context, true modesty, modesty that flows out of the gospel, has an evangelistic component to it.
We need to be careful we don’t make Peter say more than he means here. No one is going to become a Christian simply because you dress modestly. If wearing a long dress was enough to convince people to trust Christ, I’d be wearing one right now! What Peter wants his readers to know is that these women can either complement or contradict the message they speak with the way they behave and the way they dress.
This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? If you preach the gospel while wearing a scandalously low-cut dress, you are offering mixed messages. You are saying one thing but giving evidence of another thing altogether. With your words you are saying, “Look to Christ” while with your clothes you are saying, “Look at me!” If you go to share the gospel in a poor area of town while wearing a twenty thousand dollar suit, you are saying one thing but displaying another. Your words say, “I live for the glory of God” while your clothes say, “I live for the glory of me.” Your clothes contradict the message. Dressing modestly pushes you into the background and pushes the message into the foreground; dressing immodestly pushes you to the front and the message to the back.
It is not a sin to look handsome or to look beautiful. Far from it! However, it is a sin to dress in such a way that you deliberately draw attention to yourself instead of to God. If your great desire is to be noticed, you will not be concerned with displaying godly character.
Whether you are a man or a woman, you need to consider the importance of what you wear. The way you dress means something. When you meet a new person and spend a few hours together, don’t make it your desire to be remembered as the person who keeps up with the latest trends and who displays the latest fashions. It is far more important that the person goes away thinking about the fact that your character gave evidence of the Lord’s grace in your life. What matters is that you did nothing and wore nothing that distracted from the message you preached.
And so this little passage gives us three principles we can all apply: We all want to be noticed; modesty wants God to be noticed; and clothing matters because it may either contradict or complement the gospel we proclaim.
I am not going to give you a checklist for how to dress with modesty. I can’t. It would not be possible to create a list that accounts for all situations, all cultures, all people. Each of us needs to consider how to love one another and bring glory to God through the clothing we wear. Each of us needs to consider how we can dress in such a way that we do not contradict or detract from the message we proclaim.
What To Wear
The ultimate solution to immodesty is not a list of rules or a checklist; the solution is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And isn’t it interesting that the gospel is all about being dressed? When Christ suffered and died, he was stripped naked and nailed to a cross where he was clothed in all of our sin and unrighteousness. All we had ever done wrong was placed upon him. All of our immodest desires and behavior were placed upon him.
Because he took our sin and suffered the penalty for it, and because he rose triumphant from the grave, we can now put our faith in him. When we do that, he clothes us in his righteousness. He strips off our sin and clothes us in his goodness.
If you are a Christian, you are clothed in the gospel before you are clothed in anything else. You are not wearing Tommy Hilfiger or Calvin Klein or whatever label you like best. Not first and foremost. You are wearing Jesus Christ. This means that every article of clothing that touches your body is going to relate to the gospel in some way.
As a Christian you have the privilege and the calling to display the power and the reality of the gospel in your life. You can do that or can hinder that in the way you dress. You can dress in such a way that people see nothing of Jesus and everything of you. They might see your body and see your style, but miss Jesus altogether. Or you can dress in such a way that your clothing matches your message, that people see Christ in you.
So as you browse Amazon looking for a new shirt, as you are rummaging through the clothing racks, or even as you are considering the way you dress, your first thought needs to be for the gospel. Will this clothing contradict my message by making people notice me? Or will it complement my message and allow me to draw attention to Christ? Be careful here! You can draw attention to yourself as much through ultra-modest clothing as through ultra-immodest clothing. And over-emphasis on modesty can actually be immodest.
And there is our challenge: to be modest men and modest women clothed in gospel of Jesus Christ who will do nothing and wear nothing that will detract from that glorious message.
R.W. Glenn and I speak more about this in our short book Modest, published last year by Cruciform Press.