Exporting modesty to the next generation

It is incumbent on the current generation of dads and moms to export biblical modesty to the next generation. There is no better context to do this than in the home.

Parents have a dozen or so years to teach their children how to connect the Gospel to everyday life. Wearing clothes is about as every day as it gets. From two to twelve years of age your child will put on clothes nearly 4000 times.

This is your redundant opportunity to teach your child about modesty. As you do this, keep in mind the starting place for modesty conversations begins in the heart of your child.

Exporting modesty to your family always begins in the heart rather than the child’s clothes. What we wear is a reflection of who we are. Your first goal is to address who they are before you address what they wear. You see this concept in our creator God.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. – Psalm 19:1 (ESV)

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:20 (ESV)

The works of God give us insight into His person. He can’t do anything without leaving His mark on what He did. We are similar. The things we do and the choices we make reveal our true selves.

This makes addressing and reshaping the heart of the child into Christlikeness paramount. Ultimately the transformation of the heart is God’s work, but we’re supposed to cooperate with God as He works in your child’s heart (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Some of the heart motivations you want to teach your children are respect, honor, gratitude, wisdom, discretion, and humility. If these character traits are functioning in your child’s heart then she will receive your instruction on modesty.

If your child is not governed by these character traits, then your efforts to get her to dress modestly will be futile. You can whitewash over a stain, but the stain will still show. You can make her wear the right clothes, but her heart will be defiant.

Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. – Proverbs 11:22 (ESV)

Beauty is external, while discretion is a matter of the heart. Address the heart first or you’ll have a pig with a gold ring in her snout. Make your goals higher than dressing up a pig.

Your real starting point

Though I have made a case for addressing the heart of your child when it comes to exporting modesty to the next generation, your child should not be your starting point. You should begin with yourself.

The key to teaching anybody anything begins with how you embody the teaching yourself. It is hypocritical to teach your children about modesty if you are immodest in mind or body.

Begin by asking the LORD about your sincerity regarding modesty. Ask Him, as well as a couple of honest friends who can help you think through your own struggles and temptations.

Children have ingrown baloney detectors and they will spit out your teaching if they perceive you’re full of baloney. They may not connect all the dots while they are young, but when they become teenagers they will discern and reject the real you.

If your modeling and your message are not congruent then you’re wasting your time. They will reject you and your message when they become older. Apart from a transformational work of God in their hearts, they will also reject Him.

Don’t do this to your children. You be what you want them to become. Are you modest? Are you tempted to conform to your culture? Does Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, and other ungodly entities hold sway over your mind and clothing choices?

An appeal to husbands

This means husbands and wives must be talking about all things modesty. You’re married. You’re one flesh. You’re not two people, but one person in covenant with God.

You both must communicate a unified message to your children, but before you can do this you must be unified in your one-flesh union. A split marriage and a split message will confuse your children.

You and your spouse must have several authentic conversations about where you really are regarding modesty. Husband, this means you must come clean with your wife. She needs to know how you struggle and why you struggle.

She needs to know who you really are rather than the person you present to her, hoping she’ll like your carefully edited version better than the real thing. You do not need to give her all the gory details about your lust, but she needs to enter into your struggle with you.

You can’t expect to address your child’s heart when you won’t reveal your own. Your wife is your best ally–other than the LORD. Leverage your assets. Use this gift from the LORD by letting her into your secret world of lust.

Perhaps you have not led her well. Perhaps your marriage cannot withstand the truth of your real self at this time. May I appeal to you to make this your goal? Get some help. Fix your marriage.

Work toward being as open and honest with your spouse as you want your child to be honest with you. Lead by example. Don’t fall into the trap of do as I say, but not as I do.

An appeal to wives

Dear wife, your husband has a problem with lust. He has taken God’s good gift of love and altered it into lust, to some degree. This is not abnormal. It’s normal. He’s normal as far as a fallen man in a fallen world is concerned.

As you come alongside your husband make sure you’re working the real problem. Think theologically more than emotionally. Your husband is a product of Adam’s race. He’s not a victim for sure, but he is depraved nonetheless.

Rather than making this about your insecurities, make this about God restoring someone who has a struggle (Galatians 6:1-2). In this case, the someone is your husband. This is about God winning the battle in his heart.

I appeal to you to not make this about you. Your husband is a sinner. Help him guard his heart. Ask him to talk to you about this real sin issue. Let the Gospel motivate you to pursue him in like manner to the LORD’s pursuit of you (Romans 5:8).

Love your man. Your goal is to model in your marriage what you want your children to model in their lives. Give your kids a marriage and a message which is transparent, honest, hope-filled, and humble.

If your husband will not cooperate with you on this mission of modesty, then appeal to your pastor or other spiritual authority to intervene. You are not bound to submit to your husband in every way.

You follow him as he follows Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). If he refuses to follow Christ and will not heed to your appeals, then be free to find help within your community of faith (Matthew 18:15-17).

An appeal to others who care

Ladies - Ask yourself this question: “What are you trying to accomplish by what you wear?” Whether you eat, drink, or dress, are you seeking to do it in order to draw attention to yourself or to God?

Are you seeking to make God’s name great by your clothing choices? Do you have a trusted, godly, female friend who you can go to and seek counsel about the ways you dress and the motives for why you dress the way you do?

Your clothing selections begin in your heart, not on the rack. What you wear will reveal your true self. I appeal to you to pursue humility above all else as you think about your wardrobe.

Recognize your tendencies toward self-deception. This does not make you different, but it is an admittance that you are normal. I am most definitely self-deceived in certain areas. So are you.

Find safety in godly counsel (Proverbs 11:14). The humble person has nothing to hide, but is willing to be exposed in order to change, grow, and mature for the glory of God.

Gentlemen - Let’s be honest: you lust. You are tempted toward ungodliness when it comes to the opposite sex. You and I are selfish and a woman is one way we are tempted toward sexual selfishness.

Can we state the obvious? It is every man’s battle. Don’t be naive and don’t pretend the battle does not exist. Humble transparency is the first step toward getting help.

Don’t let your internal and private struggles stay private. Find a godly, wise, and trusted friend. Tell him the truth about the real you. Be released from the fear that you are the only one who struggles this way.

Stop sitting in men’s meetings where every man in the room is thinking the same thing, but no one is speaking truthfully about their struggle. Break the ice. Tell the truth.

Take you message to your child

With a humble heart before the LORD and a transparent one-flesh union, you’re now ready to export a modesty message to your children. You have removed all hindrances for them to experience the truth of the LORD.

As they grow older, you can incrementally increase their awareness of the dangers and pitfalls about modesty. Read my three articles on how to have the sex talk with your child. Also read my article on incrementally introducing the world to your child.

I suspect most parents who read this article are thinking, “We will never get onboard as a married couple. The divide is too great and though it would be nice, it’s not going to happen in this life.”

Non-redemptive marriages are more commonplace than redemptive ones. Sin has taken hold of many marriages and the brokenness is too deep to mend while the children are in the home.

If this is your situation, there is no need to feel hopeless. Think about these two words: hopeless Christian. Does that sound right to you? Of course not. Hopeless and Christian do not belong in the same breath.

If you feel hopeless, then the first thing you need to do is repent. Your problems are not greater than God’s ability to repair. Reorient your mind back to the Gospel–God sent His Son into a dark world to redeem it.

The Son of God died on a cross and was resurrected after three days. Let the Gospel message course through your mind. Be renewed in your heart by the good news. Don’t be like Mary at the tomb, languishing in despair (John 20:11).

Christ did rise as He said He would (Matthew 28:6). You know the message of hope. Preach the Gospel to yourself right now. Don’t let your heart languish in your problems. You know better than this.

Perhaps your spouse is not going to help you export modesty to your children. The truth is, all you really need is God. The message of grace alone applies here too. If your child comes to a place of embracing modesty for the glory of God, it will be because of His grace, not because of your works (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is how the LORD rolls all the time.

Though there is a human responsibility component to parenting, what you do is not greater than what God can do for you. Either your part is greater or His part is greater.

If your part is greater, then your messed up marriage will win the day and your children have no hope. If God’s part is greater, then He will win the day and there is hope. You know the answer to this problem. Let sound theology govern your heart.

You do the best you can and rest in the sweet assurance that God will take care of you. Believe in the active goodness of God on your behalf. Don’t fall into the heretical trap that your problems somehow landed outside of God’s grace.

Now go and teach your children about modesty.

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About Rick Thomas

Rick is an author, speaker, consultant, and podcaster. He has been training in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1997. After several years as a counselor and pastor he founded and launched his own training organization in order to encourage and equip people for more effective living. In the early ’90’s he earned a BA in Theology. He then earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry and in 2000 he graduated with a MA in Counseling. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow with ACBC. Today his organization reaches people around the world through consulting, training, writing, and speaking.
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