December 16, 2017

The Believer’s Adornment

Terry Hamilton

Regardless of the issue—be it music, media, dress, etc.—the child of God must be ever wary of the gravitational pull of a culture that is intentionally opposed to the Biblical mandate of holiness. Unless one resists its force and actively and persistently seeks the mind of God, gravity will do what gravity does: pull us downward into conformity with a world that does not acknowledge God’s unique and supreme authority or recognize His absolute standard of holiness.

Recently I read a book by R. Kent Hughes, senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, entitled Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life. Although he and I may differ on some points of application, I found Dr. Kent’s call to Biblical separation both refreshing and encouraging. In chapter seven of his book he discusses the need within the Evangelical church for a return to Biblical modesty. I must confess, when a New Evangelical brother clearly sees modest apparel as a Biblical mandate, I am amazed at an ever-increasing number of my Fundamentalist brethren who seemingly, at least in practice, believe that when it comes to the matter of how we are to attire our bodies, the Scriptures are silent or unclear.

In the Pentateuch God took great care in his instructions concerning the tabernacle in which he was to dwell on earth. It was beautiful, orderly and a shadow of the true tabernacle in the heavenlies. Does it not follow that what God has to say about how we are to adorn the “temple of the Holy Ghost” is of equal importance and deserves thoughtful consideration?

As with many standards of holiness in the New Testament, God rarely delineates specific dos and don’ts; He gives us principles, then relies upon our knowledge of Him and His character and our knowledge of our magnetic pull toward sin to direct our application. So what does the Bible have to say, both explicitly and principially, concerning our outward adorning?

Our Adorning Should Be Modest

First, modesty applies to both genders. When the Lord instituted the tabernacle duties, He required the priests to wear modest clothing (Exod. 28:42, 43) and to approach the altar by use of a ramp rather than steps “that [his] nakedness be not discovered thereon” (Exod. 20:26). Even though his outer garment was a long robe, underneath he was required to wear linen breeches in order that while ministering at the altar in an elevated position, he would be modest. Immodesty by the high priest was punishable by death!

Secondly, our view of modesty should be an outgrowth of the character and pleasure of God. First Peter 1:14, 15 tells us, “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [behavior].” Notice the contrast: obedient children do not fashion themselves after the pattern of their former lusts; rather, they pattern their conduct after God’s holiness. In 1 Timothy 2:9, 10 Paul exhorts women to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh [is fitting for] women professing godliness) with good works.” In other words, if a woman professes to know God and follow Him, she will dress in a way that reflects godliness. When a Christian is considering purchasing a garment, he or she should be thinking, “If I buy this article of clothing, will it communicate godliness or worldliness?” Everything one does should be founded upon God’s revelation of Himself as given in His Word. This is not a matter of personal taste.

Thirdly, modesty can be defined by association. In Proverbs 7:10 a young man met a woman who was dressed “with the attire of an harlot.” That’s all the Bible tells us about her appearance. Nothing else need be said. A harlot dresses in the sensual manner associated with harlotry. The specific clothing may change with the styles, but regardless of the time or culture, a harlot dresses to accentuate what she is selling.

Not long ago I was given a nonreligious FoxNews article. It began:

You see them at the mall, waiting for the school bus, even in church [emphasis mine]; preteens wearing tight T-shirts that say “naughty” and low-slung flared pants that expose their pierced belly buttons. America’s prepubescent girls continue to emulate the dress styles and attitudes of their older role models: Britney, Christina and Paris … and they’ve even got a name for [such girls]; they’re called “prostitots.” … It’s those girls at the mall with the tight jeans and belly shirts. They’re in between the age group of 10 to 13 or 14.

Please note that even a secular news source associates tight jeans and belly shirts with prostitutes! Yet if a pastor were to speak against tight jeans and label them as sensual, he would more than likely be labeled a legalist. Men, we should not be afraid to communicate God’s directives (on any subject) to those entrusted to our care, be it a congregation or a family. Fathers, we need to teach our children how their appearance associates them with either Christ or the world.

Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, under the guidance of their father, effectively communicate this principle in their book So Much More. They describe the dress style of the average girl on the street and the obvious statement she is making: “I am a shameless hussy. … I am not worth much. … I just want to get attention. … I live for myself. … I need to be noticed. … I need to look like everyone else.” They then contrast this with the dress a Christian should communicate—just the opposite. “I am loved, I am cherished, I am protected, I am a woman of virtue, I am submitted to God. … I am worth more than rubies, there is a part of me that is not to be stared at by strangers because it belongs to my future husband,” and not to mention I belong to my holy God (p. 83).

Lastly, modesty should reflect an attitude of shamefacedness. This word literally means “downcast eyes” and refers to modesty or bashfulness. When Adam and Eve sinned and the glory of God departed, they immediately had a sense of shame in regard to their nakedness, and they hid themselves. This sense of shame is the natural response to nakedness. When God clothed Adam and Eve with the coats of animal skins, He was not only teaching them of His redemptive plan but also of the need for the modest clothing that their shame required.

Our Adorning Should Be Gender Distinctive

Deuteronomy 22:5 says, “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.” It is not my intention in this article to discuss whether or not slacks of all varieties are “that which pertaineth to a man,” but God clearly desires for there to be a difference in men’s and women’s attire. “Abomination” is a strong word; the first synonym offered in Strong’s is “disgusting.” If God uses strong language when referring to how he perceives men and women who attempt to take on the appearance or role of the opposite gender, one ought to give careful consideration to God’s intent when He breathed this admonition. No one can deny that one of the characteristics of the culture is to erase the distinctions between male and female. How refreshing to meet a woman who delights in her God-given femininity and enjoys looking and acting like a godly woman.

Our Adorning Should Be Orderly

First Timothy 2:9 gives us another principle of a godly appearance. The Greek word from which “modest” is translated is the word kosmios, which means “orderly” or “decorous.” “Decorous” is a word that has fallen out of common usage. It means that which is characterized by or showing propriety or good taste; suitable or proper. Current styles tend toward disorderliness—hair is purposely disheveled, clothing by design is manufactured to look worn and/or ill fitting. Comfort rather than appropriateness dictates wardrobe choices—even among many Christians. This disorderliness is yet another way in which many Christians have followed the world’s cues.

Our adorning should not be defrauding.

Romans 14:13 addresses the matter of things that are doubtful (those things not being clearly defined by Scripture). “Judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Immodesty is a stumbling block to men. Men, this is where we need to be honest with our wives and daughters. Women need to realize that every normal man fights a continual battle to bring every thought (as well as his eyes) into captivity. Many Christian women have no idea how their appearance affects men. What a woman may think is simply “stylish” may in fact be defrauding, drawing attention to the sensual parts of her body rather than to her radiant face. When a wife sees another woman showing too much attention to her husband, she expects her husband to trust her judgment. In the same way, when a husband expresses concern over the defrauding power of his wife’s or daughter’s attire, she should trust his judgment whether she understands fully or not.

We Christians should attire our bodies in a manner that brings glory and pleasure to the Lord. Everything we do should be founded upon God’s revelation of Himself as given in His Word. Our body is the Holy of Holies where the Holy Ghost resides. We are not our own because we have been bought with a price; “therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”


R. Kent Hughes, Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 2003).

Kathleen Wereszynski, “Girl Culture Begets Backlash” (New York:, April 22, 2004).

Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, So Much More (San Antonio, TX: The Vision Forum, Inc., 2009).

For over twenty years Terry Hamilton has been the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He and his wife, Nancy, have four sons, two daughters, and two grandchildren.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2010. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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