Swimsuit Edition: Dress-code vs. The Gospel

This week, we are removing the ban on two-piece swimsuits.

Let me explain it through a personal experience…

A couple of years ago, I went to Haiti and contracted a notorious water-borne parasite, called Cryptosporidium. When I returned to the States, my health began a sad trajectory. Out of multiple effects caused by Crypto, one of them was exhaustion. I slept all day, and I slept all night. But exhaustion was the symptom, not the cause. So when I kept going after the symptoms by drinking coffee, my condition only worsened.

It was when I launched a direct attack on the parasite in my body with powerful antibiotics that I got better.

In retrospect, I marvel at having spent eight months attacking symptoms, when the parasite was far beyond the reach of my coffee. It was as nonsensical as putting makeup on measles. So it is with college students and swimsuit dress-codes. For the past two years, I enforced dress-codes at our annual lake trip because of two glaring problems:

  1. Guys stumbled over temptation, and…
  2. Girls stumbled over appreciation.

Our reply, “Girls, please wear a dark shirt over your swimsuits so boys don’t stumble over you.” There is a clear call to modesty, but here’s why strict adherence to the above line will always fail…

Strict dress-codes are a failure to appropriate the Gospel of Jesus for a “direct attack.”

Men will fail to grasp the gospel when they hide in a phony shelter where no one has to practice the implications of resisting temptation. They will cop-out to the flimsy power of a t-shirt to nip their fiery lusts, but when they return to the real world, will find that they are ill-equipped to deal with their own sin. This will probably lead them to antinomianism (the belief that one is freed from the moral law, e.g. “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery…” Matt. 5:28). And the cycle will continue.

On the other hand, women may adhere to a “standard” of what they’re supposed to look like, based on what they think men want to see—given our unreasonable demands—or the appearance of other women. This comes from fear, and misplaced identities.

The real fault comes with the leadership that tries to tackle the toxicity of lust and image worship, by demanding that women wear dark shirts in 90 degree weather at a lake that’s supposed to be fun, instead of calling men to treat women as sisters (1 Tim 5:2), and women to adorn themselves with the cloth of “good works” (1 Tim. 2:9-10). A failure to handle the Gospel in such a small situation will result in detriment, when women return home sustained only by legalism, while the men ride on their addiction to cheap grace.

We think we can kill a parasite by drinking a gallon of French Roast.

My friends, if you want to kill sin, you don’t have to put on a different shirt. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB. He is committed to spreading the worth of Jesus in Santa Barbara, through the expository preaching of God's Word. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting People or An Orthodoxy That Breathes

Posted on August 11, 2011, in Adorn, Gospel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Chris, this is so very good! (This is your sister, Shelle, by the way.) It really hits the nail on the head. Another thing I have had done to me that made me feel like a leper just because I was a woman, is “the side hug.” :o) It made me feel as if I was going to make a grown man stumble if I allowed him to give me a full-frontal. It made me feel as if all the responsibility and temptation was MY FAULT, if I didn’t turn to the side quickly enough for that hug. It is just within these past two years that I realized that I do not have to apologize or be embarrassed for being a woman. I know your post isn’t about that, but that is what hit home for me. Thanks!

  2. Hi Chris,

    Question: Do you think there is any responsibilty on the woman’s behalf to not wear stuff that can indeed cause men to stumble? Ultimately we are responsible for our own sin but surely stumble blocks exists..right?

    Making no provision for the lust of the flesh could be not attending a swimming trip with countless ladies who have no dress code to adhere could it not?
    (I assume you do have some dress code, still)
    Particularly one who struggles with ‘old Adam’ in this regard……

    • Do you think there is any responsibility on the woman’s behalf to not wear stuff that can indeed cause men to stumble?

      Yes. But that does not include wearing a giant black shirt.

  3. Hi Chris,

    Yeah I agree.

    The law; ‘ye that are female shall all weareth a dark shirt over what you are wearing regardless of what you are wearing’ is similar to the legalism that abounds in certain sects for sure…So I totally agree.

    I’m striving for a balance. re: the rest of my comment…

    • Yes, you’re spot on. And we still have some form of dress-code, though not the same as a High School camp. Most of these people are in their mid-twenties—they’re adults.

      But we do have a qualifier on the website where they will be reading this:
      Two-piece (within reason, of course. Be tasteful, not tantalizing)

      It’s just not as rigid as before. As for staying home, I think you could do that if it were that bad, but I think a better way is to go on a trip, yet surround yourself with spirit-filled, mature men who can walk with you towards victory.

  4. I feel like sometimes throwing a big black canvas almost makes it worse, I would argue. It’s like throwing a covering over a beautiful car and every guy is going to try to imagine what it looks like underneath. And as you said, it will make people unable to be at home without stumbling. Our way out of sin is never simply not sinning, or in making no provision for the flesh, because if that’s all there is, then we’ve missed the point entirely. Or solution and prevention is to be completely satisfied and entranced with Christ. Joseph ran from Potipher’s wife, but he did not run aimlessly. He ran from sin to draw near to God, not to grab her a black t-shirt.

    • Lots of girls prefer to wear shirts, and long coverings. I’ll probably wear a tank-top. But, yes, to put the burden of men’s sanctification on wardrobe is silly. (To an extent, of course… no speedos Organista!)

    • “Joseph ran from Potipher’s wife, but he did not run aimlessly. He ran from sin to draw near to God, not to grab her a black t-shirt.” Thanks Aaron..I LOVE this comment!

  5. Never understood how comfortable the church was in adopting such practices. It reveals a mindset that’s not much different than the one that makes women wear burqas in the middle east. Good call. At least burqas accomplished the objective better than a wet T-shirt clinging to a woman’s body.

  6. Lazo, u are the most level headed Christian I know

  7. Chris, I have a question.

    For the longest time I have fought for the right of girls to wear two piece bathing suits at camps. Wanting to avoid the appearance of legalism at all cost. The girls who are mature enough to understand the intent of the rule are usually not wearing two pieces, and those who are wearing two pieces are usually the ones that I most want to avoid putting a yoke on.

    Recently, I have been struggling through this though. Most two piece bathing suits show as much body as walking around in their underwear would. I would not say it would be a “yoke” or “legalism” to require that clothes be worn over underwear.

    My struggle has been that I really want to maintain a non-legalistic stance, but the only answer I have for the underwear/bikini rebuttal is, “because the culture accepts one and not the other”.

    My question is, therefore, is that a strong argument, and if so are we willing to take that line of logic across the board?

    • John,

      1) You said,

      The girls who are mature enough to understand the intent of the rule are usually not wearing two pieces, and those who are wearing two pieces are usually the ones that I most want to avoid putting a yoke on.

      …that is a sweeping generalization. Careful. Not everyone who chooses to wear something you are uncomfortable with is immature.

      2) The only opposition against what you term the “underwear/bikini” rule (another broad generalization), also comes from cultural standards, because it cannot be substantiated from the Bible, no matter how many proof-texts on modesty and outward adornment are quoted. When we say what the Bible does not say, we are speaking subjectively, and to base rules on subjective, cultural feelings tends to be legalistic.

      3) It may be a category mistake to take this line of logic across the board into other things. It depends on what “other things” is.

  8. Youth has such a blessing of hormones and young strength, if the black t shirts helps one stay on track why not wear it? No harm done in helping your fellow camper stay above temptation. As much as one may say, “Run from Lust” be a man, be a strong woman, not all of us can run fast and some of us need help. And if Christian Camp is for focusing on the higher good of our fellow man kind / woman kind, then rules and the guts to use the rules makes more sense than stumbling a slow runner. Hey, if your hot from the weather that what the water is for. We can make all sorts of excuses for not following rules. You are right women do stumble on appreciation at any age, and can confuse physical attention for true love. It is not about legalism it’s about how can we help each other.

  9. Oh man. Well, I am tip-toeing lightly into this…. I do want to say that I agree with the idea that telling people what to wear or not to wear does nothing to address the state of their heart. Perhaps a less legalistic way to address the issue would be to adhere to the “golden rule” (i.e. “wear what you would like the cute twenty-something who’s talking to your boyfriend/husband to wear” OR “wear what you would like your 16 year old daughter to wear on a lake trip full of 20 year old males.”) (That was meant lightly).

    But I did just want to say that while you cannot cure a parasite with caffeine, symptoms are very important. They are indicators about what is really going on in the heart. And sometimes heart change takes time, and so I don’t think it is a bad thing to address symptoms in the meantime while the Lord works in the heart….
    For example, when Joseph’s brothers came before them the second time to buy grain in Egypt, he purposefully gave Benjamin extra portions. Why? Because he needed to see where their hearts were-had they repented, or were there hearts just as intent on evil toward Benjamin because he was now the “favorite”?
    Jesus does this too, with the rich young ruler, in asking him to go and sell all he has and give to the poor… greed is a symptom of a heart not fully given over to the Lord.
    If someone had an infectious disease (and sin is infectious!!), we would need an antidote, but that does not mean that we would not try to stop the spread of such disease.
    Anyway, my point is, that I do not stop holding out standards to my children because I am waiting on the Lord to change their hearts. I do wait on the Lord to change their hearts, but I do so while holding out high standards before them, because it is the law that shows us how wicked we are, and how much we need Jesus. And so, while I think it is important to stay away from “the Bible says two-piece bathing suits are inappropriate!!” (because it does NOT say that), I think it is also a danger to say that we will not set forth standards because we don’t want to be legalistic.
    I am not saying that I think it was wrong to “lift the ban on two-pieces swimsuits.” I am just saying that in our home, we try to have HIGH standards, and HIGH grace. And I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. =)

    • Lisa, good word! I hear you on that. We should never develop a fear of legalism that would cause us to fall into antinomianism. And symptoms ARE a great way of revealing the heart, as seen in Jesus’ examples, the disciples, and my own life. I do think it’s worth noting, that Jesus never treated the symptoms once they were identified. He treated the heart. And Paul taught the Roman and Galatians churches that it was the Gospel, not the standards of the law, that sets people free, though the law did identify all of them as sinners.

      I think I resonate with you, Lisa. And I also read in your comment that you would hold stricter standards for your “your 16 year old daughter” and your own children. I don’t have a 16 year old daughter, but I imagine that if I did, I would certainly be cautious about what I let her wear. But there are no 16 year olds at the Lake Trip. They are all adults; some of them older than my wife and me; and they are maturing in their spirituality. So I want to treat them as adults, not teenagers.

      I would add on to your last mention, that according to Paul the Apostle, high grace results in high standards without me having to impose the law.

      Thanks for the insight!

      • Yes, I think we agree. Kinda. hahaha. Regarding a 16 year old daughter- I meant that my standards would not be stricter for her-that my standard would be the same. The way I would want her to dress is the way I would clothe myself. As I explain to my daughter, my body belongs first to God, and then to my husband. Her body also belongs to God, and then someday (Lord willing) to her husband.
        I think I was really trying to communicate that it is ok to express preferences (please don’t run in our house, please don’t use that language), as long as we are not elevating them to the level of law. It’s ok to ask women to hold to a certain standard of modesty, but it is not ok to call it a law or a commandment of the Lord. Like when Paul speaks of singleness and says, this is me-not a direct command from God.
        And, I confess that I am particularly sensitive to this subject since we are currently instructing a young lady in how to present her body, and since I have four boys who we are just beginning to train in disciplining their eyes. But yes, it is different in dealing with adults, I understand. Just meant that I don’t think it is wrong to request certain standards, just like you might tell them it would be beneficial to bring their Bible. It would also be beneficial for women to be mindful of how much of their bodies they are showing. But I agree, there is no particular “cut-off line”, like, you are modest in a one piece, and not in a two-piece. It is much more about the heart, and how you are “presenting your body”, rather than what’s on it anyway. And as a side note, when it comes to modesty within the body of Christ, I think it is best handled within the context of loving, grace-filled, Titus 2-type relationships.
        A thought provoking post.

    • Snap. That was legit. Just sayin’.

  10. P.S. I don’t know how you quote things that someone else posted, but I loved what you said:
    “high grace results in high standards without me having to impose the law.”
    I will be chewing on that for a long time. Thank you. My brain is furiously trying to bring this into the practical realm of parenting. =)

    • Haha! Well, one thing is certain… you’re already a better parent than me–I have no kids!

      Thank you for the comments, Lisa. It’s one of the best ones I’ve heard on the other side of the discussion.

      • ahhhhhh thats how it’s done.
        kinda random but i was so blessed to read these last few comments. i get bummed sometimes reading comments online that sound more like argumentative talk radio shows than the body of Christ. thanks for this particular exchange lazo and lisa, i love it when healthy discussions are properly and gracefully thought through and displayed intelligently. the aroma is so sweet! no matter the angle.

        it doesn’t seem like much, but in a world where people get so detached from reality on the internet, spewing whatever comes to mind to whoever will listen…it’s beautiful to see that humble, honest, grace filled speech actually includes comment threads! thanks guys i really appreciate it. love.

  1. Pingback: ~ Lake Adorn 2011 ~ « ChristopherLazo


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