Exchanging Empty Charm for Lasting Loveliness
By LESLIE LUDY
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman
who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
The Insecurity Battle
The bus felt hot and stuffy as it jolted noisily down the road. I gripped my backpack and stared out the window, trying to ignore the raucous behavior of the pre-adolescents sandwiched around me. The boy behind me kicked the back of my seat, laughing rudely. I lurched forward, my stomach twisting into knots. I knew that at any moment the taunts would begin. As a shy, awkward twelve-year-old, I took the brunt of jeers and insults from my peers nearly every day of the week. I dreaded the bus ride to school far more than getting shots at the doctor or having my braces tightened. Every day, I was reminded that I didn’t have the right clothes, hair, or lingo. My peers noticed everything that wasn’t right about me and were constantly telling me how worthless I was. I didn’t know how to fit in with the pop-culture-savvy group of kids in my public school. I was not attractive or confident like the popular girls. And every put-down that was hurled my direction only made me more withdrawn and insecure.
I often came home from school crying and miserable, convinced that my life was of very little value. My parents tried to comfort me and remind me of my value to God and my family, but my self-image was so low that I wasn’t able to receive their words of encouragement. I was riddled with self-doubt and insecurity.
Over the next few years, things began to change. Instead of being awkward and unpopular, I learned how to transform myself into the picture of female allure that the culture applauded. I observed the girls at school who seemed to get all the positive attention from boys, and I began to imitate them. I dressed and carried myself in a provocative way, and gradually became skilled at flirting and sensuality. Instead of getting negative attention and put-downs from the opposite sex, I now gained a different kind of attention; I became the object of boys’ lustful desires. I was no longer mocked and ridiculed, but now I was the target of lewd jokes and suggestive comments.
I didn’t like being treated as an object. But I decided that sensual attention was better than ridicule, so I continued playing the part of a flirting, teasing, enticing young woman, skilled at the subtle art of feminine charm.
But it was all an act.
Despite my veneer of confidence, I was no less insecure and miserable than I’d been during my younger years. My outward charm was merely a cover-up for my inner self-doubt. And no matter how much male attention or popularity I achieved, inwardly I never felt like I truly measured up. All I had to do was glance at the magazine covers in the grocery store check-out line to realize how far from the world’s standard for beauty I was.
My insecurity led to a lot of compromise in my life. I had grown up in church, and I knew God’s standards for purity and honor. But in a desperate attempt to feel valuable and appreciated, I began to casually give my heart and even my body to one guy after another. I participated in many things that I knew were wrong in the hopes of somehow feeling better about myself and gaining the confidence I desperately desired. Yet my compromised lifestyle only served to make me feel even more miserable, guilty, and worthless as the years went by. Not only did I feel devalued by other people, I also began to wonder why God would want to bother with a wayward Christian like me.
Inner Beauty — A False Solution
It was around this time that I began to hear a message that promised to solve all my insecurity woes and finally give me the sense of confidence and purpose I craved. It came first from my school guidance counselor. “I know that many of you young ladies are struggling with a low self-image,” she told us compassionately. “But let me tell you the secret to being happy and confident — embrace your own inner beauty! It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you. If you can learn to love yourself and appreciate the unique beauty you possess inside, you’ll begin to make the right choices in life.”
A similar message was promoted by the Christian leaders in my life. “God wants you to feel good about yourself,” my church youth director told us during a group discussion time. “You each have beauty inside of you. Learn to discover and embrace who you are — that’s how you can bring glory to God!”
These bountiful exhortations gave me plenty of justifications for the self-consumed lifestyle I was living. Yet no matter how hard I tried to “find my own inner beauty,” it just didn’t seem to work. When I looked at my life, I only saw my mistakes and shortcomings. Eventually, I began to realize that if I was ever going to gain freedom over the compromise and insecurity that had been controlling my life, I needed something far more powerful than anything I possessed inside myself. Finding my own “inner beauty” wasn’t enough. I needed to look beyond myself for answers.
Then I discovered what it meant to completely surrender my life to Jesus Christ and let Him take over every aspect of my life. And that was when I finally gained the freedom, hope, and confidence I had been desperately seeking. True freedom didn’t come through self-realization, but through self-denial. Confidence and joy flowed into my life not when I learned to appreciate my own unique qualities, but when I encountered the Cross of Jesus Christ and let it transform every part of my existence.
Insecurity is a struggle that countless women today can relate to. Whether you were ridiculed in childhood by peers or family members, used and abused by men, or simply influenced by the impossible standards of Hollywood, you’ve probably been affected by the “you’re not good enough” message in one way or another. Maybe you have compensated for your inward insecurity by adopting the sensual feminine allure applauded by our culture. Maybe you’ve mastered the art of female charm in the hopes of gaining popularity and boosting your self-confidence. Or maybe you’ve been attracted to the “find your own inner beauty” messages and have been working hard to gain a positive “sense of self.”
But contrary to what we often believe, learning how to feel good about ourselves is not the solution to overcoming insecurity.
Yes, it is important to understand how precious we are in God’s sight — so valuable, in fact, that He gave His only Son to rescue us. We should value our lives because we are made in the image of God; we are His creation. His love for us is truly unfathomable. And as Christian women, we are daughters of the King, redeemed and made into royalty through the work of the Cross. But when we make feeling good about ourselves a focal point, we take our eyes off Christ and become wrapped up in self.
Scripture tells us that we are not to have confidence in ourselves, but in Christ only. (See Philippians 3:3.) In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that he counts all his personal accomplishments “as rubbish” compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. (See Philippians 3:8.)
Jesus does not mince words on this point: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23), and, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38).
It may seem hard to believe that self-denial, rather than self-esteem, could be the solution to insecurity. But when we let self fade into the background and become consumed with Jesus Christ, our insecurities will melt away. We no longer look to ourselves — our own merit, talent, beauty, or uniqueness — to find confidence. Instead, we learn to find our confidence in who He is, rather than in who we are.
Charles Spurgeon said:
If a soul has any beauty, it is because Christ has endowed that soul with His own, for in ourselves we are deformed and defiled! There is no beauty in any of us but what our Lord has worked in us.
Many of us have been told that we all have beauty within us, and that if we could only learn to love ourselves just the way we are we would be confident and happy. But the reality is, as Spurgeon so straightforwardly put it, we do not possess any beauty or goodness of our own accord. (See Psalm 14:3; 16:2; 53:3.) The only real beauty or merit we can ever have is Jesus Christ’s.
Rather than trying to build up our self-esteem and attempting desperately to feel good about ourselves (which doesn’t produce lasting confidence anyway) we must let thoughts of self fade into the background, and become overshadowed by Jesus Christ. Remember that to “deny ourselves” according to the Biblical pattern literally means to lose sight of ourselves and our own interests. We will only gain lasting security when we look away from ourselves and toward Jesus Christ. The question “who am I?” is not nearly as important as the question “who is He?”
Incorruptible Beauty — The Secret to Lasting Loveliness
What makes a woman truly beautiful?
Proverbs 31:30 tells us plainly: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.” God makes it clear that real loveliness doesn’t come from charm or outward allure, and it doesn’t come from and beauty we possess of our own accord. Rather, a woman who has given herself fully to God has discovered the secret for true feminine beauty.
1 Peter 3:4 builds upon this principle, exhorting women to find their worth not in outward charm, but in incorruptible beauty. Incorruptible beauty is very different than the modern message of looking within ourselves to find “inner beauty.” The literal meaning of “incorruptible” is “uncorrupted (i.e. pure, holy) and immortal.” In other words, it is a beauty that is not of this earth. Incorruptible beauty is not human; it is divine. It is not ours, but His. The only way for a woman to exhibit this kind of beauty is to allow the loveliness of heaven to shine through her being — to exude the very nature of Christ through her words, actions, and lifestyle.
Do you desire your life to display true feminine beauty? Don’t be deceived by the sensual charm promoted by our culture; remember that sensuality is only an empty counterfeit of true beauty. And don’t become distracted with trying to build up your own self-confidence. Instead, turn your life wholly and completely over to the only Author of all that is lovely and pure, and let His divine radiance come cascading through you. Then you will glow with a heavenly beauty that will never fade away.
Two Ways to Cultivate Incorruptible Beauty
Are you ready to exchange the culture’s counterfeit beauty for God’s version of true loveliness? Here are two practical ways to cultivate His incorruptible beauty in your life:
No. 1: Glorify Christ, Not Yourself
Proverbs 9:13 says, “A foolish woman is clamorous.” The word “clamorous” means “to make noise, to draw attention to oneself, to cause a stir.” What a perfect description of modern femininity! Today’s women often build their entire lives around gaining attention for themselves — whether through flirting and sensual clothing, constantly posting selfies on social media, or engaging in gossip to gain popularity.
It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily have to have an outgoing or loud personality in order to fall into the trap of being clamorous. Being clamorous simply means that you want others to notice you and that you go out of your way to gain their attention and approval.
When we are clamorous (i.e. drawing attention to ourselves) we are seeking our own glory rather than the glory of God. And the Bible says that this kind of woman is a foolish woman — one that is not honoring Him.
By contrast, 1 Peter 3:4 exhorts women to showcase, “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” Having a “gentle and quiet spirit” doesn’t mean being timid and mousy. Rather, it means that we no longer draw attention to ourselves. When a woman has a quiet spirit, self has gotten out of the way and has become “quiet” so that the beauty and life of Jesus Christ can be clearly seen and heard through her life.
John the Baptist’s life beautifully illustrates this principle. He told his followers, “I am only the friend of the bridegroom; not the bridegroom Himself. When the bridegroom is seen, my joy is complete” (Jn. 3:29, author’s paraphrase). And then John made a profound statement, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).
What an amazing attitude! John’s primary concern was getting out of the way so that Jesus could be seen. He knew that if he tried to take center stage, Jesus would not receive the glory He deserved.
The same is true in our own lives. When we try to be seen and applauded, Jesus fades into the background, and people look at us, not Him. But when we focus on getting out of the way and pointing others to Him, He receives the glory He deserves.
This doesn’t mean we can never cultivate the unique talents and strengths that He has given us. It is certainly possible to use our gifts and personality to glorify God. (In fact, that is why He gave them to us in the first place!) But first, we must ask some critical questions: Am I doing this for His glory or for my own applause? When people see this part of my life, are they drawn closer to Jesus, or are they merely impressed with me?
If we are more concerned with what others think of us than what they think of Jesus, then we have not learned how to cultivate a quiet spirit or exude the incorruptible beauty that is precious in God’s sight.
Prayerfully evaluate your conduct on social media. Are you constantly posting selfies in the hopes of being seen and noticed? Are you tweeting meaningless tidbits about your life in the hopes of gaining more friends and followers? Take a careful look at your clothing and interactions with the opposite sex. Are you dressing in a way that you know will draw attention to your body? Are you being sensual in your behavior toward guys so they will notice and appreciate you? Ask God to shape you into a woman that exudes true feminine loveliness. He alone can grant you the strength to get self out of the way, so that Jesus can be clearly seen through your life.
No. 2: Flee Seductive Charm
“Charm is deceitful…but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” It’s easy to say that we fear God—but do our lives prove that we really do? The Bible makes it clear that we cannot exude the selfish, sensual charm of this world and fear God at the same time.
Proverbs 7 paints a vivid picture of seductive, manipulative feminine charm:
And there a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. She was loud and rebellious, her feet would not stay at home. At times she was outside, at times in the open square, lurking at every corner. So she caught him and kissed him … With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him.
This is not merely a description of an old-fashioned biblical harlot. This woman’s behavior is shockingly similar to the common behavior of modern femininity. Let’s look more closely at this woman’s conduct:
She dresses in a sensual way to entice men to notice her.
She strategically targets men and plots ways to seduce them.
She is loud and draws attention to herself.
She rebels against God’s pattern for purity and honor.
She positions herself to be seen and noticed by men.
She is physically aggressive toward men and “throws herself” at them.
She uses flattering, manipulative words to entice men and bring them under her control.
Does any of this sound familiar? In our culture, it’s easy to justify this kind of behavior using excuses such as, “A little sensuality isn’t bad — after all, God made my curves, didn’t He?” or “A little flirting and teasing is harmless — how else will a guy know that I’m interested in him?”
Yet what is God’s perspective on seductive behavior? He says, “Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death” (Prov. 7:25-27).
When we use our feminine charm to seduce and manipulate men, we are not walking in the fear of God. Rather, we are choosing the path of darkness and death, endangering not only our own souls, but the souls of the men we are influencing.
When a woman truly fears God, she doesn’t ask, “How much sensuality can I get away with?” but rather, “How can I glorify my God with every decision, action, and choice that I make?”
If you find yourself looking for ways to justify sensual behavior rather than fleeing from it (see 2 Tim. 2:22), ask God to forgive you, cleanse you, renew your mind, and transform your behavior from self-focused to God-fearing. (Yes, men have a responsibility to be guarded with their eyes and actions, but that does not excuse immodesty and sensuality on our part!) For more on modesty, visit our Collection here.
As women, we often turn to all the wrong solutions to deal with our inner insecurity. It’s so easy to believe that if we can somehow gain the interest of a certain guy or attain the physical perfection of a swimsuit model, we will finally be happy, confident, and secure. But, as Proverbs 31 so eloquently reminds us, charm is deceitful. A world-famous model once said, “Everything about me is fake — even my heart is fake.” We must remember that, no matter how satisfying it may seem, worldly feminine charm doesn’t offer anything but emptiness.
Proverbs 31 also reminds us that beauty is fleeting. When we look to our own personal qualities or attractiveness to define our loveliness, we will quickly find that it is like the wind — here one moment and gone the next. So, instead, let’s allow our lives to be overtaken by an entirely different kind of beauty — Christ’s incorruptible beauty. His loveliness is the only kind of beauty that will remain for all eternity.
The lasting beauty, confidence, and security that we crave can only be found when we turn our lives over to Jesus Christ without reserve. The most beautiful women in the world are those who put selfish pursuits aside and let His radiance come streaming through their lives. Will you be counted among them?