There has been a lot of buzz among Christian bloggers lately about modesty. Some of these blogs have said true things poorly, some have said untrue things, and a very few have said true things lovingly and well. What concerns me most about many of these blogs is that they have a very poor view of how sin works. Nowhere is our lack of understanding about sin more clear than when we talk about lust.
You see, I know what most of these writers have in mind, they are thinking of this passage or other passages like it:
“Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”~Romans 14:20-23.
Now I’m not saying this passage had nothing to say about modesty, it does, just not what most people want it to say. If you taught from this passage that you should not dress immodestly because it might lead others to struggle with dressing immodestly I think you could teach that. Although why people use this passage to teach modesty is beyond me, there are so many better, more affirming passages. But what most people say is that particularly girls need to stop causing boys to stumble with the way they dress. This teaches 3 unbiblical ideas about lust.
The first is that modesty is about girls dressing decently, but that is not what modesty is. You can dress in a burkha and still be immodest. And you can dress in a lot less and be modest. Modesty has more to do with attitudes. Peter talks about this in 1 Peter 3 when he says “Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes. For in the past, the holy women who put their hope in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You have become her children when you do what is good and are not frightened by anything alarming.” When we make modesty a list of rules we miss that modesty is about a heart attitude. Immodesty is a sign of a heart struggling with lust–usually a lust for attention. But we don’t fight sin by treating the symptoms, we do it with the Gospel.
The second unbiblical idea about lust is that immodesty causes lust. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but immodesty doesn’t cause lust. Our sinful desires cause lust. Our old selves, our flesh causes lust. If being tempted were the same as sinning then Jesus would not have been able to die on the Cross for our sins. He could die for us, the Gospel has hope for us, because temptation–which Jesus experienced–and sin are not the same thing. Now you might by thinking “True, but we are sinners, aren’t we supposed to run from temptation?” Yes, and I am not saying the immodesty isn’t a problem, but what I will say to moms and wives out there is that you can lock your husband or son in a box and it isn’t going to stop temptation. On the flip side, godly men can be around immodest women without sinning. Once again, it is the Gospel’s transforming power, not their surroundings, that determine how able a person is to handle temptation. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, a very over-sexed culture surrounded by temptation, and yet he has the expectation that the Corinthian believers will live according to the Gospel. When we treat being tempted as automatically resulting in sin we deny that the Spirit is at work in us to transform us from old to new.
The third thing that this idea teaches us is that men are not responsible for their response to temptation. Which is ridiculous in the most basic, pedantic level. Not responsible for their response…really? But I think men and women alike really think that men can’t help it. The idea that men think about sex every 7 seconds, and the underlying idea that those thoughts are lustful, is really pretty ridiculous. If every time I saw an immodestly dressed woman it was impossible for me not to lust then even working at a Christian company I would spend most of my day in sexual sin. That is not the case, however, because I take responsibility for my response to temptation. I lean on the Spirit. I trust in the Gospel’s transforming power. And I repent when I fail because the failure is mine.
Lust is a deadly enough sin without denying our personal responsibility to fight it. And it isn’t everyone else’s job to make sure I am never tempted, it is my job to make use of the full armor of God to fight temptation. Don’t let your husbands and sons get away with thinking sexual sin isn’t their fault, encourage them to cover their fault with the Gospel.