Why the Lack of "Modesty Rules" in the Bible Is Actually a Good Thing
- Rachel Baker Crosswalk Contributing Writer
- 2021 4 Feb
I stood in my closet staring at my clothes. I was immobilized by indecision. The old adage “I have nothing to wear” swirled through my mind. It was true, I felt. I really had nothing to wear. Nothing appropriate anyway.
That evening my husband and I were scheduled to attend our senior pastor’s birthday party. It was a big one complete with caterers and a beautiful venue. My postpartum body felt heavy and tired, and yet I wanted to show up feeling pretty and fresh, a feeling I hadn’t experienced since before my pregnancy. And still, “I had nothing to wear.”
I hadn’t been shopping since before the baby and had no idea how bearing the weight of pregnancy would change my body. I was skinny in all the wrong places and strangely heavy in others. I hadn’t anticipated this. Every dress I put on was either too short or too low cut, an innocent scoop neck didn’t feel quite so innocent now. When looking at my neckline it felt as if I were screaming, “I am woman, hear me roar.”
I didn’t want to roar, I just wanted to go to this party and dance with my husband and feel like I could move and smile and have fun, despite being completely exhausted.
Each dress that I put on made my husband smile, “Wow, you look stunning,” he said when I put on a dress that now felt far too low cut. “My goodness you’re beautiful,” to the dress that I felt was too tight. “I married up,” in response to a tank dress. Not once did he say, “Maybe you should try something else,” or the dreaded “you look fine.”
So, why was I immobilized by fear; why was I trapped feeling insecure and unsure?
Purity culture from my upbringing had had long-lasting effects on how I saw myself, my body, and my clothing choices. Anxiety came from the lack of clarity in the “rules”—but I’d like to posit that the lack of rules is a GOOD thing. Even a freeing thing.
Because modesty has always been about our hearts. Not our clothes.
What Is Really at the Heart of Modesty?
For most of my life I, incorrectly, correlated modesty exclusively with outward appearance. My thesis was supported by reading verses like 1 Peter 3:3, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
It required a better understanding of myself, my faith, and my culture to really reconcile with the issue of modesty.
The term “modesty” lands on many of us as a requirement to cover up our bodies, lest we cause lust, sin and shame.
In reality, God is equally as concerned with what’s going on in our hearts and heads as he is our actions and reactions. Modesty is more than a dress code, but rather a baseline or gut check with what is appropriate for our bodies and what we are communicating through our clothing choices.
While this notion may be misconstrued as only applying to women, that truth is that modesty applies to men and women alike.
For example, my husband is the co-lead pastor of our church, not that he ever would get featured on PreachersNsneakers, but he is deeply aware of what a pastor’s clothing choice can communicate. Throw on a Gucci belt and the odds are more likely that you communicated prosperity over the Gospel.
Each of us, as Christ-followers, has responsibility in what we communicate through our clothing choices. Spoiler alert, these same questions can apply to our vehicles, our homes and our possessions.
Questions to ask to check your heart:
- Am I thinking of others when I choose what to wear myself?
- Do I have an ulterior motive when dressing a specific way?
- Do I know what is appropriate for my body? I.e. Can I move comfortably in my clothing?
- Can your clothing, and all of your choices for that matter, hold up to the 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 test? Meaning, are you winning people to Christ by wearing appropriate clothing for your body, or are you accidentally or inadvertently stumbling those around you?
The Bible Can’t Give Specific Rules Because Modesty Really Does Depend on Culture
While the purity culture movement of the 90s promoted modesty, the truth is that it didn’t quite layout what modesty is—because it couldn’t. The term modesty, at least in the variety of different denominations within Christianity, is ever-changing.
I have a friend to feels that wearing pants is immodest, citing Deuteronomy 22:5, “A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”
I wonder, when did pants become culturally acceptable as women’s clothing, but also, when did we all start wearing pants, men and women alike? At the time Deuteronomy was written the likelihood is that men were wearing something akin to a tunic and cloak which by today’s standard would actually be closer to a dress than pants.
I have another friend who covers her head in church, reciting 1 Corinthians 11:5 as her reason, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.”
I have friends who won’t wear one-piece bathing suits, and others who won’t dare wear bathing suits in a public setting at all, and then others who have no problem with two pieces. Each denomination of the Christian faith seems to have its own outlook on modesty, and within those denominations, each individual has their own representation of those outlooks.
In cultures where traditional saris are worn, exposing one’s midriff is still appropriate in that context. But yet many would not choose to expose their midriff in a t-shirt and jeans.
So, Scriptural searches may not actually be as helpful as one would hope when it comes to developing specifics around modesty and our clothing choices as Christ-followers.
And yet, I do believe that our answers lay within the text nonetheless.
The Lack of “Rules” Gives Us a Chance to Walk in Wisdom and Be Free
My argument is this; perhaps dressing somewhat according to the cultures in which God has placed us is the answer. This may sound like a strange hypothesis, but before you check out or stop reading hear me out.
If we believe that God knows the number of hairs on our head (Luke 12:7) and is the very same God who knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14) then perhaps God knew that he was allowing each and every single one of us to be born at a specific place and time.
God is aware of the culture into which he allowed our unique personalities to be birthed.
Therefore, I think it can be argued, that God is also aware of the cultures in which each of us was raised. He put you in that culture for a reason. Which means you can trust that if you are using wisdom to be modest—God will be pleased with that! Even without clear cut rules.
He uniquely gifted us with talents, treasures and personalities which are specific gifts for the time in which we will live. If one of God’s commitments to those who call him Lord is to “equip the saints” (Ephesians 4:12) then perhaps a part of that equipping is giving those very same saints the wisdom to know what is appropriate attire for today, in the cultures they reside in.
Are you having a moment where you don’t know what to wear? Are sneaky little voices weaseling their way into your head? Are those voices telling you that you are unlovely, that your clothes aren’t right, that you aren’t right?
Go through that mental list of heart checks. Does that voice sound more like discernment or shame? If it sounds like shame, odds are it doesn’t come from God.
So, while our clothing choices may be a part of that culture, they are not the end-all. Our clothing choices are not our salvation, but they are most certainly an opportunity for us to walk in wisdom.
That night, all those years ago, when I found myself vacillating over the “just right” dress to wear to our pastor’s party I had to pick what the “most right” choice for my body, my soul and my mind was. I had the choice of allowing insecurity to have power over me, for the little voice of “purity culture” to win and to wallow in the misery of never feeling quite at home in my skin.
Conversely, I could to listen to the voice of God, who calls me cherished, beloved, adopted daughter, and get dressed and go have a lovely time.
Ultimately, I did just that. I choose God’s voice as the loudest voice, I put on a dress and danced the night away with my husband. His eyes glowed the entire time, and one point he smirked and whispered in my ear, “You are beautiful.”
You, my friend, are the same. You are beautiful and beloved. You are not defined by your body or what you wear.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Ismael Sanchez
Rachel Baker is the author of Deconstructed, a Bible study guide for anyone who feels overwhelmed or ill-equipped to study the word of God. She is a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministries, who believes in leading through vulnerability and authenticity. She is a cheerleader, encourager, and sometimes drill-sergeant. She serves the local church alongside her husband, Kile, in Northern Nevada. They have two amazing kiddos and three dogs. Rachel is fueled by coffee, tacos, and copious amounts of cheese. For more on her and her resources to build your marriage, see her website: www.rachelcheriebaker.com or connect with her on Instagram at @hellorachelbaker.