May 9, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
The final of seven excerpts from C.J.’s chapter on modesty in the forthcoming book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (Crossway, Sept. 2008).
Remember Jenni from the beginning of the chapter? A friend graciously confronted her concerning her immodest dress, and encouraged her to take a closer look at what God’s Word had to say about modesty. When Jenni pasted 1 Timothy 2:9 back into her Bible and began applying its truth to her heart and life, her perspective of modesty and eventually her wardrobe underwent a complete transformation:
As my friend shared her concern and listed specific articles of clothing that drew attention to my body, I was sobered. Lord, is it pride that motivates the way I dress? Does what I wear actually cause my brothers to stumble? Do I bring reproach to your name? I immediately acknowledged my desperation before God and began to plead for His mercy and grace to reveal the sin within my heart and assist me to change.
I began to study God’s Word, read material addressing this issue, and listen to C. J. Mahaney’s teaching on “The Soul of Modesty.” By the grace of God, there was no resistance in my heart but a passion to change. God illuminated the simple fact that it is my heart that dictates my appearance and wardrobe. I was faced with the question, “What statement do my clothes make concerning my heart?” The pride and ambition to exalt self were made very clear. My motives for the way I dressed were to promote self rather than Jesus Christ.
I began to understand the heart and soul of modesty. Modesty is humility expressed in dress, a desire to serve others, neither promoting nor provoking sensuality or lust. It is rooted in a desire to lose any and all consideration of self and live hidden behind the cross of Christ. I became more and more aware that my dress was not an outward expression of the gospel or humility. I began by aggressively examining my wardrobe.
My husband, Jon, and I spent a lengthy period of time examining every article of clothing, prayerfully considering which pieces were inappropriate. By the end of the examination my wardrobe had considerably diminished.
To be honest, this has not been easy. Even though it has been a year since cleaning out my closet, there are still many moments when I struggle picking out my outfit for the day, being dissatisfied with my limited wardrobe. It has been crucial for me to question my motives morning after morning, which helps me to see that what is most attractive is my desire to please God, not my outward appearance.
It is something that I must daily fight — to flee worldly desires and pursue godliness in this area. This requires daily application and frequent reminders. I have had the “Modesty Heart Check” posted inside the bathroom vanity so that it can serve as a reminder every morning before I leave the house. I have identified specific areas where I am uniquely tempted and then spent time purposing how I need to change. And when I purchase clothing, I always show my husband, Jon, to be sure that it is modest.
Dressing modestly blesses my husband because it is a way that I can save myself and my body for him alone. And it also serves the other men around me by helping to guard their hearts against temptation. By pursuing modesty in spirit as well as in dress, I can bring glory to Christ and further the gospel.
Some of you may wonder, like Jenni once did, why make such a big deal about modesty? More importantly, why does Paul? Is it because we’re conservative people? Is it because we have personal preferences about how women should dress?
No. The reason is the gospel. Modesty is important because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul is concerned about it. He isn’t simply a “cultural conservative.” This isn’t Paul’s version of The Book of Virtues. For him, the issue of modesty is about the gospel.
And that’s why you should be concerned about modesty as well. For when we take a broader look at 1 Timothy 2:9, we discover that these instructions about women’s dress are set in the context of the gospel:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:3–6)
The gospel message is the motivation for modest dress.
The woman who loves the Savior avoids immodesty because she doesn’t want to distract from or reflect poorly upon the gospel.
R. Kent Hughes puts it like this: “Paul’s overriding concern was that the way Christians deported themselves would not detract from but enhance their gospel mission.” *
We have a gospel mission: not only to preach Christ but to live in a way consistent with our profession of faith. As women, you can detract from the gospel mission by dressing immodestly, or you can enhance the gospel mission by dressing in a way that reflects the transforming power of the gospel at work in you. The humble woman, the modest woman, is concerned about the lost. And her dress reflects that concern.
Make this your aim: that there be no contradiction between your gospel message and the clothes you wear. May your modest dress be a humble witness to the One who gave himself as a ransom for all.
Taken from C.J. Mahaney’s chapter “God, My Heart, and Clothes,” in the book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, © 2008. The book will be available from Crossway in September. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
* John Stott, Guard the Truth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 157.