In the Philippines, you would know that it’s officially summer when you start noticing these two things:

First, the usual temperature has reached an average of 35 degrees Celsius. Second, photos of people on the beach have started popping up all over Facebook and Instagram.

Hashtag #feedgoals!

A nice selfie on the beach. Caption? “Sun-kissed.”

A photo of a pair of legs against a backdrop of the sand, sea and the sun.

While the beach and the heat could literally make us want to shed off some clothes, take a moment to pause as we discuss one sizzling summer topic that you definitely should consider this season — modesty.

Modesty is a commonly misunderstood virtue. Recently, we have seen how this topic has become a hot button issue among women, with some people arguing that modesty is a sexist principle that objectifies women, curtails freedom of self-expression, and unfairly puts all the blame on women who experience sexual harassment.

Right from the get-go, allow me to clarify these things:

  • Modesty is not just about the clothes we wear (or don’t wear). It’s a virtue that flows from the heart.
  • Modesty isn’t just for women. It’s a virtue that’s also expected of men.
  • Modesty does not prohibit self-expression; it actually points us to a deeper kind of self-expression.

The goal of this article is not to turn us into religious fashion police who will base a person’s modesty based on his or her choice of clothes. My hope is that this article will cause us to examine our own hearts as the Holy Spirit realigns our perceptions on this subject.

Modesty: The Naked Truth

Most Christian articles about modesty center on teaching women to cover up their bodies so as not to distract or tempt men. But modesty is not simply about helping men to stay pure in their thought life. You will see as you read along that modesty is as much of an issue for men as it is for women.

Modesty is defined as the freedom from vanity. A modest person is someone who is not too proud or boastful about oneself. Hence, modesty goes beyond the issue of what clothes we wear. A person may be covered from head to foot, yet his lifestyle, conduct, or behavior show immodesty.

Modesty is a virtue that flows out from a person’s personal humility. When you showcase your good qualities to gain people’s praise or validation, you have crossed the line of being modest — regardless whether you’re showcasing your body, your face, or your achievements.

In ancient times, it was said that women wear flashy jewelries to flaunt their beauty and social status. Men show off their money and physique to showcase their power and strength. In our modern times, how do we boast about ourselves? Ask yourself:

  • Do I post too many selfies on my social media accounts to showcase my attractiveness?
  • Do I display my body to get people’s attention and validation?
  • Do I humblebrag about my achievements in order to solicit hearts and likes on social media?

Anything you do to intentionally draw people’s attention on yourself is immodesty. This calls for a heart check.

Modesty is also defined as a regard for decency, which is why wearing revealing clothing is considered immodest by many.

Nowadays, you can be bashed online when you tell people — particularly women — to dress modestly and not to show too much skin. Back in the day, telling young people to dress appropriately was called modesty and decency, not sexism or bigotry.

The word “modesty” in the Bible refers to the quality of being orderly, moderate, appropriate, honorable, and respectable. This quality applies to both men and women in their manner of speech, conduct, behavior, and clothing.

In 1 Timothy 2:9, Paul reminded women in church to dress themselves modestly and in a respectable manner; not seductively or ostentatiously. In the same letter (1 Timothy 3:2), Paul urged men who aspire to be an overseer of the church to be “respectable.” This word came from the Greek word, “kosmios,” which means “modest” and “of good behavior.”

For women, I pray that you will not be too “concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes.” Instead, “I pray that you will clothe yourselves with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful.” (1 Peter 3:3-5a NLT)

For the men, carefully consider: how does a God-honoring man show modesty in his conduct and outward appearance? Do you “treat older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, in all purity?” (1 Timothy 5:2) Do your actions protect women from being emotionally and sexually defrauded? Do your clothes, social media photos, and behavior help women in guarding their hearts and in keeping the purity of their mind and emotions? The next time you post a photo of yourself in the gym or in front of a mirror, think about such things.

Modesty: The Heart Truth

Having said all these things, we now fully understand that the issue of modesty goes right deep into the heart.

When we examine the marketing strategy of clothing companies, we can actually see that what they sell are more than just fashion and style; they actually sell values. In our highly sexualized world, young people are being conditioned to think that in order to be accepted, they need to modify themselves and compromise their moral convictions.

Don’t get me wrong: modesty also requires that we exhibit excellence on how we carry ourselves. But the inherent value of a human being can never be measured by a person’s choice of clothes. These days, fashion is being used by the enemy to define a person’s self-image and to feed a person’s need for validation. Our worth and identity flow out from the truth that we are fearfully and wonderfully created in the image of God.

Going deeper into the matter, we can actually see that modesty is a matter of identity and self-worth.

Modesty isn’t about hiding your body beneath a thick layer of clothes. It is actually about revealing who you truly are in God’s eyes. Modesty is motivated by a clear understanding of your true identity in Christ.

Clothing can be a medium by which a person expresses his or her self-image. If clothing is based on self-expression, does your clothing style accurately express your true identity in Christ?

  • Does it show the image, holiness and purity of your Maker?
  • Does it reflect your value and dignity as a child of God, not an object to be consumed or feasted on?
  • Does it communicate that you are a witness of Christ and an ambassador of God?

If self-expression is rooted on a false understanding of one’s identity and self-worth, it will naturally result in immodest expression of self.

Modesty of the Heart

A person’s modesty is difficult to judge just by simply looking at his or her clothes or social media posts. For one, decency and social etiquette are relative, depending on culture and context. If this is the case, where do we draw the “modesty line?”

Instead of defining modesty based on external behavior, let’s talk about the modesty of the heart. How can we take the posture of modesty in our inner person?

  1.     Think of yourself with sober judgment through the lens of God’s grace. Paul reminds us in Romans 12:3 not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to, but to think with sober judgment, and to measure ourselves by the faith that God has given. This guardrail protects our heart from vanity. It keeps us from boasting about ourselves, and to boast only in Christ.
  2.     Think of others as better than yourselves. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul encourages us to look after the interest of others and not just after our own interests. When we consider others better than ourselves, we become humble before people; we develop the desire to honor others, and not ourselves; and we become excited to celebrate the success of others, instead of just our own success.
  3.     Know your real worth and identity in Christ. The love of Christ displayed on the cross has sealed our identity and worth. Through the cross, we have received a spirit of sonship into God’s royal family (Romans 8:15). Nothing will ever separate us from this love (Romans 8:39). This frees us from the need for constant validation from people because in Christ, we are deeply loved, fully pleasing, totally forgiven, accepted, and complete.
  4.     Honor God with your body. In 1 Corinthians 6:19, the Bible reminds us that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. How we present our bodies reflects how we present the temple of God to other people. The Bible goes on to remind us that our body is no longer our own for we were bought with a price, the blood of Jesus. Let us honor God with our body by living with decency, dignity, and modesty.
  5.     Clothe yourself with Christ. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of modesty. Though he himself is God, he emptied himself of all his rights and privileges and served sinful men. He walked with dignity and lived in all purity. He did not flaunt his majesty and beauty, but was rejected and despised (Isaiah 53:3). To put on Christ is to put on his humility, self-denial, purity, and holiness. These things will help us live in modesty.

In the end, what will make a person attractive are not his clothes or physical appearance, but his character, righteous convictions and a strong confidence based on his inherent value in God’s eyes.

So the next time you’re tempted to flaunt your style, take a minute to pause. Instead of filling your Instagram feed with a photo of yourself this summer, you might just want to consider putting up close-up photos of your favorite halo-halo.

Hashtag #feelingblessed