I had just zipped up a new pair of skinny jeans in the Target dressing room when I heard a familiar conversation. It’s one I’ve had many times with my own mother in a department store dressing room. It went something like this:
Mother: “No, I don’t like it”
Daughter: “What?! Mooom… you said it was cute”
Mother: “Yeah, well now that I see it on, I don’t think it’s appropriate”
Daughter: “But you already SAID I could get it”
Instantly I was back in the dressing room with my own mother, skillfully trying to nudge her in the right direction, as she clearly did not get 90s fashion, what with all its spaghetti straps and brightly colored bare midriff tops.
Mother: “It needs to be more modest”
Daughter: “What does that mean?”
Mother: “Modest means not sexy, not revealing”
I glanced in the mirror at my own “modest” figure and felt that definition left a bit to be desired.
Of course, in colloquial language, modest is almost universally an antonym of sexy, but I see it a little differently. The world would have us believe in one specific definition of sexy. You know the one, Tina Fey summed it up perfectly in her book BossyPants:
Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.
But instead of framing modesty as a list of what it isn’t, I would explain it in terms of what it IS which is so much more inspiring and attractive, especially to a teen whose future will inevitably be shaped by what she believes about beauty and herself. This is how I would explain it to my daughter.
To be Modest is to have dignity and respect for oneself. It means you have confidence in your own value as a unique individual made in the image of God.
But modesty is not just about the things we do, say, or put on our outsides; that’s called Legalism. Legalism is when we put the laws we made up ourselves above the laws God made for us. It means adding-on our ideas to the already-perfect requirements for salvation: repentance and faith in Jesus.
Legalism puts words in God’s mouth and makes outward things higher than the matters of the heart. No tattoos, No piercings, No plunging necklines. Our concerns are so much deeper than what is on the outside.
It’s not wrong to want to look attractive. In and of itself it is out of respect for others that I bathe and put on tasteful clothes and makeup. The danger is when we want to look attractive for the wrong reasons.
To a Christian who has been saved by grace which is undeserved favor, the natural response to the call to modesty comes from a place of gratefulness. We desire to preserve God’s wisdom simply because it pleases him. it’s an attitude of the heart that causes that alignment of priorities from my own…to His.
So once my heart has been changed, I may still desire a tattoo or to wear a certain thing that other believers may oppose. Be very careful not to confuse the general consensus, even of Christians, for God’s opinion. Because more times than not, we get it wrong. We put words in Jesus’s mouth and say he likes black and white only, but not grey. When the truth is, we miss the forest for the trees.
…but modesty also is not an excuse to hide.
It means not having to compensate or fill perceived gaps in the eye of the beholder.
It means you can just be, as you are without shame, without needing to cater or pander.
and that is exactly how God wants us to come to Him.
I’ve said it and I’ll say it a thousand more times, as long as Jesus’s message is trampled underfoot of our culture: There is no work, no “cleaning up”, no possible action you can take to EARN Salvation. It is a free gift, available only to those who realize their need and ask for it with a genuine heart.