Mrs. Miersma is the wige of Rev. Thomas Miersma, pastor of Immanuel PRC in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
Hemlines rise and fall, waistlines ascend and descend, necklines descend and then plunge. How do royal children, and perhaps especially royal daughters, run through this fashion gauntlet? Parents must teach the royal children whom God has entrusted to their care to navigate this danger-fraught course. As royal children we wear distinctive garments, the finest in the kingdom. Does the way we dress reflect our spiritual garments as children of the great King?
When we examine the clothing of the royal children, we begin with the opposite of clothing—our nakedness and what it pictures to us. Using a KJV concordance I found 104 references to “naked” or “nakedness,” not one of them with a positive connotation. Nakedness is associated with shame and disgrace, with captivity. Nakedness cries out for covering. Strikingly, part of the shame of the cross, the shame for our sin that Christ took upon Himself, was this: “I may tell all my bones; they look and stare upon me.”
Over against this idea of nakedness, Satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh proclaim the glory of nakedness. We can see this already in ancient civilizations, particularly in the classical Greek culture, which found great glory and beauty in the human form uncovered, especially the male form. This glory in the naked human form was reborn at the time of the Renaissance and has continued and developed to our day.
The human body as it came from the hand of God was indeed a thing of marvelous beauty, one of the things of which God said that it was very good. But marred by sin, which affects us in our whole nature, body and soul, that beautiful body now must be covered. The only exception to this is in marriage. By implication, we learn from Leviticus 18, where all the sinful uncoverings of nakedness are detailed, that between a husband and wife there is a proper and necessary uncovering, that the intimacy of the union of Christ and His church may be expressed.
Having seen that our nakedness must be covered, we find that our first instinct is to find our own clothing: fig leaves (Gen. 3), filthy rags (Is. 64), or spider webs (Is. 59), all of which are completely inadequate to cover us in the sight of God from the shame of our own spiritual nakedness before Him (Rev. 3:17, 18). Perhaps this is what has led to the obsession with and glorying in clothing that we see through all ages, causing both men and women to desire to outdo one another in the luxury of their garments, to make more elaborate clothing, and to set and follow fashion trends. But spiritually, we cannot cover our own nakedness. It is impossible. How then can we be covered?
Only God can provide this covering, as He did for Adam and Eve in their fallen state after their fig leaves failed to cover them. God gives us many beautiful promises concerning the way in which He will clothe us: “garments of salvation,” “the robe of righteousness” (Is. 61:10), the “garment of praise” (Is. 61:3). Scripture repeatedly refers to being clothed with these, especially in reference to the priests, which, as a New Testament kingdom of priests, we are. In fact, in Exodus there is a lengthy description of the garments that were made for the high priest so that the Old Testament saints could see by them the beauty and glory of their Savior to come. Here is the only covering for our spiritual nakedness and shame: the blood and righteousness of this blessed Savior. His beauty and glory become ours as a people who “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14) by faith.
What does all this have to do with how we dress? Our salvation begins on the inside, in how we see ourselves by nature, how we see the salvation that God has given us in Christ, and how, delighting in it, we live out of it in every area of our lives. When we are clothed with humility (I Pet. 5:5), we see ourselves as spiritually naked and truly know the shame of our sin and sinful nature. Further, knowing our utter inability to clothe ourselves, we desire and delight in the honorable garments, the fine linen, the robes of salvation, which God has provided for us in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Because He has given us these garments, we glory in them and strive to wear them in a way that will bring glory to Him.
Just as the knowledge that marriage is a picture of the living union between Christ and His church will work itself out in our marriages, this knowledge of our spiritual garments will work itself out in how we dress.
Now Scripture does not give us rules and regulations regarding what we wear. It doesn’t give us a Reformed uniform. It sets forth certain principles, the most explicit of which is found in I Timothy 2:9, 10: “In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works.” To adorn has the idea of “set in order,” which would imply that we give thought to what we wear, that we seek to be neat and orderly in our dress. “Modest” comes from the same root word in Greek and has the idea of being both orderly and becoming. We don’t dress ourselves as if what we wear doesn’t matter at all. There is no place for a dowdy false asceticism. Thayer defines shamefacedness as “a sense of shame or honor, modesty, bashfulness (reluctance to draw attention to oneself), reverence, regard for others, respect.” Sobriety is soundness of mind (spiritually), self-control or self- restraint. These characteristics are exactly the opposite of what the fashion trendsetters of this world proclaim: “Look at me! I’m beautiful. I’m sexy.”
Paul is not saying that Christian women may not arrange their hair in attractive styles or wear nice clothing, but because their chief adorning is good works, they will not want to focus a great deal of their time, attention, or money on these things, but rather on a life of godliness. Hours at the mall, in the closet, in front of the mirror will make it impossible to adorn ourselves with good works such as prayer and meditation on and study of God’s word, visits to the sick and aged, opening our homes to the poor and strangers in our midst.
The woman of Proverbs 31 applies this practically. She wears fine, well-ordered clothing but has provided it for herself in the way of diligence and thrift, not by wasting the substance of her husband. She adorns her life with good works by stretching out her hands to the needy. The life of godliness is the Reformed uniform.
Another principle is found in Deuteronomy 22:5: “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 abomination unto the Lord thy God.” What is the principle here? Our dress should reflect a clear distinction between the sexes in the culture in which we live. In ancient Israel, both men and women wore robes. In China, women wore pants and men wore robes. In modern North America, Europe, and other cultures heavily influenced by them, while both men and women wear pants, generally speaking, only women wear skirts (kilts being a rare exception). But even when the outward form of clothing is similar, women and men should dress in such a way that there is no confusion of the sexes. God made us to be distinct, and this distinction must be maintained.
There are also other more general principles that the child of God who is clothed with both humility and honor will apply to himself or herself. If I am clothed with humility, I will think of others when I dress, not seeking their approval so that I must follow certain fashions, but being concerned, especially when I go to God’s house to worship, that I dress in a way that shows reverence for God and respect and consideration for others. I take the time to groom myself and to dress neatly and in a way that will not distract others from the worship of God. I do not conceive of myself as a mere individual but as a member of the body of Christ. I will remember that everything I do affects the body and represents the body. If I seek to live out of the principles of Romans 14:7-13, will I dress in such a way that I would be a stumbling block, an occasion to tempt others to sin, whether by immodesty or by excessively elaborate clothing? Especially as women, both as young women and as mothers who would teach our daughters to walk in love with fellow members, we will dress so that we do not cause the men in the church to have to avert their eyes continually to avoid temptation.
In thinking about this article, I googled the word modesty and came across a website that contained an article in which a young man confessed that he dreaded spring because he would once again be assaulted with the view of so much female flesh that he would have to spend all his time looking at the concrete. This was not a Christian website. If even unbelievers or nominal Christians can find this increasing exposure of nakedness disturbing, how much more ought we humbly to consider others when we dress and teach our children the principles of dress?
Representing Christ’s redeemed and sanctified bride in this world, we will not seek to ape the world in its constant pursuit after changing fashions, nor will we adopt a regulation uniform, whether burkas or headscarves. Living in the world, we may use the fashions of the world just as we do its other cultural products, but we will not be ruled by them and we will always test them against the scriptural principles we have seen. This is true not only for our daughters, but also for our sons. Because of the increasing lack of true manhood, men today ape women in their pursuit of style, often styles that express rebellion (by sloppiness and an “I don’t care” look), and yes, immodesty. If you (male or female) must constantly be hiking up your pants to keep them from sinking below the critical line, something is wrong. Just as a bride will seek the glory of her husband, so we, as the bride of Christ in the world, will seek to adorn our confession in the way we dress.
Sometimes objections to modesty are raised: “We’re not Anabaptists,” or “We’re not prudes.” Charles Spurgeon, in his Morning and Evening, said, “Things doubtful we need not doubt about; they are wrong to us. Things tempting we must not dally with, but flee from them with speed. Better be sneered at as a Puritan than be despised as a hypocrite.” Because cultural customs change and develop, standards of modesty are far different today from what they were in the past. While this is true, we must not use that as an excuse to allow more and more flesh to be exposed, or for our clothing to become tighter and tighter. Once the camel has his nose in the tent, will we notice as he gradually and increasingly intrudes his presence?
In the world today, we are assailed with the shame of nakedness exposed in the grocery store, along the roadside, and in our own homes. We become hardened by the constant parade, from magazine covers to billboards, from television commercials to Internet pop-up ads. We lose our spiritual sensitivity. We lose our modesty. Young women are bombarded with the idea that the way to attract a man is to dress in such a way that more and more flesh is revealed. This means of attraction also feeds the innate female desire for attention and admiration. Women of the world seek by their seductive dress to gain power over men who would otherwise tyrannize them. This is the message of many women’s magazines, and “romance” novels, of movies, television programs, and advertisements. But what kind of men will our young women attract if they heed this Eve-like desire to be “wise in their own eyes”?
Young children can learn the principles of modesty. “Begin as you mean to go on.” If you would not want your sixteen-year-old to wear a certain style, don’t dress your three-year-old in it. Young children seem “innocent,” but they need to learn modesty at a young age. If an activity (like swimming or track) requires brief or form-fitting clothing, plan carefully so that exposure is limited. Use cover-ups. While we need not hide the fact that women and men have different shapes, Christian modesty will always keep the shame of nakedness in Scripture in mind in its dress. Perhaps an activity is itself a legitimate one, but if it will tempt our child to immodesty or to be comfortable before others in immodest clothing, we will forego it. If Jesus tells us to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand if it offends us (places a stumbling block or impediment in our spiritual way), surely we can give up something that is far less valuable to us than our right eye or hand.
We must be aware of the programs our children are watching, the books and magazines they are reading, the websites they are visiting, the chats they are enjoying. Satan, our adversary, is hard at work by all these means, seeking whom he may devour. Let’s not just say, “You can’t wear that!” but rather talk to our daughters about the motivation to modesty, about the need to walk in spiritual separation, not only from the world, but from the worldly influences that enter the church. As Christian fathers let us teach our sons to prize modesty, not admiring the immodest women of the world. Let’s encourage our sons in their dating and courtship to seek such modesty and to compliment the young woman who dresses attractively but modestly.
We will encourage one another in this wearing of the garments of salvation by guarding our children against the false adornments of the daughters of Zion (Is. 3), by reminding them as royal children to know their shame by nature, to rejoice in their glorious salvation in Christ, and to walk humbly as the bride of their Savior in the midst of a shameless world, “shining as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” In this way, God will build His church and bless us in our generations.