Is Modesty Legalism?

Hello dear sisters in Christ,

I write this to you on a beautiful Summer Sunday afternoon. As the heat abounds greatly in the deep South, so does the question of immodesty.

But it’s too hot to wear anything modest.

We should be able to wear whatever we want, and men should just control themselves.

If a man looks at me and lusts, that’s his issue and not mine. 

These are all objections I’ve heard made by women on this topic.

I think modesty for women has become quite a reactionary topic in the church, sort of like submission is. I am writing this article to gently nudge the Churches women toward holiness and clear thinking on the matter.

Some think that modesty means that they have to wear a large, baggy winter coat in the middle of Summer, or in other words that modesty is equivalent to frumpiness. I would say this could not be further from the truth.

Modesty is ultimately a heart condition, and God says that a gentle and meek spirit is precious to Him.

Do not let your adornment be merely outward- arranging of the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel- rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. -1 Peter 3:3-4 NKJV

Modesty is all about not drawing undue attention to ourselves. Are we saying “Hey look at me!” “Hey look at this body God has blessed me with!” leaving very little to the imagination?

To be clear, modesty is not about hiding our bodies because we are ashamed, it is about respect for ourselves and others. By wearing a dress or skirt of a modest length I am respecting myself by not putting my body out for display as if my only value is being a sexual object, and I am respecting the men who I do not want to cause to stumble. Most importantly I am respecting God who formed my body, and said it should only be revealed to my husband.

Church is not a fashion show. Church is not about you or me. It’s about Jesus.

This does not mean you cannot look beautiful and I think this is where the Church has lost its senses. Ladies, you can look beautiful while being modest. You do not have to show off your legs or curves to prove that you’re pretty. Your beauty is supposed to come from the inside.

Here is a good test: Are we ready to meet Jesus in what we’re wearing right now?

Quite frankly, I’m mostly speaking about what we chose to wear to Church to the assembly of the saints. I am not talking about what you wear for your spouse in the privacy of your home. I am not advocating this point at all.

I’ve heard from many Church attending men that bare shoulders, short dresses and dipping neck lines have caused them to stumble at a place where they came to worship Jesus. I’ve heard one say “This is supposed to be a safe place for me to be and it isn’t anymore.”

To be clear, if a man has a lusting problem he will lust whether you’re in a one piece swimsuit with a skirt or a bikini. That may be true. However, our jobs as women is not to make it more difficult for others who are diligently trying to be holy.

As a lady I find myself heartbroken and disappointed with the lack of leadership and admonishment in this area. None of us are perfect. I have had moments where I realize the new dress I bought might be a little too low cut, and that next time I should wear a camisole underneath it. But the point is not perfection or legalism, it is trying to honor God.

How are we presenting our bodies to God and to society? Do we look exactly like the immodest world? If I didn’t know you and saw you on the street would I be able to tell you were just at Church, or that you have a modest heart?

Legalism can come into this when people say that your clothes must be a certain length, women should only wear dresses or it’s sin, etc. I agree this line of thinking can be legalistic however, the other extreme is looking exactly like the world and current culture which objectifies women and tells them that dressing like a harlot is empowering. What kind of message does this give our sons and daughters?

If a woman is convicted to only wear dresses and skirts, it is not legalism. We should not call it that. If she says every other woman ought to wear a skirt at all times or they are sinning, that’s legalism and adding to Scripture. We should not be pushing our convictions on others, just as I am the only woman currently in my Church who wears a head  covering. I do not go around pushing it on all the woman telling them they are in sin, but when people ask, and they do occasionally, I let them know why I wear one and that I think its Biblical. However, I believe immodesty is a sin issue because immodesty promotes sexual immorality whether in deed or in thought. It is vanity and self-centeredness and borderline idolatrous for some with deep heart issues. I think the Church is too afraid to admit that immodesty needs to be seriously addressed, and has deceived itself into saying it’s not an urgent issue. It’s an open sin that everyone can see. When we dress completely immodest and go to Church, its not a secret sin, everyone can see the true condition of our hearts.

I did not write this to hurt anyone, I wrote this for reflection. Are we slacking on this issue because we’re too afraid of the knee-jerk reaction of immodest women? I think we should encourage our husbands to lead us here in this area and let us know if they think what we’re wearing is not God honoring. I personally ask my husband all the time if he thinks an outfit is inappropriate or not. I am learning constantly in this area to be better, and I especially take thoughtfulness when going to a Church gathering how I can honor God in my dress.

What I’m about to say might taste bitter to some people, but here we go anyways. At Church pool/swimming events you will never see me wearing a two piece swimsuit. I don’t even own one. A bikini is the equivalent to a bra and panties. I don’t think that when we swim it’s okay to strip bear in front of our church members as if we’re in our underwear. I don’t expose myself because I know if I were to wear a bikini I would cause men to stumble. I know that sounds prideful, and I don’t mean it that way. God has blessed me with curves, especially in the bust area, and an hourglass-ish shape. I know that wearing that would be dishonoring to myself, my husband and to God ultimately.  I love my body, I think its beautiful, and I don’t think I need to display it or prove it to anyone else. I will opt for a t-shirt and shorts or skirt to swim in. Please think about what kind of message you’re sending to unbelievers, and if what you’re doing is honoring to God.

Are we leaning towards the culture’s standards, or towards God’s holy standards?

Men also need to be modest as well so ladies do not stumble but this not the point of this article. I encourage the men to step up and lead in this area and not be afraid to admonish where it’s needed. I believe we’re lacking in this area as a Church because the men are afraid or dominated by wives who will bite their head off if he were to tell them they need to change their outfit. An immodest wife is a sad thing for a husband, it represents publicly that he either does not lead his wife in love, or that he married a rebellious and unsubmissive wife, it’s frankly embarrassing to look at a couple like this. Its embarrassing for her, though she does not see it, and its embarrassing for him because of his lack of leadership.

If God cares about every aspect of our life, and He does, and we are to do all things including eating and drinking to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 10:31), why are we so stiff necked to say “He doesn’t care about my clothes”. Yes, my sister, He does.  Legalism is not the answer. There are plenty of skirts that are immodest in length and are waaay too tight. There are dresses that are lowcut and short, and there are pants that are looser and more modest. I’m not trying to place a blanket statement that says “only skirts or dresses are modest” because that’s simply not true.

God cares more about the inward parts, that is true. However, the outward is a good measuring point to see where our inside is at. If you immediately reject that, this article is truly for you then. I pray God would soften your heart to be submissive to Him and that you would not want to perpetuate the pornography culture we live in that has many of our men fighting constantly to stay in a place of purity.

This is clearly a sanctification issue, but we should be gently admonishing others to holiness which includes modesty. A personal note, when my husband and I were looking for a Church we visited one that stands out in my mind. After the service and we got back to the car my husband was immediately saying “Nope. That was so uncomfortable.” He had women intight dresses and heels hugging up on him and rubbing themselves on him displaying an immodest heart and immodest body. This is the kind of impressions we can leave on others if we are not careful.

If we want to encourage a woman to modesty, we might want to start on the inside and the outside will surely follow in due time. However, in the meantime this is an issue that has grieved my heart deeply.

Please share this article and leave your comments below.

Much sisterly love,






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