You know you grew up in the early 2000s purity culture movement if you have seen “modest is hottest” in bubblegum pink on a t-shirt… and you kind of wanted it.
Honest confession; in 7th grade, I thought the phrase was pretty catchy and cool. When you’re wearing boys’ cargo shorts so you don’t “cause your brother to stumble,” it feels good to be reminded that while the other girl at youth group with her perfect pink and green plaid shorts of a reasonable finger tip length LOOKS pretty cute, you are actually the hottest. Because you’re modest.
I don’t want to sound like another millennial bashing evangelical culture, or at least the negative connotations that the term “evangelical” has come to embody. I think even the purity movement was born with the best of intentions, but I think it majorly missed the point. And I think in missing the point, it missed the heart of Jesus.
Like most of the generation before us (speaking as a millennial), we could ignore the negatives of a legalistic pursuit of purity (courtship, modesty, and more) and determine that while it may be a little off-base, “better safe than sorry!”
Like those in our generation and the generation after, we could whole-heartedly reject purity culture for the damage it has done and live a life of licentiousness born from bitterness.
Instead, I want to explore the “better portion” (to borrow from Luke 10, for lack of better words). I want to complete the incompleteness of previous pursuits of purity. It wasn’t the pursuit that was wrong, it was the method.
There are a lot of ways that purity culture has woven its way through various aspects of Christian life, but in this post I want to specifically address modesty.
Modesty has come to take on a meaning that I’m not sure is quite accurate. Basically, modesty has become the term used to describe clothing that is sufficiently covering or loose fitting enough to protect the purity of the woman by not revealing her body and protect the purity of men by preventing the inevitable lust if more skin were to be revealed.
According to Merriam-Webster, modesty is defined as:
1: the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities
Okay. So modesty is a legit thing, and it seems to boil down to humility and propriety.
So what does the Bible say about modesty?
Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
1 Timothy 2:9-10
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
1 Peter 3:3-4
And honestly… that’s about it. There are a few other passages that could be manipulated to be useful, but these are the most clear cut. And here are the first 2 things I notice-
1. These passages align with the dictionary definition of modesty. Humility and propriety.
2. These passages say nothing about men lusting, or wearing more clothing to prevent lust.
Sooooo, then what do we do about lust…?
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
1 Corinthians 6:18
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
So from these, and several other passages throughout Proverbs and the NT referring to lust, adultery, and sexual immorality, lust appears to be personal battle against sin. Not a battle against scantily dressed women.
And this is where I could stop. I could say “So there! Lust has nothing to do with modesty, women can wear want they want and guys can get over it.”
But I won’t. Because that’s incomplete. Just like it’s incomplete to say that women wearing more clothing solves the lust problem. Let’s quit with these incomplete solutions.
We are instructed to conduct ourselves modestly.
We are instructed to battle lust and sinful desires of the heart.
So let’s separate the two issues, because as was hopefully clarified above, they are two separate issues. And by separating them, maybe we can begin to meet Jesus in them.
Let’s pursue modesty. Let’s pursue conducting ourselves in such a way so as not to bring attention to the external, but instead be characterized by the way we radically love and serve those around us. Let’s be humble. Let’s be kind. Let’s be gentle. Let’s be “the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” and let that aroma be a stronger impression on others than the clothing we wear.
Let’s dress and behave with propriety. Let’s contextualize our clothing with respect for the environment into which we are entering, whether that be church, the beach, or Wal-Mart. Contextualization and propriety in this sense means to simply wear the thing that is appropriate for the time and place. Even the most fully covering swimsuit wouldn’t be appropriate to wear to the mall, so let’s quit with this one-size-fits-all of what’s appropriate for everything at all times. Even in different seasons of life, we might find different things fit into what we are comfortable wearing, and that’s okay. Because friends, freedom in Christ means walking in the Spirit every single day. And if the Spirit of Jesus resides in you, He will guide you in each of those decisions. He knows your heart, your desires, and your motives. If you seek Him in even the things as seemingly small as what you wear, He will speak. And that’s what freedom looks like- not some loose, permissible lifestyle of running rampant in sin. But instead living in the quiet confidence that Jesus-in-you allows you to walk in purity and live in a way that honors Him, even if it looks different than the girl next to you.
And gosh… let’s please stop looking down on those who have arrived at different conclusions on this issue. If your friend wears something you wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing? Does she follow Jesus? Cool. If your neighbor chooses to dress more conservatively than you feel is necessary? Does she follow Jesus? Cool. Let’s start trusting the Holy Spirit in the lives of others and stop feeling the need to be the Holy Spirit, and instead start turning that energy towards the lost who are legitimately without Jesus and have no hope. I know it seems like a big deal, but we really have bigger fish to fry than the length of some girl’s shorts.
Here’s the thing… the power of modesty does not lie in an article of clothing. The power of modesty lies in a human heart submitted to Jesus Christ and committed to making Him known above self. And it has nothing to do with being the hottest.