If I know one, I know 50 godly, beautiful Christian women whose lives do NOT exceed their youthful expectations. These are the girls that were raised in youth group and went to Bible college to find a godly pastor to marry. They worked at various Christian ministries whenever the opportunities opened up. They studied careers that would facilitate their service to Christ. Some of them started this process in youth group. Others jumped on the “good choices” bandwagon later in life. These ladies rebelled in their youth, but at some point in their twenties, they came to Christ. They found a good church hoping to meet the right guy. Maybe they did marry the guy that on paper looked like the right choice. They tried to have a biblical view of marriage and family. But at some point, their reality reveals to them that they attached expectations to these good choices that are not being met. “Um, life isn’t particularly easy compared to my friends who screwed everything up.” Isn’t the whole point of obeying in youth group and marrying a good guy you met at Bible college that you want to save yourself from the heartache of life? That’s what I was taught.
I had a conversation about this very thing with one such friend. She told me we often confuse wisdom with gospel promises. Making wise choices that are obedient to Scriptural guidelines is exactly what we should do. Thank God for youth groups and Bible colleges that teach Scriptural wisdom. But our downfall in evangelical circles is that we feel we have to attach an expectation of good earthly outcome to these instructions if we want anyone to obey them.
Who would choose wisdom if they aren’t assured a good outcome? There are two issues. First, there certainly is Biblical assurance of good outcomes to obedience. But God defines good differently than we do. And God’s good in this life is tied very much to our sanctification and transformation to be like Christ. The process of rooting out our sin and replacing it with Christlikeness is never easy. It’s always hard. But it is very good.
Second, we discount how much of God’s good is rooted in eternity. I was struck by this when I worked through the book of Ephesians in depth last year. Paul emphasizes again and again what’s going on “in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20, 2:6, 3:10, 6:12). For much of my life, I valued obedience because of what I thought it would do for me in this life. Now I’m coming to understand that obedience is much more about giving testimony of God’s worth in the heavenly realm. When I obey in endurance through the pain even though I don’t perceive earthy benefit to it–when I obey simply because God Himself is worth obedience–THAT’S the moment that Satan is silenced and I am transformed.
Of course, much of this can only really be learned through the marathon of life’s personal experience. But I am burdened that those teaching youth and young adults do a disservice if we aren’t honest about what you can and cannot expect as results for wise choices. Certainly, we save ourselves some measure of heartache if we don’t marry porno guy preying on us at the bar. But that choice doesn’t spare us of the heartache of spending another Christmas by ourselves without a family of our own while porno guy takes the next girl he found to Vegas for the holidays. Don’t confuse wisdom with gospel promises. The reason we choose wisdom and endure the results even when they result in prolonged heartache is that we have secure gospel promises for what is happening in the heavenly places, outside our line of sight, promising joy for eternity. God is working for your good. And His definition of good is much better than yours. But He does define it differently. Much of our growth in Christ is simply when we start to define good the way God does in light of eternity.