Messy Faith,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings,  Recovering Perfectionist

Modesty: a beautiful picture of God’s grace

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This post is part 11 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can view all of the posts in the series here on the series landing page. This post is about the touchy subject of modesty.

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During the second semester of my sophomore year (at College #3), someone had the crazy idea to switch identities with girls for the day, just for kicks. Several girls participated in the activity, I being one of them (although if I remember correctly, it took a lot of coaxing from my new friends).

We girls helped make up our identity-double in the way that we chose – with our hairstyle, clothes, jewelry, and style of applying makeup. The results were astonishing.

This was a normal college day look for me:

Modesty: a picture of grace. #modesty {the wilderness between #legalism and #grace part 11 @beautifulinhistime.com}

By the time my double got through with me, I looked like this:

Modesty: a picture of grace. #modesty {the wilderness between #legalism and #grace part 11 @beautifulinhistime.com}

Modesty: a picture of grace. #modesty {the wilderness between #legalism and #grace part 11 @beautifulinhistime.com}

I squirmed self-consciously through my morning classes and chapel, where the administrators laughed off the harmless antics of college girls and a friend told me that she overheard one of the guys say that I was “hot.”

After chapel I made a bee-line for my dorm room, wiped off the makeup and changed into something more…me. More conservative. More modest.

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That afternoon I got online and shared the photos with my forum friends, writing a long explanation of how girls focus so much on the external appearance and how we need to focus on inner beauty – or something spiritual sounding like that.

I had been uncomfortable, self-conscious.

I felt “worldly” – I thought my outfit was “form-fitting” and that my face looked fake.

And knowing that a guy had noticed me for something other than my brains and “natural beauty” made me the most uncomfortable.

Guilt. Shame.

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I look back and sort of shake my head in bewilderment. I see my full-length picture and see that my thin body that barely had the slightest curve was still covered, still modest. My hair still shined in the light. My eyes still popped with my smile.

Certainly, the two styles are drastically different. And if you’ve seen even recent pictures of me, you’ll notice that I still prefer more “natural” makeup and favor curly hair.

It’s definitely true (and sadly so) that so often inner beauty is ridiculed, and young girls are taught to focus on the outward appearance at all costs.

But an over-emphasis on modesty draws attention to the female body in a different way. It is objectified, not as something to be lusted after, but as something to be feared and ashamed of. The outward appearance is still focused on, just in a different way.

From the time I was a little girl I had an inflated view of modesty that didn’t come from my parents or even the churches I attended. Sleeveless tops made me uncomfortable, and I always wore shorts over my swimsuit. Then in high school when I started attending a legalistic church where modesty was stressed even more, my personal standards got stricter and stricter.

Modesty is most definitely important, and most definitely a Biblical concept – that much I will not ever dispute.

The beautiful, naked human body was not originally designed to be covered. But sin perverted nakedness and made us ashamed of our bodies.

“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:7, 10)

Even our best attempts at modesty – a modesty based in fear and shame – failed before the holiness of God.

So God called us out of shame and gave us coverings. Coverings of sacrifice. Coverings of grace. <—tweet this!

Coverings that said, “Your attempts at goodness and modesty will never be enough. You need my goodness that only comes through the sacrifice of an innocent.”

“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21

But now, Christianity still so often promotes a system of modesty that is based in shame. We feebly and fearfully adopt “standards” and try to cover up our sin, our shame, with our own inflated sense of goodness – a goodness that can never be good enough.

Our goodness can never cover our shame. Only God’s grace can. <—tweet this!

Modesty. A touchy subject. Have you ever thought about how modesty is a beautiful picture of Christ's sacrificial grace? What does it mean to be modest?

What if, instead of dressing out of a sinful desire to gain the attention of men, or out of an inflated sense of our own goodness (“modesty”) motivated by the fear caused by our shame, we instead approached modesty with this attitude:

God, you see me in all of my nakedness, nakedness that you created to be beautiful but was perverted because of my sin. You see me in all of my sinfulness. I can never be good enough, “modest” enough to cover my sin and shame. But you love me and gave me grace. May what I wear today be a picture of the sacrificial covering of your grace – grace that is greater than my sin and shame. Grace that reflects your love and beauty.

This modesty is humble, reverent, and truly “shamefaced.” It doesn’t judge others who don’t dress “as modestly as” you do, because it recognizes the frailty of attempting to cover nakedness with goodness. This modesty focuses on Christ’s goodness, not our own.

This modesty is a picture of grace.

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When modesty is addressed in the New Testament, it is done so with a focus on reverence for God:

The Bible never says, “Dress modestly, or men will lust after you” (fear-based) or “Dress modestly because you can’t come to me in your nakedness” (shame-based).

Rather, it says this:

“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

Regardless of whether or not I wear a sleeveless dress, straighten my hair in a “modern” style, wear eyeliner, or some guy thinks I’m “hot” – these things don’t define (or not define) me as a “modest” person.

True modesty comes from within.

God wants my heart – not my hair.

He wants my spirit – not my jewelry, makeup, or lack thereof.

He desires a relationship with me in all of my feminine beauty. He looks within.

When {my modesty} fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come

Longing just to bring 
Something that’s of worth 
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than {my modesty}
For {modesty} in itself
Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of {modesty}
And it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus

~Heart of Worship by Matt Redman~

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Modesty. It’s a touchy subject. Have you fallen prey to a system of modesty that is based in fear and shame and focuses on your own frail attempts at goodness? Have you ever thought about how modesty is a picture of Christ’s sacrificial grace? I’d love to hear from you! 

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To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.

Next post, part 12: Disconnect: when God just doesn’t seem relevant

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