Yoga Pants and What the Bible Really Says About Modesty

Is modesty really about how revealing our clothes are?

When I started practicing yoga a couple years ago, I discovered the wonders of yoga pants. I liked how they felt during practices. It did not occur to me that wearing them while stopping by the grocery store on the way home could be controversial.

Then, one day, I noticed a man staring at a women’s derriere in the frozen foods aisle. He seemed to have superpowers for seeing through her yoga pants. I have since stopped wearing yoga pants in public, but not because of popular evangelical “modesty culture.”

Why is modesty about yoga pants such a heated issue? The reasons are as numerous as those debating it. Some believe freedom in Christ supports dressing in what’s comfortable, practical and attractive. Some express battles in their minds over seeing contours of women’s bodies through microfiber. Some abstain from yoga pants as a means of protecting relationships. Some insist on rights to express their attractiveness and sexuality.

The reasons for supporting and opposing form-fitting clothes go on and on. Where do we begin making sense of what we should and should not wear? What does the Bible really say about modesty? And, what on earth would Jesus say about wearing yoga pants?

1. Modesty involves much more than how we dress.

The most frequently quoted Bible verse about modesty appears smack in the middle of a passage about false teaching.

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

God calls for modesty—a fruit of faith—not legalistic control of fashion. Modesty is not preoccupied with external appearances.

Paul has just instructed men and women to stop angrily disputing ways the surrounding culture is creeping into church. Evidently, it has disrupted worship services. Likewise, the fashion of some women has caused distractions, drawing attention away from God.

The word for “modesty” (kosmios) actually points at orderliness, moderation and appropriateness. It is a characteristic required of a bishop in 1 Timothy 3:2. As Rachel Held Evans has pointed out, nearly all of the Bible’s instructions regarding modest clothing refer not to sexuality, but rather materialism (Isaiah 3:16-23, 1 Peter 3:3). “And so biblical modesty isn’t about managing the sexual impulses of other people; it’s about cultivating humility, propriety and deference within ourselves.”

2. The Bible does not contain explicit instructions for dressing modestly.

Christian modesty debates run the gamut—from “dress attractively, but not too attractively” to “cover up or you are a Jezebel.” The Pinterest Board “Guys on Modesty” even makes suggestions for skirts, dresses, shorts and bathing suits. They post some lovely outfits, but leave it up to women to figure out why skin-tight jeans are included but yoga pants are not (someone please define the difference).

“Modest” skirts cover female legs and thighs while “modest” one-piece swimsuits show legs and thighs in styles the average-sized American woman would have to diet to look modest in. A woman is left wondering whether or not it’s “OK” to dress for the beach, or yoga class (knowing a man could “stumble”).

In truth, the Bible offers little fashion advice. In the case of prohibitions such as braided hair and expensive clothing, God calls for modesty—a fruit of faith—not legalistic control of fashion. Modesty is not preoccupied with external appearances. It does not flaunt wealth, diminish others, or seek selfish attention; it professes reverence toward God. It is a quality both women and men should seek to exhibit.

3. Personal choices about modesty affect our communities.

We get it wrong when limiting our discussions of modesty to sexuality. Modesty applies to more than how we dress; it relates to our thinking and attitudes affecting the bigger spectrum of how we live. Our choices relating to materialism, consumption, money management, relationships—and countless other aspects of life—affect more than ourselves.

If, for example, I become addicted to reading Fifty Shades of Grey, and I pin unrealistic expectations on my husband, it hurts my marriage. If I flaunt an expensive outfit to a friend struggling financially, she suffers. None of us live in a vacuum. Our values result in choices affecting others.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

4. We are responsible for our attitudes and behaviors, no matter what anyone does.

Every woman has experienced it no matter how she dresses—men staring at portions of her body. One can’t predict when or why it happens.

During seminary, I made extreme efforts not to attract attention to my body, and some men still carried on theological discussions with my chest. Now that I live in Florida and enjoy going to the beach, I observe some men lingering over women’s bodies in swimsuits while others don’t. I have come to believe that some men lust after women’s bodies no matter what they wear.

Lust is more than looking. It is different from feeling attraction or involuntary sexual arousal. Lust entails seeing another’s body as an object for self-gratification. It defines the person not as a human, created in the image of God, but as a means of carnal pleasure.

We get it wrong when limiting our discussions of modesty to sexuality.

Shechem’s lust led him to sexually assault Dinah in Genesis 34. Scholar and pastor Ron Clark explains, “Shechem has violated the rights of Dinah as well as the covenant with the Jacobites.” Clearly men do not rape women because of how they dress.

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“But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

5. True modesty comes from dressing in the spirit of Jesus.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

The apostle Paul offers an elegant solution to immodesty—being clothed in good deeds. Rather than selling out to worldly values, we are to aspire to God’s values. All men and women are to seek knowledge, belief and practices of God’s realm, peace, unity and continuing growth in wisdom (1 Timothy 2:3).

As for whether or not we should wear yoga pants, tight jeans or certain swimsuits, I believe Jesus would instruct that sometimes, yes—depending on humility, appropriateness and devotion to God— and sometimes no—depending on humility, appropriateness and devotion to God.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).

Top Comments

Clotilde Hélène Barberon


Clotilde Hélène Barberon commented…

Love this. I'd add that we're told that we shouldn't cause someone to stumble (which is true) but when Jesus talks about lust and temptation He says "And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell" Mark 9:47. Can we underline the fact that he talks about the person tempted and NOT the person who is being lusted after?
Sure, let's be sensitive, but if you lust after someone's body it's on you not on them.
I think women are blamed, too often, for a lot of things, including men stumbling.

Let's stop it there.

Thanks for this article!

Shannon Forslund


Shannon Forslund replied to Azael Contreras's comment

I am a Christian and I practice yoga. I have had some of my intimate moments with God during yoga. It is what you make it. If you are going for a workout (which it is!) and nothing else, then that's what you'll get! During meditation, I focus on my Heavenly Father and not finding my "center" my life is centered around Him, so in that sense, I'm focusing on my center!


Mike Richards


Mike Richards commented…

You answered your question by this statement "Every woman has experienced it no matter how she dresses—men staring at portions of her body. One can’t predict when or why it happens." No matter what women wear men have a propensity to lust. Now we could all agree to sharia law where women wear full burqas covering even their face and that wouldn't be enough for some people (I include women in with this also, since they also have a problem with lust) but the bottom line truth is: sin is built in the heart of every person and thus for the nonbeliever it is a matter of limited self-control that ultimately cannot be won and for the believer in Christ Jesus it is a moment by moment yielding to the Holy Spirit who gives us power and wisdom to defeat sin in our lives. It's not an issue of what you wear, it's an issue to who we submit to, either God's established best intentions for our lives or our flesh. That's the battle.

Lisa Johnson


Lisa Johnson commented…

Good article and it asks "why are tight jeans ok and not yoga pants? Someone please explain the difference?" So, ok, I will. smile emoticon Tight jeans make the butt conform to THEIR shape and wrap around the butt and tightly go down to the leg. While yoga pants do the opposite, the conform to the shape of the butt. So you see every line, even where your butt meets your thigh, but the serious problem is this....often girls wear them with thong underwear allowing them to actually split the buttcheeks. Yep, right into 2 hemispheres instead of one. Then the guys eyes are drawn to that, and this is offensive because you can practically make out where their buthole should be and you deffinitely see all the lines of their vagina. THAT is the difference between yoga pants and jeans. Jeans fabric just doesn't do that and girls make sure their vagina's aren't outlined in jeans, But when standing still, trying yoga pants on, the vagina might be concealed, but when put in motion to walk, every line shows. I wear yoga pants to workout in too, but I make sure they 'wrap around' my butt instead of going up it! And I bring a change of pants if I have to go shopping afterward. Sorry to be so graphic, but I'm trying to bring some clarity to what the difference is.

Lisa Johnson


Lisa Johnson commented…

Today's 'Christian' culture has a worldly "do what's best for you" mentality. But, when you rest with Jesus and grow in Him, He gives you a deeper understanding of His heart, and that life is more about putting 'others' first. It's called "dying to yourself". When you actually want to put Jesus and what's important to Him 1st in your life, it causes you to lay down your desires, and please Him. It gives you victory over sin when you realize your actions might hurt someone else. So you STOP doing it, WHATEVER it is. And the peace and joy and closeness with God is so fulfilling, that you don't miss whatever it is you gave up! smile emoticon -LisaJ.

Lukey Lemon


Lukey Lemon commented…

I love the yoga pants because I am the Lemur and I am so into that! Luke the Lemon will mongle the yoga pants! AWAY!!!!!

Charleen Neal


Charleen Neal commented…

The bigger question is this: Why is a Christian practicing yoga, Hindu religion all it's own? There's no such thing as "Christian Yoga." This former high-level practitioner gives a short comment on her demonic experience.

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