An open letter to my sisters in Christ

What follows is part of a letter I recently sent to a dear friend who was struggling with her sense of guilt for her perceived failure and inadequacy as a Christian. This was no babe in Christ, but a long time believer with solid doctrinal beliefs. As I tried to encourage her I found myself needing to be encouraged as well. When I was done, I read the letter to my husband and asked, "Is this really true? Did I tell her the truth? It seems too good to be true!" He assured me that it was the Gospel, and most certainly true. I found myself wishing I could share this with all my sisters in Christ, so here it is (with the names changed to protect the forgiven).

"I've been listening to a lecture series on grace these last few months. I found it really difficult to accept in the beginning. It seemed too good to be true. I will listen again in the future, because it's still so hard to believe. But it's changed my life. It's kind of like when I first learned the Doctrines of Grace, it felt almost as if I'd never really heard the Gospel before.

Works come naturally to us as women - it's what we're often valued for - and how we rate our own worth as human beings and rank ourselves among other women. We think that Titus 2 and Proverbs 31 are for us and obsess over them, forgetting there's a whole huge Bible for us. All that doctrine is for us too. The Gospel is for us women too!

I think of Martha all the time. If she'd been serving out of the joy of knowing Christ, she wouldn't have been judging her sister for not being in "her place", and probably would have been sitting alongside her at the feet of Jesus resting from her labors and learning about God's grace. There's a place in the Gospel for good works, but if we find ourselves beating ourselves and our sisters up for not doing what we think "should" be done, those are not the kind of works that qualify as good. Good works come from the freedom that is in Christ and from the joy of the Gospel.

It wasn't just the Arminian churches we used to attend that focused on works, though they tended to be even more focused on externals. I see it all the time in reformed circles, and women are the worst. We pride ourselves on our doctrinal rightness and high regard for and obedience to Scripture, while at the same time we are turning the New Covenant into a new kind of legalism. We get all hung up on wallowing in our sinfulness, looking for evidences of grace in our lives - feeling that our spirituality is measured by our level of introspection, self-examination, and mourning/grieving over our sin - and forgetting the Gospel - that Jesus Christ bore the penalty for every one of them. (I feel I can say all this because I've gone down that road many times, and have ended up depressed, discouraged and judgmental, serving God out of guilty feelings rather than the faith and joy of a forgiven sinner. Life becomes one big should rather than one big want to.) We devote ourselves to the Doctrines of Grace but forget about grace altogether. If the Gospel is really good news why are we kicking ourselves, beating ourselves up and feeling inadequate and discouraged all the time. We need to just agree with God (that's what repentance is - a change of mind) about our attitudes, acknowledging when they are sinful, seek forgiveness and trust in that very forgiveness and move on in joyful service - even if we have to repeat the cycle a hundred times in one day.

Sister, it's dreadfully hard to undo a lifetime of seeking God's favor by our works. (And it doesn't help that we feel so spiritual when we're doing it!) I know. So hang in there. And don't be surprised that the more you learn about God's grace the more you find legalism everywhere in Christian circles. When I see it in a friend I usually just remind them of the Cross, where all our sins are atoned for, that Christ purchased God's favor for us, and that nothing we could ever do could ever add to or take away what Christ accomplished there. Whenever I do, I see the joy and enthusiasm of the Gospel come right back to that person - every time. Remember, His load is easy and His burden light. If you're feeling like you're laboring under a heavy load, you've forgotten about grace.

Oh, if I sound preachy it's because I am. I'm preaching to myself. The Gospel is the hardest thing in the world to believe. We have to hear it all the time.

Hang in there sister and don't let anyone lay a burden of guilt on you!"


jeri said…
Beautiful! and I needed to hear it today, and need to hear it often. You've hit the nail on the head, I believe, for many of us. Thanks Laurie, your gifts of communication are a true encouragement.

I'm so glad for what the Lord has shown you. Is the lecture series you've been listening to online? I'd like to hear that myself.

Much love in Christ to you.
Debbie said…
Oh Laurie, how often Christians get so focused on doing good deeds for the wrong reasons. I am so grateful for God's grace. He even gave me the faith to believe. I've done nothing to deserve His forgiveness. All I had to do was believe and receive His gift of eternal life. When I really ponder this, I can't help but LOVE Him more and more.

Out of that love and the joy it brings, I desire to serve Him and His purposes. So, as I slowly (at times)surrender all parts of my life to Him, He works in and through me. So, even the work I do ...He gives me the wisdom, strength and ability to do.

It's all about love. God is love and when I abide in Him, I can't help but love. My motive isn't to receive applause or attention. My motive is love; love for God and love for people.

Your letter was such a word of encouragement. Each one of us has a different background. But we can cling to the fact that we are dearly loved by Almighty God. He has extended grace to us through Jesus. How awesome is that?

May you have a blessed Resurrection Day Laurie.
haithabu said…
Hi Laurie, I just want to put in a word for poor, harried Martha. I have seen her used so often as a negative example in contrast to her sister, but no one seems to remember that on a later occasion, Martha showed the stronger faith of the two. (Luke 11:20-32)

Maybe she took your advice!
Laurie M. said…

No doubt she listened and trusted Jesus when He so warmly rebuked her. Clearly from His tone -"Martha, Martha" - He was grieved to see her so harried, and desired for her to find the peace her sister had. His words strike me as pointed, yet so kind. The story doesn't tell us what Martha said or did in response to Jesus' words, but it's very likely that she left her kitchen behind and joined her sister at the feet of Jesus. I hope that like Jesus, I'm not trying to be hard on Martha, but to give her peace.

Funny you should mention her later faith. I agree with your assessment, though I've heard others interpret her words in a less positive light (perhaps not considering she might have learned from Jesus and matured in faith).
haithabu said…
Both Mary and Martha opened with the same complaint: "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." But only Martha went on to say, "But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." And then she goes on to make the good confession in almost the same words as Peter.
haithabu said…
Just thinking out loud here....

Maybe it's not so much that Martha had matured as that we all have our strong times and our weak times. Or that Mary and Martha had very different personalities and each needed to grow in a different way.

There is one to whom Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you....and you will find rest for your soul" and another to whom He says, "Take up your bed and walk!"
WhiteStone said…
Laurie, your posts always make be dig deep. And today's comments were great, too! Bless you all. It is easy to self-condemn. Romans 8:1 was a verse that was the beginning of myself moving away from three years of self-condemnation. It was a light bulb moment that opened my eyes to where my condemning thoughts were coming from. Not from Christ! The verse says that "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ!" Good news, indeed.
The Scotts said…
Laurie, I am praising God that He is meeting you in your struggles!!! Thanks for a beautifully written letter of the gospel. A dear friend of ours always says that we should preach the gospel to ourselves daily. Thanks for preaching the gospel to me today - your style, love and warmth were felt even through your words. I was encouraged again - love you dear Sister in Christ!

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