The Issue with Modesty and Grace

Recently, I've seen the Jessica Rey "Evolution of Swimsuit" video pop up a lot.

 It's caused quite a stir on my corner of the internet lately and I've seen two very opposite reactions. I've seen the "Ye-ah! You go girl! You da bomb for sharin this message!" and the "This sucks! This sucks more than a one-piece bathing suit!" Both have been from Christians and I understand the points on both sides.

If you've read some of my other posts you know that I almost always fall in the middle of issues like this. My views have pretty much come full circle in the past 10 years. I went from "Lust is a guy's problem, not mine" to "It is my responsibility to protect men from my inherent sexiness at all costs" to "Uh…..wait a second. Can't we all just admit that we are sinners and have lust problems, motivation problems, respect problems, and problems with not using our sexuality in a God honoring way?" 

What things have shaped my views over the years? Glad you asked. To name a few: being in a youth group, being a leader in a youth group, living in different parts of the country, learning more about lust and pornography, getting married, and living for 4 months in a Middle Eastern country where I wore pants and long-sleeve shirts in a 115 degree desert and still lived with the blame of "causing men to lust" (also, seeing women who covered everything except their eyes and still took the blame of the lust problem [also, seeing how this didn't help, as Middle Eastern men are some of the most sex-crazed men I have ever seen]).

To be honest, all those experiences have made my view of "modesty" more fuzzy than it's ever been and yet I don't feel all confused or all "What do you want from me, God?!" I'm comfortable with how I dress and I don't live in constant fear of What if I'm breaking someone else's rules? Yet I have not noticed a 36% increase in lust directed towards me, which is always a plus.

So where's the line? That's what we always want to know. Fingertip length? Cover the shoulders? One piece swimsuits? No cleavage ever? Where is the line between abaya and hooker? Because all of us have an unspoken line somewhere between the two and deep down we want an actual rulebook to give validity to what we've always thought. 

I'm not here to give rules. I actually don't have the rules on this because God never gave them to me. Or you. Or any of us. The Bible, in its entirety, is not a rulebook, which makes a lot of us really uncomfortable because that's where the whole grace thing kicks in.

However, in thinking about some guidelines the Bible does give us, I have seen 3 things that Christians lose their right to the moment they start following Jesus. These three things actually have nothing to do with everything to do with the modesty issue. As Christians, we lose the right:

1. To be offended. When we start following Jesus, we lose our right to be offended by: lost people who wear bikinis, Christians who wear bikinis, Christians who wear floor-length skirts, men who say we're "causing them to stumble," women who confront us about our dress. I'm not condoning judgmental actions at all, but God will deal with everyone else. We are responsible for our own actions and reactions and taking offense is just not an option for Christians.

2. To have control over our own bodies. Very Biblical, this one, and yet very hard to stomach for even the most conservative dresser. Melissa wrote a wonderful post about how we belong to God. This is comforting but it's also a major call on our lives. Our bodies are not our own. Jesus bought them and redeemed them at a high price. That means they don't belong to us, but they also don't belong to anyone else.

Don't misunderstand: Just because we don't own our body does not mean that the person making the rulebook does.  

A lot of people use this passage in 1 Corinthians to say: "See, you're body isn't your own, it's God's, so dress like I tell you to." Nope. It means that our body is God's and that we must follow His instructions for how to use it. Some of those instructions are in the Bible. Some aren't, which is why we have a relationship with God and not a list of rules (I'm constantly having to remind myself of this one.) This means we listen to God's voice on what we wear and what our motivation is for wearing it. We acknowledge our sometimes-self-righteousness and our sometimes-desire-for-attention and we turn it all over to Him and listen to Him. If you're uncomfortable with this thought, join the club. We pretty much all like to be in control, all the time. However, failure to follow God in this this is downright, flat-out failure to accept Jesus as the Lord of our lives. Ouch.

3. To judge. All this means that you may feel compelled to dress differently than someone else. If two people pray about how they should dress, they may come up with different answers. And both of them may be from God. It doesn't mean that one is wrong and one is right. It doesn't mean that one is more spiritual than the other. It may mean that you live in different places, have different lifestyles, different jobs, and that different things are appropriate in different contexts. We've got to quit judging people for how they dress -- whether "immodest" or "modest." We've got to quit judging people for judging people. We've got to have the grace with other people that we want them to have with us. 


And I hear it now: "But if we just leave what people wear up to them, they're going to abuse grace. They're going to dress all kinds of nasty and feel fine about it." Well….maybe. But the point is that it's not really up to anyone. It's up to God. And when someone uses this "grace" as an excuse to do whatever they want, we've got a lot bigger problems than cleavage. Besides all that, the real grace abuse is when we depend on our works and the law and our own rulebooks when Jesus has died to redeem us instead.

God wants something way more beautiful than our modesty. He has always been after our hearts. And if He has your heart, then He's working in it, and you'll follow Him when He leads you and my guess is that you're gonna be just fine on the modesty issue. 

I just want to let you know that you are worth more than what you wear. Whether you consider yourself to be a modest person, a person who can't seem to get it right enough for the church crowd, or someone who couldn't care less about the whole issue. You have intrinsic worth outside of it all and I want you to know that. Your value in God's sight doesn't change based on what you wear. 

- Erin

**A few notes, just so you know:**

1. This post is written to, and about, adult women. I totally get that kids and youth are in the stage of growing up and learning right from wrong and I'm not against parents or church authorities intervening in how they dress. If you're a teen and you're reading this, listen to God, and to the authorities He's placed in your life. 

2. I've heard a lot "guys need to know that women struggle with lust too and that how they dress affects women around them." I agree 100% and I think both genders would do well to follow the whole follow-God-in-how-you-use-your-body thing, but I'm probably not the person to preach that to men.