Am I ever guilty of influencing other people’s thoughts with my clothing? Some Christian groups focus on female clothing to the point of making male lust into female guilt. That seems wrong. But others say that sin only exists in the heart of the man who lusts and quote Matthew 5:27–28, and never talk about what modesty means or how it fits into the larger issue. What does God think about all this?
In Part 1 of this answer, I acknowledged the difficulty of separating the correct application of Scripture from extreme views. I then focused on three Bible passages: Mat. 5:27–30, which talks about the connections between lust, guilt, and heart-desires; 1 Tim. 2:8–10, which discusses particular responsibilities of men and women in general and comments on fashion; and then 1 Pet. 3:1–4, where Peter repeats the same ideas as Paul, but particularly takes up married couples. (Note that marriage alleviates temptations toward sexual sin—see 1 Cor. 7:36—but does not eliminate them.)
If you haven’t read those passages, please do so before continuing here. I quoted them in Part 1 because they give clear principles on Christian character that apply to all Christains, male and female, regardless of the present culture. We need that wisdom as our foundation. Culture changes between places and times, but principles apply in any context.
Getting the application right
As you read the passages we cited in the letters of Paul and Peter, note that both speak about adorning. The original word means you are ordering something in a way that decorates it. So, clothing is more than a covering. It can also beautify the wearer. God does not prevent that use, but He does describe what kind of beauty characterizes a godly Christian. Outwardly, “respectable,” “modest,” “pure,” and displaying “self-control.” Inwardly, a “gentle and quiet spirit.”
In many situations, God wisely gives principles instead of rules. Rules are rigid, but principles can apply to many times and places. In the New Testament, God fulfills the rules of the Old Testament Law in Christ, and gives us something better to guide our conduct: a relationship with Him. The principles of Scripture help us understand that relationship and how to apply it in daily life.
First, as I understand a “gentle and quiet spirit,” you are not required to quench a naturally outgoing personality, if that’s what you’ve got. Rather, you must let God’s Spirit control how you respond to other people with your personality, and to life’s circumstances. At the same time, “gentle and quiet” doesn’t mean quenching the truth. A naturally reserved person will sometimes need godly courage to speak up!
Second, we don’t live in the Roman empire today, and the meaning of words like “respectable,” “modest,” and “pure” have changed. But let’s not pretend that meanings don’t exist! Some clothing is designed to overexpose the body and tease the audience about the wearer’s sexual desirability. That would fail the tests of modesty and purity. Some clothing is designed to create associations with group identities or lifestyles which glorify sin. That would fail the test of being respectable. And excesses in clothing and accessories (too much, too little, too expensive, etc.) would fail to show self-control.
Your identity is in Christ
Clothing discussions are minefields because people use clothing to express identity. People will first see my body, not my soul or spirit, and I want to be accepted by my peers – and so do you. Maybe not accepted by all of them, but definitely by some. Am I a person that others will like and accept? Does my body express desirability, attractiveness, and purpose? Do my clothes accurately define my message?
The culture around you has standards for attractiveness and sexual desirability, and it will push you to dress accordingly. So, sometimes a nice outfit is just a nice outfit. But other times, you might be fulfilling someone’s worldly ideals. Are you asking God for wisdom to discern the difference? Or do you trust the opinions of a culture that claims it cannot even know the basic biological difference between male and female, and calls it “fluid?”
At some point, if you love your Lord, you will have to take a stand for Him in areas of fashion and culture. That includes recognizing biblical teaching about different temptations faced by men and women, and responding to them. If you build your identity on your feelings about attractiveness and purpose, this life will be a rough ride. Sinful, self-centered ideas will dominate your self-worth. But if you accept the identity Christ gives you, letting go of those things won’t be a problem. You will have the favor of a divine Person who has better plans for your life!
God’s greater glory
A final thought to wrap up: what is your body in relation to God?
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers [and sisters], by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1–2).
My body doesn’t belong to me, and that’s a good thing! Spiritually, I was dead in tresspasses and sins (Eph. 2:1–3). My body is destined to age and die no matter what I do to prevent it (2 Cor. 4:16). But although I am destined for natural death, Christ died to buy me back from spiritual death. So, I have died in Christ, and am also raised with Him. I have the hope of resurrection in a transformed body, and I am fully prepared to walk in newness of life until then (Rom. 6:1–11). I am presently prepared, and responsible, to serve Him in all things – including how I dress, and how I behave while observing other people, and how they dress, in a culture that wishes to dress and undress according to its own sinful ideas.
Hopefully, that discussion provided help for your question. Has it also raised new questions or concerns? The Patterns of Truth team would like to hear your feedback in the comments section, below!