The fourth 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).
It’s been almost two thousand years since Paul penned his letter, but 1 Timothy 2:9 remains a pastoral concern. Today the issue is immodest and sensual clothing more than ostentatious attire. And it’s no small challenge to address this matter. I know the great risk for offense or misunderstanding that I take by broaching this topic, the potential that you may feel I am sinfully judging or wrongly accusing.
Please know that I don’t write as a self-appointed critic. I am simply a concerned pastor who charitably assumes that most Christian women who dress immodestly are ignorant of the war with lust that men confront on a daily basis. They probably don’t have a clue what goes on in a man’s mind and what effect their bodies have on the eyes and hearts of men young and old. But I want no one to be ignorant after reading this chapter. That’s why I want you to hear from two young men who represent countless others. I hope their struggles and temptations — which are not unique, but common to men — will motivate you to pursue modesty and self-control for the sake of your brothers in Christ. First, a day in the life of a college student pursuing purity:
Each and every day on campus is a battle. A battle against my sin, a battle against temptation, a battle against my depraved mind. Every morning I have to cry out for mercy, strength, and a renewed conviction to flee youthful lust. The Spirit is faithful to bring me the renewal I need and to prepare me to do war against my sin, yet temptations still exist.
I’m thankful God has created me to be attracted to women. However, campus is a loaded minefield. There are girls everywhere, and it is guaranteed that I will pass some attractive girls as I walk in between classes. To make it through the day unscathed, I either have to be actively engaging my mind and spirit in praying, quoting Scripture, listening to worship music, or looking at the sidewalk. Many days it takes all four to be safe. . . .
The thing that women do not seem to fully grasp is that the temptation toward lust does not stop. It is continual. It is aggressive. And it does all it can to lead men down to death. And women have a choice to help or deter the goal and purpose of lust. Sometimes when I see a girl provocatively dressed, I’ll say to myself, „She probably doesn’t even know that 101 guys are going to devour her in their minds today. But then again, maybe she does.“ To be honest, I don’t know the truth, the truth of why she chooses to dress the way she does, the way she chooses to walk, the way she chooses to act. I don’t know because I’ve never sat down with a girl and asked why. All I need to know is that the way she presents herself to the world is bait for my sinful mind to latch onto and I need to avoid it at all costs.
For the most part, the church serves as a sanctuary from the continual barrage of temptation toward sin. However, the church’s members are not yet free from sin, and there are girls who are ignorant and unaware of men’s sinful tendencies.
I must confess that even church can have several mines scattered about. To the girls who are ignorant, please serve your brother in Christ and have your dad screen your wardrobe. Ask your dad how you can better choose holiness over worldliness. He’s a guy, and he knows more than you on the issue.
And to the girls who don’t follow the pattern of the world: thank you. Thank you a million times over. You are following Scripture’s commands, and you are helping your brothers in the process.
I commend this young man’s tenacious fight for holiness. And I echo his gratitude to all women who choose to dress modestly—thank you a million times over. You’re truly serving your brothers in Christ by your obedience to God’s Word.
As Christian women in the church you can be either a blessing or a distraction as the second young man explains:
The one place I might think I wouldn’t have to face as much temptation is at church. But this is not always the case. When ladies I’m friends with dress immodestly, it definitely has a negative effect on our friendship. When she dresses immodestly, it doesn’t make it easy to see her as a sister in Christ. There’s a constant battle going on as I’m interacting with her. Communication becomes more difficult, but I’m also trying to fight temptation.
I also think that some ladies aren’t aware that even the little things can distract guys a lot — showing even a little part of their stomach, wearing a bag that has a strap that goes between their breasts, etc.
I’m so grateful for the friendships God has given me over the last year and a half and for the godly ladies in my small group. I’m so appreciative of the sacrifice that these ladies make to glorify God and to serve and care for the guys.
I heard a story of one of the ladies in our small group who went shopping and really liked a shirt she was trying on. But then she thought, „No, I can’t do this to the guys.“ That was the first time I had ever heard of anything like that, and it made me so grateful. It is such a blessing to have friends who care for me enough to be selfless and to sacrifice what might look attractive in order to help me and other guys with sexual lust.
When ladies dress modestly, it’s attractive and it makes me want to hang out with them. I think modesty is so attractive and helpful in friendships; it makes it easier for a friendship to be centered around God and for fellowship to be unhindered.
Godly men find modesty attractive. They appreciate women who dress with self-control and restraint. They’re grateful for women who serve them by helping them fight the temptation to lust.
After hearing about these young men’s struggles, one young woman wrote to me:
I had a vague idea that guys were more affected by sight than girls were. But I never realized how pervasive the temptation was. . . . Now, knowing a little bit of what guys go through every day, I have an ardent desire to serve my brothers in Christ. I want to make the church a haven for them.
Thanks to my parents’ oversight, I don’t think my wardrobe is immodest. But I can often spend too much time critiquing my outfit, trying to figure out how I can work with what I have to get guys’ attention. After your message, I no longer have the desire to dress immodestly— rather, my concern is to protect the guys and help them in their walk with God. I don’t want my clothes or behavior to distract them from focusing on God.
I hope this ardent desire to serve your brothers in Christ characterizes every woman in the church. But the church should also be a place where the unconverted can come dressed immodestly and be warmly welcomed, not self-righteously judged. Among Christian women, those who dress immodestly should be graciously corrected—not by self-righteous people trying to impose personal preferences, but by those who consider themselves to be the worst sinners they know, and charitably assume ignorance on the part of the immodest. Modesty isn’t the exclusive responsibility of the church’s pastors and wives. It is the collective responsibility of all members of the church.
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, http://www.crossway.org; published on Sovereign Grace Ministries, 2008