Summertime is here! And, the clothes are coming off. It has always amazed me how some folks will choose to display themselves publicly by the attire they choose — or, don’t choose. What is alarming is that many Christians seem to indiscriminately follow the way of the world. Christians need to have a sound, sensible, Biblical understanding of what God desires for us in the area of our dress.
The transition from innocence to shame began long ago. At the end of Genesis 2 we read that the man and the wife God had just given him were naked and they were not ashamed. By chapter three verse seven, we read these words: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” Adam and Eve now knew evil by personal experience. The serpent promised enlightenment, but what they got was a hideous caricature. Satan destroyed their innocence, and in their state of conscious shame they “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Since that day, clothing has been a universal expression of human modesty. It is fitting for sinful man to cover his shame, but only God can truly cover it (compare 3:7 and 3:21).
The Bible speaks of modesty in two different senses. In one way it is immodest to over-dress. “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Paul instructs women not to wear clothing that draws undue attention to their outward appearance, wealth and excess. It is “look-at-me” apparel.
The second way the Bible speaks of modesty is in regard to under-dress — clothing that reveals and accentuates the body. “Remove your veil, strip off the skirt, uncover the leg (thigh, KJV), cross the rivers. Your nakedness will be uncovered, your shame also will be exposed…” (Isaiah 47:2-3). This kind of immodesty is “indecent” (too short, too low, too transparent, too tight, etc.).
But what is modesty? When we speak of a person modest in their demeanor or in their means, we usually refer to a person that does not draw attention to themselves. Combining the two forms of immodesty addressed in the Bible, we might then say that modest dress is that which does not call undue attention to the individual by what they do or do not wear.
Virtues are shaped and formed by one’s beliefs. Moral standards once praised and valued are now questioned, ridiculed, or disdained. Compare songs like “Baby Its Cold Outside” or “Wake Up, Little Suzy” to songs you hear on the radio today. We may, at times, be blind to the shift, but rest assured, those who observe us are not. The east uses the term “westoxification” referring to barely clothed women walking the streets and bawdy entertainment often seen in the west.
Christians cannot let their standards be driven by culture. We live in a different culture — the kingdom of God. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:20). We are a “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9, KJV). Peculiar doesn’t have to mean weird, but it does mean different. The Christian determines his or her dress by “shamefacedness and sobriety” (KJV), “modestly and discreetly” (NASB), “decent and appropriate” (NLT).
The Christian must not be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). Our dress should maintain standards of holiness and godliness, rather than conformity and worldliness. We could be very legalistic with a list of do’s and don’ts that the Bible really doesn’t give, but legislation never changed anyone’s heart. We need to take a serious look at the Biblical principles regarding dress, and act appropriately.
Let me suggest three things to look at. First, notice that Adam and Eve made “loincloths” (NASB, “aprons,” KJV), but God made them coats (Genesis 3:21). The word translated “coats” indicates a garment covering the body from the shoulders to the top of the knee like a Roman tunic. This may not be a hard and fast rule, but it is a good beginning to understand the areas of the body that are more sensuous, and need to be covered appropriately.
Second, our attire should be with “shamefacedness and sobriety…professing godliness.” I realize we live in a society that hardly knows how to blush (cf. Jeremiah 6:15). Christians however should develop the traits of blushing and clear thinking in regard to our behavior and dress. When we walk out the door we should ask does what I am wearing profess a heart of godliness?
Third, when considering what to wear, ask yourself a series of questions. What statement am I making with this outfit? Whose attention do I desire and whose approval do I crave? Who am I seeking to emulate? Will someone be unnecessarily tempted, offended, or led into sin by my appearance? To what degree, greater or lesser, do I demonstrate an absolute love for God and a sacrificial love for others?
Clothing is an extension of one’s self. No one is suggesting that we stifle individual expression. But, we live in a time of changing times and changing values. The fruit of Christianity is withering away. As a society of God, we must reflect those virtues that display the beauty of faith. Let’s dress for success in the kingdom of God!