As I prepared to share on this topic, I read numerous blog posts and articles. I also read the book Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel by Tim Challies and RW Glenn. I’m going to reference this book frequently today and highly recommend you order a copy or download it to your e-reader. In fact, I recommend it so highly, I’m going to give away a copy at the end of this series, so be sure to stay tuned! It’s very short (I read it in a matter of a couple hours one night), but very good. Challies and Glenn begin by stating, “Modesty has been made into a kind of captivity….We wrote this book not because we have a bone to pick with women or because bathing suits make us nervous but because we want to help men and women both discover the joy and freedom of gospel modesty in all of life.” They also state, “Yes, modesty includes a women’s clothing choices, but it is about far more than that. We want to look at modesty in its full biblical scope, which means: we must address the immodest man as much as we do the immodest woman, and we must address the person who speaks or behaves immodestly as much as the person who dresses immodestly.”
Challies and Glenn again say, “When we build theology without clear reference to the gospel, we begin to take refuge in rules….The Christians in Colossae wanted to please God, and they wanted their faith to affect everything they did, but they ended up reducing their thinking about food and festivals to a list of rules: ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch.’ We aren’t a whole lot better off today. When it comes to modesty we define the term too narrowly…and then surround ourselves with rules like ‘only this low,’ ‘at least this long,’….In fairly short order, the gospel is replaced with regulations. Indeed, in this particular area, the regulations become our gospel – a gospel of bondage rather than freedom.”
What we end up missing is that “the gospel of grace informs and gives shape to what it means to be modest. Modesty without the gospel is prudishness. Modesty divorced from the gospel becomes the supposed benchmark of Christian maturity – perhaps especially for women – and a perch of self-righteous superiority from which to look down on others who ‘just don’t get it.’…Modesty, apart from the gospel, becomes a self-made religion.”
And so we first discover that modesty is more than what we wear, or don’t wear. Modesty is part of how we show Jesus to the world, not only through our clothing, but also our speech, our hospitality, our generosity, and our kindness. Modesty is for all of us, but it’s not all about appearances, which takes us back to when I said that we as Christians like to make our own lists of rules to measure ourselves and one another against, and as Challies and Glenn also said, “It is difficult to address an issue when the problem is always someone elses;” (because how often has anyone said “I really struggle with being immodest”? No, it’s almost always the other person who is struggling.)
And we can see that part of the rub of the Bikini and Yoga Pant Wars is the way we have boxed ourselves in. And I think part of the problem is that some of us are trying to fit everyone into our box, when the gospel gives freedom and grace and we hold everyone up to the standard we have set rather than the standard of love.
Stay tuned for more as we continue to unpack these thoughts on modesty and grace.
For His Glory ~
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