Exporting Modesty To the Next Generation
Exporting the gospel to the world is one of the highest privileges for a Christian, which is why the issue of modesty has to be part of the ongoing dialogue in our homes.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and how we present ourselves to other people can be either biblically inviting or culturally stimulating. The best place in the world to begin building beautiful Christlike pictures of modesty in young lives is within the family unit.
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Parents have a dozen or so years to teach their children how to connect the gospel to daily living. Wearing clothes are about as every day as it gets. From two to twelve years of age, your child will put on clothes approximately 4000 times.
If you can teach a new habit in twenty-one days, how your child thinks about clothes will be a deeply entrenched habituation long before he or she becomes a teen. Teaching modesty is your “always-recurring opportunity” to export the practical gospel to your child.
Learning modesty, like all your behaviors, begins in your heart, not in your clothes. What you wear on the outside reflects who you are on the inside (Luke 6:45; Matthew 7:16). You see this idea in Creator God.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. — Psalm 19:1
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
The physical works of God give us insight into His person. This is called general revelation: learning non-specific things about God by observing His external works. It is impossible for God to do anything without leaving His mark on it (Genesis 1:27, 2:7). And you are like Him (James 3:9).
The things you do and the behavioral choices you make reveal the hidden person of your heart, which elevates gospel-centered heart shaping to the top of any parent’s to-do list. Though you can’t bring the internal transformation the child needs, you should cooperate with God through the process orienting your child to God (Deuteronomy 6:4–9).
Some of the earliest heart motivations you want to teach your child are respect, honor, gratitude, wisdom, discretion, and humility. These character traits are foundational as you come alongside your child in the later years to help him think biblically about his external behaviors, including modesty.
If your child’s internal heart motivations are not modest, your instruction about external matters, like clothing choices, will prove to be futile. You can whitewash over a stain, but the stain will always reappear, and you can make your child wear the right clothes while she is under your mandates, but her heart will be defiant.
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. — Proverbs 11:22
Beauty is external, but respect, honor, gratitude, wisdom, discretion, and humility are rooted in the heart. If you don’t begin in the right place, you may have a pig with a gold ring stuck her snout. Parenting goals are always higher than behavioral modification mandates.
The Real Starting Point
- If your first thoughts about modesty for your child begins with your child’s clothes, the first adjustment to make is your starting point.
- If your first thoughts about modesty for your child starts with her son’s heart, you still not at the right point of departure.
When it comes to parenting biblically, the first place to begin is always with the parent, not with the child. This non-negotiable first step starts with the teacher internalizing and practicing the teaching. Otherwise, it would be hypocritical to teach a child about modesty while not modeling and manifesting it yourself.
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. — Luke 6:40
- When you talk to God, what are you learning about your modesty?
- When you talk to your friends, what are they telling you about your modesty?
Children have ingrown baloney detectors. They can discern hypocritical parenting. Don’t be full of baloney. You can fake them out for a while, but there will come a time when they will objectively discern you. Let your example look like the authentic Christ (Ephesians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1). Your life is the most powerful example of what will shape your child.
- Are you modest?
- Are you tempted to conform to your culture?
- Who is your modesty mentor?
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. Just like you reflect Christ, the husband is a reflection of his wife, and the wife reflects her husband.
It would be confusing to a child if the parents revealed two different messages. Split marriages, regardless of where the splits are, perpetuate confusion and insecurity in children. Kids are not mature enough to understand mixed marriage messages.
The way a couple becomes one voice in the child’s life is by doing the hard work of developing a unified message that is consistent with their hearts. Singlemindedness in marriage means both partners must have authentic conversations that delve into the core of their respective selves.
Husband, your wife needs to know the real you. She needs to know your victories and your struggles. She needs to understand the difference between the person you are and the person that everyone knows. You should not give her all the gory details of your true self, but she must be the kind of life partner that is permitted to enter into your more personal struggles.
You can’t expect to address your child’s heart 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 you have not led her well. Perhaps your marriage is not able to be this transparent at this time. 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 always to be pressing into each other for the purpose of helping the marriage reflect Christ and His church. You want to make the gospel attractive.
Biblical attractiveness means the wife must know how her husband struggles with lust, how he is tempted to take God’s good gift of love and reverse it into a cursed shaped lust. No man’s view and practice of love are exactly like Jesus. Imperfection makes him an ordinary fallen man in a fallen world.
As you come alongside your husband make sure you are addressing the real problems, which means you must think theologically more than emotionally. Your husband is a product of Adam’s race. He’s not a helpless victim, but he is a depraved man nonetheless.
Rather than making his problems about your insecurities, make them about God’s ability to restore strugglers (Galatians 6:1–2). A good discipler will resist the temptation to become emotionally entangled in the problems while bringing restorative care that transforms the other person.
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.
If your husband does not cooperate with your “mission of modesty,” I appeal to you to talk to your pastor or another spiritual authority (Matthew 17:15–17). Do all that you can to close whatever gaps that exist between you and your husband.
Appeal to Everyone
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 to draw attention to yourself or God? (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 who is willing to speak to you about your clothes?
- Can you talk about the motivations of your heart?
- 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, plus cultural pressures and temptations. The subtleties of self-deception tempt all of us. The first step in understanding this is to acknowledge that it can happen to you.
Let this awareness propel you to the safety of godly counsel (Proverbs 11:14). The humble person has nothing to hide, which is why she is willing to be lovingly exposed. Her goals are to learn, grow, change, and mature for the glory of God.
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 does tempt you. 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 others.
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 is thinking the same thing, but no one is speaking truthfully 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.
Export the Message to Your Child
As they mature, you can incrementally increase their awareness of the dangers and pitfalls of modesty. I suspect many parents will read this and 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 we’re going to expose our true functional identities to each other.
Non-redemptive Christian marriages are more commonplace than redemptive ones. In these marriages, sin has done more damage than the sanctifying gospel has restored. The brokenness is too dark, which probably means a unified, one flesh marriage message will not happen for the children.
If this is your situation, you should not be hopeless. If you are, I want you to think about these 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). You know the message of hope. Preach it to yourself right now. You can do better than hopelessness.
Perhaps your spouse is not going to help you export modesty to your children. If that is so, think on 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).
The modesty message in this chapter is nearly exclusive to your personal, parental responsibility. Why? That is where you begin talking about modesty in any family. You have a role to play. Still yet, what you do is not greater than what God can do for you. There are two ditches here:
- Not cooperating at all with God in exporting modesty to your children (Philippians 2:12–13).
- Thinking your failures, whether personal or in your marriage, are greater than God’s power to transform your 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 take care of you. Believe in and practice the active goodness of God in your life. Let the gospel be your animating center.
Call to Action
- When you think about modesty, do you begin with your heart first?
- When you think about exporting modesty to others, do you begin with your heart first?
- Do your clothes put God’s fame on display?
- Is your marriage being unified at the heart level?
- How are your children experiencing your unified marriage modesty message?
- How can we serve you in the high privilege of exporting modesty to the next generation?
Originally published at Rick Thomas.