Modest Theology and a Theology of Modesty
Somebody once said that “all Christian thoughts should be ultimately pride-shattering.” At the center of our faith we have Jesus, our modest Savior. He didn’t count equality with God as something to be grasped or clung to. He assumed responsibility for sins that were not His own and welcomed punishment for sins that were not His responsibility. In other words, He emptied himself and became a servant for us and for the glory of God the Father.
Genetically, my daughter will look like me. (Poor thing.) Theologically, believers will think like Jesus acts. In the crucifixion we get a glimpse of what all our thinking, theologizing and pot-stirring will do. Modest theology will make us forget ourselves, love others and point to God.
I say this because sermons on “modesty” often seem like they preach the reverse. They make our students remember themselves, their clothes and their behaviors. And since it’s about them, the self-righteously modest ones can look down (but not at their chests) on their immodest neighbors. And at the end of the day, they can feel better about themselves not because of what God has done, but because of how they chose to dress. This is wrong.
Modesty is humbling. Modesty first looks to our modest Savior and what He did. To do otherwise makes modesty more about appropriate clothes than about Jesus. More about behaviors than loving others. More about ourselves than glorifying God. This is the final immodesty — believing our dress can impress God. This is spiritual braggadocio and swagger.
True modesty will always strip away pride before it covers with layers.
Jesus First, Clothes Second
So, first, let’s look to Jesus. Jesus was the most modest person who ever lived. If immodesty is that need to show off, consider how Jesus never showed off.
He could have chosen to show off the power of an infinite God, but He chose to be powerless.
He could have chosen to show off His wisdom and convinced those Pharisees that He was God. But He allowed the Pharisees to use their wisdom to convict Him falsely.
He could have chosen to show off His command of legions of angels, but He chose to be beaten by legions of men.
Jesus could have chosen to show off and save Himself on the cross. In rays of light, lightning and fire, He could have eradicated those mocking soldiers, but He chose to let them hang Him until He died.
Jesus could have shown off His justice and condemned everyone responsible for His execution, but instead He forgave his death squad –- they didn’t know what they were doing.
Jesus had everything to show off, but He showed none of it. That is true modesty, and that is who we Christians follow.
Clothes Second, Jesus First
At this point you might say: “Give me a list of rules; tell me how many inches and how many fingers and what brands are acceptable and Christian!” But I can’t. To give you a list would betray how we are to pursue modesty. Modesty cannot be measured by inches and fingers; it is measured by Jesus’ love for us.
So when you are getting dressed in the morning, I can’t give you a list, but I can give you Jesus. Your modest Savior.
Will what you are wearing draw attention to you? Will it show off your body, your physique, your status, your brand-name-wearing self? Does it put you on display? Does it make it harder for others to be holy? Or does it reflect the kind of modesty Jesus had? Jesus, having all power, chose to show off none of it. Jesus, having all beauty, disguised all of it.
Jesus-first modesty is actually a lot harder than giving lists. This kind of modesty is about your heart, it is about purity, and it is about others being more significant. Since it is harder and since it is internal, it is also impossible. We will fail. But even if our modesty is the death of us — that’s what Jesus would have us pursue.