Should women dress modestly to support men overcoming lust?
According to some church circles the answer is a definite YES. Men overcoming lust are completely dependent on what women wear.
There’s a lot of talk among some religious circles today about the importance of what women should wear. Women are told they should dress modestly, so when men look at them, the men won’t see a low neck line or a high hemline and therefore be filled with lustful thoughts.
The women are told they should not “cause their brothers to stumble.”
Are guys simply unable to control their own thoughts? Are they slaves to whatever a woman wears? You’d be surprised how many men buy into this.
But this attitude basically affirms that men can’t think for themselves.
Now I admit, some women dress in a way that purposefully tries to entice men’s sexual desires. How a woman dresses is on her. But how a man responds is on him.
A lot of it comes down to the motive for deciding what to wear.
What does the word modest actually mean?
We talk about this idea of modesty because of the verse from 1 Timothy 2:9 that says women should “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation.”
The Greek word translated modest is kosmios. It means orderly, i.e. decorous:—of good behavior, modest, well arranged, seemly. It comes from a root word meaning “orderly arrangement.”
The only other place this word is used in the New Testament is in 1 Timothy 3:2 which says that a bishop should be “of good behavior [kosimos]. For the woman, kosimos is translated modest but for the bishop it’s translated “of good behavior.”
The word translated “propriety” [aidōs in Greek] in 1 Timothy 2:9 is rendered “shamefacedness” in the KJV. But the only other place that word is used in the New Testament is in Hebrews 12:28 which says we should serve God with reverence [aidōs].
Why are these words translated so differently when referring to women?
Is modest apparel the answer?
Even if women always dressed modestly, according to the definition of the people who are the self-appointed regulators of what they think it should mean, it would not solve the problem.
They guy who is lustful will still be lustful.
Guys, if you think the solution is outside of yourself, you’re deluding yourself.
Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
Jesus makes it clear that the lust is already in someone’s heart. It doesn’t come from the woman or what she’s wearing.
And by the way, it’s the man’s responsibility to conquer whatever sins he is tempted with.
Temptation comes from desires in the heart
I’m not saying that a fellow who sees an immodestly dressed woman won’t be tempted, but let’s be clear here. The temptation does not come because he sees someone with a low neckline, or in a skimpy bathing suit. The temptation comes from within his own heart.
James says that a man is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. (James 1:14)
The lust, or fleshly desires, whatever you want to call it, was already in his heart. Then, when he sees something that arouses these desires, he thinks that the cause is something outside of himself. And he blames someone or something else.
He says to himself: It’s the way she was dressed that made me feel that way. I couldn’t help it. Really? When are guys going to accept responsibility for their own thinking?
How often do we blame others for our own faults?
This is not just a problem guys have. Women have this same tendency at times.
It’s an aspect of one of the lower levels of human nature. It is the response of the human heart which has not yielded to Christ.
Blaming others for our sins
Can you think of anyone in the Bible who blamed someone else for his sins and didn’t take responsibility?
The one that comes to my mind is Adam. When he sinned and got caught, what was his first inclination? To blame Eve.
What if Adam had said, “Lord, You’re right. I have sinned. You told me not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But I did it anyway. Eve offered me the fruit and I should have said, ‘No.’ I was influenced by her, but I accept full responsibility for my actions. I am sorry. Please forgive me.”
But we all know that’s not what happened. He blamed Eve and the Lord God as well.
Here’s what Adam is really saying, “Lord, you gave that woman to me and she caused me to disobey You. So really, it’s Your fault for giving her to me.”
When will we learn to take responsibility for our actions?
Guys, it’s time. We have to take responsibility for our own thoughts and the actions which result from those thoughts.
One of the goals for The Bible Speaks to You is to get back to the original message of Christ, to embrace the mindset of Jesus.
The real solution to overcoming lustful thoughts, both for men and women, comes from a complete change of thought.
Instead of thinking and responding like Adam did, we’ll find freedom from lustful thoughts only as we embrace Christly thoughts. It’s a shift from the Adam mindset to the mindset of Jesus.
Jesus gave us not only an example of how to live our lives in the way he lived his life. He also gave us tools with which to face and overcome the temptations that loom up in our hearts.
If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while you can probably guess where I’m going to say you can find those tools. You got it, the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus gives some very clear directions on how to overcome sin, especially lustful thinking, in this Sermon.
Look at the Beatitudes
They all can be used prayerfully to deal with any situation or temptation, but two of them especially are helpful in this context.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:6, 8
Jesus is saying the way to overcome lust, which you could say is a hunger and thirst for something material, is to replace it with a hunger and a thirst for something spiritual.
When you lust after something, and it’s not just a sexual lust I’m talking about here – it could be a lust for power, money, or fame, just to name a few – when you get what you lust for, it never satisfies, it never fills that void in you. It can’t. You always want more and can never get enough.
But when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, the things of God, Jesus promises you will be satisfied, you will be filled. And this is so true.
Jesus gives us a high standard in the invitation to be pure in heart. And this is the key to overcoming sin of any kind and specifically lust.
Quit trying so hard at overcoming lust
Sometimes I think we fail to overcome a particular sin because we’re trying too hard to overcome it. We focus all our energy on getting rid of bad behavior.
That’s the wrong approach and Jesus, as always, points out the best way. Instead of focusing all your effort on getting rid of the sin, focus on God, on hungering and thirsting for righteousness, on purity in your heart.
That’s the place to start, in your heart.
Jesus makes it clear that evil thoughts, including adultery and sexual immorality come out of the heart. (Matthew 15:19)
You can’t change outward behavior by just trying to change outward behavior. We have to go to the source, which is the heart, or rather our thinking, our affections.
But how do we deal with those lustful thoughts in our hearts? And how did those lustful thoughts get in our heart in the first place?
And even more fundamental, what actually is lust?
Let’s start there.
What is lust?
You may think lust is sexual attraction to someone, or the uncontrollable desire for power or money or whatever. But the real root of lust is the belief that you are not complete.
It all goes back to the lie the serpent planted in Eve’s heart, that there was something missing, that she needed something outside of herself to make her complete.
When you believe you’re lacking something in your life or in your very being, there’s an un-satisfiable desire to get it at whatever cost and by whatever means.
But the solution is always something external: the piece of fruit in Adam and Eve’s case, or for us, a new car, a bigger house, a spouse, a new magic pill or procedure to make you prettier, slimmer, smarter…the list goes on and on.
Lust is basically the counterfeit of love, the need to love and to be loved.
And what is a counterfeit dollar bill worth? The same as a briefcase full of counterfeit hundred dollar bills: nothing.
As long as you believe the counterfeit is real, you think there is value. But as soon as you see a counterfeit for what it is, it is as worthless to you as it was all along. It’s value was only in your thinking.
So it is with lust. The pleasure we think we get from lustful thoughts and actions is a counterfeit of love. It is always valueless and will never satisfy the heart’s true desire for love.
Where does lust come from?
So how did these lustful thoughts, this belief that we are not complete, get into our hearts?
Some man-made theological doctrines insist we were born that way, that it’s part of who we are. In effect, they blame God for creating us this way, just as Adam blamed God for giving Eve to him thus causing him to sin.
Just as with Adam and Eve, so with us, it is the serpent which plants the lie in our hearts that we lack something and that the solution is something external to us.
This is what I call the Adam mindset: when we see ourselves as incomplete and a mixture of good and evil, flesh and the spirit.
The only remedy is the Christly mindset of Jesus, which declares, as Jesus did,
All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you. (John 16:15)
Jesus knew he was complete, that he had everything that belonged to the Father. But he was Jesus. Can we make that same bold declaration?
Yes, when we have discovered our identity in Christ.
It comes down to how you identify yourself
Do you see yourself as a child of Adam, of sin and incompleteness?
Or do you see yourself as a child of the Most High God, complete and whole, having everything you need because “all that belongs to the Father is [yours]?
How you see yourself will determine a large part of what you experience.
Where you start mentally and spiritually will affect how you proceed.
Unfortunately, all too often, even after we have come to Christ, we continue to identify with Adam more than Jesus.
John rebukes this approach and gives us full permission to claim our full identity as Christlike.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12, 13)
Do you have more of the letter or the Spirit?
Paul talks about the importance of having the Spirit of Christ:
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (Romans 8:9)
The reason we struggle with the temptations of the flesh may be because we have more of the letter or knowledge of Christ and not more of the Spirit of Christ.
So the way to overcome lust is to imbibe more of the Spirit of Christ in your life, and not just say the words.
Paul makes it clear that when we are in Christ, we are a new creation. The old is passed away. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Why then do we hold on so tightly and keep returning to what Christ takes away?
Overcoming lust by obeying Jesus
Another reason we sometimes give in to fleshly temptations is because we hear the Word of God but then we don’t live it in our lives. (James 1:23-25)
The solution is to do what Jesus tells you to do. Obey his commands.
Then you won’t forget that you are a child of God, born of the Spirit and joint heir with Christ.
The more you obey Jesus and follow his teachings, the more you will hunger and thirst after the things of God and the freer you will be from the temptations of the flesh.
Cherish your identity in Christ. Love unselfishly. The lustful temptations that bubble up in your heart are not part of who you are as a child of God.
Christ washes away these lies from the serpent and reveals your wholeness and purity.
Related podcast you may find helpful: Episode 70: Why Is It So Hard to Put Off the Old Self?
James Early is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster and conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
Bible verses in this episode:
1 Timothy 2:9 NKJV
9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest [kosmios] apparel, with propriety [aidōs: shamefacedness-KJV; reverence] and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,
1 Timothy 3:2 NKJV
2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior [kosmios]: , hospitable, able to teach;
Hebrew 12:28 NKJV
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence [aidōs] and godly fear.
Matthew 5:28 NIV
28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
James 1:14 ESV
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Genesis 3:12 NKJV
12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
Matthew 5:6, 8 NIV
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Matthew 15:19 NIV
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
John 16:15 NIV
15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
John 1:12, 13 NKJV
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Romans 8:9 NKJV
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV
17 if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
James 1:23-25 NKJV
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;
24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.