A Heart-Driven Modesty: God and Clothing (Sermon Manuscript)

This is the manuscript of the sermon I preached tonight at Placerita Baptist Church as part of our SummerFest 2009 series on “Worldliness.”  I promised that I would post it here for further consideration and discussion.  I have edited a few things that are unnecessary for a blog-post, and some elements will be unique to the sermon-manuscript genre.  PBC has graciously provided free audio from the whole series.


Under the general category of worldliness, our topic tonight is modesty.  I have the unique privilege of preaching a sermon primarily to the ladies.  Thanks a lot, PBC elders.  Either they think that I’m used to talking about this because I work in the Student Life Department at the college, or they have a twisted desire to see me chopped and skewered by entire pews of offended women.  I guess we’ll figure it out once I set foot on the lawn after the service.  To up the ante, it’s July, which is the perfect time for a talk on modesty, since summer is traditionally the time to show off, not cover up.  But in all seriousness, let me make several preliminary remarks as we begin. 

Preliminary Remarks

  1. This message is primarily directed to women.  I understand that and I embrace it.  Yet, it has relevance for all.  If you don’t believe me now, I hope you will by the end.
  2. Men, we are responsible for our own desires and temptations.  We will be talking about how women’s dress and appearance impacts men.  But this doesn’t give men an out.
  3. Ladies, I will be honest tonight about the minds and thoughts and temptations of men.  But please be charitable and don’t walk away assuming that all men are unrestrained, uncontrollable, perverted animals.  If you assume this, you will be over-burdened in regards to modesty and you’ll have a cynical view of the men around you.
  4. Thank you, ladies of PBC, for your modest dress overall.  On the whole, you are honorable, careful, thoughtful, and appropriate in your dress.  On behalf of the men, thank you.
  5. Nevertheless, be prepared to hear from the Lord tonight.  I refuse to be the preacher who says, “Our church is great and you’re all wonderful, so I’m really preaching this sermon to all the other people out there who need to shape up and get it together.  Unfortunately, none of them showed up tonight, so you poor perfected souls have to listen to another irrelevant message.”  No, tonight is for us.  It is for you.  Let me tell you one reason why.

This week I returned from a three-week trip to India.  Spending three weeks in a vastly different society is one way to guarantee that your Stateside sermon isn’t culture-bound.  And spending three weeks in a heavily-clad society is one way to expose the public undressing of American culture.  Overall, traditional Indian dress is fairly modest.  Clothing generally covers the body, and is generally loose.  But the interesting thing is that I did see lots of appalling immodesty in India.  Do you know where?  On the advertisements in western-imitating malls.

Now, I have been privileged to travel enough that I no longer make America the default punching bag of every post-trip conversation I have.  American culture as a whole is not the enemy, as if to say that the customs of India and Africa and Europe are pure as the driven snow.  But in this particular area, we are particularly corrupt. 

In Titus 1:12, Paul quotes a native cultural expert from the island of Crete who wrote, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”  How’s that for a generalization and a stereotype?  Talk about ethnic profiling and political incorrectness.  And if you would allow me to play cultural observer for a moment, I think it would be fair to say that American culture on the whole is sexually-charged, immoral, and immodest.

But it gets worse.  We are exporting nakedness.  We are educating and tutoring developing countries in the finer details of immorality.  We are global champions of immodesty.

So of all the people who need to screw our heads on straight and examine our hearts and possibly cleanse our wardrobes in terms of modesty, it’s us, standing on our beaches and under our billboards and behind our computer screens and in front of our CD covers, standing in the shadow of the stars and bars.  There are many reasons why I love America.  Modesty is not one of them.

So tonight we want to talk about how we can be citizens of another country, with a different King, with different standards.

Tonight, I want to offer you five exhortations toward modesty.  First:

1.  Recognize the ultimate need for modesty (Gen 2:25; 3:6-11, 21).

At the beginning of time, directly following the creation of the world, we zoom down into the Garden of Eden, down to ground level, and we see in Genesis 2:25 that “[Adam] and [Eve] were both naked and were not ashamed.”  This is very strange.  Nakedness without shame.  Nudity without embarrassment.  Immodesty without immorality.  This is the world that God created.  The fact that it is unimaginable should tell us the immensity of sin and the unthinkable glory of the world to come.  In the world as we know it, these are inseparable partners.  Nakedness means shame.  Public nudity is defined by embarrassment.  Immodesty is intertwined with immorality.  But not in the beginning.  God created a sinless, guiltless, shameless world.

But it didn’t last.  “So when the woman saw that the [forbidden] tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked [immodest].  And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:6-7).

Sin produced guilt.  Guilt produced shame.  Shame requires a covering.  Before sin entered the world, there was no guilt.  Because there was no guilt, there was no shame.  Because there was no shame, there was no need for a covering.  Oh, how sin has changed our world!

“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’  And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked [immodest], and I hid myself.’  He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'” (Genesis 3:8-11).  God says, no doubt with a deep sadness in His heart, “You’re not supposed to know that you’re naked… You’re not supposed to feel shame!  You must’ve sinned…”

“And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).  Sin > Guilt > Shame > Covering.  One of the clearest evidences of total depravity is that each and every one of us in this room is covered.  Because we are guilty, and we are ashamed.  There is a sense in which fashion is simply the ever-changing clothing rack of the guilty.  It is our attempt to recreate the beauty of God’s original creation and to hide our own shame.

What did this first sin produce?  It marred the interaction between men and women.  Men and women were created to be mirrors of God’s glory, but we turned ourselves into magnets for the attraction of others.  God made us for reflection, but we wake up in the morning geared for attraction.  So come the sparks of sexual fantasy; the slow burn of jealousy; the furnace of adultery; the wildfires of sexual sin.  These are all reasons why modesty is now necessary.  And we see this play out from the very beginning.

  • Potiphar’s wife seduces Joseph (Gen 39:7-20).
  • Amnon rapes Tamar (2 Sam 13:1-39).
  • Samson and Delilah live out a soap opera (Judges 13-16).
  • Solomon has 1,000 sexual partners (1 Kings 11:3).
  • God arranges a marriage between a prophet and a prostitute to demonstrate his unparalleled loyalty to His own unfaithful wife (Hosea 1:2).
  • The Israelites intermarry with godless pagans (Ezra 9:1-2).
  • Herodias’ daughter dances for King Herod’s guests and John is beheaded (Mark 6:17-28).

Women lure and charm men, to their ruin.  Men dominate and molest women, to their harm.  Men are enticed and seduced.  Women are abused and degraded.  And it doesn’t stop with the biblical record.  We are suffocating under the weight of sin’s consequences to this day.  Our feminine heroes are named Madonna and Jolie and Kneightly instead of Carmichael and Edwards and Elliot.  Fifty-year-old women have surgeries to look twenty-five.  Fifty-year-old men run off with twenty-five-year-old secretaries.  Fifteen-year-olds binge and purge.  Eight-year-olds are abused by their fathers.  The pornography industry runs away with America’s men and America’s soul.  Devoted Christian girls spend days trying to find modest clothes to wear while devoted Christian guys fight minute-by-minute against a cultural onslaught of sexual enticement.  And we even learn to avoid entire books of the Bible because pure sexual attraction is virtually unintelligible to us.

Recognize the ultimate need for modesty: (1) sin, guilt, and shame, and (2) the marred relationship between men and women.  And there is one more practical reason for modesty: men are visual beings.  Men are visually attracted, visually distracted, visually stimulated… or visually helped.

Let me restate from the outset that we men have a personal responsibility to guard and control our eyes, our hearts, our minds, and our hands.  The call to feminine modesty is not a crutch or an excuse for men, nor is it our main weapon in the battle for purity.  We are strangers and aliens living among an evil and adulterous generation.  So let’s not pretend like a 40-minute summer sermon on modesty is going to cure all ills, or that the obedience of our tiny Christian minority in the area of modesty is going to be our silver bullet.  We must carry our own load here.  God is not demanding that women solve men’s problems.  But He is calling women to help and assist.  Temptation is already a slippery slope.  All we’re asking of you ladies is that you don’t grease the slide.

Review: Recognize the ultimate need for modesty.

2.  Embrace the biblical appeal to modesty (1 Peter 3:1-6).

The war for holiness and the war against worldliness does not begin in the mall or the magazines or the walk-in closet.  It begins in the mind.  Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2b).  Your mind and your heart and your intentions and your motivations determine your wardrobe.

1 Peter 3:1-6 — “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.  Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.  And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

Context:  Peter is speaking to Christian women who are married to unbelieving men.  He is encouraging these women to be submissive, respectful, and pure so that they might have a wordless testimony before their ungodly husbands.  In this context, he urges them to be modest in attitude and in dress, to be women of high character and undistracting appearanceI want to draw out SIX PRINCIPLES about modesty.

(1)  Modesty shys away from extravagance (v. 3) (“Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing…”).

Peter is not saying that women should neglect their appearance.  Notice that he includes “the putting on of clothing [garments]” in his prohibition.  This would mean he’s saying that you can”t wear clothes at all, which would be somewhat antithetical to the call to modesty!  No, Peter is saying, “Don’t let clothing and shoes and fashions and accessories and styles be your focus and your obsession.”  He’s saying, “Don’t be extravagant and ostentatious and attention-seeking.”  He’s saying, “Do not let your adorning — what makes you beautiful — be external.”

Scripture does not speak against the presence of beauty, the enhancement of beauty, or our attraction to beauty.  God made us male and female, and He has designed us to be physically attracted to the opposite sex.  He also designed women with the desire and the gifting to make things beautiful.  Men destroy things.  Women make them beautiful.  Bachelor pads aren’t usually warm and inviting.  In fact, the main difference between a bachelor pad and a prison cell is the bars.  Men can enjoy beauty, but we don’t usually cultivate it.

The patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) all married beautiful women (Gen 12:11-15; 25:16; 26:7; 29:16-18, 28).  The excellent wife in Proverbs 31 dresses herself and her family in vibrant and quality clothing (31:21-22), and she produces and sells fine, valuable garments (31:24).  The bride in Song of Solomon is clearly beautiful in form, appearance, and dress.

Yet, Scripture also says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).  Outward beauty is ultimately empty and promised to fade.  Therefore, the modest woman shys away from distracting, enticing, eye-catching extravagance.  Peter is not talking about exposing skin but drawing attention.

Review: Modesty shys away from extravagance (v. 3).  In contrast:

(2) Modesty highlights internal character (v. 4) (“but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…”).

Paul says something very strange in verse 4.  He says that “your adorning” — what makes you beautiful — should be invisible.  It is a “hidden” beauty, a quiet attractiveness, a gentle loveliness.  It is a beauty of the heart.  And no matter how many times you’ve heard it, or how cliché it may seem, we need Peter to tell us again: “True beauty begins and centers in the heart.”

The most foundational article of clothing in a godly woman’s wardrobe is her character.  The soft tones of a “gentle and quiet spirit.”  The perfectly-crafted fabric of a tranquil soul.  A well-earned reputation for good works.

#1: Modesty shys away from extravagance (v. 3).
#2: Modesty highlights internal character (v. 4).

(3) Modesty is an imperishable quality (v. 4) (“the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”).

Everyone look down at what you’re wearing.  How old are the clothes you have on?  How many of you are wearing clothes that you have personally owned for more than ten years?  Clothing wears out.

How many 70-year-old models have you seen on TV recently?  How many 80-year-old athletes have you seen running around lately?  People wear out.

Why do we have sayings like, “That’s so ’80’s” or “retro” or “blast from the past”?  Because the hot new styles of today are the bellbottoms of tomorrow.  Fashions change.

For those of you who have been married for more than twenty years, your wedding pictures may be many things — beautiful, precious, memorable — but they are not in style.  This is why the older (and wiser) generation often doesn’t care much about style.  They have seen it come and go.  They understand that fashion is more of a tide than an ocean.  It is ever changing, never fixed.  Play it cool in 1970 and you will look the fool in 1990.

So should the transitory nature of clothing, appearance, and fashions discourage and dishearten us?  Should we be obsessed with anti-aging remedies and keeping up with current styles?  No.  The suffering Apostle Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

The internal character produced by the Holy Spirit and molded throughout life is “imperishable.”  This is beauty that does not fade, and cannot be taken — not by physical illness, not by fashion trends, not by cultural shifts; not even by death itself.  Do you want permanent, enduring, invincible, constantly-improving beauty?  Make investments in your character.  Invest in modesty.

#1: Modesty shys away from extravagance (v. 3).
#2: Modesty highlights internal character (v. 4).
#3: Modesty is an imperishable quality (v. 4).

(4) Modesty is precious in God’s sight (v. 4) (“which in God’s sight is very precious”).

Elsewhere this word “precious” refers to expensive perfume (Mark 14:3) or costly, luxurious garments (1 Tim 2:9).  The women who lives with a God-saturated, Christ-imitating, gospel-transformed, Spirit-produced godliness is a treasure to her Father.  I have always been fascinated and intrigued by the beautiful relationship between a godly, loving, nurturing, protective father and the daughter that he loves.  She is precious to him.  Ladies, you are precious to your Father when you live and dress modestly, with a gentle and quiet spirit, with a heart for service, with your soul fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ.

The humble, gentle, tranquil woman of character is precious not only to God but also to God’s men!  The woman who dresses appropriately and thoughtfully and with self-control is very attractive to God’s sons.  Ladies, ask yourselves: Who am I trying to attract?  Whose attention do I hope to catch?

Immodesty is guaranteed to attract the attention of men, but not faithful men.  Not dignified men.  Not holy men.  Not men that you want your sons to be like and your daughters to marry.  If a man is enjoying your immodesty or your daughter’s immodesty, he is also enjoying every other woman’s.

Seek the kind of precious and valuable character that God cherishes.

#1: Modesty shys away from extravagance (v. 3).
#2: Modesty highlights internal character (v. 4).
#3: Modesty is an imperishable quality (v. 4).
#4: Modesty is precious in God’s sight (v. 4).

(5) Modesty has a noble heritage (vv. 5-6) (“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.  And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”)

Notice how Peter attempts to inspire and motivate these Christian women.  He asks, “Do you want to stand in the long line of honorable, heroic, praiseworthy, God-exalting women?”  Modesty has a noble heritage: “this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves…”  The attitude and the apparel of the godly woman have been passed down from generation to generation.

This is equal but opposite to how the fashion industry attempts to motivate.  They also want you to imitate.  This is what Michelle Obama’s wearing!  This is what the runway models in Paris are wearing.  This is what J. Crew and Hollister are selling.  Don’t you want to be like them?  Now, again, what some of these women are wearing and what some of these catalogues are selling may not be wrong at all.  It could be very feminine and appropriate.  But are you more moved by the example of the godly women of the faith than by current trends and fashions?

I would encourage you to read Christian biographies about noble women of the faith.  One thing you’ll notice: they weren’t known for the size of their closets or the in-ness of their styles.  They were known for adorning themselves with “good works” as Paul urges (1 Tim 2:10).

What characterized these women?

a.  They were unattached to the world.  They were “holy women.”  The overall, lifetime decision to separate from the world’s values and the world’s ways has massive implications.  Dress is just one of them.  The way a woman dresses is a declaration of allegiance.  To whom have you pledged your life?   Do you look just like the culture, or is your attitude, your behavior, and your wardrobe distinct?  This doesn’t mean that you are deliberately out of step or anti-fashion or intentionally and militantly against the current trends.  There’s a way to draw attention to yourself by being completely out of step and trying to stand out for your conservatism.  Nevertheless, you should stand out for something.  When you dress yourself in the morning, you are wrapping yourself in a flag.  You are representing a kingdom.

b.  They had a God-centered hope.  They were “holy women who hoped in God.”  Women are naturally designed to hope and desire and anticipate.  Peter is speaking to Christian women with unbelieving husbands, so their husbands likely do not provide them with the kind of security and love and leadership and attention that they might desire.  Nevertheless, they set their hope on God.  Modesty hopes in the love and pleasure and provision of God, not the love and pleasure and provision of men.  Ask yourself when you dress, “What am I hoping for?” 

Who are you trying to imitate?  Who do you want to look like?  Whose appearance fascinates and captivates you?  Modesty has a noble heritage, and it is a legacy worth joining.

#1: Modesty shys away from extravagance (v. 3).
#2: Modesty highlights internal character (v. 4).
#3: Modesty is an imperishable quality (v. 4).
#4: Modesty is precious in God’s sight (v. 4).
#5: Modesty has a noble heritage (vv. 5-6).

(6) Modesty has evangelistic power (vv. 1-2) (“won without a word by the conduct of their wives”). 

Remember that Peter is still talking to Christian women with unbelieving husbands, and encouraging them to maintain a wordless testimony so that their husbands might come to know the Lord.  In the words of one commentator, Peter is promoting an “eloquent silence” (J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude, 128).  Part of this testimony is external and internal modesty.  Peter is saying that Christian modesty is an evangelistic strategy.  Feminine modesty helps fulfill the Great Commission!  We go to the jungles of Papua New Guinea; we penetrate the dark corners of the Middle East; and we dress modestly in Valencia.  These are all missional strategies in Scripture.

Do you have a heart for the lost?  Do you want to see people saved?  Do you want to see the gospel advance?  Then live and dress modestly!  Modest character has a quiet power.  It is so attractive and persuasive and winsome in a dark, desperate, competitive, self-conscious, attention-seeking world like ours.  The women of the world dress so that men will see through their clothing.  The women of God dress so that men will see past their clothing to their transformed character.  Modesty has evangelistic power.

Six Principles about Modesty from 1 Peter 3:1-6:
#1: Modesty shys away from extravagance (v. 3).
#2: Modesty highlights internal character (v. 4).
#3: Modesty is an imperishable quality (v. 4).
#4: Modesty is precious in God’s sight (v. 4).
#5: Modesty has a noble heritage (vv. 5-6).
#6: Modesty has evangelistic power (vv. 5-6)

1. Recognize the ultimate need for modesty (Gen 2-3).
2. Embrace the biblical appeal to modesty (1 Peter 3:1-6).

3.  Discover the diverse implications of immodesty (Proverbs 14:12).

“There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).

Jesus said, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!  For it is necessary that temptations to come, but woe to the one by whom the temptations come!” (Matthew 18:7).

Here are seven potential or actual consequences of immodesty:

(1) You might tempt a husband to be discontent with his wife’s physical appearance.  This would be dangerously close to what Jesus calls adultery in Matthew 5:27-28 — “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’  Yes, it’s the man’s responsibility to control his own eyes, mind, and heart — absolutely.  But you can help or hinder.  Yes, a man might not commit adultery with you personally, but you might be step #13 along the way.

(2) You might tempt a single young man toward immoral sexual desires.  Besides his own sin in lusting, he is also setting up pitfalls for himself later on — discontentment, a memory bank of immodest girls, a decreasing standard of what he’s looking for in a girl, etc.

(3) You could tempt other girls to covet your looks or your clothing or the attention you receive.  Yes, they are responsible to battle envy in their own hearts, but if their battle is stirred up by your immodesty and attention-seeking, you are hindering them and not helping.

(4) You might distract people from seeing Christ in you.  If people walk away from you and only think, “She’s cute and she’s got great style,” you have missed an opportunity to represent Christ.  This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to be noticed for your beauty.  But if it’s the consistent theme  and feedback of your life, something might be missing.

(5) You might distract the people of God from worshiping with the gathered church.  Singing, listening to God’s Word, meditating, fellowshiping without distractions.  I’ve been in churches before where I find myself often looking to the heavens, and not because I’m really looking to the heavens.  I’m trying to avoid what’s on earth.

(6) You might teach other girls around you to develop immodest habits.  Ask yourself if you would want a fourteen-year-old girl looking to you as the model for how to dress.   If you are a fourteen-year-old girl, ask yourself if you would want your 10-year-old sister following your example.

(7) You will attract the wrong kind of man.

1. Recognize the ultimate need for modesty (Gen 2-3).
2. Embrace the biblical appeal to modesty (1 Peter 3:1-6).
Discover the diverse implications of immodesty (Proverbs 14:12). 

4.  Develop the spiritual discernment of modesty.

Ladies, learn to think, shop, act, and dress like God’s daughters.  Men, view the ladies around you as God’s daughters.

Here are four questions that you ladies can ask yourself about your clothing, your appearance, and your motivations:

(1) Why do I want to purchase or wear this?

    • Am I seeking the pleasure of God or the attention of men
    • Do I really need this?  You could feed and educate three children a month for the price of a nice blouse from the TownCenter.  This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t buy the blouse.  But it raises some good questions about how we spend our money.
    • Is my heart becoming entangled with the cares of the world?
    • Are there any particular guys whose attention I want to catch, or any particular girls that I’d like to envy me?
    • Am I willing to say no to purchasing this or wearing this?
    • Am I becoming a hyper-critical, judgmental, condescending, conscience-stricken, anti-beauty legalist?  As much as we men want you to be modest, we also want you to be feminine and to maintain your beauty.  I mean, on top of everything else, my wife is the best decoration in the house, to be quite frank.  So I don’t want her enslaved or over-burdened by unbiblical conservative values.  Nor does these types of overly strict, man-made rules please or honor God or cultivate a true heart of humble modesty

(2) How will my appearance affect others?

    • Will I manifest appropriate feminine beauty?
    • Will I bring undue attention to myself?
    • Will I be a distraction, or worse, a stumbling block?
    • How will this look when I’m sitting down or bending over?  Modesty doesn’t mean that your skirt is modest in one position out of ten.  Ask yourself, “Will I need to constantly pull this up or down or adjust in my seat to be modest?”
    • What do my husband, parents, wise leaders, and mature friends say?  We fathers have a very serious responsibility to instruct, guide, and help our daughters with their hearts and their clothing choices.  Every dad should say at some point, “I’m sorry, honey, but you can’t go out of the house wearing that.”  “I’m sorry, honey, but I can’t let you wear that because of how men will look at you.”  “I’m sorry, honey, but you’re a grown teenage girl and that’s not appropriate to wear in the house even around family.”
    • Am I willing to err on the side of caution

(3) What does my appearance say about me?

    • Who and what am I identifying with?
    • What does this say about my priorities?
    • What am I becoming known for?  Good looks or good works”?   My “clothing or my character”?  My fashion or my spiritual fruit? (C. J. Mahaney, “God, My Heart, and Clothes,” Worldliness, 135).
    • What do my receipts from this year say about my priorities?  What about the time, energy, and thought that I put into my appearance?  How about the amount of clothes, shoes, make-up, and accessories I own?
    • Am I becoming enslaved to being “counter-cultural” in unbiblical ways?  Again, legalism and over-restrictive convictions are also a danger

(4) What kind of example am I setting for others?

My children?  My friends?  Would I want my young daughter to wear what I’m wearing?

Now, when we talk about developing the spiritual discernment of modesty, I understand that there’s one particular question here that can be very difficult to answer.  It’s #2: How will my appearance affect others?  We want to be practical, but not legalistic.  We want to be specific, but not inappropriate.  You ladies may be rightfully and righteously interested in what’s helpful and what’s hurtful when it comes to your brothers in Christ.  But how can you find out?

I want to introduce you to a very helpful online survey that was done by the Harris brothers“The Modesty Survey is an exciting, anonymous discussion between Christian guys and girls who care about modesty.  Hundreds of Christian girls contributed to the 148-question survey and over 1,600 Christian guys submitted 150,000+ answers, including 25,000 text responses, over a 20-day period in January 2007.”  The responders were 43% homeschoolers, 40% public schoolers, and 13% private schoolers.  45% were college graduates and 14% were college students.  The average age was 22½. 

They wisely provide seven guidelines as an introduction to the survey.  The first three are absolutely essential for our purposes tonight.

(1) Please, approach the survey as a resource, not a list of rules.
(2) Always honor your parents above the results of the survey (Ephesians 6:1-3).
(3) Seek personal feedback on your attire from the godly men and women in your life.
(4) Remember, modesty is first and foremost a matter of the heart, not the wardrobe.
(5) Faithfully pursue the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4).
(6) Let your good works outshine your outward appearance (1 Timothy 2:10).
(7) Dress for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

The survey is specific and comprehensive.  Here are the categories:

(1) General/Other
(2) Swimsuits
(3) Undergarments
(4) Shirts/Dresses
(5) Layering
(6) Pants/Shorts/Leggings
(7) Skirts
(8) Posture/Movement
(9) Makeup/Jewelry/Hair/Shoes
(10) Open Questions

And here are some of the answers.  Again, these are not scriptural commands or even biblical guidelines.  They are simply the results of this survey, informed by your fellow believers, both men and women.  The statements in quotes are the questions of the survey.  This is just a sampling.

  • “Girls can dress attractively without being immodest.”  97% agree.
  • “A guy can consider a girl attractive without thinking about her in an impure way.”  95% agree.
  • “Sleeveless shirts or dresses (i.e. bare arms) are immodest.”  61% disagree, 18% neutral, 21% agree.
  • “Dresses that are fitted at the waist (e.g. with a belt or waistband) are a stumbling block.”  78% disagree.
  • “Spaghetti-strap shirts and dresses are immodest.”  61% agree, 20% disagree, 19% neutral.
  • “The same standards of modesty should apply to wedding and bridesmaids’ dresses as to everyday attire.”  65% agree.
  • “Wearing pants with words across the backside is a stumbling block.”  84% agree.
  • “It is immodest for a girl to expose her calves (i.e. knee downward).”  83% disagree, 10% neutral, 7% agree.
  • “Skirts that fall above the knee are immodest.”  58% agree, 19% neutral, 23% disagree.  One commenter put it well: “That’s getting into dangerous territory, especially when [women] sit down.”  And know that 93% of responders said that “Miniskirts are immodest.”

Recognize the ultimate need for modesty (Gen 2-3).
2. Embrace the biblical appeal to modesty (1 Peter 3:1-6).
3. Discover the diverse implications of immodesty (Proverbs 14:12).
4. Develop the spiritual discernment of modesty.

5.  Embrace the ultimate solution for immodesty (Psalm 32:1). 

My ultimate need is not more clothing or better clothing.  My ultimate need is not even a gentle and quiet spirit or a life of good works or a God-honoring wardrobe.  I need righteousnessThe ultimate solution for immodesty is the gospel.

Psalm 32:1 — “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”

The righteousness of Christ has covered us, and we are now to dress as those who desire to make people notice that righteousness.  We want people to see that God has clothed us, not that the GAP has clothed us or that Hollister has clothed us or that Calvin Klein has clothed us or that J. Crew has clothed us.  We are wearing Christ.  Let it be known.

Christ was clothed with a mocking purple robe and a crown of thorns so that I might wear His righteousness (Mark 15:17).   And Christ was undressed and uncovered and exposed on the cross so that my sin and my shame might be covered (Luke 23:34).

God dresses His Son in my wickedness so that I might be dressed in His righteousness.  God stripped His Son of His glory so that I might be brought into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  Christ paid in blood for my clothing.

And because the gospel is the ultimate solution for our widespread and comprehensive immodesty, it is also the ultimate motivation for our widespread and comprehensive modesty.  I want my life to adorn the gospel!  The gospel has clothed us, and now we want to clothe the gospel.  The gospel is making us beautiful once again, and now we want to make the gospel beautiful.  We want our lives to dress up the gospel, to make it attractive, to entice people to Christ’s forgiveness and His transforming power.  We want to live in such a way that others are attracted to Jesus Christ.

So when you browse the clothing racks at your favorite store… when you slide your clothes off their hangers in the morning… when you stand readying yourself for the day in front of the full-length mirror… when you walk out the door in the morning… when you set foot on your high school campus… when you walk around the house in front of your young daughters and sons… when you pass through the double doors of the PBC sanctuary… you are dressing up the gospel.  Do it beautifully.



I have listened to “The Soul of Modesty,” read Mahaney’s chapter in Worldliness, read most of Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America, and perused the “Modesty Survey” at length, but have not heard any of Rick Holland’s messages below.  But I trust and recommend Rick’s messages because he is consistently biblical, practical, and persuasive.

15 thoughts on “A Heart-Driven Modesty: God and Clothing (Sermon Manuscript)

  1. Very nice article. I especially appreciate the point made about the fact that modesy is FIRST AND FOREMOST about character and behavior. I live in a city with a sizable Muslim population, and I can tell you that their women are (for the most part) very good at modesty in clothing, but they fail (again, for the most part) pitifully at modesty in character. (Not that Muslims are our standard, just making an observation). Just the same, some girls that don’t wear the most modest clothing, but are modest in behavior and character, make a much better overall impression.

  2. I blog frequently and I truly thank you for your content.

    Your article has really peaked my interest. I’m going to bookmark your website and keep checking for new information about once a week. I subscribed to your Feed too.

  3. Also your quote of “men destroy things” is a vast generalisation.My dad is extremely clean-ive always been amused by stories of women saying men leavign socks around or toilet seat up because that is foreign to me.My father has never done that-he is European and European men arnt they way that you describe men so you should have been aware that you shouldnt generalise and that that is only a cultural thing relevant to USA men and upbringing.

    1. Great to hear about your dad, but European men are just as messy and careless (generally, of course). Believe me; I come from Eastern Europe and I now live in Denmark (Western Europe) and the trends are no different. Your father is just something of a remarkable exception.

      I find that some American women idealize the European man – he is not substantially different from his American counterpart. In fact, though European men may dress a bit better and have an overall better outer appearance, they are probably even more emasculated, perverted and feminine than Americans.

  4. While i also agree with that there are many many problems in USA around these issues,i also feel that your article on it was somewhat condemning though and actually leading to bondage.
    Quotes like
    “Women lure and charm men, to their ruin. Men dominate and molest women, to their harm. Men are enticed and seduced. Women are abused and degraded.” certainly dont apply to all people-christian or other.
    The only women that “lure & charm men” are ones that are immoral & selfserving or ones that have been taught this due to faulty upbringing/parental relationships etc.
    The issue is much larger then about clothign lengths-it is the way that some men & women define relationships-they dont know what love is & they dont know how to love.They confuse sex or “having feelings for” with love.Noone is being taught guidance or good character qualities so many Americans (young & old) are running around like lost sheep.The huge lack of guidance for men how to be honorable “real men” in USA is really a very troubling issue & i dont think articles like yours deliver to be honest.
    You are making it basically like men are helpless beigns run by penis & that there should be a huge focus on women to be extremely conscious of their clothing because we should feel sympathy for our poor fellow male shortcomings.
    This does not solve the issue at all.It changes nothign about those types of mens characters-their characters still remain the same-just that it gives them temporary “aid”/assistance to not have (what they term immodest) dressed women in front of them.
    They real issue though is that some men(and women) have bad characters qualities.They look at women with a “sleazy’ look in their eyes,they are focused on “skin”,they think about “hooking up’s” etc-its all a wrong mentality which no amount of conscious modest dress will fix until the real issues are addressed.
    While it is very true that there is a physical component & men are going to be “wired” a certain way at the same time the fact is that some people have bad character qualities & when they meet someone they arnt thinkign about having a pleasant conversation with them or being friendly etc-instead they are thinking about “skin”/their body.
    So if im honest,i feel your article might cause more trouble then good.it puts too mush of a focus for women to always have to be extremely conscious of their dress.while a type of modesty is good,the way that you talk about it i feel would lead people into bondage.
    Are you aware that some women(or men) express themselves through clothing?
    Clothing is also something that is “fun” for women.
    Some men seem to think that women wear makeup to attract or seduce but are you aware that a huge number of women wear makeup for fun or creativity,to express their artisticness or to create with different colours-often with a lot of woemn seducing men is the furthest thing from their mind when using makeup.
    Women wear some clothes because they are fashionable/following fashion-many women arnt wearign those tight jeans because they are wishing to seduce YOU/catch your attention.
    So this “hypervigilence” of women beign conscious of modesty that you suggest cannot succeed without the supression of personality & creativity & would also possibly lead to poor “psychological” health & disillutionemnt with Christianity-i mean how many women could really live “on edge” havign to always be aware & conscious of “is this modest enough?” “how will i appear to others in this?” “am i representign Jesus enough in this outfit?” etc?

    1. Even if those women aren’t wearing tight jeans in order to seduce, they can’t be ignorant of the fact that those jeans make them more sexually attractive. Come on! And a woman can very well be creative while being modest; in fact, modesty REQUIRES creativity nowadays, since almost no sensible clothes can be bought.

      While men shouldn’t be treated as purely sexual beings with no control over their desires, women should also be conscious of the fact that they may be bringing temptation to some of their brothers in Christ. Where is the attitude of Paul, who said he would never eat meat again if it caused his brother to stumble? Especially the younger brothers are more vulnerable, and some women really have this overbearing, rebellious attitude, saying, “I’ll wear what I want; it’s his problem.” A true follower of Christ is always concerned about not causing others to stumble and not being a doorway into lust.

      However, you are right that an exaggerated, legalistic striving for modesty is also problematic, but I also find the article was pretty clear on that. If you find this sermon judgy, you should meet some of those women who give any Christian woman with pants the evil eye. :)

  5. Gunner,
    Excellent job Sunday night! It was a great reminder as it is easy to fall into the fashion trap.
    Your notes and speaking reflect the depth of thought, time and research you put into the subject.

  6. Philip,

    Thanks for sharing. That’s an encouraging story! Here’s a young lady who (1) became sensitive to her potential immodesty and (some of) the guys around her, (2) was willing to ask a friend about her swimsuit, and (3) was actually willing to do something about it, too! The fact that she was already over the line with her planning (and the fact that a t-shirt may not have helped as much as needed) doesn’t diminish the fact that she asked and wanted to be careful. This (and possible follow-up conversations) were great opportunities for your wife, and I’m sure this situation led to more awareness on the part of your wife’s friend, if someone was willing to walk through the issue with her.

    You asked, “why should she be only be concerned for her brothers in Christ? Shouldn’t she be concerned about those that don’t know Christ as well?” I think all of us would answer, “Of course.” We don’t want to be a stumbling block to unbelievers, either. You also mentioned, “It still puzzles us to this day.” I’d be interested to know what’s so puzzling about it. It seems pretty straightforward, unless I’m missing something. This friend was not very aware or sensitive regarding issues of modesty and temptation. The fact that she was thinking mainly about Christian guys only reveals a bit more ignorance, which I’m sure were helped by the honest and loving conversations your wife hopefully had with her. Again, it sounds like this sister’s thinking was incomplete, but headed in the right direction, which makes the story encouraging and hopeful!

    Thanks for the dialogue and for your concern about the issue.

  7. Thank you for this post. I remember my wife sharing with me about an old friend of hers who is a believer and her predicament with this issue. It seemed as if the girl didn’t know what she was struggling with. They were out at an event in their swimsuits. The girl had brought 2 different bikinis. Just before they entered the event the girl asked my wife, “Is this modest enough or should I put on my other suit? I know there are some Christian guys here and…what do you think?” My wife remembers feeling surprised that all of a sudden she would feel uncomfortable in the suit she had been planning to wear. And it wasn’t that she was going to be seen in public, but seen in public by Christian boys. She ended up wearing the first suit, but putting a shirt over it. Her heart was obviously being convicted about how scantily clad the one suit was compared to the other. But, why should be only be concerned for her brothers in Christ? Shouldn’t she be concerned about those that don’t know Christ as well? It still puzzles us to this day.
    Men and women should help each other. Women, dress more appropriately. Men, if you can, share with the woman or a close friend that something is inappropriate.
    Thanks again,
    Author Philip Kledzik
    “An Issue of the Heart”
    “Painted Rooms”

  8. Gunner….How timely. I have an appt’ tomorrow to meet with a gal to discuss this very issue. I am grateful for the resources to share with her. God is so faithful…Tell Cindi hello for me..I enjoy your blog posts continually….Nina

  9. Hi Gunner, Welcome back. I enjoyed your posts that detailed your trip and speaking engagements. Just wanted to say great job at church last night.

    Dwayne Holloway

  10. Gunner,

    I just wanted to say thanks for bring the Word to us last night on this very important subject. I think as a guy I was blessed to hear this and these are great principles that I can take with me in to fatherhood should be the Lord’s will. We are blessed to have you in our body. Thanks again.


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