Embodied Souls: Why our obsession with modesty is more Gnostic than it is Christian.

Modesty is a big topic in the church…and in many ways, rightfully so. If you’re a human reading this blog, I guarantee you that you’ve had lustful thoughts at some point in your lifetime. God not only calls us out on those sinful lusts many times throughout the Bible (Proverbs 6:25, Matthew 5:28), but also urges us to care for one another and help each other as we learn to sin less (Romans 14:13).

That being said, modesty has become a huge idol in the Western Church. A sin equally as detestable as the lust it so desperately tries to eliminate. Like any other idol, modesty isn’t inherently bad, but when we look to it to save us in ways that we should be looking to Jesus, we are in trouble. (Leviticus 19:4, Jonah 2:8, 1 Corinthians 10:7-14, 1 John 5:21).

Problems with current-day conversations about modesty.

  1. It assumes that only men struggle with lust, rather than acknowledging that all people struggle with lust.

If you’re a woman, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re a man, ask any of your female friends.

  1. It puts the blame on the “object” of a person’s lust rather than the one with lustful thoughts.

Jesus clearly puts the blame & onus on the person with lustful thoughts (Matthew 5:29). Not to mention that in a world so full of temptations, trying to create a perfectly temptation-free bubble for our youth is setting them up for failure. Teaching & emphasizing the self-control that the Holy Spirit freely gives each of us would be much more effective.

  1. It leans heavily into shame towards our bodies.

Our bodies are not something dirty or shameful that we have to cover up. Now before you either decide that I’m just furthering a liberal agenda or use my words to decide that you never have to put any thought into how your clothes affect others, let me give you this metaphor. Being careful about what we wear in certain contexts is like abstaining from drinking in front of an alcoholic. It’s a kind, compassionate, and self-sacrificial thing to do. Drinking doesn’t make you a bad person & in the right company, there is no problem with it. But Jesus calls us to think about those around us and “resolve never to put a stumbling block in the way of another” (Romans 14:13). Make sure that you keep in mind ALL people though; asking not only, “Will these clothes cause lust in those around me?” but also “Will these clothes cause jealousy, shame, or any other sin in those around me?”

Let me be VERY clear, though. The idea that our bodies are bad, shameful, or evil is an absolute LIE from the enemy. How did it seep so deeply into the culture of the Church? We owe that to Gnosticism.

What is Gnosticism & why do so many of the early church leaders warn against it?

Gnosticism is a philosophy that was very popular during the rise of the early church. Essentially, it is a mixture of Christianity and the Greek philosophy of dualism. The very basic idea of Gnosticism is that everything about the earthly/created world is evil and inherently sinful (e.g. food, sex, even having a body at all), while only the mind & the soul are holy. This is obviously a very harmful and restrictive way to live, and one that God never intended for us. But it has been infiltrating the Church since the very beginning of the early Church. In fact, the disciple, John, wrote the epistle, 1 John, specifically to refute Gnostic ideas that had infiltrated the early church. 

It isn’t just a problem for the early Church, though. I’m sure that you’ve experienced many versions of this today. Have you ever asked God to bless your food before eating it? That practice originated in Gnosticism & the fear that if God didn’t bless the food, that it would be unholy (contrary to the Hebrew practice of blessing God for His already holy gift of food).

Thought patterns like this are nefarious because keep us in the bondage of fear. It’s often a subtle, sub-conscious kind of fear. You might not consciously think that your food is evil, but you probably do feel a twinge of guilt or even shame when you forget to bless your food before eating it. So big or small, this fear keeps us from praising God for the wonderful gifts of this world that he has carefully created for us, best of all: these beautiful bodies that He created us in & deemed “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

God’s Truth about our bodies.

  1. God created us not as souls with bodies, but as embodied souls.

In Genesis, it’s clear that God created our bodies & souls as one whole piece. Even the dust from the ground and the rib from Adam were involved in creating the tangible beings, Adam & Eve (Genesis 2:7,22). Our bodies are a deep part of who we are & therefore a deep part of what God deemed “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

We see further evidence of the importance of our bodies in the gospels. After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Twelve in His body, with His scars, and feeling hungry (Luke 24:39-43, John 20:27). These verses would suggest, then, that our bodies are an important enough part of our selves that we will have them even after the resurrection. Even sweeter is the Truth that not only our bodies are precious in His sight, but so are our scars. Your body is beautiful, my friend. And your scars are cherished.

  1. God delights in redeeming our bodies.

God is in the business of making all things new, and that includes our bodies (Revelation 21:5). God desperately wants to free us from the shame & lies that we have believed about our bodies. Not only does He want to remove those lies, but He wants us to fill us up with His Truth.

If you are sitting here today feeling ashamed of your body for any reason; whether that be shame about the way it looks or moves, disconnection from your body after someone touched your body without your permission, or any other distrust between you & your body; God sees you and He wants to redeem you. You are whole right now and, you are being made more whole & holy by the One who holds it all.

  1. God commands us to worship Him with our bodies.

God didn’t create these wonderful, miraculous bodies of ours so that we could praise our bodies. He gave us these bodies so that we could praise Him with them (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We honor God in a unique and intimate way when we worship Him with our bodies. Whether through moving your arms & legs to dance, run, or do Christian yoga; moving your vocal chords to sing to Him or pray to Him; or moving your fingers to journal with Him…He is honored & delighted by it all!

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