On Sin and Quiet Times

July 26th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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I have always noticed that the surest remedy to creeping sin in my life is to come into God’s presence regularly in prayer and the study of his Word. A colleague and friend used to joke that when we miss our daily quiet times, God notices the first day, I notice the second day, and by the third day everyone notices. There is a lot of truth in that. Whatever the sin—dishonesty, fear, lust, discontentment—it diminishes in the splendor of his holiness, but grows in his absence. These are rare plants that thrive in the dark. In his light, however, new fruit quickly grows to take its place, the fruit of a sanctified life.

 

Of course, our time with God does not function like a magic charm warding off evil. It is not as though this is simply a superstitious ritual that gives us power against sin. Instead, we lose our taste for sin in his presence. It takes just a short while kneeling before him, hearing his voice, seeing his beauty, before we find our thirst slaked at his “river of delights” (Psalm 34:8). “The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace,” as the old chorus has it.

 

The real problem comes when we attack our sin when we are not spending regular time in the presence of his majesty. When we are cut off from the Vine and out of step with the Spirit, sin produces guilt rather than conviction, repentance, and transformation. When we do not hear the Spirit’s voice, we listen to Satan’s instead—and he is the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). He whispers menacingly to us that we are not good enough, that God will not love us unless we change. And here is his great trick. If Satan can get us to pursue holiness in our own strength—to fight sin in the flesh until our knuckles are white, our spirits frail, and our hearts hardened with pride—then he will have separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Satan has no problem with our growing in “holiness,” so long as it comes about through unholy means: legalistic, temporary, human efforts. When we forget God’s grace, we doubt his love. Then we try to earn his love, rather than basking in it, growing resentful, bitter, discouraged, and fearful when our legalistic efforts fail. This produces a cycle of guilt, despair, striving (in the flesh), pride, and failure.

 

Grace overcomes the whole of the cycle and each component part. To remember grace and see real, lasting, Spirit-worked change, we must come and rest in his loving presence. Every day.



Modesty Goes Swimming

July 2nd, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The fourth in a short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Despite the Church’s lax stance on the issue today, Scripture nevertheless commands and expects modesty from those who follow Christ. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).

 

Because the weather is unseasonably warm—swelteringly hot, at least where I am—it seems worthwhile to discuss swimwear in this short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Here especially the wheels frequently come off the modesty train, and one meets with the most stubborn resistance to the plain teaching of God’s Word among many women of all ages.

 

Before we turn to swimwear specifically, we would be wise to review the two guiding principles for modest dress. A woman who longs to honor God in her dress by drawing attention to the gospel and her hope in God (1) will guarantee she reveals nothing inappropriate and (2) will not draw attention to what is underneath her clothes by the way she dresses.

 

One suspects that these two principles would reveal most swimwear as immodest, which is probably true. Bikinis and nearly all two-piece swimsuits in particular, but even many one-piece suits guarantee a woman will reveal much that is inappropriate. Hardly a curve is hidden with form-fitting one-piece suits, and two-piece suits and bikinis unashamedly flaunt areas of the body that should be reserved for a husband’s eyes only. This ensures that much attention is drawn attention to a woman’s body as well. One cannot easily imagine that many men focus on a woman’s heart when she stands before him in a small, tight, brightly colored bikini. So why do so many Christian women still feel free to wear them?

 

One of my main frustrations when discussing the issue of modesty is the implicit belief that no clothing is immodest—that immodesty is cultural, and our culture (whatever culture it might be) accepts all clothing and so we can too. With this comes an implicit denial of the truth of God’s Word, of course. For God commands women to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9-10). If God asks women to dress modestly, it implies that there is such thing as immodest dress (else no command would be necessary). Among modern dress, what could possibly be less modest than a two-piece or bikini (or even many one-piece suits)? Does anything reveal as much of a woman’s body?[1] Why then are we so uncommitted, so unwilling to take a clear stand for Christ against the tide of sin and the world?

 

If women are committed to honoring God by the way they dress, they will have to be radically anti-culture (even blasé church culture) when dressing for the beach or pool. Nothing should change in our desire to obey God absolutely because the weather is hot or people around us are particularly anti-God in their clothing. Of course, one might well ask if Christian women tend to dress more modestly than other women at the beach (or anywhere, really). In my experience, the answer is no. This right here should give us pause and cause us to renew our commitment to honoring God. Anytime a Christian’s life is indistinguishable from his or her unregenerate neighbor’s, immediate reflection, and probably repentance, is necessary.

 

Where might this reflection and repentance lead us at the beach? When choosing a swimsuit, I would recommend the following principles[2]:

  1. Your cleavage should not be visible at any point. Your swimsuit must be cut high (with no plunging necklines).
  2. Care must be taken that the outer layer of your suit is not too tight around the chest.
  3. No midriff should be visible, even when raising your arms.
  4. And perhaps most importantly, your bikini area should be covered (as this is the most attractive part of a woman to most men): women must wear a skirt or shorts with the suit, even while in the pool.

I would say the easiest way to ensure modesty at the beach or pool is to wear a t-shirt or modest tank top (taking care that it won’t be see-through when wet) and reasonably long shorts over your suit, given how difficult it can be to find a truly modest swimsuit in this present darkness.[3]

 

God has called us to holiness because he longs for us to experience the fullness of life he has to offer (cf. John 10:10). Modesty involves neither cost nor sacrifice, only faith that God’s standards for our lives will always bring us greater joy and satisfaction than we could ever know through disobedience. Especially for those women who struggle with body-image, with a sense of your worth and beauty in Christ Jesus, modesty is a strident declaration that you will not listen to the enemy’s lies any longer. You are Christ’s, you are loved, you are beautiful. Let your dress proclaim this good news to a watching, desperate world.



[1] I will grant there might be a few articles of clothing less modest than these, but they simply prove the point.

[2] See yesterday’s footnote for a response to the charge of legalism.

[3] There are, thankfully, some exceptions. This website has many modest swimsuits available (assuming you purchase the accompanying skirt).



Standards for Biblical Modesty

June 28th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The third in a short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Despite the Church’s lax stance on the issue today, Scripture nevertheless commands and expects modesty from those who follow Christ. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).

 

If clothing should draw attention to what’s inside a woman’s heart, rather than what’s under the clothes, what can we do to ensure this is the case? In other words, what practical, concrete guidelines can we establish to focus attention where it should be? I can think of two overarching principles that will go a long way in keeping dress modest.

 

First, a woman who longs to honor God in her dress by drawing attention to the gospel and her hope in God, will guarantee she reveals nothing inappropriate by the way she dresses. No matter the position she is sitting or standing in, no matter how disheveled her clothing becomes during the course of the day, no one will be able to see what they shouldn’t. A loose-fitting, reasonably high-cut top may be extremely modest in a standing position. However, if that same top hangs low enough when the woman bends down to pick something else up that her bra is exposed, it is hard to classify that as truly modest dress. In that case, the woman should take care to wear a high-cut tank top underneath the shirt that is tight enough that it doesn’t pull away from her body when she leans over.

 

Second, a woman who longs to honor God in her dress by drawing attention to the gospel and her hope in God, will not draw attention to what is underneath by the way she dresses. This is an important accompaniment to the first principle. For example, imagine a young woman wearing a short (mid-thigh) dress to a formal event. Of course, she runs great danger of exposing herself accidentally, failing to keep the first principle of modest dress. However, if she wears athletic shorts underneath her skirt, has she solved the problem? Now she has guaranteed that she will reveal nothing inappropriate, assuming for the moment that a woman should expose that much of her legs anyway (a point I am probably unwilling to concede). Unfortunately, those around her do not know she has made these guarantees. She may still draw illicit attention because her dress will almost certainly draw attention to what is underneath it. A modest-fitting blouse with sparkles emblazoned across the chest runs afoul of the same problem. Truly modest dress makes observers forget a woman’s body and remember her heart.

 

With these two principles in mind, I think we can establish some good standards for modest dress[1]:

 

Upper Body
1. No cleavage should be visible whatsoever, no matter the position you are sitting or standing in.
2. No midriff should be visible whatsoever, even when you lift your hands above your head.
3. If wearing a loose-fitting blouse or scoop neck, nothing should be visible when bending down. (A high, tight-fitting tank top underneath can help in this regard.)
4. If wearing a button-down top, nothing should be visible through gaps in the buttons. (Again, a tank top can help.)
5. If wearing a sleeveless shirt, your bra should not be visible through the sleeve-holes.
6. Girls should refrain from wearing spaghetti-strap, halter, or sheer blouses, as these draw attention to what is underneath.
7. Girls should refrain from wearing shirts that are too tight around the chest.
8. Girls should refrain from wearing shirts that draw attention to the chest by writing or graphics inappropriately placed.

 

Lower Body
1. No midriff or underwear should be visible, even when bending over or lifting hands. (Tucking in the tank top [Upper Body #3] can help prevent this.)
2. Girls should refrain from wearing pants that are too tight around the backside (especially if the outline of your underwear shows).
3. Skirts/dresses should cover the knee when one is in a sitting position.
4. Skirts/dresses must pass the “sunlight” test: that is, make sure the dress or skirt is not see-through. If it is, wear a slip.
5. Check any slits in your skirts/dresses to see if they draw undo attention to what is underneath or reveal more than they should.
6. Shorts should be long enough that they do not expose too much leg. They should probably be longer than mid-thigh.
7. Girls must make sure shorts are long enough and tight enough at the leg-opening that they cannot expose themselves when sitting. In many ways, shorts are more dangerous than skirts because girls tend to be less cautious when wearing them. (Wearing athletic shorts underneath may help in this regard.)

 


[1] Undoubtedly many will raise the charge of legalism at this point. I suspect this misses the point of legalism; after all, the apostle Paul, who taught against legalism more strongly than any other biblical writer, nevertheless gives specific ethical instruction in every letter (including the call for women to dress modestly [1 Timothy 2:9-10]). Legalism has to do with trying to win God’s grace by good deeds, and is heretical. However, those who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone—and not by works—nevertheless respond with good deeds (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10). In other words, dressing modestly doesn’t win you God’s favor; but if God has won your affection, this is how women will dress as a grace-inspired response to his goodness and mercy, as the Spirit sanctifies them through and through.