Modesty: Are we giving life or bringing death?

We all (hopefully) agree that modesty is important; for both guys and gals. The controversy comes with what this really means. Even more, how do we live that out and teach it to others.

modestly/legalism bringing life or death?

Legalism never brings life.

[Tweet “Legalism never brings life — not in modesty or in anything else!”]

Over the years I’ve found that the topic of modesty is a hotbed of controversy. More than that, I have seen those who seek to regulate everyone around them in this area by setting down boundaries that lead to rules that lead to legalism and assumptions about someone’s faith or salvation.

How many times have you heard:

  • I would never allow my daughter/son to wear…
  • Christians should never allow…
  • We are responsible for someone else’s sin when we wear…
  • It makes me wonder if someone is a real Christian if they wear…

But have you ever noticed that scripture doesn’t actually DEFINE what modesty looks like?

We are so quick to define for the entire church something that scripture itself doesn’t define. The words used in scripture for modest/modesty actually mean:

orderly, well-arranged, decent, a sense of honour, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect

Well, this doesn’t say that spaghetti straps are disallowed or that anything form-fitting is out of the question. It doesn’t say that it is my responsibility to make sure that no one else ever stumbles in their thoughts by what I wear. It doesn’t say that looking attractive is wrong or that frumpy is spiritual. It doesn’t give hemline or neckline dimensions.

Honoring God and personal boundaries

What I see these words saying is that my focus should be on dressing to honor God. It’s knowing that there is appropriateness to things. Modesty fits right in with adorning our looks while still looking for God to be the center of our hearts. And it is knowing that I am not responsible for everyone’s thoughts around  me, but should make it my desire to love and honor God. Not to draw attention to my body, but to let all of me reflect the image of God.

[Tweet “Modesty means letting all of me reflect the image of God.”]

I may come up with personal boundaries for modesty that I am comfortable with. You may come up with different personal boundaries. If we are both loving the Lord, putting Him in the center of all we say and do and are growing in discretion, it isn’t up to someone else to determine what modest is for me. The Holy Spirit is quite capable of doing that Himself for me!

Let’s not try to play the Holy Spirit in everyone else’s life, but encourage one another to love and good deeds!

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All Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB.
Unless otherwise indicated, photos from

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    • Aw, thanks, Heather!

  1. Once again, I love your grace on the matter, and I love that you point out that scripture doesn’t exactly define modesty guidelines for us. I once co-led a youth girls purity Bible study, and my co-leader brought up such a good point when the topic of modesty came around. She kept challenging the girls to ask themselves what their purpose is when they put on what they wear. (Which of course now sticks in my own head even years later-funny how God does that.) Much like what you stated that modesty means letting all of me reflect God, she kept bringing the girls attention back to that mindset. It was great. The whole point was that modesty & how we dress start with the heart, and so examine our hearts first before the Lord.

    Great words of wisdom here, Kate! Thanks!

    • Caroline, that was a great question your co-leader asked! I really appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this. Thanks again for coming by, dear friend!

  2. Good words here! Modesty always, always, always starts in the heart. There are Scriptural principles involved that are universal, but ultimately we need to trust God’s leading in our sisters’ lives. I wrote about this topic, too: Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!

  3. I love this, Kate! I am so tired of hearing judgement on the topic of modesty and wish that as Christians we could stop judging and just show grace! There’s great truth, here!

  4. I am so blessed by your post today! Thank you for these words of grace and truth, Kate. This topic is one that hits close to home for me. I have felt the legalistic backlash from women more times than I can count because of the way I dressed in the past. It is quite honestly one of the many things that kept me far from Christ until recently, even though I was a part of a church setting my entire life. It’s amazing how a heart can be softened and moved by the Holy Spirit when someone finally steps in and shows grace. God bless, Tina

  5. I love your post! I feel like a lot of people believe that modesty is a whole list of don’ts mostly directed at females and their attire! But that is not what it means! Modesty means to be humble, to be unpretentious, showing regard in your speech, and behavior. Those are internal characteristics that a person with a relationship with God should have and be able to show your the outside in their dress but also behavior.

  6. I grew up in a hem-measuring, slit-pinning world. As an adult, I once found what I thought was “freedom” in things less, well, modest. To anyone.

    Now, I no longer shut my ears to the voice of the Holy Spirit and have found that His guidelines don’t come in the school rulebook. He can speak pretty loudly from my full-length mirror and it often has to do with what another reader said so well. What is your purpose? He wrote the only Book that matters. Thankfully, my daughter has grown up with those sort of “rules.” “Mom, this just doesn’t feel very modest.” I love it!

    Thank you for voicing this!

  7. Great post! Modesty is defined by a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3-5) I recently posted an article on this topic as well. A challenge in redefining the word “Modesty”. Redefining Modesty I would love for you to check it out!



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