Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

How Revealing Should a Christian Woman’s Clothes Be?

Question: Just how revealing should a Christian woman’s clothes be? Answer: Very revealing… in fact, Christian women should aim to dress in a manner as revealing as possible.

Of course, what they are revealing should be something other than flesh. Christian women, rather than having ‘covering up my body’ as their goal, should have ‘revealing the gospel’ as their goal when they pick their clothes each morning.

The warmer weather is upon us again and the spring outfits are about to make their return. So I thought I might be able to serve our church by offering a little reminder to Christian women everywhere to pursue modesty for the sake of revealing the gospel.

Here are two truths Christian women can use to connect the gospel to modesty in their attire:

1. In the gospel, Jesus gave up his rights & freedoms for the sake of serving

Philippians 2 relates how Jesus had rightful claims to deity and honour, but denied himself, took on humble appearance, and in humble behaviour subjected himself to obedience and servitude for the sake of loving those who were weaker. That’s the essence of the gospel.

In a similar way, Christian women can follow Paul’s example of gladly giving up their freedoms for the sake of serving those who are weaker (2 Cor 9) because it displays the gospel. Just like Jesus didn’t ‘grasp’ to what was rightfully his, Christian women don’t need to fight for their rights to wear whatever they want.

They can reveal their Christlikeness as they give up their rights to wear whatever they want, in deference to others who are weaker.

2. In the gospel, Jesus veiled his glory for the sake of serving

When Jesus took on human flesh, his glory was veiled. It had to be, otherwise we would die. In order to serve us by living a holy life and dying in our place, he had to veil that which was beautiful (for a time, in a context) so that we all might be able to behold the one who is True Beauty in time. For the sake of the gospel he hid what was good for the sake of serving others.

In a similar way, Christian women can veil the beauty of their more intimate parts for the sake of serving those who are weaker because it displays the gospel. We must never think that the call to modesty is a call to cover up because there is something dirty about a woman’s body — nothing could be further from the truth. But just like Jesus didn’t reveal all of his beauty in inappropriate ways, Christian women don’t need to fight for their rights to flaunt their beauty; they can save it for the more appropriate and ultimately God-pleasing context of intimacy that is to come.

They can reveal their Christlikeness as they veil their glory for the sake of serving.

A balancing note

Since the conversation about modesty can often quickly degenerate into quarrels about words and opinions, I wanted to draw our minds back to the word specifically (think 1 Tim 2 and 1 Pet 3). The last thing we ever want to do is add to the word of God and bind peoples’ consciences in ways that the Bible doesn’t.

So what does the New Testament actually say?

What Paul and Peter both emphasize is this:

  1. Don’t dress like the wealthy / influential / sexually immoral people of your day, since that belies your commitment to Christ rather than the world
  2. Don’t dress in such a way as draws more attention to your body than your works as a godly woman
  3. Don’t dress so as to gain standing or approval of people
  4. In all things, love for God and love for others is the greatest single commandment we have, and needs to inform our clothing choices.

So where are the lines?

I honestly and earnestly mean this with all my heart: If a woman is seeking to carefully obey those four directives, then I think drawing more boundaries than that is unhelpful. Christ commands us to love and gives us his Spirit to discern what that means. The word of God, prayer, and counsel of other believers (along with a healthy dose of self-distrust) are your best friends beyond that.

Those of us who are tempted to draw boundaries and rules for others and condemn others for their freedoms need to remember that to go beyond what is revealed in the Bible would be playing God (aka becoming a pharisee) to bind peoples’ consciences in harmful ways. If we want to be practical about modesty, perhaps the most helpful thing we can do, rather than talking about hemlines, is talking about heart motives. We need to focus on what it means to love, since that is the single greatest commandment of all.

To the bottom line

So how revealing should a Christian woman’s clothing be? It should be very revealing. It should reveal her chastity, her good works, her servant-hearted humility, and her love for others that refuses to make much of self.

But most of all, it should reveal the gospel that saved her and owns her; a gospel that rejoices in the giving up of glory and freedoms for the sake of loving others. A woman’s clothes should — and will — reveal her God.

19 Comments

  1. Amen! Very well said. One of my favourite proverbs (which I discuss with my "tween" daughters quite regularly) is Prov. 11:22 – A beautiful woman lacking discretion and modesty is like a fine gold ring in the snout of a pig.

    • Julian

      20 April, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      Thanks, Anita. Good reminder of truth. I'm so glad for mothers who are faithful to engage with their daughters in these tough realms of decision-making. Keep pointing them to Jesus!

  2. I'm reminded of Proverbs 31, "Strength and dignity are her clothing" 🙂

    Great post; thanks for pointing to Jesus!

    • Julian

      20 April, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      Good reminder, Peter, thanks! Gives you something to look for in a girl to marry someday, eh, brother? 🙂

  3. A timely piece. Thank you for having the courage to address this matter. The field is littered with those who have gone before. Indeed a subject bound to draw the ‘legalism’ crowd out from under the rocks. The truth is that when a person cries ‘legalism’ they are boldly declaring ‘there will be no further discussion on this subject, move on’.

    Scott

    • Julian

      20 April, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks, Scott! The gospel is the only thing that will help keep us on the straight and narrow, avoiding both legalism and licentiousness.

  4. Well put Julian. Blessings to you and your dear family. Hugs, Nancy

  5. This is a very good article. I'm glad a friend posted it on her fb. There are however a few holes, not in its direct content, but in wholeness. I realize it is extremely hard to add pants vs. skirts or how tight is too tight a turtle neck without it getting legalistic, but for young women it is an overdue discussion. We are called to the extremely hard.
    Thanks for writing the article. I will be sharing and discussing it with my 11 & 13 year old daughters.

    Agape,
    Cheryl

    • Julian

      23 April, 2012 at 10:01 pm

      Thanks, Cheryl! You're right, it's very hard to address those issues without being legalistic… because ultimately you end up drawing lines where the Bible doesn't. And yet, a woman simply has to make some decisions, doesn't she?

      That's why it's so important to wrestle through the biblical texts, labour to walk in love, and seek counsel from husband / father and Christian sisters. Outside perspective from others is invaluable when it comes to issues like this.

  6. Wow! I read through this whole article assuming it was written by a woman because you don’t often see a man addressing this issue, especially the way you just did. I got to the bottom and realized who the author was and was blown away! Thank you, Julian, for this article! What a unique and meaningful way to address this issue. It is such an encouragement to me to “hear” from guys who appreciate those who dress modestly. Well done, sir! May God be glorified through your words.

    • Julian

      25 April, 2012 at 9:02 am

      Thanks, Christina! It's definitely an uncomfortable topic to address, but if the apostles did then we're foolish to ignore it. Thanks again for the encouraging words.

  7. When I first became a Christian in my teens, I was bombarded with messages of how to dress: don’t wear tank tops, don’t wear two-piece bathing suits, and do NOT have pierced ears. As a young girl, I had no idea what it meant to be “tempting boys” or “dressing Christ-like”. As an adult woman, I still have no idea what this language means, and why it still permeates our Christian culture. While I understand your blog represents one voice, and perhaps a continuation of some discussion in your church, I would like to respond with a different voice than those who have posted before me.

    Being very passionate about this subject, I will try not to go off topic, and keep it succinct. The question you asked was: How Revealing Should a Christian Woman’s Clothes Be? My question is this: Why are we even asking this question? Can we please stop talking in this language to our young girls? Can we instead build up women to be the wonderful creations they are, rather than feeling shame, insecurity, or confusion about what they wear or the way their bodies were built? When suggesting Bible verses to women, can they instead be directed to the brave, passionate, and faithful women of the Bible? The Bible tells the stories of Hannah, Esther, and Mary, just to name a few incredible women, without so much an indication of what these women were wearing. There have been many “modestly dressed” women who have committed terrible acts of hatred, and there have been many not so “modestly dressed” women who have shown the love of Christ through brave actions (think Erin Brockovich). It is a dangerous thing to suggest to women that what they wear will reveal their motives. Language like this is what continues to drive what is now being called the “rape culture”. Just because a woman dresses one way or another, does NOT in any way, shape, or form, welcome the judgment or lust or objectification of others. Even when Jesus indicates that mere lusting is a sin (Matthew 5:28), it does not say the lusting happened, “because the woman looked a certain way”. My challenge for Christians, and the Church, is to present women with a different option beyond the physical. Let’s celebrate women as intelligent, driven, compassionate people who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, no matter how they look. I believe this was the message of the Gospel: to know that our Creator loves us unconditionally and to love one another in such a matter.

    I’m sure this could open up a very intense argument laced with emotion and opinions (especially in Biblical exegesis). My hope in responding to this blog is that ONE woman will read this and realize that she is beautiful, in the entire sense of the word, despite what messages the church, the media, or others are sending. And let’s be honest, I wrote this in a tank top and have multiple piercings in my ears, and guess what? Jesus still loves me.

    For a compelling documentary on this very topic, please visit: http://www.missrepresentation.org/

  8. Wow- I almost couldn't believe what I was reading… Wealthy/Influential/Sexually immoral all rolled into one? Really?! As a woman, a Christian and a child psychologist I read this article and feel like we have just taken a HUGE step backwards on many, many levels. Jill, I am commend you for voicing the other side. This kind of attitude is dangerous. Last summer, my young teenage niece attended a Christian Bible camp and was so bullied and ridiculed for her wardrobe (she was wearing tank tops in mid august in 90 degree weather) that she left the camp 4 days early, vowed never to go to Church, youth group or camp again because she was so traumatized by the names she was called and the way she was treated. She was 12. I now know where these attitudes are cultivated. The way a woman dresses should NEVER dictate the way she is judged or treated by others. It is in no way an indiction of her intelligence or moral beliefs.

  9. How about instead of preaching at women about how they dress, we preach at boys, of all ages, about growing into men who have deep respect for women, not related to their clothing?

  10. My problem is this: No matter how many women might conform to a so called "modest" dressing style, there will be just as many women out there who don't. Besides which, even if all women in the world wore canvas sacks hiding every bit of skin men would still have problems with lust. (This is not to say women don't have problems, I am just addressing men at the moment.) Thereby MEN are the ones who need to be figuring out how to live lives of integrity and respect towards women by honouring them with their thoughts/actions. Can women help men? Yes definitely, through unconditional (and sometimes tough) love, through encouragement and forgiveness. But in the end it is a man's job to take responsibility for their lust and not use women or media or advertising as scapegoats. Saying that women preach the gospel by wearing modest clothes once again boils us down to our bodies. Women have no responsibility to dress for men, be it to please them sexually or please them morally. I am certainly not against women dressing modestly- I do so myself, but my motivation for it is out of respect – for myself, for my husband, for my friends. Maybe if we were more concerned with building women's self-respect by showing them some (ie. not commodifying, judging, oogling) then women wouldn't resort to searching for love or approval through the display of their bodies.

  11. Julian

    26 April, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Jill, Arie, Christine, Deanna,

    Thanks for your feedback and input!

    My intention in writing this was not to give anyone the impression that we have licence to judge those who dress immodestly (in fact, just the opposite). My point was that here's an opportunity to walk in gospel-rooted love.

    As a man with a wife who I love and respect and three daughters who I cherish dearly, please believe me that I have no desire to oppress or to deny them any of the dignity that is theirs as creatures created in the image of God.

    In fact, I think the best sense of self-respect is when we respect the one whose image we're created in and in whom our identity is found. If we honour God, if we love him, we'll obey his commands. Ultimately I think this doesn't boil down to something cultural, but rather, something biblical. I think the temptation is to jump to pragmatics without doing the exegesis first. I think that spending some significant time actually studying those passages of Scripture would be helpful for you.

    On balance, though, you are right in this: Lust is the guy's problem. But if a guy is a serial flirt and keeps breaking girls' hearts, whose problem is it? It is the girl's problem, right? It was her job to protect her heart, not the guy's. He was just acting in confidence and self-respect, right? But wouldn't it help if he acted in love and stopped leading the girls along? Just because it's a guy's problem doesn't mean a woman can't walk in love, respecting herself, the guys around her, and most importantly, the one who made her in his image.

  12. it is my belief, if we are created in God's image, then in his essence too. What I express as a human being, as a compassionate, loving and non-judgmental human being, is what I share with others.

    Ummm, the idea of the boy being a serial flirt and breaking girl's hearts, may not be self-respect. Strange acknowledgment of confidence and self respect! Perhaps, could it also be arrogance and disrespect…?

    • Julian

      26 April, 2012 at 11:48 pm

      Jane, I'm not certain what you mean about sharing in God's essence. Historically it has been understood that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share one essence, not us. We are created in his image, and in the gospel have become partakers of the divine nature… but I'm not sure what you mean by essence, since that has been a term used to identify divinity.

      As for your remark about the boy being a flirt, you've proven my point. What he may think is self-respect and confidence (and even fun) is actually arrogance and disrespect. In other words, regardless of what he may think he's doing, he's not walking in love. That's all we're calling on mature Christian women to do as well. Just walk in love with consideration for others, in the fear of God.

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