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Dressed to Kill

Thinking Biblically About Modest and Immodest Clothing

by Robert G. Spinney

Dressed to Kill: Thinking Biblically About Modest and Immodest Clothing ISBN 0-9776680-8-8

1st Edition Copyright © 2007 by Robert G. Spinney All rights reserved.

TULIP BOOKS P.O. Box 481 Hartsville, TN 37074 USA

cover: On the Terrace by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1881), courtesy of and the WebMuseum; licensing terms at http:/ /

All Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission.

The apparel oft proclaims the man. William Shakespeare in Hamlet (1601) From the day a girl first opens a fashion magazine until the day she dies, clothes are a major topic of discussion. Barbara Hughes in Disciplines of a Godly Woman (2001) Undoubtedly the dress of a virtuous and godly woman must differ from that of a strumpet. John Calvin in his commentary on 1 Timothy 2:9 (1556)

hile living in the White House, President Thomas Jefferson frequently wore a threadbare housecoat and bedroom slippers. Sometimes he even received foreign dignitaries and congressional leaders in what one observer called his "neglected attire." U.S. Senator William Plummer described Jefferson's personal appearance this way: "He was dressed, or rather undressed, in an old brown coat, red waistcoat, old corduroy small clothes much soiled, woolen hose, and slippers without heels. I thought him a servant, when General Varnum surprised me by announcing it was the President." Jefferson dressed in this manner deliberately. He believed that his predecessors in the White House had wrongly communicated that the American president was semi-royalty. Lavish balls, splendid clothing, and glistening carriages communicated monarchy, thought Jefferson. Determined that no one would regard the American president as anything like a king, Jefferson wore "common man" clothing that he deemed anti-aristocratic.



Not all Americans applauded the Virginian's wardrobe. Many took offense, thinking that Jefferson was demeaning the office of the president by dressing too casually. Instead of praising him, they chided the Chief Executive for his slovenly clothing. Would European ambassadors even take the young republic seriously, they wondered, if greeted by a man who looked like a butler? Despite all this, there was one thing Jefferson and his critics agreed on: clothing sends messages. They knew that clothing communicates. So do we. The distinctive clothing of the Amish community says something. So does noticeably sloppy and dirty clothing. We choose our clothing carefully when interviewing for a job because we know our clothing sends messages to the interviewer. When U.S. courts rule on the constitutionality of institutional dress codes, they invariably ask whether such guidelines infringe upon free speech-- thus tacitly equating clothing with communication.


he Christian's wardrobe is no small matter. The daily statements we make with our clothing--intentional or unintentional, interpreted correctly or incorrectly--are among the boldest statements we make. Our children, siblings, coworkers, classmates, and fellow church members cannot help but see our clothing. Everyone notices if we are sloppy or neat, simple or glamorous, provocative or modest. Clothing can both affect our self-image and shape other peoples' perceptions of us: that's why we spend gobs of money purchasing nice clothing. Thinking Christianly about clothing involves many issues. This booklet, however, will limit its focus to one aspect of the clothing issue: modesty and immodesty, especially as it relates to sensuality and sexuality. We must first remove two obstacles that sometimes prevent Christians from even considering this subject: the belief that any discussion of clothing is inherently legalistic, and the belief that such discussions are simply unnecessary. In many places today, to simply raise the subject of immodest clothing is to set off every legalism alarm in the building.


This is regrettable. We do not understand holiness if we think applying Colossians 3:17 ("whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus") to the subject of clothing is somehow wrong. The person who says, "Jesus will not be Lord of my clothing" is little different from the person who says, "Jesus will not be Lord of my money." Nor is it legalistic when God's people endeavor to obey God's instructions. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well when he said that if the `grace' we have received does not help us to keep God's laws, then we have not really received grace. To be sure, Christians can handle the subject of immodest clothing in a clumsy, unbiblical, and grace-denying fashion. That's a problem. But surely ignoring the subject is not the solution: by doing this, we imply there is no such thing as inappropriate clothing. God's people cannot afford to ignore this issue. Why not? Because Christians who think unbiblically about this issue don't naturally gravitate toward more modest clothing. As is true with other aspects of living the Christian life, we never "drift forward." Holiness and spiritual maturity must be pursued (Hebrews 12:14). That pursuit of godliness should be marked by diligence (2 Peter 1:10, 3:14). Our mind's default settings are not godly: it is the renewing of our minds that produces spiritual transformation (Romans 12:2). Sometimes Christians dismiss the issue of modest clothing as trivial. It's not. After all, it was God who noticed the first clothing ever invented, judged it inadequate, and intervened to replace it with apparel of His own making (Genesis 3:7, 21). And no one can deny that much of the clothing available in stores today is scandalously immodest. "If you're blind or from another planet," writes Barbara Hughes, "you may conceivably have missed the fact that modesty has disappeared. It is dead and buried! If you don't think so, go shopping with a teenager." A third issue also deserves attention at the outset of this discussion. Some God-fearing Christians dress immodestly, even though they have no wish to offend others, flaunt their sexuality, or turn heads with their skimpy apparel. These believers often sincerely think they are dressing modestly. The problem?


They take their fashion cues from the world. They permit the clothing industry and entertainers to define both what is beautiful and what is appropriate apparel. The result? Stylish attire that runs afoul of biblical principles. Clothing that reflects the world's values can be immodest regardless of the wearers' motives. Innocent motives change nothing: unintentional immodesty and "immodesty out of ignorance" is still unbiblical immodesty. The Christian might truthfully say, "It is not my intention to dress sensually or seductively" and yet still dress inappropriately. Surely biblical principles--not worldly fashion designers, movie stars, and celebrities--should set the standards for proper clothing.


o whom is this booklet addressed? I suppose to every reader who wears clothing. However, it seems that we tend to direct messages like this at younger women. This strikes me as inappropriate. The message in this booklet is aimed primarily at husbands and fathers, who are the God-ordained leaders of families. When I see a Christian teenager who is immodestly dressed, my first thought is, "Where is the father? Why is the father asleep at the wheel?" When a married Christian woman does not dress modestly, my first thought is, "Why is the husband so unconcerned with the Bible's teaching regarding modest clothing?" A man has a God-given responsibility to protect his wife and children. Immodest clothing invites the wrong kind of people to pay the wrong kind of attention to our family members. In addition, improper apparel is sometimes a way to express sensuality in an inappropriate (and public) manner. Men, we dare not ignore these matters. Similarly, a man has a responsibility to protect others from the stumbling blocks that his wife and children may create with their immodest attire. This is true in all places and at all times, but it is especially true with regard to corporate church meetings. More than one Christian has asked me, "Why can't we have at least one safe haven from tight clothing, cleavage, bare shoulders, and short shorts? Why can't people be sure to dress


modestly when they attend church meetings? I expect to be tempted by scandalous clothing when I go to a college campus, but God's people shouldn't have to face that kind of temptation at worship services. Can't Christians be more considerate of others?" That's a legitimate request. Men have an added responsibility: they should explain to their wives and older children how easily men are tempted to lust by immodest clothing. Our families may think that we never battle with sexual temptations. Tell your family the truth! I have spoken with Christian women who simply did not know that Christian men are tempted to sin by immodest clothing. Once they understood, they gladly dressed more modestly. Has God given us instructions regarding clothing? The answer to this question is yes. We'll begin by considering a specific New Testament command regarding clothing. Then we'll examine one of God's Ten Commandments.


he inspired apostle writes in 1 Timothy 2:9, "I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments." (NASB) Perhaps the most obvious truth in this verse is one that is often denied today: God does care about our clothing. In fact, the Bible provides three words in this verse to help us think Christianly about clothing. The word proper is also translated respectable (ESV) and modest (KJV). It means orderly or appropriate, and it indicates that something is honorable and decent. Kenneth Wuest, the longtime Greek professor at Moody Bible Institute, explains the word's meaning in this particular passage: it speaks of an orderly and appropriate relationship between one's clothing and one's Christian character. In other words, our apparel must be consistent with our status as disciples of Christ. The very use of the word proper implies that it is possible for clothing to be improper. This verse establishes that some clothing is dishonorable, unrespectable, and indecent, and hence it is inconsistent with Christianity.


The word modestly extends beyond sexual purity. At root, it refers to an accurate assessment of ourselves as sinful men living before a holy God. That assessment will necessarily translate into both humility and a reluctance to trespass the boundaries of what is morally appropriate. The modest Christian is not bold when it comes to "testing the limits" of right behavior. This concept is nicely communicated by the old word shamefacedness, which is how the King James Version translates this word. Shamefacedness came from the older English word shamefastness, which expressed the idea of standing fast (or standing firm) in moral issues because of the shame (or dishonor) of doing or promoting immorality. Modest people aren't deliberately provocative when it comes to moral issues. In 1 Timothy 2:9, modestly is specifically linked to how Christian women adorn themselves with clothing. Every discussion of modest and immodest clothing at some point asks what could be called The Line Question: Where exactly is the line between acceptable and unacceptable clothing? How do I know where the line is? I won't cross the line, but could you please define precisely where the line exists? The word modestly addresses The Line Question because the modest Christians say, "I don't want to get near the line! I may not know exactly where the line is between acceptable and unacceptable clothing, but I know approximately where it is . . . and I will stay away from it." The word discreetly is also translated with self-control (ESV) and with sobriety (KJV). It speaks of exercising restraint over one's thoughts, preferences, and desires. The discreet Christian does not give free rein to his passions; he knows how to bridle his desires. The Bible is exposing something here that many simply don't want to admit: some use their clothing as non-verbal expressions of their own sensuality. They deliberately turn themselves into an object of lust; they walk into a room with the intention of turning heads. Instead of practicing self-control, they openly flaunt their sensuality with their apparel. Dressing discreetly means we don't express our private sexual desires with our public clothing.


Why should believers practice self-control when it comes to their apparel? Indiscreet clothing surely affects others (by tempting them to sin). But both Christians and non-Christians have noticed how clothing affects the wearer as well. "Dress changes the manners," wrote the French philosophe Voltaire, who was no friend of Christianity but nonetheless a shrewd observer of the human condition. The English writer Virginia Woolf agreed: "There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mold of arm or breast, but they would mold our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking." This is one of the intangible aspects of clothing that we have all experienced. Donning a new outfit or dressing sharply imparts a sense of confidence and positive self-esteem. By the same token, racy, provocative, and revealing clothing emboldens us to flaunt our sexuality. Christ's disciple must exercise self-control over his sexual passions, so he must also exercise self-control over apparel that would "mold his heart, brain, and tongue" in inappropriate directions. built-in cultural application accompanies this command in 1 Timothy 2:9. Notice the verse's final words: "not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments." This instructed Christian women to not imitate the outrageous dress and hair styles that were commonplace among the Roman nobility. In Paul's day, some women wove precious gems into their hair to create hair styles costing the modern equivalent of hundreds and even thousands of dollars. They also wore dazzling clothing that easily cost $10,000 in today's money. This was the unofficial uniform for Roman court women, a uniform that was distinctive and attention-grabbing. At the same time, these Roman courtesans were notoriously immoral when it came to sexual matters. These women did not dress properly, modestly, and discreetly. Everyone knew that their lives were characterized by sexual impurity. God's Word says to Christians, "Don't imitate the appearance of these famous and immoral people. No flashiness, gaudiness, extravagance, and flaunting of wealth. No association with these court women of



bad reputation. Do not regard these `court women' as your fashion role models." Consider the piercing words of Stephen M. Baugh, who is the professor of Greek and New Testament at Westminster West Theological Seminary. Baugh applies these final words in 1 Timothy 2:9 to modern readers: "Today, it is the equivalent of warning Christians away from imitation of styles set by promiscuous pop singers or actresses." That means that if we want to apply this verse practically, Christian women should not imitate the appearances of salacious "Hollywood court women." he very next verse--1 Timothy 2:10--amplifies the apostle's instruction. The Christian woman is to adorn herself not with improper clothing "but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness." The phrase making a claim to (or professing, as in the ESV, KJV, and NIV) is from a Greek word meaning to make a public announcement or to convey a message loudly. Our lives make public announcements. The godly woman's public announcement must consist of good works, not questionable clothing. What is the public function of a Christian's good works? Matthew 5:16 says that believers must live in such a manner that men see our good works and therefore glorify our Father who is in Heaven. Numerous verses state that the Christian's good deeds are valuable not only for the assistance they bring to men but also for what they demonstrate about God's glory (1 Peter 2:12; 3:1-6; Matthew 9:6-8). The implication here is that both good works and improper clothing have a Godward element: one provokes men to praise God while the other encourages men to demean Him. The upshot of 1 Timothy 2:10 is that God's reputation is at stake in our public professions. God's glory is more clearly seen when we abound in good works, but it is obscured and misunderstood when we make public announcements with improper clothing. With verse 10, God's Word raises the issue of modest clothing to a whole new level. It is not only your reputation that is at stake when you wear improper clothing; God's reputation is also at stake.



hat about men? The 1 Timothy 2:9-10 instruction specifically addresses women. Must men heed these words? Or are they exempt from this command? This passage expresses a universal principle that is applicable to both genders, although it explicitly applies the principle to a specific gender. All Christians must dress properly, modestly, and discreetly. The Bible presents male immodesty as scandalous (Genesis 9:21-27) and provides instructions to curb male immodesty (Exodus 20:26, 28:42-43). Modest clothing is a means to several ends, one of which is sexual purity. Is sexual purity only required of women? Of course not. Both genders must diligently promote sexual purity both in themselves and in their neighbors. It seems, however, that women are more prone to expressing and provoking sexual immorality with their clothing than men. Perhaps this is due to the likelihood that (with regard to sexuality) men are more visually oriented than women. Men wearing skimpy clothing might provoke some women to lust; women wearing skimpy clothing almost always causes many men to lust. (The latter is true regardless of the woman's motive.) The instruction is applied where the need is most pressing, namely to women's dress. We see something similar in Ephesians 5:25, where only husbands are explicitly commanded to love their wives. Aren't wives supposed to love their husbands? Yes, but it seems like men are more likely to sin here, so they receive the pointed application. No godly man can say, "I have a right to dress immodestly and encourage sexual immorality."



ome might object: "But 1 Timothy 2:9-10 is only two verses. Is there any other biblical evidence that sheds light on this issue of modest and immodest clothing?" Consider God's Ten Commandments and especially the Seventh Commandment: "You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14) God's people have long understood that this command goes beyond prohibiting physical acts of adultery to prohibiting sins like homosexuality, lust, premarital sex, and pornography.


Why this expansion of the commandment's scope? Because God's laws are always concerned with underlying motives and attitudes. When a specific behavior is negatively forbidden ("you shall not bear false witness"), the corresponding virtue is positively required ("laying aside all falsehood, speak truth"). This is sometimes called the spirituality of the law. Thus God's prohibition of adultery is founded upon God's requirement that we be pure sexually. All internal attitudes and external behaviors that promote sexual impurity are forbidden. This is how the Lord Jesus Christ interpreted God's laws, as evidenced in Matthew 5:17-48. There Jesus uses a variety of examples to make one overarching point: the law's requirements reach to the movements of the heart. For example, we violate the Sixth Commandment (which prohibits murder) when we harbor angry hatred for a man (vv. 21-26). We break the command to love our neighbor when we do not act charitably towards our enemies (vv. 43-47). God endorses retributive justice, but we act unjustly when our justice is divorced from compassion, generosity, and forgiveness (vv. 38-42). And we violate the Seventh Commandment (and commit adultery) when we indulge sexual lust in our hearts (vv. 27-30). When it comes to understanding "you shall not commit adultery," Christians take their cue from Jesus Himself. The command prohibits all forms of sexual immorality, including (but not limited to) adultery. God's Word also prohibits the internal attitudes, desires, and motives that lead to external acts of sexual immorality. Thus the Seventh Commandment expresses God's comprehensive requirement to be sexually pure on the level of your actions, desires, thoughts, and speech. "Not only is the external act [of adultery] forbidden," wrote Martin Luther in his explanation of this commandment, "but also every kind of cause, incitement, and means, so that the heart, the lips, and the whole body may be chaste and afford no opportunity, help, or persuasion to unchastity." The Seventh Commandment is explained in Questions 138 and 139 of the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC). Written in the mid-1600s, the WLC was a companion document to the


Westminster Confession of Faith. Whereas the confession of faith served as a kind of systematic theology that organized biblical truth into specific categories, the WLC was written as a teaching tool. Its question-and-answer format made Bible truth immediately accessible to Christians. Included in the WLC was an explanation and application of the Ten Commandments. Here is its treatment of the Seventh Commandment: Q. 138 What are the duties required in the Seventh Commandment? A. The duties required in the Seventh Commandment are chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto. Q. 139 What are the sins forbidden in the Seventh Commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the Seventh Commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of [prostitutes], and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life; undue delay of marriage; having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; [lustful or lewd] songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.


Notice the two references to clothing. The pastor-theologians who wrote the WLC understood that God's requirement of sexual purity required modesty in apparel while forbidding immodest apparel. This appreciation that the Seventh Commandment has implications for our clothing was commonplace among our spiritual forefathers. Benjamin Beddome's famous A Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism (which was written in the mid1700s) likewise teaches in Question 77 that immodest apparel (along with unclean desires and obscene words) is a sinful violation of the Seventh Commandment. Motives are not the issue here. Many sincere Christians have no intention of encouraging sexual immorality and yet-- due to carelessness or ignorance--wear immodest apparel. Despite the absence of impure motives, immodest clothing can still undermine God's requirement that we be sexually pure and promote sexual purity in others. hy do I refer here to catechisms and statements of faith? Such documents are perhaps more neglected today than even the belief that God's people should dress modestly. They are included to establish an important point: Christians have long connected immodest clothing to sexual immorality. Amazingly, that is challenged today. The person who points out the link between immorality and revealing clothing is sometimes thought to be expressing only his or her own personal weakness regarding sexual temptations. The wearer of skimpy clothing (and the skimpy clothing itself) is not perceived to be the problem; rather, the problem allegedly rests with the person who protests the skimpy clothing. (This is the same argument that militant feminists have long made, an argument we now hear Christians making: women should be free to wear whatever they want and any resulting problems are due to vulgar men.) This silences appeals for modest clothing: he who makes such appeals is deemed to be shifting the blame for his own lust. Thanks to socially acceptable immodesty, the person who challenges immodesty is accused of having a dirty mind.



But the old confessions and catechisms expose the emptiness of this contention. Long before bikinis, Speedos, short shorts, and strapless dresses, Christians realized the essential connection between sexual immorality and immodest clothing. Their comprehensive application of God's Word regarding sexual purity (and their serious pursuit of holiness) led them to denounce immodest clothing. The modern claim that no clothing is out-of-bounds for a Christian would have bewildered our spiritual forefathers. This is not an appeal to obey the Westminster Larger Catechism or Beddome's guide to the Baptist catechism. Rather, it is an appeal to obey the Seventh Commandment. "You shall not commit adultery" requires the preservation of both our own and our neighbor's sexual purity, a purity that should be displayed in our hearts as well as our behavior. Negatively, the commandment forbids unchaste thoughts, words, and actions. We violate it if our clothing expresses our own sexual lusts, promotes sexual immorality either in ourselves or in others, tacitly (if perhaps unintentionally) sanctions unchastity and lusting, or tempts others to indulge in sexual sins. re you an accessory to adultery? Our legal system rightly recognizes that both murderers and accessories to murder are lawbreakers. Similarly, both adulterers and accessories to adultery are guilty of breaking God's law. If we wear clothing that encourages lust in someone else, then we are an accessory to lust. That makes us accessories to sin-- regardless of our intentions. The Christian can't say, "I'm not trying to be sexually provocative with my clothing. I have no immoral motives. Therefore, my clothing is modest." I'll go further. As a husband and father, I am the head of my household. When I allow my family members to wear clothing that contributes to someone else's heart-level adultery, I am guilty of promoting sin. This is one reason why both men and women must dress modestly. Men can promote lust in women just as women can promote sexually immoral thoughts in men.



God's Word speaks clearly to the issue of becoming an accessory to sin. The Bible uses the phrase stumbling block where we usually use the word accessory. In Matthew 18:7-9, Jesus said, Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. What is a stumbling block? It is something that entices someone to sin. The Bible sometimes likens following after Christ to a walk or race: a stumbling block causes someone to trip and fall, specifically to trip and fall into sin. In this passage, Jesus is primarily concerned that we examine ourselves and eliminate stumbling blocks that tempt us to sin. But we can also create hindrances and obstacles for other people-- and woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! This concept applies to much more than clothing, but it certainly includes clothing. Notice the extreme metaphors in this passage: Amputate your hand. Cut off your foot. Gouge out your eye. Of course, Jesus is not sanctioning self-mutilation. He is using figurative language to make a point: take drastic action to avoid hurting yourself or others spiritually. Do radical things to make sure obstacles don't hinder your pursuit of the Kingdom of God. The picture here is of a man so intent upon perfecting holiness in the fear of God--a man so appalled by sin and so enthralled by Christ--that he is willing to pay any price to promote spiritual progress in himself and others. Dressing modesty is a relatively small price. I am stunned when I hear a Christian say, "If my clothing causes Greg to lust, that's his problem." That attitude is simply


unbiblical. It is the same as saying, "I am not responsible for the moral stumbling blocks that I create with my clothing." To be sure, Greg's lust is his problem and is primarily his problem. But if your clothing makes you an accessory to lust--a stumbling block--then the Word of God says it has become your problem also. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself pronounces condemnation upon those people who encourage others to sin: woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! John MacArthur makes this very point in his discussion of 1 Timothy 2:9 and Matthew 18:7-9: "A woman characterized by this attitude [that is, modesty] will dress so as not to be the source of any temptation. A godly woman hates sin so much that she would avoid anything that would engender sin in anyone. Better to be dead than lead another believer into sin!" Why do some Christians dress so as to make themselves "lusting events"? Often it is due to innocent ignorance. Many believers simply do not realize that other Christians are easily tempted to sin by immodest clothing. This is especially true for Christian women: they often do not understand that many Christian men experience great anguish of soul as they fight with sexual temptation. Without intending to, they wear clothing that is a stumbling block. Be mindful that Christian men are saints, not angels! Sisters, please love your brothers enough to avoid tempting them to sin. Margaret Buchanan is right when she writes, "By dressing in a provocative way, girls and women are actually sexually harassing men." This is true even when there is no deliberate intent to promote sensuality with one's clothing. In other cases, however, the problem is not innocent ignorance; rather, it is unwillingness to honor God and love our neighbors with our clothing. The Bible declares that the Christian's body belongs to God, both by creation and by redemption (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Every square inch of a Christian's life is to be lived under Christ's lordship and for God's glory-- and this includes the Christian's apparel. "I can dress any way I want to" is simply not something a Christian can say.


Please hear your Lord when He says that drastic action must be taken to minimize temptations and stumbling blocks. This is a command, not a suggestion. (See 1 Corinthians 8:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.) Dressing modestly is simply one result of a godly and unselfish concern for others' well-being.


xactly what clothing is prohibited? How can I know when my clothing is immodest? I found the following words on an internet blog page. They were typed by a frustrated woman who was responding to an internet article instructing Christians to dress modestly: Thank you for including some specifics with your principles. On the issue of modesty, in particular, my blood boils when men go into detail about why women should be modest and then give no help as to how it is to be done. Even though this is definitely the most helpful article I've read, I still think more tips or hints or something would be helpful. I certainly don't want to make anyone's blood boil. However, creating a list of approved and unapproved clothing is a remedy that can be worse than the disease. I'll explain. Sometimes God provides specific Bible commands and then clearly states how they are to be applied. But sometimes God gives principles and expects His people to make prayerful, Spirit-led, and Word-informed applications for themselves. With regard to clothing, God does the second. He does not give us exact wardrobe regulations; instead, He gives us principles. In addition, there is some sense in which cultural values play a role in determining if specific kinds of apparel are proper, modest, and discreet. The Puritan pastor Richard Baxter concluded his strong plea for modest clothing with a needed caution: "Custom and common opinion do put much of the signification upon fashions of apparel." In other words, the standards of modesty are somewhat (but not entirely) determined by cultural context. I'm not persuaded that the Apostle Peter dressed immodestly when he was "stripped for work"


while fishing (John 21:7). John Calvin wrote that strictly speaking, clothing is an "indifferent matter" which makes it "difficult to assign a fixed limit, how far we ought to go." Scriptural principles are eternally true; cultural applications may change. I can tell you with full scriptural authority that God commands you to dress properly and decently, which means dressing in a manner consistent with God's command to be holy even as God Himself is holy (1 Peter 1:16). God requires you to dress modestly, which means you should not push the limits of moral acceptability when it comes to clothing. You are to dress discreetly, which means you must restrain your fleshly passions when it comes to apparel. You must not tempt others to sin with your clothing. In short, you must bring your wardrobe under the lordship of Christ. "This at least will be settled beyond all controversy," said Calvin, in words immediately following his recognition that we must be cautious regarding specific clothing applications, "that everything in dress which is not in accordance with modesty and sobriety must be disapproved." As believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit and having minds transformed by the Bible, God calls us to apply these "modesty principles" to our daily living. Some protest that these non-applied principles are insufficient. However, we should realize that there are several problems with creating specific and mandatory dress codes. To begin with, I suspect that most readers of this booklet affirm (as do I) the doctrine of Scripture's sufficiency. The Bible is sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness. Yet that same Bible consistently deals with the issue of modest clothing on the level of principle. The Bible itself does not provide us with a specific dress code. Apparently the Holy Spirit deemed it not only adequate but best that God's Word speak to clothing issues on the level of principle. I am reluctant to go beyond what the Holy Spirit has done; I am reluctant to say that God's principles regarding modesty are insufficient. To be sure, pastors should suggest possible applications of these principles. God's servants must help God's people apply God's Word to real-life situations. I shall make such suggestions


below. Nevertheless, only God's principles are perfect and morally binding, while my personal applications of those principles may be incorrect. God's Word is infallible but my applications of His Word are not. Immodest clothing is a problem, but it is also a problem if I go beyond the inspired Word of God and require men to obey my uninspired applications. What follows is an attempt at practical guidance in this area. These are suggestions; they are not commandments on the level of "thus saith the Lord." Do not regard them as extrabiblical rules, but rather as possible applications of biblical principles. Their author is a fallible man, a man who is also a father, husband, and redeemed-but-still-sinful Christian.


mmodest clothing usually falls into the categories of too much, too little, or too tight. Too much clothing refers to apparel that is extravagant, flamboyant, or vainglorious. It is clothing that says, "Look at me! I want to be the center of attention!" Such apparel need not be skimpy, but it functions like a siren or spotlight: it causes the wearer to stand out as a promoter of himself or some cause. It is clothing that demands attention or comment. Writing almost 500 years ago, John Calvin diagnosed the root of this problem: "luxury and immoderate expense [in clothing] arise from a desire to make a display either for the sake of pride or of departure from chastity." This desire to attract spectators sometimes results in a woman looking like the harlot of Proverbs 7. Perhaps the most obvious examples of too much are the clothes worn by entertainment industry celebrities. Such apparel is expensive and visually arresting, and it is usually accented by plenty of flashy jewelry. There is nothing sinful about a sequin or an earring, but at some point the overall appearance is too loud and dazzling. Certainly clothing is too much when it presents a message that can be reasonably perceived as contrary to Christianity. Consider the current Goth fashions, which are becoming so popular they now appear in shopping malls' specialty shops. Thankfully, Goth clothing is often loose-fitting and adequately


covers the wearers' body. But Goth clothing proclaims a message: the Goth subculture is dark, rebellious, morbid, and obsessed with depression and death. Many people understandably make associations between Goth and the occult. Regardless of the wearer's intentions, Goth clothing sends a message that is at odds with Christianity. Such clothing is too much. What is the opposite of too much? It is clothing that is tasteful but not eye-popping. Such apparel is not a means for displaying wealth or social status. Nor is it slovenly or grubby: appropriate clothing does not make the wearer stand out in a crowd of modestly clothed people, either by overdressing or underdressing. It does not send messages that are potentially harmful to the cause of Christ or that misrepresent Christianity. "Make not too great a matter of your clothing," wrote Richard Baxter, "Set not your hearts upon it. For that is a worse sign than the excess in itself." Too little clothing refers to clothing that fails to cover the wearer's body. Simply put, it shows too much skin. For women, this includes unbuttoned blouses or plunging necklines that reveal cleavage. It also includes clothing that bares a woman's shoulders, such as strapless dresses, spaghetti-strap dresses, and halter tops. Many too little tops today deliberately expose bare skin at a women's midriff and hips, and they are sometimes worn with too little pants that ride low on the hips. Short shorts and short skirts are likewise too little when they reveal women's thighs. Ditto for sheer see-through blouses that reveal undergarments and the body's outline. Ditto for women's "exercise tops" that are little more than bras worn in public. In the words of one man (as he considered current trends in apparel), never in the history of fashion has so little material been raised so high to reveal so much that needs to be covered so badly. Some Christian women are surprised to discover that their bare shoulders or exposed thighs frequently trigger lust in men. Christian women think too highly of Christian men; they think we are immune to visually-triggered lust. Not so. Sin means that even nice men can have nasty thoughts. If a Christian


woman could read the minds of all the men as she walks into the church sanctuary with her bare shoulders or cleavage on display, she would never wear such clothing again. But most Christian men are afraid to admit publicly that it takes very little skin to tempt them to sin. They say nothing and Christian women assume they are not lusting. Men can wear too little as well. Several women once told me of a small-group Bible study that was scandalized by an indiscreet man and his too-short short pants. The participants' chairs were organized in a circle, and this clueless brother routinely wore extremely short and baggy shorts. Unbeknownst to him, he frequently exposed himself. The women often resigned themselves to concentrating not on the Bible study material but rather on looking away from this Christian man who was wearing too little. The most obvious example of too little? Bathing suits. A man would never walk through the shopping mall wearing only underwear, and a woman would never go to a restaurant wearing only her undergarments. However, we routinely expose our bodies like this with our skimpy bathing suits. We have no good reason for thinking that partial nudity is acceptable at the pool or beach. (Jeff Pollard ably discusses the connection between bathing suits and nakedness in his brief book Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America.) In addition, a surprising number of Christian weddings display women in too little dresses. In the name of elegance, bridal parties wear gowns that expose shoulders, reveal cleavage, and bare backs. We used to only see the "blushing bride" at weddings; now we see many at weddings blush as they witness immodestly dressed women in the ceremony. Too tight refers to body-hugging clothing that clearly reveals the body's contours. I suspect that in conservative churches today, this is the most common kind of immodesty. Even today's non-skimpy and non-ostentatious clothing is often skin-tight, especially in the torso. Modesty is not simply covering flesh: it is concealing form. Some Christian women wear skirts in the interest of being modest, but then wear t-shirts or


sweaters so tight that their bodies' contours are clearly displayed. This is too tight. Such tops often cling to the woman's torso and hips so that they function as what a previous generation would have called a body suit or a leotard. Christian women must understand that when tight tops reveal the shape of the waist, hips, or bust, men are sorely tempted to lust. One man put it this way: sometimes a woman's clothing is so tight that he can hardly breathe. This kind of too tight clothing is more than just attractive: it is a stumbling block. Dresses can be too tight as well. It's not true that dresses and skirts never tempt guys to lust; just ask them. Tight dresses can be just as scandalous as other kinds of clothing. (They used to be called slinky dresses.) Pants can be too tight, which is applicable to both women and men. Can someone look at you and--thanks to your tight clothing--clearly discern your body's shape? Is the outline of your buttocks obvious? Is the diameter of your thigh clearly displayed? Without much imagination, can someone tell what your body would look like unclothed? If yes, then your clothing is too tight. Unsure if your clothing is too much, too little, or too tight? Ask a godly individual to evaluate it. You may be surprised at how others see your apparel. hat about the Bible's prohibition of androgynous dressing? Deuteronomy 22:5 says, "A woman shall not wear man's clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman's clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God." Is this a proof text for the conviction that women are always forbidden to wear pants? I think not. This command was originally given to a community where everyone--male and female--wore some variety of a long cloak or robe. Certainly this was not instructing Hebrew women to wear dresses and Hebrew men to wear pants. The essence of the command: men must dress in a way that communicates their masculinity, while women must dress in a way that communicates their femininity. This means that men and women must dress in distinctly



different ways. (Similarly, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 asserts that distinctive male and female appearance is rooted in nature, not custom.) How this command is to be applied will vary from culture to culture. Apparently, there was a way for Israelites to wear their tunics so that they appeared masculine or feminine. The principle, however, remains applicable. "The immediate design of this prohibition," wrote Keil and Delitzsch in their classic Old Testament commentary, was "to maintain the sanctity of [the] distinction of the sexes." That distinction (they explained) "was kept sacred in civil life by the clothing peculiar to each sex." What this command prohibits, then, is apparel that makes a man appear effeminate or a woman appear manly. God did not endorse a unisex culture in 1000 BC, and He does not endorse one today. To be sure, there was a time when pants on a woman clearly communicated masculinity. But pants are no longer inherently masculine, at least in North America. (At one time, skirts were not inherently feminine in Scotland, as evidenced by male warriors there who battled in kilts.) Of course, women's pants may well be improper, immodest, and indiscreet. They can be too tight-fitting or too short (or both). Such clothing is unacceptable not because it is unfeminine but because it reveals too much of a woman's femininity! At the same time, tasteful dresses and skirts still have the great virtue of being both modest and clearly feminine. Reducing Deuteronomy 22:5 to the issue of women's trousers misses the broader significance of this verse: clothing contributes to our understanding of gender roles. Blurring the distinction between male and female clothing--and therefore blurring the distinction between masculinity and femininity-- necessarily blurs God's design of complementary (but distinct) gender roles. Equal clothing implies gender egalitarianism; distinct clothing implies gender complementarianism. John Calvin noted this in his commentary on Deuteronomy 22:5: Garments are not in themselves of so much importance; but as it is disgraceful for men to become effeminate, and also for women to affect manliness


in their dress and gestures, propriety and modesty are prescribed, not only for decency's sake, but lest one kind of liberty should at length lead to something worse. Thus for a woman to dress properly, she must dress in a manner that is clearly perceived by others as feminine. Her apparel must communicate that she embraces her femininity. For a man to dress modestly, his clothes must suggest that he affirms his masculinity. Men must not dress in ways that could be construed as effeminate. Modest clothing will preserve God's distinction of the sexes.


eware of the "show me exactly where the line is" fallacy. Some Christians make the modest clothing issue more difficult than it needs to be. They think they must possess precise criteria whereby they can determine whether any given piece of clothing is modest or immodest. "I must know exactly where the line is," they think. "If I can't know exactly what distinguishes modest from immodest clothing, then I can't render any clothing judgments at all." Thinking like this is logically flawed. It is simply not true that we must know exactly where a line is in order to know if something is clearly over the line. I don't know exactly where the U.S.-Canada border exists, but I know that I am clearly located on the U.S. side. I don't know exactly where the line exists between good singing and bad singing, but I know that my daughter is clearly on the good side of the line and I'm clearly on the other side of it. In many areas of life, we don't know exactly where lines exist and yet understand their approximate locations. This "show me exactly where the line is" fallacy was exposed in the famous United States Supreme Court decision Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). Justice Potter Stewart argued that the Constitution protected minor obscenity but not hard-core pornography. This raised a thorny question: how do we know where to draw the line between protected obscenity and illegal pornography? Answering this question (and drawing the line)


seemed to require an unambiguous definition of hard-core pornography. Stewart disagreed. Conceding that he could not define pornography precisely, he nonetheless declared, "I know it when I see it." Stewart was saying that in legal cases, we do not need to know exactly where the line is to know when something is clearly over the line. I can't provide a precise definition of immodest clothing that will enable us to know exactly where the line is between modesty and immodesty. But I know immodesty when I see it. In other words, we don't need to know exactly what criteria distinguishes proper from improper clothing. "Modest clothing" and "immodest clothing" are not two clearly defined categories, and it is sometimes unclear whether a specific clothing item falls into one category or the other. A third category exists: clothing that is neither unambiguously modest nor obviously immodest. But the presence of a third "not sure about it" category need not prevent us from concluding that some clothing is undeniably immodest while other clothing is safely consistent with our Christian testimony. (As for the questionable clothing that is neither clearly immodest not clearly modest: recall the word modestly in 1 Timothy 2:9 means a humble reluctance to trespass the boundaries of what is morally appropriate, a reluctance that makes the believer not bold when it comes to "testing the limits" of right behavior.)


he issue of immodest clothing is sometimes thought to be complicated. I disagree. We all know there is an undeniable connection between nakedness and shame. This internal sense of modesty has insured that no culture on the planet has ever functioned as a nudist colony. It has also insured that the most scandalously immodest dressers don't go grocery shopping naked. God has written on our hearts that it is shameful to have one's nakedness displayed publicly. Even non-Christians like Wendy Shalit observe that many women are uncomfortable when too provocatively dressed because (in her words) "it feels `false' to them." Shalit continues: "If you are practically naked in front of people you hardly know, your self-consciousness


might be your natural thermometer telling you that something is off." Natural thermometer is a cute synonym for conscience. We see this amply demonstrated in Scripture, where the concepts of nakedness and shame are often used interchangeably. When God judges His people, He sometimes uses the metaphor of removing portions of their clothing to indicate judgment's abject humiliation; when God saves His people, He frequently speaks of "covering their nakedness." (See for example Nahum 3:5, Isaiah 47:2-3, Hosea 2:8-9, Micah 1:11, Ezekiel 16:8, Genesis 9:22, and Revelation 3:18.) Such metaphors make no sense unless God knows He is appealing to a universal realization that nakedness is humiliating. Despite this, our sinful minds dilute and our sinful wills suppress these God-given moral sensibilities. It used to be that people living in the Judeo-Christian West wore ample clothing while the unreached tribal peoples featured in National Geographic magazines were almost naked. As Christian cultural influence wanes in the West, however, we are looking more and more like the unreached tribal peoples. Thankfully, these moral sensibilities (what the Bible calls "the law written on the heart" in Romans 2:15) are renewed and enlivened at regeneration. The Christian is saved from sin, which means that he is saved from the turmoil that comes from suppressing God's truth. This is one reason why all Christians intuitively understand that clothing shouldn't be too much, too little, or too tight. No believer thinks that it is okay to go out in public partially undressed. And no Christian thinks that a believer should tempt other Christians to sin, even unintentionally. John Piper's reflections are applicable: Jonathan Edwards once said that godly people can, as it were, smell the depravity of an act before they can explain why it is evil. There is a spiritual sense that something is amiss. It does not fit into a world permeated with God. Ephesians 5:3 says that some things "are not fitting" among saints. "Fittingness" is not always easy to justify with arguments. You discern it before you can defend


it. That's good, because we have to make hundreds of choices every day with no time for extended reflection. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, God's people can frequently sense the inappropriateness of immodest clothing.


f the issue of modest clothing is uncomplicated and (at some level) even intuitive, then why do many seem to struggle with it? To begin with, dressing modestly is a visible rebuke to some of the values that modern men hold most dear. It is never easy to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ, so it is difficult to reject popular styles and dress differently from non-Christians. It is often not fun and sometimes even painful to be a stranger and an exile on this earth (Hebrews 11:13). Peers often don't applaud you when you are salt and light in a sininfested world (Matthew 5:13-16). There are costs related to dressing modestly. The rewards far exceed these costs, however. Dressing modestly may not turn as many heads, but it will turn the right heads-- that is, heads belonging to people whose hearts belong to God. "I think the nice guys were embarrassed by the way I dressed," said one woman, who realized that her immodest clothing was attracting the wrong kind of man. Dressing modestly helps mature other Christians: it encourages them to likewise avoid blind conformity to society's values and rather to think biblically about the whole of life. Even more satisfying than this is enjoying the approval of your heavenly Father. As Peter put it, modest apparel complemented by a gentle and quiet spirit "is precious in the sight of God." (1 Peter 3:2-4) A man's or woman's applause may be good, but God's applause is even better. Nothing is more rewarding than living in the warmth of it. Such rewards appeal to God-centered people who live to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Thus if there is no Godpleasing commitment to heart-level purity, there will be no God-pleasing commitment to clothing-level purity. Only the Christian who wishes to comprehensively obey God's "you


shall not commit adultery" command will also wish to prevent the lustful thoughts that grow into adultery. Only the Christian who truly loves his neighbor as himself will love him enough to avoid tempting him to sin with immodest clothing. Only the Christian who has dedicated her life to glorifying God will be concerned about whether her clothing makes a public announcement that glorifies God. This is why proper clothing begins with a proper heart attitude. William Shakespeare wrote that the apparel oft proclaims the man, but we Christians can go further than this: the apparel oft reveals the man's spiritual condition. John MacArthur rightly observes that clothing questions are really worship questions: How does a woman discern the sometimes fine line between proper dress and dressing to be the center of attention? The answer starts in the intent of the heart. A woman should examine her motives and goals for the way she dresses. Is her intent to show the grace and beauty of womanhood? Is it to reveal a humble heart devoted to worshipping God? Or is it to call attention to herself, and flaunt her wealth and beauty? Or worse, to attempt to allure men sexually? A woman who focuses on worshiping God will consider carefully how she is dressed, because her heart dictates her wardrobe and appearance. Non-legalistic treatments of clothing issues must take note of this connection between heart and wardrobe. God-honoring apparel will be rejected when there is no God-honoring heart. "We must always begin with the dispositions," writes Calvin regarding clothing, "for where debauchery reigns within, there will be no chastity; and where ambition reigns within, there will be no modesty in the outward dress." "Adornment is never anything except a reflection of the heart." Quite true-- although these are not the words of a pastor or theologian. Rather, they were spoken by a modern-day secular fashion designer, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, who is only


stating the obvious. God-pleasing clothing results when our hearts are committed to pleasing God. Here are the questions that precede and drive all clothing decisions: · What is your motive for wearing what you wear? · Are you determined to pursue holiness in the fear of God? · Are you bringing your wardrobe under the lordship of Christ? · Is pleasing God so important to you that you will please Him with your clothing decisions? · How will your attire affect others? What message does your apparel send? Matthew Henry wrote, "The purity of the heart will show itself in the modesty of the dress, which becomes women professing godliness." What statement does your clothing make about your heart? booklet like this must never suggest that wearing the right clothing makes one right with God. Religious duties and moral behavior are never the power of God unto salvation. Luke 2:30 reports that when an aged Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms, he proclaimed that his eyes were seeing God's salvation-- not that he was obeying lifestyle rules that comprised God's salvation. Salvation is found in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in the prescriptions of some list. The words of Richard Baxter are helpful here. They come in the midst of a comprehensive discussion entitled "Directions about Apparel, and against the Sin therein committed," which is found in Baxter's A Christian Directory. With his usual candor, this faithful minister strongly exhorts readers to dress modestly. But even while Baxter provides comprehensive instruction regarding God-honoring dress, he also makes it clear that he is calling people to Christ and not merely to a dress code: How oft have I seen proud, vain gallants [i.e., showy and flirtatious people] suddenly cast off their bravery and gaudy, gay attire, and clothe



themselves in plainness and sobriety, as soon as God hath but opened their eyes, and humbled their souls for sin, and made them better know themselves, and brought them home by true repentance! So that the next week they have not seemed the same persons; and this was done by mere humiliation without any arguments against their fashions or proud attire. As old Mr. Dod said, when one desired him to preach against long hair: "Preach them once to Christ and true repentance, and they will cut their hair without our preaching against it." Baxter had it right. Our great need is to be savingly joined to the risen Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus both cleanses and captures our heart; He saves us from both the penalty and the practice of sin. If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17) who--in the likeness of God--has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:24). Such a man loves the Lord Jesus Christ supremely; such a man will gladly bring his entire life into submission to God's Word.


HOW TO SURVIVE YOUR PASTOR'S SERMONS: Six Ways to Make Pulpit Messages More Profitable to Your Soul PEEKING INTO THE DEVIL'S PLAYBOOK: Satan's Strategies for Tempting Christians to Sin DID GOD CREATE SPORTS ALSO? Thinking Christianly About Sports WHAT IS THE MEANING OF BAPTISM? A Guide For Christians Preparing For Baptism MONKEYING AROUND WITH DANGEROUS IDEAS: Four Reasons Outside the Field of Science Why Christians Should Reject Evolutionary Thinking LOOKING FOR GOD IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES: An Appeal for Word-Based Corporate Worship WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE? Thinking Biblically About the Problem of Sin in Our World ARE YOU LEGALISTIC? Grace, Obedience, and Antinomianism



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