Modesty: The Heart of the Matter

Modesty is about the square inches of skin exposed, the area in which that skin is, and the tightness of clothing. It’s all about the outward appearance and has nothing to do with the inward condition of the heart. It’s really cool that it’s like that, because we can judge others if they dress differently than us! Right?

Is this what we’ve been taught? No? Are you sure? Imagine the catastrophe that would result if a member of a conservative church walked into a Sunday morning meeting dressed in the latest sex-focused styles of the world. Would the critical whispers, judgmental stares, and probable outright confrontation be focused on the member’s clothing, or the state of their heart? Sadly, I think there would be a few too many people who would be concerned only with the outward appearance.

Imagine what you would think if someone would come to your church dressed like that. What would you be feeling? Would you wish they would just get their act together and dress in the way your church members do? Or would you see that they are just at a different place in their journey? Could you accept them where they’re at, even if that place is a few steps behind where you’re at?

What good would it be if we would take fruit from a healthy tree and duct tape it to one that’s barely surviving? Will that make the unhealthy tree any better? In a way, I think that is precisely what’s been happening. Some brothers in the church have presented extra-biblical clothing standards as God-inspired truth. I cringe (and sometimes laugh to myself) when I think of some of the specific things mentioned.

The scriptures that are used over and over again by brothers who preach physical-only appearance are:

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear,” (1Pe 3:3, ESV)

“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,” (1Ti 2:9, ESV)

Sounds fairly clear, right? Our appearance is all about what we wear and not at all about what’s underneath. Modesty really is only about the square inches of skin exposed, the area in which that skin is, and the tightness of clothing. It really is all about the outward appearance and has nothing to do with the inward condition of the heart. So we really can judge others if they dress differently than us! Right?

In the sermon on the mount,  Jesus spoke on a several different things that emphasized His greater concern about our heart over our actions. For example: not only are we not to murder, but we’re not supposed to even be angry with our brother. I think it’s kind of the same way here. With no desire to sin, why would we sin, and with no desire to be immodest, why would we be immodest?

This concept of our heart being important comes through loudly in the above sections of Scripture. The verse from 1 Titus touched on it a bit, but if you reread both of them, you’ll notice that neither of them are complete sentences. I purposefully didn’t add their endings because I wanted to point out where the physical-only modesty preachers direct their strong emphasis. In complete fairness, the brothers whom I’ve listened to will also read through the next verse as well, and perhaps even further. They’re right in doing this, because there’s plenty of good stuff packed around each of these verses, but I’ll just go to the end of the ones right after these:

“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.” (1Pe 3:4, ESV)

“But with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” (1Ti 2:10, ESV)

Ok, so there it is, the key to our personal appearance is in our spirit and our works. This is what a Christian looks like. Did you see the part where it mentioned sleeve length? What about the place where it specifically mentioned the silver or steel rings? Neither did I. However, I did see where expensive clothes were mentioned, which leaves me wondering why one could go to a youth event hosted by their conservative church wearing Nike shoes, Diesel jeans, Oakley specs, and an ever-so-trendy Under Armor tee, but not be allowed to wear a simple $10 necklace. I don’t actually know this from experience, but I know the culture well enough that I don’t really need to experiment.

Am I suggesting that we start wearing cheap jewelry to void this argument? No, not at all. What I’m suggesting is that we start to focus on the heart. Let’s allow God to transform our hearts to the point where we no longer desire to dress extravagantly or immodestly. We need to start dressing for God − heart first.

I’m also suggesting that we quit adding to Scripture and stop presenting our own interpretations and applications as biblical truth. No matter how hard you look, you will never find the Bible talking directly about necklines, skinnys, ties, or cape dresses. Those Scriptures simply don’t exist.

Here’s what I suggest we do: Let’s disassemble the road blocks of rejection we’ve put in other people’s lives, and instead, start journeying alongside them by sharing our convictions with them. In my personal opinion, the church needs to look more like a family, and less like a police department.



  1. Modesty is more than dress. It has to do with our speech, not crude, not talking about private matters in public places, not flagrant actions causing attention on ourselves. Modesty is truly the flip side of humility.. Thus judgement of others does not enter the picture. It is not about us, or drawing attention to us.. It is Jesus Love in our presentation of Him..


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