What’s Wrong with Immodesty?

 clothing (5)What’s Wrong with Immodesty?

Richard Hollerman

Immodesty is a sin that has to do with one’s attitude, behavior, and appearance.  The English word modest means ““observing conventional proprieties in speech, behavior, or dress. . . . Free from showiness or ostentation; unpretentious.””[i]  Immodest is defined as “”offending against sexual mores in conduct or appearance; indecent: immodest dress.”” [ii] It can be defined as “”indecent; shameless. . . . forward, imprudent.” ”[iii]  Paul wrote, “”I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness”” (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

The Greek term kosmios (for “modestly”) is defined by W. E. Vine as ““orderly, well-arranged, decent, modest”” and he quotes Trench’s comments: ““The well-ordering is not of dress and demeanor only, but of the inner life, uttering indeed and expressing itself in the outward conversation.” ”[iv]  In 1 Timothy 3:2 the same word (kosmion) is translated as ““respectable”” (NASB, ESV, NET Bible).

Related principles help us to understand what immodesty is and how it expresses itself.  Jesus said that if one lusts for a woman, he has committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).  The clothing that a woman wears (or doesn’t wear!) can easily arouse this lust.  Peter says that we are not to “be conformed to the former lusts” which characterized our pre-conversion lives (1 Peter 1:14), and Paul adds, ““Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”” (Romans 12:2).  He also writes of God giving up the pagans to “the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Romans 1:24), and we are to possess our vessel (body) “in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5).

Proverbs speaks of a woman “dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart” (7:10).  We also read of Bathsheba bathing in a place where David could see her and lusted for her, which lead to an adulterous relationship (2 Samuel 11:2-5).  All of these passages and principles show that the human body, even partially clad, can evoke lust in the heart and mind which can sometimes even lead to the act of fornication or adultery.  Thus, it is sinful for a woman (or man) to be clothed in a way that would stimulate sinful thoughts in another.

Immodesty is a leading sin in our age.  On one respect, it wasn’t as much of a problem during the Victorian era and before,[v] but since the 1920s surely most women dress immodestly and clearly violate Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and principles throughout the New Testament and the rest of the Bible.  In verse 9, Paul also says that women are to dress “”discreetly”” (NASB).  Sophrosune means “”soundness of mind” or “soberness” or “sound judgment.” ”[vi] This is “the “habitual inner self-government, with its constant rein on all passions and desires, which would hinder the temptation to these from arising, or at all events from arising in such strength as would overbear the checks and barriers which aidos (shamefastness) opposed to it.” ”[vii]

The word [sobriety] . . . speaks of exercising restraint over one’s thoughts, preferences, and desires.  The discreet Christian does not give free rein to his passions; he knows how to bridle his desires.  The Bible is exposing something here that many simply do not want to admit: some use their clothing as non-verbal expressions of their own sensuality.  They deliberately turn themselves into an object of lust: they walk into a room with the intention of turning heads. Instead of practicing self-control, they openly flaunt their sensuality with their apparel. Dressing [with sobriety] means we do not express our private sexual desires with our public clothing.[viii]

[Stephen M. Baugh] applies these final words in 1 Timothy 2:9 to modern readers: “Today, it is the equivalent of warning Christians away from imitation of styles set by promiscuous pop singers or actresses.” That means that if we want to apply this verse practically, Christian women should not imitate the appearances of salacious “Hollywood court women.”[ix]

Another helpful writer is Jeff Pollard.  In an article entitled “”Christian Modesty Defined,”” Pollard writes:

Modesty is not first an issue of clothing.  It is primarily an issue of the heart.  If the heart is right with God, it will govern itself in purity coupled with humility and will express itself modestly. . . . George Knight III says that the word translated modest has “the general meaning of ‘respectable,’ ‘honorable,’ and when used in reference to women means elsewhere, as here, ‘modest.’” He observes, “Adornment and dress is an area with which women are often concerned and in which there are dangers of immodesty or indiscretion.”[x]

Much more could be written about the sin of immodesty and how prevalent it is in America and the Western World. This is sufficient to prove the point.  When a woman dresses to fit into an evil and worldly society by choosing clothes that pleases the tastes of both men and women, she sins.  When she dresses to entice or receive the admiring glances of the opposite sex, she defrauds and sins.  When a father and mother fail to train their daughters to dress modesty, they sin.  If parents do not provide the modest clothing themselves and provide the good example of modest clothing, they also do wrong.[xi]

Based on these principles, we can see that wearing modern swim suits or bathing suits would be immodest. Wearing form-fitting and transparent clothes would be wrong.  Wearing dresses that expose the legs and upper arms should be avoided.  Wearing a shirt that exposes the body below the neckline would be wrong.  Men also can sin with their clothing and this must be kept in mind.  In all of this, let us dress to please God and to follow the instructions and principles of His Word—rather than the defiling customs of a lost humanity.


[i] The American Heritage College Dictionary.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

[iv] Expository Dictionary

[v] During the Victorian era and before, exposure of the body itself was not a problem, but ostentation and costliness and other aspects could cause one to dress in an immodesty and inappropriate way as well.

[vi] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[vii] W. E. Vine quotes Trench (Synonyms).

[viii] Robert G. Spinney, “Thinking Like A Christian about Modest Apparel,” Free Grace Broadcaster, Issue 216, Summer 2011, p. 4. This is from Dressed to Kill.

[ix] Ibid, p. 5.

[x] Free Grace Broadcaster, Issue 216, Summer 2011, p. 7. Adapted from Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America.

[xi] See our booklet, Pleasing God in Personal Appearance.





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