Over the past several years there has been a growing awareness of a quiet sickness plaguing the church. It is quiet because it has the outward appearance of godliness and spiritual growth, and it is a sickness because it leads to spiritual exhaustion at its best and spiritual death at its very worst. It’s an extremely cruel enemy because it deceives people into feel good about their spiritual walks at one moment, and causes them to feel completely defeated by their indwelling sin and failures when they are inevitably revealed in the next.
What great foe am I referring to? The temptation toward legalism and moralism in the Christian life. Christine Hoover refers to it as the “goodness gospel,” and says that when she lived under it, she “appeared to be a good Christian,” on the outside, but on the inside, “felt unlovable and was riddled with guilt about [her] inability to please God.” As an adherent to this false gospel, Christine “sought joy, peace, and love through being good, and instead found [herself] miserably enslaved to [her] own unattainable standards.” Perhaps you can relate?
To be sure, many of us have found ourselves in a similar spiritual maze. We know that in and of ourselves, it is impossible to please God, and yet we so often faultily feel as though pleasing God is all up to us. This type of do-it-yourself Christianity has been the subject of many blog articles and books in recent years as the church seeks to reorient itself to the concept of grace-empowered Christianity. That is to say, enjoying the powerful work of God’s grace in a believer’s sanctification, and not just in their initial salvation. We have been inundated with calls to rest in the indicative realities of the Bible (what Christ has done for us), and to allow that sweet, gospel knowledge to produce the sanctification and holiness that we all so desperately desire.
The stack of books on my nightstand inches higher everyday. Some were recommended and loaned by friends, some borrowed from the library, and some sit caked in dust because I’ve put off reading them for so long. The majority of the stack, however, have scraps of paper jutting out from their pages–evidence that I’ve started reading them but never quite finished. They remain on my nightstand because I have this thing about finishing books: I want to give each book a fair shake, and reading just the first few chapters isn’t a fair shake in my opinion. The first few chapters don’t tell the whole story.
I suppose I have this thing about whole stories, because although I became a Christian when I was eight, for the 20 years that followed I only knew the first half of the gospel story. I knew that I was a sinner, and I knew that Jesus Christ died on the cross to forgive me of that sin when I confessed Him as my Savior, but I didn’t know how this act of death and resurrection affected my life after my initial salvation. I hated that I continued to sin, that I failed God, that I couldn’t be good enough to prove my worth for what He’d done for me. I knew He loved me at the cross, but I felt certain He couldn’t love me in my ever-present state of failure and weakness. So I repeatedly cycled around to the first half of the story–the part that told me I was a sinner–and then, wallowing in that truth, tried desperately to make up for my imperfections with good behavior.
I thought that was the whole story: saved by grace, sanctified by self-effort. But one day God began showing me through His Word that there is a second half to the gospel story–the part about life after salvation–and what He showed me changed everything.
Romans 8:28 tells us that "for those who love God all things work together for good." For the woman who has miscarried, these words can feel like a terrible cosmic joke. Can losing your baby really, truly be used by God for your good? This is one of the difficult truths of scripture that I attempt to answer in my book, Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb, and I did so with much fear and trembling. For truly, one of the last things a woman who just experienced the death of her baby wants to hear is that God allowed it to happen for her good.
And yet, this difficult and biblical truth is one of the most encouraging and beautiful of all realities for a woman when she miscarries. The knowledge that her pregnancy was not wasted--that it has eternal worth and purpose--can lift her mourning soul from the depths of futility to the heights of gospel hope.
Here is an excerpt from the chapter, "Hard Frosts and Spring's Flowers," in which I explain some of the ways a woman who miscarries can expect to see spiritual good in her loss:
“Just as submission to one’s husband is a difficult concept for a modern woman to assent to, so too, the modern man finds this type of leadership, responsibility, and dedication difficult to practice. Not many young Christian men have had this kind of sacrificial leadership modeled for them in the home. They haven’t had the privilege of seeing the tender, yet strong headship of a godly man lived out before them and thus find themselves learning by trial and error what it means to lead their wives.
According to Merriam-Webster, a buzzword is defined as “a word or phrase that becomes very popular for a period of time.” There are lots of buzzwords within the Christian community that fill books and blog posts: gospel-centered, grace-based, and missional are just a few.
Today, I want to draw our attention to a particular buzzword within Christian women’s circles: one that I see used over and over again, and wonder at times if it is being misused or misunderstood. The word I’m referring to? “Messy...”
Sure they are simple tasks, but their simplicity and repetitiveness do not make them any easier to get done. This is because at the heart of these tasks is a willingness to serve my family by providing for their most basic needs. At the heart of tasks like laundry, dishes, and cooking is the call to humble service, which isn’t easily obeyed by a sinner like me.
Some days it feels as though these are the only things I do! Dishes, dishes, dishes, laundry, laundry, laundry, food, food, food. There is no glory in this job! There’s only the repetitive motions of service which are rarely seen or acknowledged by others. I often find myself battling bitterness and anger as I wash the dishes we’ve just eaten from, the pots and pans I just used to cook our meal with, and the table where our meal was too quickly eaten as the needs of a fussy baby outweighed my desire for an “ideal” sit-down dinner. Thoughts swirl through my head, seeking to convince me that it is all in vain and all so unimportant. As I scrape the burnt-on food off of another pan I must force myself to remember the beauty in service–in these small, but important expressions of love...
I don’t know about you, but I have a long list of things I would like to improve upon in the year 2014. When I think about the many areas of my life that need “fixing up” it can be, shall we say, a bit overwhelming. Indeed I am hopelessly imperfect—prone to sin and slow to learn—and thus I am overwhelmingly grateful for the unwavering, gracious, and completely undeserved love of the Lord.
Perhaps you too can relate to this profound sense of gratitude. By the grace of God we are beckoned to take our focus from our own imperfections and instead, be consumed by the beauty of the sinless Son of God—whose righteousness has been credited to us. Undoubtedly, gratitude should be the defining mark of every sinner who’s been washed clean in the blood of Christ...
One of the first books I read as a new Christian was The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. I would say–without any hesitation–that Bridges’ book had a profound impact on my spiritual formation. It challenged me to take my spiritual life seriously, to practice spiritual disciplines, and to pursue Christ-likeness. As my young high school self underlined and dog-eared page after page, I was given a vision for what spiritual maturity looked like and how I could practically pursue it. It was a game changer in my life as I know it has been for countless others...
I’m beginning to realize that I’m not a very good wife!”
I let the honest confession gush out of my mouth as my friend listened intently over a cup of coffee. Soon we were commiserating over the incredibly imperfect, flawed women we were and how surprising of a revelation this was to us. Somehow we had been under the impression that reading the right books, having a foundational understanding of what the Bible says about marriage, and marrying godly men would provide an environment where we would simply flourish into the perfectly godly, helpful, submissive, and encouraging wives God desired for us to be...
Today I have the privilege of guest posting over at Karis (the women’s channel for The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) on the topic of sanctification.
This post will resonate with single ladies and married women who do not yet have children and are often told that “nothing will sanctify you like marriage will” or “like children will.”
Is God really limited in the way he can produce holiness in your life by the presence of a husband or a colicky baby? Today, I want to encourage those who may be tempted to feel as though they are missing out on some higher plane of spirituality:
“Every act of God’s providence is meant to refine his children. Certainly married women are continually being sanctified by their relationships with their husbands. Of course mothers have to rely heavily, every day on their Savior in order to care for the little ones he has entrusted to them. These are real and powerful tools in our heavenly Father’s hands as he seeks to conform women to the image of Christ, but they are not his only tools. He uses all things.” (Read the full article “Sanctification is for Single People, Too” by clicking here.)
I would love to hear your thoughts on this article. Are you single or without children? Do you struggle with these types of thoughts when you are around married ladies and/or mothers? How can these women help you to see the Lord’s unique purposes and activity in your life. And for us ladies who are married and/or have children, are we conscious of our sisters’ needs for encouragement to seek the Lord and his goodness now in their particular season of life? How can we better serve them in this area? Share your thoughts in the comments of this post!