Continuing the conversation today about modesty and grace and looking at our definition of modesty, different types of immodesty, and what our immodesty says about us. If you’re just now joining us, click the links below to see the other posts in this series.
Now, let’s look at today’s aspect of modesty and begin by settling on a definition.
Challies and Glenn, in their book Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel have an excellent definition for this sometimes elusive word. They define modesty as, “that virtue which is respectful of a culture’s rules for appropriate and inappropriate dress, speech, and behavior in a given situation.” This definition is excellent, as it allows room for context and grace and also takes the focus off of our clothing and puts it onto our hearts, where it belongs. As they say in their fourth chapter, “Without question, the foremost intersection of the gospel and modesty is your heart. If your heart is not fundamentally gripped by the grace of God as revealed in the gospel, then all your efforts at modesty will be for naught.”
And so, if modesty is more than our attire, if it is a heart issue, where do we display our immodesty? I believe we display it in exercising license without love and in entertaining legalism through pride.
If I have the freedom in Christ to wear a two piece swimsuit, but know that I am going to a party in an environment where that will make other attendees unnecessarily uncomfortable and I do it anyway, I am exercising license without love.
But if I do not have that freedom in Christ and feel more righteous because I only wear a one piece swimsuit, then I am entertaining legalism through pride and am equally immodest.
If I dress stylishly and cute and seek to gain a subtle power over those around me with my attractiveness, I am exercising license without love.
But if I choose to dress traditionally (not necessarily because I like that style but to make a statement), to the point that I stand out more, thus drawing even more attention to myself than I would in more modern clothing, I am entertaining legalism through pride.
If I have a large home in the nice part of town and spend lavishly on it, as well as cars and vacations and expensive clothes, and do not have money left to give to my church or missions, then I am exercising license without love.
But if I live in a modest home in the middle of town and drive an older, paid-off vehicle and only buy my clothes second-hand, and look down on others because of my “modest” lifestyle, I am entertaining legalism through pride.
If I have the freedom to use speech typically considered “vulgar” or discuss topics once considered inappropriate, and do so in an effort to “ruffle feathers”, I am exercising license without love.
But if I choose my words carefully and only speak of “safe” topics, and think of myself higher than I ought because of this, I am entertaining legalism through pride.
Immodesty comes to us in many forms, not just the clothes we wear. We deceive ourselves if we believe that it begins anywhere other than our heart. We are able to practice modesty and grace as we grow in Christ. As His word and His love fill our hearts, grace flows out. If we are not filled with that love, modesty becomes a way to judge, and we stack our righteousness up against those around us. If we are not filled with that love, modesty becomes a burden, a chore, a heavy yoke. If we are not filled with that love, modesty or immodesty becomes a badge we wear with ungodly pride.
Challies and Glenn sum it up this way, “This is why we’re not modest: we have a worship problem. We worship at altars that lead us to sin against modesty. Don’t see your immodesty as the root of the problem; see it as the fruit and go after the plant where you can do the most damage – the tangled roots of your idolatrous desires.”
And so to become modest, in more than just our dress, we must get to the heart. Why do we do the things we do, make the choices we make, live the life we live? Is it done in an attitude that says (more or less) “Look at me! I’m more righteous than you! (Or, alternatively, but just as wrong, I have more freedom than you!)” Or does it flow from an attitude of gratefulness for all God has done for us, for His abundant blessing and love, and the freedom He has given us in Jesus? True modesty can only flow from these things, because a heart bent in humble adoration of Christ, cannot help but pour out grace because that heart recognizes its own sinfulness and brokenness. That heart recognizes that without Christ, we are all chief among sinners. That heart recognizes that it is the love of Christ, not self-righteousness, condemnation, or flaunted freedom, that draws us close to God.
Next week, Lord willing, we’ll look at “causing my brother to stumble” and wrap up this series with some final thoughts and a giveaway.
May the love of Christ Jesus overflow from your hearts today, my friends.
For His Glory ~