Christian Reflections on Lust, Modesty, and Beauty (Part 7): Lust and Responsibility

ModestySexual immorality is a sin of the heart. That’s how Jesus sees it. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). That means that sexual immorality is not first and foremost about what you do with your body, nor what others do with their bodies. It is first and foremost an issue of what I love. Because it is a heart issue, then, we have no one to blame for our lust but ourselves. Our lust is our own responsibility.

It may seem redundant to make this point again. After all, I have argued for this position since nearly the beginning of this series. Women are not responsible for men’s lust issues. No matter how a woman dresses a man must learn to demonstrate respect for her and respect for God’s Word. He may never blame someone else for his struggle, temptation, or disobedience. Jesus puts the burden squarely on each of us individually. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Matt. 5:29a). It’s your right eye that causes you to stumble, not her cleavage. The point has, of course been emphasized in previous posts, but it always bears repeating. It bears repeating because there is so much confusion, and argumentation made over this point.

Though we intend to couch it in softer language, Evangelicalism continues to emphasize that women have a responsibility to dress in order to keep their brothers in Christ from being tempted to lust. The language of modesty is imposed to police women’s attire in order to prevent them from creating temptation. The modesty passages, however, do not point in this direction. 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3 are not speaking about sexuality nor tempting others to lust. Tony Reinke recently attempted to argue that they do in fact relate to sexuality. Reinke suggested that the language of dress in these passages parallels the language of dress in Revelation 17. He stated:

Revelation 17 is a valuable key to help us interpret the other two passages. The compilation of expensive garments and outer adornments are a form of first century sexual enticement, here personified in this “mother of prostitutes.” She embodies spiritual adultery (idolatry). (Is Feminine Modesty About Sex?)

So, because all three texts speak of expensive garments, and outer adornments, and because one of those texts applies that attire to prostitutes, it is argued that the other two passages are also alluding to sexual immorality. The problem with Reinke’s argument is that it assumes more than it proves. There is absolutely zero reason why Revelation 17 should be the key to interpreting the other two passages. In fact, Reinke’s hermeneutic seems to overlook some massive differences between the texts.

Furthermore, lust is not driven by the immodest attire of another. Jesus says it comes from within, not without. Here’s the dilemma Christian women are faced with: no matter what they wear men will lust. What does it look like to dress in a way that does not tempt men to lust? It’s impossible to answer because it misdiagnoses the problem. One woman has very clearly articulated the impossibility of dressing “modestly.” Writing about a survey conducted to help elucidate what causes Christian men to stumble, she says:

Lists are rarely, if ever helpful. In fact, this survey implies through its questions that you might cause some boys to stumble by the way you walk, sit, and lie down, which doesn’t leave a lot of options for girls who are alive. The danger with surveys like this is that they give them impression that the main burden of preventing boys from lusting belongs on girls. And that it is reasonable for them to try to come up with a list of do’s-and-don’t’s to avoiding causing a brother to stumble. (Dianna Anderson, “How To Dress Modestly”)

Women cannot dress in a way that keeps men from lusting, because lust comes from within their own hearts. This does not mean that women should not be considerate of others and think carefully about what they wear, nor that there are no rules of modesty whatsoever. We’ve discussed that in a previous post. Women should consider the issue of context. Who are they with, where are they going, what are they doing? These questions can help them make decisions appropriate to the context. But there is no way that a woman can dress to protect every potential man in any given setting. People have a bit of a moving scale on what’s appropriate and not appropriate, no one can live attempting to please and protect every person. To ask women to do so it is to heap on them an unimaginable burden that they cannot bear.

When it comes to choosing clothes, then, women should decide for themselves what is best. Together families should decide what they are going to allow and not allow with their children. They should consider carefully too when they are going to be swimming with others, dancing with others, dinning with others and make decisions as best they can about the appropriate attire for the context. But at the end of the day, clothing choices should be made with humility, to best of your abilities, and with joy. In other words, women, like what you wear and be considerate. Another person’s lust is not your responsibility. So, you do the best you can, but don’t overly burden yourself.

Men, you are responsible regardless of what a woman wears to demonstrate self-control, respect, and obedience. If you’re a believer the Spirit of God has given to you the possibility of self-control, so exercise it. Don’t blame anyone else for your lust and perversion. It’s not their fault, it’s yours. Stop asking women to cover up, and start working harder on your own lustful desires. Attack them with the same tenacity that you want to police other people. And, of course, the same goes for women who both struggle with lust and who desire to protect their men from lust. You can’t protect them from what is in their hearts. Your role is not to police other women, but to encourage the men in your life to love the Lord and seek to be obedient.

As Jesus deals with lust he calls us to gouge out our own eyes and cut off our own hands. Our lust is our responsibility. We must each be ready to address it in our hearts, not in other Christian’s closets.

Trackbacks

  1. […] discussed a host of issues related to the concept of modesty. We’ve discussed beauty, lust, and responsibility. We’ve noted the sliding scale of human evaluation, the important roles of context and humility. […]

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