One of the lures some Christian teachers use– especially women teachers– is the outward appearance of their lives.
A generation ago, a baby-holding woman with stair step children beside her– girls in collared dresses and boys in slacks– graced the fronts of homeschooling magazines. Inside were articles about her life-changing daily schedule, plan for chores, how she gets her children to be best friends, or why her husband had his vasectomy reversed.
These days, it’s the big-earringed, quirky-clothed, messy-bunned mom on Instagram or YouTube with fashionably-dressed kids doing the zipline in the backyard, talking vulnerably about her “messy” life, her fitness routine, and how much she loves “doing life” with her “peeps.”
Whether it’s Amish-looking, or the cutest-quirkiest “fam-bam,” when externals are used as the lure– the hidden message beneath the article or “real talk” is this:
My life looks unconventional and good.
Your life could look like mine.
We sometimes fail to see this as idolatry. If she’s a Christian woman, her choices in life are easily equated with “God’s way,” and we can call idolatry “wisdom.”
With our eyes on the lives of others, we might begin to feel:
- If we find a megachurch, maybe our older kids will stay in church.
- If we attend a small church with only like-minded families who make choices like ours, then my kids will be protected and stay close.
- If I show my husband this video, maybe he’ll do “family worship” — the way her husband does.
- If we use this homeschool curriculum (or send our kids to that Christian school), then our kids will grow up to love God like hers do.
- If I loosen up my convictions, maybe my young adult children won’t think our faith is cold and stale.
- If I get a good side hustle, we’d be financially set the way they are.
- If we have the maximum number of children, we can feel better about our choices, because we’re “letting God plan the family.”
- If we don’t let our kids “date,” they won’t struggle with sexual sin.
Honestly, though, let’s consider that for a moment.
Does God promise us that if we live “A Certain Way,” our lives will have good outcomes? And we’ll avoid suffering? And we’ll retain the illusion of control?
Does God tell us that if we pick the right church, curriculum, or formula for life, our children will deeply love God and won’t struggle with sin?
OR, as we seek to know and obey God, learning from the Scriptures, and heeding the conviction of the Spirit, is there grace and peace for us as we go through the decisions of life?
My contention is this:
we should be wary of Christian-sounding messages that are actually formulas for outward conformity.
Because the heart of the Gospel is this: God brings unity among people of all sorts!
We come together weekly to celebrate the Gospel of Jesus NOT because we all dress, live, educate, or work the same– but because we all have been bought by the blood of King Jesus and treasure Him as supremely valuable.
A while ago (I’m not sure how long– Covid skewed my sense of time), a homeschooling mom made a video while peeling potatoes, talking about the holy heartiness of cooking and taking notes in one’s cookbook… while taking two older women, and their ministries, to task for their supposedly liberal theology.
Because she is witty and has a platform, it was widely shared. But the message was deeply flawed.
Both women she mentioned (like the video-maker) primarily teach the Bible. They are women who LOVE the Bible. They do not share all of her convictions, but both love Jesus and have dedicated their lives to teaching God’s Word.
Their lives look different from hers for many reasons, one of which is that neither of them has young children underfoot any longer.
While I don’t like her approach to raising concerns about a fellow believer, what stuck out to me was the underlying idea that if women were godly, they would (like her) be focused on prepping meals. They would be living according to her convictions.
Essentially, she was saying:
“If you obey God, your life will look like mine.”
But let’s humbly acknowledge:
this attitude could creep up in any of our hearts.
It’s easy to huddle up with your “tribe” and cultivate a heart that scrutinizes the lives of others in order to criticize and condemn.
It’s easy to take something in your life and start to believe, “if someone else really loved Jesus, they also would do XYZ.”
It’s easy to take pot-shots at people “outside” of your tribe. That’s an easy criticism to deliver, and people in your “tribe” will pat your back and think you’re really standing up for truth.
In the evangelical context, “discernment bloggers” evaluate and grade the ministries of others, down to minutiae, so that others can quickly “unfollow” those who don’t make the grade. “Ex-vangelicals” do the same thing, from the opposite vantage point.
THE DOWNFALL OF “MEASURING UP”
Whatever our background, we can probably each compose a list of the underlying messages we’ve been taught of how to measure up.
But what we sometimes fail to see is how whatever system/”tribe” we are currently embracing is subtly teaching us NEW ways of measuring up.
Sadly, it’s easy to embrace the idols in whatever “corner” we’re in, because we don’t even think to hold them out to examine or question them. Familiar messages (even legalistic ones), delivered by familiar people, often sound “good” to our ears and look “good” to our eyes.
I pray we would each have discernment!
God can help us see the hidden messages in what we read and hear, AS WELL AS in our own heart beliefs, if we ask.
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him.James 1:5
Ultimately we can have confidence that He will help us grow in discernment.
The Spirit will help us not to put hope and confidence in our own actions. He will help us move away from legalism and formulas, and will help us grow in knowing and loving God.
Externals are tricky. Once we feel at home in a “tribe” we may start to use externals as a filter. We can think that by looking at someone’s outsides, we are able to:
- tell what’s in a person’s heart,
- make wise decisions about who we’ll spend time with,
- know more accurately who is pleasing to God,
- decide whether they’re “with us” or “against us,” and
- see clearly what’s happening around us.
We can fail to see the harm of focusing on externals. Externals can:
- mask who people really are,
- lull us into trusting the wrong people,
- make ungodly people look cleaned up,
- make us harsh and judgmental toward those who don’t keep “standards” we deem good and right
- give us a false sense of safety, and
- (and this is the most dangerous of all) cause us to trust in our own externals (and our “convictions”) rather than walking by the Spirit and trusting the Lord.
As a Christian, while I absolutely want to live in a way that pleases God, I do not want even an ounce of hope or strength or joy or confidence to rest on me and my “good” choices.
In my “corner” of the Christian world, fighting this tendency means that I actively work in my heart to not put my hope in:
- the number of children I have/the size of our family,
- my ability to cook/sew/save money (or not),
- whether or not I got married to a godly man,
- my clothing (whether trendy or Most-Decidedly Modest),
- the decisions we make in rearing our children, or
- the means we use to educate them.
While these choices AFFECT my life, and while I can (and should!) seek His input and wisdom as I make decisions, none of it saves me– only Christ.
None of it is to become a point of personal pride or repository for my joy and confidence– only Christ!
If a sister in Christ asks about a woman’s– especially a teacher/writer’s– theology, we can sit and talk. There may be problematic elements in her theology, and it may be appropriate to warn another believer.
We ARE to be discerning, and it is RIGHT to carefully evaluate the people to whom we listen. But her theology is not wrong because she’s not (at this precise moment) living life in the same season and manner as me.
Implications like that HARM the Body of Christ.
A woman is not automatically wise because she:
- writes books, speaks, or has a “platform.”
- was raised by someone famous.
- has been married for X number of years.
- got abused/divorced/experienced X tragedy.
- follows a particular set of dietary guidelines.
- has a financially-successful “side-hustle.”
- is married to a pastor.
- makes X parenting/schooling/birthing decision.
- looks really hip and trendy.
- looks really homely and circumspect.
- has Connections With The Right People.
- has gotten pregnant more times than you.
- or peels potatoes while making a video.
A WARNING TO MY SISTERS IN THE LORD
Beware of messages that stir up idols in your heart– idols of schooling, or a perfect marriage, or attainable behaviors, or a certain external “look”.
Beware of any message that prods you to invest your joy, identity, and value in your own efforts & decisions.
Run from it, Sister. Run!
Run to the cross.
Find your identity
and long-term stability
and inner peace
and motivation for life
and hope that will not disappoint
At the cross of Jesus, alone, we find a LASTING HOPE for our hearts.
A hope that does not depend on us.
The cross of Jesus does not tell us, “TRY HARDER. DO BETTER. RUN FASTER.”
No! The cross says exactly the opposite: no matter how hard you try, no matter how disciplined you are, no matter how much you beat your body, soul, and spirit to try to get it to do rightly, you could never be holy, righteous, or good on your own. You needed Jesus to do that for you, and He did!
Instead of giving us a formula for life, the cross of Christ bids us to come and die to self, give up our hope for self-righteousness, and walk by the Spirit.
It’s a hard cost, no doubt. But it is vastly easier than bearing up under the weight of someone else’s trendy, or super-holy, or gastrological, or fertility-focused, or social-justice, or Amish-lite yoke.
Whether she looks trendy or bag-lady-ish, if the woman you are listening to is adding in things you must BE in order to please God or win His favor or live “God’s way,” she is acting like a Pharisee.
This is how Jesus described them in Matthew 23:
“they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” ~Matthew 23: 3-5
Let us not give our ears to such women,
and let us not BE such women.
The woman Jesus commended was not the “hospitable” woman running around preparing food —
–but the one who sat at His feet, worshipping, listening, spending her time focused on His Words.
God, help us to be THAT sort of woman, whatever other details are true about us!
I pray that we would be women who center our whole self– all our value and HOPE — on the precious and freeing news of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised as our righteousness.
Grace and Peace,