In part 1 of this series, we discussed the need for women to confess their sin and be honest about their struggles. Instead, the norm in most churches is that the majority of us wear plastic smiles each Sunday, hoping that no one will notice what's really going on in our hearts. But what do we do with this sin we confess? How does repentance take place? And how can we possibly forgive those who have committed heinous acts against us? In a word, the gospel.
Many of us have looked on the gospel, understanding that Christ paid the penalty for our sin by His death on the cross so that we might be forgiven and have a right relationship with God. But a lot of us stopped looking on it, meditating on it, and valuing it after we first came to know Christ. We mistakenly think that the gospel is needed only early on in our relationship with God. The thinking goes that at some point, I understood the gospel and now I need to move on to focus on other Christian doctrine and moral commands. Once again, the Apostle Paul clears up this wrong kind of thinking with his frank words to the church at Galatia.
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (or "human effort" in the NIV) Galatians 3:3 (ESV)
Paul warns us from thinking that while we needed the Spirit at the day of our salvation, we can accomplish the rest of our Christian life with our own human effort. I don't want to review the whole of the gospel here. In fact, I envision a target audience reading this who well understand the gospel and their need for a Savior. Rather, I hope to emphasize that we don't ever graduate past a need to meditate on the gospel.
In my experience, Christian women tend to fall into one of two patterns of wrong thinking. The first group of women have developed their idea of the Ideal Christian Woman, using their own talents and giftedness as the model. Then they secretly admire themselves because they keep this standard and subtly pressure their Christian sisters to maintain their standard of the Ideal Christian Woman. The second group of women have developed their idea of the Ideal Christian Woman not from their own strengths but from the Christian sisters they know that seem to have it all together. This second group of women keeps trying and failing to fully live up to this standard and feel constant frustration and condemnation within themselves because of it.
Because so many of the women at Mars Hill Church are in their child-bearing years, the issues of fertility, child birth, and child rearing are the places Satan seems to attack us most concerning the gospel. We have wonderful single women who must stand by and watch their biological clock ticking. They hear the satanic lie whispered daily in their ear--"you're not anything until you have a child. Your life is meaningless until you give birth." There are infertile couples and couples who have miscarried. Satan lies to them, "You don't deserve a baby. You miscarried because you weren't disciplined enough to carry a healthy baby to full term." Women with children hear, "a really godly mom would have succeeded at breast feeding." Or "you had to have that emergency c-section because you didn't take care of yourself well during pregnancy." Christian moms (and would be moms) can be the worst at comparing themselves in an attempt to find their worth and identity in their children. As a mom who had a c-section and a less than stellar record breast-feeding, I admit to feeling threatened at times by moms who succeed at drug-free births with breasts over-flowing with milk. One friend who had her children at home shared that she no longer feels free to talk about those experiences with other moms because so many ladies seemed threatened by her story. Why can't Christian women share their stories or hear the story of others without feeling constant tension to compare themselves or find their value in how well they succeeded?
What is it about the gospel that protects us from the shame and condemnation of such comparisons? Like Paul, we acknowledge honestly the extent of our sin. As Paul says, "I am the chief of sinners." Then we look at the cross and realize, "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) Anyone who thinks they can earn God's favor by breast feeding well (or whatever issue) or that they lose God's favor if they don't, needs to review the gospel. They need to drink deeply of God's grace to us and must constantly interpret the rest of life in light of that grace. In light of the cross, we find our identity not in our talents or giftedness and not in how we compare to Jane Doe Christian. Instead, we find our identity in Jesus--after all, before the creation of the world, God determined that you and I would reflect God's image in Christ (Romans 8:29). But note Christ's warning in John 15:5:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (emphasis mine)
What is our identity in Jesus? Well, He is the Head and we are His Body. He is the Vine and we are His branches. We are supernaturally connected to Him and desperately dependent on Him for any hope of fruitful ministry at church, home, or the workplace. The Ideal Christian Woman realizes that having begun her walk of faith through the Spirit, she is still utterly dependent upon God for any hope of future obedience. She gets her nourishment for daily living from the Vine in light of the gospel and not from any false sense of personal ability--for apart from Him, she can do nothing.