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The Intent of the Heart {Biblical Modesty}

on April 3, 2014 by Jami Balmet 12 comments

A discussion of Biblical Modesty must first begin with Scripture. The Bible is sufficient for showing us how to live our lives and there is no exception when it comes to how we dress and act.

The Intent of the Heart - Biblical Modesty

We are called to live modest lives, whether that is in dress, character, or actions.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—  but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:1-4

Slow down, stop and read that verse again. There are a few very important lessons to take from this passage in 1 Peter.

Our modest behavior can have an effect on others

Peter began this section explaining to wives how they can have an effect on their husbands. As a wife, even if we have an unbelieving husband, we can win them to Christ by our behavior!

As women we are to be respectful and have pure conduct. This begins in our hearts. Luke 6:45 tells us, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

If we have a pure heart and practice good, then our conduct will reflect that pure heart. Likewise, if our heart is a black hole of deceit and sin, then our lives will eventually pour that out.

Our outward expression of a pure heart is modest dress, speech, and actions. And because the Lord commands it, we must do our best to follow it, even if we often stumble in this area.


The Heart is more important than the outside

There is nothing wrong with wanting to dress in a cute way or have some trendy clothing. At the same time, however, modesty can be made out to be an idol. Some can become self righteous when it comes to modesty and judge others who don’t feel the same convictions as themselves.

But this verse makes it clear that the focus should be on the hidden person of the HEART. It is not sinful to do such things as braid your hair or put on makeup, but that should not be your sole focus.

Your focus should be on your heart and that you are conducting yourself in a pure manner. Focusing on your heart will help you to produce the imperishable characteristics of a gentle and quiet spirit.

Your modest dress is simply an outpouring of your pure and modest heart. 

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 lure 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. ~ John MacArthur

As MacArthur so eloquently put it, a woman who is more concerned with worshiping God and following his commands than pleasing man and her own selfish desires, will work on having a modest heart and the outpouring of modest dress, speech, and character. We will not always be perfect at this. And sometimes the Lord convicts women differently.

My sisters and I all have a strong desire to serve the Lord and honor him in our dress, and we disagree sometimes on certain modesty issues. But that is okay. The point is, we shouldn’t look at other women and judge. Some women are seasoned veterans in modesty and have walked closely with the Lord for years. Others are new to the Christian faith or have maybe never had an honest discussion about modesty.

I am not here to judge the way others dress, and we should be careful on how we look at those in the church. The Lord convicts each of us differently and at different seasons. 

But I would ask women to listen to the Lord. Just because we shouldn’t judge others for what they wear, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t judge yourself. Take an honest look at your clothing. Ask yourself (and your husband/dad) what is modest and what isn’t. But be careful, it is easy to lie to yourself and make yourself feel better about what you are wearing.

Proverbs 30:20 says, “This is the way of an adulterous woman; she eats and wipes her mouth, and says, ‘I have done no wrong.’”

Tomorrow we will look at the more practical side of modesty and delve into some of the nitty-gritty practical details and tips to help us dress modestly.

More in this series:

Cultivating a Modest Heart Series

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  1. Thank you for this!! Yet another great article about modesty. You are right about people having different convictions about what modest dress is. I believe if you feel that you can only be modest in a dress, then that’s great and you do that. However if you feel like you are able to wear pants/slacks whatever else and still be modest then that is great too! But it all starts in the heart, and we should be sure to ask our husbands/dads if what we are wearing is modest. I believe you have said it before, but the men in our lives know what would be appropriate and what would not, they are men after all and they can tell you if something would be a stumbling block for a fellow brother in Christ, or all men for that matter.

    • Thanks Crystal! I think the Lord convicts people differently and at different times in their lives. And sometimes people are just not as open to receiving the Lord’s instruction. I agree, some feel convicted to only wear dresses. Then great, they should wear dresses and no one should tell them otherwise! But judgement should not be made on those who wear pants. I agreee! The men in our lives are the best judges!

      • “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment:  for all that do so are an abomination unto the LORD thy God.” (Deuteronomy 22:5) I believe that if you are not completely following scripture and are wearing pants you are missing the point of modest dress. This verse tells you not to wear pants. I believe that if you do wear pants you are sinning.

        • Hilary- Are you sure that is what it means? Who determines what a ‘women’s garment’ is? Aren’t there different definitions in different parts of the world? For example, jewelry is worn by men in some tribal cultures which western men don’t typically wear. I think you are being narrow-minded and judgmental.

          • I agree with Kristen, back when the bible verse was written, men were wearing dresses! If my research is correct, It wasn’t until horseback riding became more popular that pants became popular for men to wear. Ideas of what women and men can wear change over time. If we judge today’s modesty standards by standards of the past or by the standards of different cultures, it’s going to be confusing. That’s why I like this article so much, it has us take a look at our heart in the middle of where we are today in our culture. It’s going to be different everywhere, that’s the beauty of God’s creativity!

  2. YES! Great article Jami. You have eloquently stated how modesty begins with the heart and that first, we must seek to glorify and obey God with ALL that we are and all that we have. Sharing this with my followers today. Hugs.