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An Unusual Place to Talk about Exporting Modesty to the Next Generation

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Typically, when people think about modesty, their minds immediately go to what a person wears and arbitrary preferences rather than the heart’s motivations that influence our external choices. Perhaps when I mentioned “modesty,” your impulse was similar: “Great, he will tell us what to wear!” If so, you’re normal. But my goal here is different. I am not going to suggest what you should wear. I want to focus on something more vital—our hearts, the genesis of all of our thoughts, attitudes, words, and behaviors, including how we adorn our bodies.

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Heart Matters

Wearing clothes are about as everyday as it gets. From two to twelve years of age, a child will put on clothes approximately 4000 times. Parents have a dozen or so years to teach their children how to connect a modest Christian worldview to daily living. Teaching modesty is our “always-recurring opportunity.” If we learn a new habit in twenty-one days, our children will have entrenched thinking about modesty—for good or evil—long before becoming teens. But like all our behaviors, learning modesty begins in our hearts, not on our backs. What we wear on the outside reflects who we are on the inside, so we must target our hearts first.

What character traits should a person have regarding modesty with your heart in view? Knowing what character traits you want to instill in a child’s heart is of utmost importance because those characteristics will influence all of their decisions. Think about what I’m suggesting in an inverted way: teach them how to behave or what they should wear without addressing their hearts. That is legalism, a horrible disservice to anyone. It’s wiser to train their little hearts with Christlike character than mandating rote, choreographed behaviors.

Biblical parenting goals always begin with Christlike character before behavioral modification mandates. We wanted our children to learn essential character traits before focusing on behaviors. For example, respect, honor, gratitude, wisdom, discretion, and humility were a few essentials. We saw these qualities as foundational early on, knowing we would come alongside them as they grew older, teaching them how to think biblically about behaviors, including modesty. Beauty is external, but respect, honor, gratitude, wisdom, discretion, and humility are rooted in the heart. If we did not begin in the right place, our children could end up like pigs with gold rings stuck in their snots.

Parents First

The all-important question is, where do we begin teaching our children these traits? Of course, that starting place is always in the parents’ hearts first. The teacher (parent) must internalize and practice the teaching they hope to export to the children. Otherwise, teaching a child about modesty would be hypocritical if we don’t model and manifest them ourselves. Children have ingrown baloney detectors. They can discern hypocritical parenting. We must not be full of baloney. We can fake them out for a season, but they will discern the disconnect between orthodoxy and orthopraxy as they grow older. May our example clearly represent the Christ we want them to emulate (Ephesians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1). Our lives are the most potent examples of what will shape our children. May I ask you a few questions about your modeling modesty to your children?

  • Knowing that respect, honor, gratitude, wisdom, discretion, and humility are the “feeders of modesty,” how would you rate yourself on these character traits? How would your spouse rate you?
  • Are you modest? Jesus taught us that our “fruit would reveal us.” What does your external presentation reveal about you, your heart?
  • Are you tempted to conform to your culture? How much influence does the culture have over you? Do you look like them? Do you imitate your worldly counterparts?
  • Who are your modesty mentors, e.g., movies, worldly friends, social media, godly people?
  • Where did you learn about modesty? Was it through a religious system? Was it the Bible? Did someone come alongside you to help you understand biblical modesty?
  • Have you overreacted to modesty teaching because of legalistic training? Are you guilty of pendulum swinging?
  • Do you teach your children a legalistic or licentious model of modesty? We tend to overreact to harmful past shaping influences; are you doing this?
  • What do these characteristics look like, practically speaking, in the home, between a husband and wife? May I make a few appeals to illustrate?

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Appeal to Husbands

To “do modesty” well in the home means husbands and wives must be regularly and transparently talking about this culturally relevant issue. A husband and wife are not two people but one flesh. Like Christ, the husband reflects his wife, and the wife reflects her husband. It would confuse a child if the parents revealed two different modesty messages. Regardless of where the split messages are, split marriages perpetuate confusion and insecurity in children. Kids are not mature enough to understand mixed marriage messages—when the parents are not in agreement about the vital issues.

A couple becomes one voice in the child’s life by developing a unified message consistent with their hearts, the earlier mentioned character traits. Singlemindedness in marriage means both partners must have authentic conversations that delve into the core of their respective selves. If those character traits are not there, she needs to understand why. What stands in place of them? Husband, your wife needs to know the real you. She needs to know your victories and struggles. She needs to understand the difference between the person you are and the one that everyone else knows. You should not give her all the gory details of your true self; be appropriate, but she must be the kind of life partner permitted to enter your more personal struggles.

You can’t expect to address your child’s heart—teaching them what to be on the inside—when you are unwilling to reveal your heart to your wife. Your wife is your best ally—other than the Lord. It’s incumbent on you to leverage this incredible asset. She is a gift to you. Use this means of grace from the Lord by letting her into your heart. Perhaps your marriage is not able to be this transparent at this time. Maybe you have not led her well. If that is true, I appeal to you to make “one flesh unity” one of your most important priorities. Lead by example. Work at being as open and honest with your spouse as you want your child to be with you.

Appeal to Wives

For marriages to mature, both partners need to continuously press into each other to help the marriage reflect Christ and His church to their children. You want to make the gospel attractive to your children. Biblical attractiveness means the wife must know how her husband struggles with lust, sex, sexuality, and the temptation to take God’s good gift of love and reverse it into a cursed-shaped self-serving mindset. No man’s view and practice of love are precisely like the mind of Christ. Imperfection makes him an ordinary fallen man in a fallen world.

Your husband is a product of Adam’s race. He’s not a helpless victim, but he is a depraved man nonetheless. A good discipler will resist the temptation to become emotionally entangled in the problems of the person they are helping while bringing restorative care that transforms that person. As you come alongside your husband, make sure you address the real issues, which means you must think theologically more than emotionally. Rather than making his problems about your fears and insecurities, make them about God’s ability to restore strugglers (Galatians 6:1-2).

Love your man. Help him rather than pulling away at the marriage bond. Give your children a “marriage and message” that values and manifests transparency, honesty, hope, and humility, which will determine their views on modesty. If your husband does not cooperate with this “mission of modesty,” I appeal to you to talk to your pastor or another spiritual authority (Matthew 17:15-17). Do all you can to close whatever gaps between you and your husband. The goal here is not to bypass heart issues when teaching children what to look like on the outside.

Practical Modesty

Ladies: What are you trying to accomplish by what you are wearing? Whether you eat, drink, or dress, are you seeking to draw attention to God or yourself? (See 1 Corinthians 10:31)

  • Is your desire to make God’s name great by your clothing choices?
  • Do your clothes spread the fame of God to your family and community?
  • Do you have a trusted, godly, and courageous female friend willing to speak to your clothing choices?
  • Can you talk about the motivations of your heart pertaining to what you wear?

Your clothing selections begin in your heart, not on the rack. What you wear reveals who you are. Are you pursuing humility through your clothing choices? Recognize your tendencies toward self-deception, cultural pressures, and peer temptations. The subtleties of self-deception tempt all of us. The first step in understanding is acknowledging that it can happen to you. The humble person has nothing to hide, protect, or fear. Her goals are to learn, grow, change, and mature for the glory of God. Let these ideas propel you to the safety of godly counsel (Proverbs 11:14).

Gentlemen: Let’s be honest: lust tempts you. You are tempted toward ungodliness when it comes to the opposite sex. You may not yield to that temptation, but it crouches at all our doors. Sexual selfishness is part of our Adamic DNA. Can you talk about this universal problem that is every man’s battle? To pretend it does not exist is to be naive, or even worse, it could be deceptive. Humble transparency about Adamic proclivities is the first step toward exporting modesty to the next generation.

Don’t let your internal private struggles stay secret. 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. You’re not. Stop condoning men’s meetings where every guy in the room thinks the same thing, but no one speaks up about their struggles. Shoot the lust elephant in the room. Tell the truth. If you and your wife are willing to pursue modesty through the door of humble and contrite hearts, you’re well-positioned to export the message of modesty to your children.

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Exporting the Message

As your children mature, you can incrementally increase their awareness of the dangers and pitfalls of modesty. Many parents may think, “We will never agree on this kind of modesty worldview. What divides us is too big. We can’t talk about the simplest things; there is no way to expose our true functional identities.” Non-redemptive Christian marriages are more commonplace than redemptive ones. Sin has done more damage in marriages than the sanctifying gospel has restored. If this is your situation, you should not be hopeless. If you are hopeless, I want you to think about those two words: Hopeless Christian. Does that sound right to you?

Hopeless and Christian do not belong in the same contiguous breath. If you feel hopeless, the first thing you need to do is repent. Your problems are not greater than God’s ability to repair. Begin the hard work of transforming your thoughts back to the redemptive power of the gospel. The Son of God died on a cross. He came out of the grave three days later. Let those gospel-saturated words course through your mind. Regardless of what your spouse does, you can have renewed thinking (Ephesians 4:23). Don’t be like Mary at the tomb, languishing in despair (John 20:11).

Christ did rise just like He said He would (Matthew 28:6), and you know the message of hope. Preach it to yourself right now. You can do better than hopelessness. Perhaps your spouse will not help you export modesty to your children. If that is so, think about this: all you 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 beautiful marriage (Ephesians 2:8-9). There are two ditches here:

  • Not cooperating with God in exporting modesty to your children (Philippians 2:12-13).
  • Your failures are not more significant than God’s power to transform a child’s heart.

The first problem is presuming on the grace of God (Psalm 19:13), while the second one is self-righteous legalism. Let sound theology govern your heart. You do the best you can while always resting in the sweet assurance that God will care for you. Believe in and practice the active goodness of God in your life; may God be your animating center.

Call to Action

  1. Why is it essential to begin with your heart when teaching your children modesty?
  2. What character traits would you add to my list?
  3. Why is it vital for the husband and wife to be honest, transparent, and vulnerable about themselves?
  4. What is the pitfall of being one thing on the inside while mandating Christian deportment on the outside?
  5. What is a danger of a mixed marriage message where the husband lives and teaches one way and the wife lives another way? How are your children experiencing your unified marriage modesty message?
  6. How does legalism affect your thoughts about modesty?
  7. If you all have messed up, which is more significant in your mind—God’s grace or your mistakes? Why did you answer that way? Do your thoughts align with your answer?

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