Jesus & the Bikinis

There’s hardly any way to talk about the way women dress without coming off as the voyeristic pervert, the old cranky prude, or the fire-eating, Bible-thumping legalist, but whatever, there is a verse in the Bible somewhere that says Christian girls shouldn’t dress like harlots. And every once in a while someone should say so.

Now let’s just work through the basic structure of the thing. First, we keep our priorities straight: Jesus didn’t condemn prostitutes for dressing like prostitutes. We assume that there were cultural cues in the first century just like there are today. Just like always, there have been some women kidnapped, enslaved against their wills, and forced into prostitution, but there have also always been some women tempted toward that kind of abuse and oppression. For some, there’s a sick sort of security in being used and abused; ‘my life may be a chaotic mess but at least I know he needs me,’ the battered wife assures herself, the molested daughter tries to convince herself. But Jesus came proclaiming freedom to every slave. And He did this by proclaiming forgiveness and healing. Jesus came to disarm the Accuser and all accusers and send abused women out in peace saying, “Go and sin no more.”

But this does not change the fact that the way a woman tends to dress is tied directly to the state of her heart. An unforgiven, guilty conscience will tend to dress in certain ways to compensate, distract, and lie about that inner state. But the lies remain lies even with nice-Christian-girl smiles. And not only can God see through the lies, wise fathers and mothers and pastors start to see the tell-tale signs, and pretty soon it’s just like putting a sticker on your shirt that says, “Hello, My Name Is ______. And I’m insecure.”

But the answer to all insecurity is Jesus. If you’re insecure, worried, stressed, fearful, terrified of one thing or a million things, the answer is Jesus. Jesus is your righteousness. If you’re worried about sin you committed, Jesus bled and died for that sin. If you’re worried about sin committed against you, Jesus suffered in agony for that sin. So you don’t have to be bitter. If you’re worried about being a loser, left out, lonely, never getting married, Jesus was rejected, ignored, hated, despised, spat upon, and became the butt of jokes because of His love for you. Maybe faithfulness and obedience will mean being hated, rejected, and being a little more lonely for a time, but Jesus endured the same darkness and far worse darkness in His great love for you. Are you afraid of being wrong, afraid of failing, afraid of not meeting certain expectations, afraid of letting your parents down, your friends down? Jesus is your justice. Jesus is your vindication before God and the whole world. Justification is God’s authoritative declaration now that your whole life is vindicated in Jesus. Whatever the lies, whatever the failures, whatever the face plants, God is going to stand up on the last day and boast about you, He’s going to brag about His love for you and His grace in you. You are not damaged goods. You are holy, blameless, pure, undefiled, completely and utterly righteous because of the blood of the Lamb.

And if the Church is doing her job, proclaiming this good news of forgiveness and justice in Jesus, then she ought to attract people who need that forgiveness, who need that justice. A faithful church ought to attract tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and homosexuals, a faithful church ought to attract the broken, the despised, the rejected, the hurting. And they’ll come in off the street with all their addictions, all their pain, all their confusion, and they’ll puke on the sanctuary carpet from time to time and need to sleep off their hangovers in the pastor’s office. And praise God for that. But Jesus doesn’t leave us where He finds us. Jesus transforms lives. He takes the broken, and He heals them. He lifts us out of the darkness and brings us into His light. His Holy Spirit is real, powerful, and efficacious. And when the gospel gets a hold of someone, crazy things start to happen. Where rottenness and thorns once grew, the fruit of the Spirit begins to emerge. And when someone gets a new heart, when someone is filled with the Holy Spirit, they start to glorify their life with beautiful things, they start to adorn the temple of their body, the temple of their home, the temple of their family with glory. Jesus puts His glory in our hearts so that it can spill out into all of life.

But when girls grow up in the church and don’t get it, aren’t loved by their fathers, are abused or neglected or fearful or insecure, that fear and worry and shame begins to spill out instead of glory and beauty. These girls see the glitz and fake glamour of the pop fashion, music, and movie industries as places of safety, places of security. If I wear these clothes, if I put on my eye makeup like this, if I listen to this music and watch these shows, then I will be secure, I will be safe. I won’t be lonely; I won’t be afraid. And sure there’s a surface level high. You get a little buzz having guys look at you like that. You get a little giddy, thinking you can pull off that cheap sexy look. But it’s ultimately empty, and the end of that road is getting used and abused and left alone. But you are a child of God, you are a daughter of the King. You are His special treasure. He sent His Son for you, for your forgiveness, for your protection, for your blessing. No other man can save you. No other man, however handsome, however cool, however rich, however slick can save you. No other man will die for your sins, no other man can make you secure. Good fathers, husbands, brothers, elders model the love of Jesus, but we’re all just faint shadows of the only faithful man, Jesus. A husband won’t fix everything, a boyfriend won’t satisfy you, and grasping after popularity is like running in one of those hamster wheels.

The fundamental issue really isn’t the tacky eye makeup, the low cut blouse, the oops-I-just-got-out-of-the-shower towel-dress, or the almost-skanky bathing suit. The issue is your heart. (Which is why, incidentally, some Christian women need to stop shopping at the Amish Bargain Basement and put some makeup on.) What’s going on in there in your heart? Who is your treasure, your comfort, your safety, your glory? Is Jesus your glory? Has Jesus covered all your shame? Has Jesus set you free?

You can try to hide, try to pretend everything’s fine, try to deflect or distract, but everyone can see. And more importantly, God can see. You can try to hide, but lies always enslave. But Jesus sets you free. Come out into the light. Come into the glory. God created you. He designed your body. He made it for glory and beauty. You are accepted in Jesus. You are good enough in Jesus. His blood can make you completely clean.

This is what it means to be a Christian, this is why Jesus came:

“To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Is. 61:3)

  1. Well done!

    And this little quote (below) in parenthesis was brilliant stab at those of us who were simply uttering mindless amens as we read.

    (Which is why, incidentally, some Christian women need to stop shopping at the Amish Bargain Basement and put some makeup on.)

  2. Rachel Bowen July 26

    Toby,
    So encouraging and well written. What a refreshing read. Thank you!

  3. Heidi Sandoval July 27

    “For some, there’s a sick sort of security in being used and abused; ‘my life may be a chaotic mess but at least I know he needs me,’ the battered wife assures herself, the molested daughter tries to convince herself.”

    What on earth are you saying here?!? These people want out but are often enslaved by the fundamental Evangelical mindset, “wives submit to your husbands, children obey your parents. . “

    • Steve July 27

      How we present ourselves is important, and does show our heart. Christian women who hide themselves under yards of cloth show deeply set body issues pounded into them by men who say a man’s lust is caused by how a woman dresses.

      It isn’t. It’s caused by the one lusting. Take some responsibility.

      As to what people SHOULD wear, they should dress to attract the opposite sex, if they are single. Nothing in the bible, in history, the animal kingdom, or basic common sense says otherwise. Every animal presents itself as best it can when looking for a mate.

      This common but false christian mindset comes mostly from 2 verses grossly misused.

      First off, Matthew 5:28 “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

      A single man CAN’T commit adultery with a single woman, in his mind/heart/ or bed. Adultery is cheating in the bounds of marriage. Therefore this verse is obviously directed towards MARRIED men. And it is THEIR responsibility to watch their lustful looks, not the woman they are looking at.

      And secondly, 1 Timothy 2:9(KJV)
      “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;”

      This is so grossly misused to say woman shouldn’t be sexy. They should hide their body and all sexual attractiveness. BUT by context this verse clearly means nothing of the sort. Braided hair, gold, pearls, costly array all have one thing in common, and it isn’t raw sex appeal. It’s expensive.

      Paul is clearly saying to live modestly, below your means, don’t waste money on your outwards appearance to impress people with your social standing, but save the money, and help the people who need it.

      We want christian men and women to find each other attractive, date, marry, and have healthy families. Nothing in the bible implies otherwise.

      Yes how you take care of yourself and present yourself through dress is an important reflection of your heart.

      Let it show that you care for your body (God’s temple), and are confident in the beauty of that creation.

      You can be sexy without looking like a harlot, and if you don’t think so, you’re a moron, you need to actually go see some real harlots.

      • Steve,

        Sure, I agree that God created our bodies and intends for them to be adorned, lovely, and yes, even sexy. And yes, part of that means, it’s no sin to notice adorned, lovely, sexy bodies. We give thanks to God for lovely sunsets and gorgeous rain forests. And it’s not lust to notice the beauty of any part of creation.

        But lust is desiring, grasping, demanding in your heart what God has not given. But your argument from scripture seems to be that as long as a woman dresses like a cheap whore (not too expensive) and neither of you is married, then it’s fine for a Christian man to mentally rape her.

        But maybe I misunderstand your point…

        Cheers,

        Toby

        • Steve July 27

          My point is your entire premise is wrong and built on a false but common Christian mindset. You assume that if a girl is dressing sexy, there is something “wrong” with her. She must not value herself, must not have a good relationship with God. That is judging, and wrong. Trust me, I grew up in the IBLP cult (it certainly is demonstrate-ably a cult, they take a form of godliness but deny the power thereof)

          All the women dressed exceedingly modestly, but it only served to conceal the deepset issues this abusive cult ground in.

          It is natural for a woman to want to look attractive, it is healthy, and not a sign of anything wrong with her. It’s part of attracting and keeping a mate. Furthermore its her choice.

          Specifically I agree with your first paragraph. The second is way off! First off, again, the Bible doesn’t say ANYWHERE single men shouldn’t be attracted to single woman. The one verse I know of telling men not to lust after women, is clearly towards married men. And if a man is “mentally raping” anyone, that’s his sin, and he will stand before God for it. Not the woman he’s looking at.

          Again, if you think that being sexy means you look like a cheap whore, I admonish you to actually go out and meet some cheap whores. You can be sexy on a budget without looking like a “cheap whore”, and that is highly offensive.

    • Heidi,

      I understand that there are fathead pastors and leaders who perpetuate certain forms of enslavement with pet Bible verses. And Jesus hates that.

      But if you’ve never seen what I’m talking about (i.e. trying to convince a woman to stand up to an abusive man, to get help, etc. but who won’t) then I’d encourage you to get out more.

      You could also listen to the top 10 songs on the pop music charts and probably half or more of them are about the “agony” of trying to figure whether to leave an abusive relationship, or sort of/kind of wishing they could go back into one. The other half are invitations into abusive relationships, and our teenage daughters listen longingly to that crap. That’s what I’m saying.

      Cheers,

      Toby

  4. Timothy Baldridge July 27

    Wow, that’s a lot of conclusions drawn, and not a single scripture verse cited.

    “First, we keep our priorities straight: Jesus didn’t condemn prostitutes for dressing like prostitutes.”

    Ah, but you just did. According to what you wrote here, any woman who, in your mind dresses, less than modestly is a prostitute at heart, and in need of salvation?

    This is what I find interesting: Paul lived in one of the most immodest cities of his day (Corinth). He lived in a culture where he had to explain to his church-goers that temple prostitution was not exactly Christian behavior. He lived in a culture of rampant idolatry, violence, and slavery. But what did he talk about? Salvation.

    Finally, I don’t get why men can’t just man-up and accept the fact that all these modesty issues are mostly the fault of men. If you believe that a certain dress is immoral, well then, don’t lust! For every poorly written article like this, we should have 10 that simply say, “men, shape up, stop lusting”.

    • Timothy,

      Actually, I completely agree with your last paragraph.

      But part of men accepting responsibility for our situation is recognizing how deep the lust problem actually goes. It’s not just a momentary impure thought here or there. Men perpetuate the problem by the way they treat their mother, wife, sister, daughter selfishly, disrespectfully, negligently… When men treat the women in their lives like dirt, they find those women over time dressing the part. And this is because husbands and fathers always lead and wives and daughters always follow, for better or worse.

      Men prop up the porn/fashion/strip club industries with their lust. And it’s not enough to just say “men shape up, stop lusting.” Yes, we need to stop feeding sick appetites, but we also need to stop building and stocking all the restaurants.

      Cheers,

      Toby

  5. Mary July 28

    This is actually the best article I’ve ever read on this “beat to death” subject. I, of course loved the “Amish bargain basement” comment. However, I do empathize with the “Amish bargain basement ladies,” because I was one of them. In those church circles you feel like that is what you HAVE to do. Not because you want to. I recall a conversation with a young lady who was told that going barefoot caused men to sin. She was made to feel that the “spiritual” thing to do was to cover her feet lest she be the cause of brothers in the church sinning. Makes me nauseous.
    Thank you for a well written article :)

  6. Erin Hardey July 29

    Wonderful article. Thank you very much for writing it.
    As I read it (and as I see it), there’s a big difference between dressing attractively and dressing “sexy”. It’s a difference in clothing, yes, but also a difference in mindset.
    I’m a happily married woman, and I sure want to be attractive and look pretty, but I don’t need to show off parts of my body that are for my husband to strangers to do so (if that wasn’t convoluted enough, let me know, I can make it worse,lol). And I don’t need to dress in a gunnysack or a robe and veil, either.
    As a woman, IMO, dressing modestly isn’t about keeping me “enslaved”. It’s about the fact that I give myself to my husband, and not to every man I walk by. And for a single woman…it’s about saving that gift, your beautiful body, for your future husband to unwrap himself, rather than showing it to everyone.

  7. Whitney July 29

    I would agree with Mary. I appreciate that the destination in this article is not headed towards a high road of morality (which many Christians and non-Christians bemoan alike), but rather freedom in Christ. A lot of women I know are blind or don’t want to admit that their reasons for dress are deeper than wanting to “look cute” and are dictated by enslaving desires. Only Christ can beautify the ugly . . . . and we are ALL ugly.

    • Steve July 30

      That is very true both of you! It’s the person underneath the clothes that matters. It’s their mindset and heart.

      And only God knows the heart. I guess my point is don’t judge other people for how they dress because of what you think that implies about their heart.

      I have seen far too much pain caused by this.

  8. Emily January 11

    Pastor Sumpter, thank you so much for this article. It is very comforting and the most helpful thing I have read or heard on this topic.

  9. Jason January 11

    Wow! Congrats Toby on getting this celebrity of memedom to comment on your blog. I wasn’t aware he was an ex-gothardite, but that explains a lot.

  10. journey July 5

    For some, there’s a sick sort of security in being used and abused; ‘my life may be a chaotic mess but at least I know he needs me,’ the battered wife assures herself, the molested daughter tries to convince herself. But Jesus came proclaiming freedom to every slave. And He did this by proclaiming forgiveness and healing. Jesus came to disarm the Accuser and all accusers and send abused women out in peace saying, “Go and sin no more.”

    So you’re saying that the “molested daughter” can “Go and sin no more.” because Jesus says so? Since when is it a sin to be molested? to be trapped with no one to believe you? to be threatened if you tell? Oh yeah, what a sinner the molested one is!
    So glad that Jesus says I can “go and sin no more”.
    Reading and hearing things like this is why people can’t talk. You just made a hell of a contribution to silence.

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