A few years ago it was raining heavily on my way back to Austin from the Houston airport. When I was driving I suddenly found myself hydroplaning off the highway, flipping into a ditch.
Thankfully I landed right side up when everything finally stopped moving. All things considered, it could have been far worse. The deputy that arrived on the scene said I was lucky. Apparently that stretch of road had a reputation for head-on collisions.
Some stretches of road are just dangerous. Sometimes the lines are faded. One mistake can send you flying into a ditch… change direction slightly and you’re slamming into another person.
Why tell you this?
It’s because the way you handle sexual lust in a Christian community is similar. It’s a dangerous stretch of road that requires wisdom to navigate well. Your decisions will affect not only you, but everyone around you.
What types of entertainment are okay? Where do you draw the line when dating? Is masturbation ever okay? When does temptation become sin? There are too many situations to discuss here, but let’s zoom in on one in particular… What should you wear?
This is obviously an explosive topic for many. Some ruthlessly argue whenever any kind of limit is even considered. Meanwhile, another group waits eagerly for the all-powerful list of rules and regulations. Tell us what people can and cannot wear! Give me a list so that I can show people how they displease God! Which side should we steer towards?
Well, let me say a few things before we move forward. This discussion does not apply to non-Christians. However, it does apply to both Christian women and Christian men. There should not be a double standard in the church. Men and women can both dress in a way that can encourage others to embrace lustful thoughts.
However, no one causes you to sin. Sin occurs when you make a decision. Yes, there are influences. However, the person making the decision bears the responsibility before God (this is why we need Jesus). That said, someone encouraging that sin will by no means escape God’s notice. Certain clothing options can very much encourage lustful thoughts. At the very least, it does nothing to help the situation. This is not an idea that encourages so-called rape culture or body shaming. It is reality. How you decide to present yourself online and in public is powerful. Do not underestimate that.
Which approach is right?
On one end of the spectrum you have a flaunting of liberty. Freedom in Christ guides your clothing decisions. You’re going to wear whatever you feel like wearing. If it causes problems for someone, then you’ll actively invite them to get over it. After all, they have no right to restrict you. You’re free in Christ! The Bible does not address modern clothing options. How could it? Crop Top’s? Muscle shirts? There’s no Bible verse specifically addressing those items. Plus, you have no issue when others dress the same way. It doesn’t make you struggle with lust.
On the other end you have a system of legalistic rulings that demand submission. If you cross the line and wear certain articles of clothing that are not on the approved list, then you are displeasing God. There is no mercy in this system… only black and white rulings that either approve of or condemn certain clothing choices.
Which side should we veer towards? It’s hard to say. There is a world of cultural differences between when the Bible was written and when our modern styles became popular. Plus, clothing is a non-moral issue. Yes its powerful, but its not like Murder. Murder is morally and specifically outlawed by God. Speedos are not.
What does the Bible have to say?
In Romans 14, Paul is addressing another non-moral issue in the Christian life. This issue was the eating of meat that was previously used by Pagan worshipers in religious rituals. The leftover meat was sold in the markets for consumption. Some of the Christians in Rome saw no problem with buying this meat and eating it for dinner. After all, God created the meat! How could it be unclean? Other believers struggled in their conscience with this practice. They could not eat this type of meat at meals because they were afraid they were sinning against God. This led to an awkward situation for the Roman Christians.
What should they have done? Should the first group have eaten at the expense of the latter? Should the latter group have demanded the restriction of the former? Which side should they have veered towards? This situation sounds familiar…
The answer is neither.
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand… Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:1-4, 13-15)
Catch that? Is it wrong to eat this meat? No. In fact, Paul calls them “weak in faith” who thinks otherwise. Should the weaker person enforce restrictive rules? No. So… should they eat the meat? It depends. Paul would say… walk in love. Decide what you will do according to the love you have for your brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, aren’t they more important to you than a nice dinner…?
Let’s put this into our context. It’s not a direct analogy, but the same thought process applies when it comes to clothing. Are you free to choose your own clothing? Yes. Are some articles of clothing troublesome for others when it comes to lust? Yes. Does that mean they are weak in that area? Yes.
Where does that leave us?
I think we can apply Paul’s words here as a principle. Look at the last verse and exchange “eat” for “wear”. By what you wear, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. That’s a weighty warning. However, it makes sense. Clothing options are not more important than a brother or sister that Christ bled and died to redeem, conquering death on their behalf. That’s quite a bit more important. Sure, placing a restriction on your clothing options may feel inconvenient, but that’s the point… its an image of love.
That’s the very gospel we proclaim:
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me. For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:1-7)
It is no loss for a Christian to willingly restrict their freedom for the sake of a weaker family member. The opportunity to do so should fill us with joy! We get to so closely represent our Savior, who greatly restricted himself for our sake. He died for us… thank God he did! He defeated death to give us life eternal. He suffered to rescue and serve us. All who trust in Jesus are welcomed into his family. Surely that truth is more precious than a little more freedom at the expense of another.
The choice is yours. How will you present yourself online and in public?
What will you choose to wear?
More importantly, where is your heart at?
I’ll leave you with this quote:
“Until God has become your treasure; until your own sin has become the thing you hate most; until the Word of God is your supreme authority that you feel to be more precious than gold [and] sweeter than honey; until the gospel of Christ’s death in your place is the most precious news to you; until you have learned to deny yourself short term pleasures for the sake of long term joy and holiness; until you have learned to love the Holy Spirit and long for his fruit more than man’s praise; until you count everything as loss compared to the supreme value of knowing Christ… your attitude toward your clothing and your appearance will be controlled by forces that don’t honor Christ.” John Piper