An open letter to my sisters in Christ
"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!"