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God, My Heart, and Clothes
by C. J. Mahaney
The following chapter, “God, My Heart, and Clothes,” appears in the forthcoming book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction
of a Fallen World, © 2008. The book will be available from Crossway in September and currently available for pre-order. The
chapter and discussion questions are used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News
Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
hen it comes to fashion, I’m deliberately out of step. I
don’t care if what I’m wearing is trendy or not—in
fact, it’s my goal to resist the influence of others (from Paris
or Hollywood or anywhere else) over my wardrobe. Like any
man’s man, I relish being out of style.
I want to feel comfortable in what I’m wearing, which
is why my stained In-N-Out Burger T-shirt and old gray
sweatpants are the most well-worn items in my closet second
only to my single pair of jeans, which I wear any place a Tshirt and sweatpants would be inappropriate attire.
If you ever see me sharply dressed in public, it’s only
because my wife and daughters, out of great concern for my
appearance, buy me clothes on my birthday and for
My wife and daughters, in contrast to me, do care
about what they wear. They are lovely women with impeccable taste. Each one has her own
unique style of dress, and I enjoy trying to find gifts that fit their individual styles.
“Adornment and dress is an area with which women are often concerned,” writes
George Knight (who must have had teenage daughters). This is a good thing. God created
women with an eye for making themselves and everything around them beautiful and
attractive. But, as Mr. Knight goes on to observe, dress is also an area “in which there are
dangers of immodesty or indiscretion.”i
Many young women, though, are unaware of these worldly dangers. Several years ago
I preached a message to our church from 1 Timothy 2:9 entitled “The Soul of Modesty.”
Eventually, that message made its way into the hands of a young woman named Jenni. Prior
to hearing my sermon, Jenni had no idea what God’s Word said about the clothes she wore,
if anything at all. “Modesty used to be a foreign word to me,” Jenni later admitted in a
testimony to our church congregation:
“My friends aptly nicknamed me ‘Scantily.’ When choosing what to wear I thought
only of what would flatter me, what would bring more attention my way, and what
most resembled the clothes I saw on models or other stylish women. I wanted to be
accepted and admired for what I wore. I enjoyed my attire, the undue attention I
received, and the way it stimulated my feelings.”
Perhaps you can relate to Jenni. Maybe modesty sounds unappealing to you. If we
played word association you’d come up with “out of style” and “legalistic.” Maybe you think
God is indifferent about the clothes you wear. What does he care?
But, as Jenni ultimately discovered, there is “not a square inch” of our lives—
including our closets—with which God is not concerned. Even more, he cares about the
heart behind what you wear, about whether your wardrobe reveals the presence of
worldliness or godliness.
The evidence comes from 1 Timothy 2:9 where Paul urges “that women should adorn
themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and
gold or pearls or costly attire.” Like 1 John 2:15 this is a verse we’re inclined to ignore or
reinterpret to escape its imperative. But we must not snip 1 Timothy 2:9 out of our Bibles.
Rather we must carefully seek to understand how it applies to our lives, our shopping habits,
and the contents of our closets.
Now, this chapter is primarily written for women, not only because that’s who 1
Timothy 2:9 addresses, but also because this is a topic of particular concern for women.
George Knight is correct, and a woman’s experience will tend to confirm the relevance and
importance of this topic. However, modesty does have application for men—increasingly so
in our culture. And especially for fathers, whose primary responsibility it is to raise modest
I write this chapter as the father of three daughters, now grown. I write as a pastor
with a growing concern for the erosion of modesty among Christian women today. I write
because God’s glory is at stake in the way women dress. I write about modesty because God
has first written about it in his eternal Word.
So let’s take God to the Gap.
The Attitude of the Modest Woman
Any biblical discussion of modesty begins by addressing the heart, not the hemline. We
must start with the attitude of the modest woman.
This emphasis on the heart is front and center in 1 Timothy 2:9. Note the phrase
“with modesty and self-control.” All respectable apparel is the result of a godly heart, where
modesty and self-control originate. Your wardrobe is a public statement of your personal
and private motivation. And if you profess godliness, you should be concerned with
cultivating these twin virtues, modesty and self-control.
Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are
extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is humility expressed in dress. It’s a desire to serve
others, particularly men, by not promoting or provoking sensuality.
Immodesty, then, is much more than wearing a short skirt or low-cut top; it’s
the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It’s pride, on display by what you wear.
Self-control is, in a word, restraint. Restraint for the purpose of purity; restraint for
the purpose of exalting God and not ourselves. Together, these attitudes of modesty and
self-control should be the hallmark of the godly woman’s dress.
In Paul and Timothy’s day, modesty and self-control were foreign to many women
walking through the local marketplace, just as they were to Jenni and are to the majority of
women at the local shopping mall today. And these concepts are certainly foreign to modern
fashion designers, whose goal in clothing design is sensual provocation.
But for godly women, modesty and self-control are to be distinctly present in the
heart. The question is, are they distinctly present in yours?
Such an attitude will make all the difference in a woman’s dress, as pastor John
MacArthur has observed:
How does a woman discern the sometimes fine line between proper dress and
dressing to be the center of attention? The answer starts in the intent of the
heart. A woman should examine her motives and goals for the way she
dresses. Is her intent to show the grace and beauty of womanhood?.... Is it to
reveal a humble heart devoted to worshiping God? Or is it to call attention to
herself, and flaunt her…beauty? Or worse, to attempt to allure men sexually?
A woman who focuses on worshiping God will consider carefully how she is
dressed, because her heart will dictate her wardrobe and appearance.ii
Any conversation about modesty “starts in the intent of the heart.” So consider for a
moment, what is the intent of your heart in purchasing clothes to wear? Does a humble heart