The Gospel Centered Woman — Beginning and Ending in Faith

I have written a series of articles on a problem I perceive in women’s ministries that I am working to figure out for myself. Most of the articles are listed under the side bar of “Posts That Struck a Nerve.” And they did strike a nerve. I consistently get the most comments of any post when I deal with the disconnect between grace-based, Sola Scriptura, theologically sound groups and what plays out in the women’s ministries associated with them (and the books they write).

I’m currently rereading one of the favorite books on women’s roles in the church and home in conservative, reformed circles. I think I have figured out the foundational problem. I just wanted to read this famous author’s words one more time to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And sure enough, it was clear as day. It’s basic. It’s elementary. And it’s the massive, gaping hole in every women’s book I’ve read. It’s the gospel.

(Disclaimer – I haven’t read EVERY women’s book. And I don’t pretend to be the only woman to whom this has occurred. So if you know a women’s book that DOES center on the gospel, feel free to share it in the comments.)

The book I’m rereading now was the women’s “manual” at a mega church I attended. And it is oppressive to read. The author gives a number of good suggestions and helpful principles. But the problem is that I. Can’t. Do. Them. And she gives me no instruction except, “Do them.” She doesn’t equip me to bridge the gulf between what I am by nature (deserving of God’s wrath – Ephesians 2:1-10) and the ideal she sets up. Perhaps you might say, “But she’s writing to believers. You’re equipped now to obey.” But I ask you, HOW am I equipped to obey? Do you really think that all it takes is telling a Christian, “Do this,” and they therefore can and will do it? That is naïve! That ignores how Scripture says we change. Scripture is clear – we do not change by being told rules or trying to conform to rules (Galatians 3). Nobody changes that way. But HOW do we change? HOW do we obey?

In the midst of pondering all this, I realized that my journaling Bible has no notes in the book of Romans. Apparently, I haven’t read through Romans in a very long time. So I read Romans 1 yesterday and today. And it was clear.

Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith (or beginning and ending in faith), as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The ESV has an interesting note on the last phrase. It could also be translated, “The one who by faith is righteous shall live.” I like meditating on both the traditional and alternate wording of it. Any hope we have of understanding God’s righteousness begins and ends in faith. And faith is the key to living in righteousness.

I have often thought of the phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith,” in the context of trial or suffering. I am only just learning to think of it in term of daily struggle with sin. But Romans 1:17 says it’s how we LIVE. It’s every moment of every day. It’s the good times, it’s the struggles. It’s when we sin, and it’s when we are sinned against. We live it by faith — our confident expectation of all this gospel promises to us. It is the POWER by which we LIVE.

And it’s the power by which I live as a woman. In light of the curse that clearly outlines suffering and abuse of women in our depraved world. With all the seemingly oppressive things Scripture says to women. When I’m trying to help, submit to, or respect a fallen man. When I’m trying to submit to fallen church leadership. When I’m faced with raising fallen children in a fallen world. Because I’m a fallen single, widow, wife, mom, divorcee, cancer survivor, abuse victim, unemployed sole provider, or what have you. Every day begins and ends in faith. Don’t embrace rules and lists. Preach the gospel to yourself! By faith and faith alone, you will be righteous. By faith and faith alone, I can embrace and obey God’s instructions particular to women. It’s the only way for the righteous to LIVE.

16 Responses to The Gospel Centered Woman — Beginning and Ending in Faith

  1. theduryees June 9, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    It sort of creeps me out that a church would have a manual for living, and particularly for living as a Christian woman. Did they want to create a church full of women conformed to something other than what the Bible asks us to conform to? How on earth could a church full of women behaving exactly the same way reach out to a woman in pain, a woman in sin, a woman confused about the world and her roles in it?

  2. Loraena June 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    YES! I couldn't agree more. I love that alternate translation, “The one who by faith is righteous shall live.”! So true.

    Not too long ago, I emerged from a study on biblical womanhood, and though we discussed the importance of the gospel, the book we used (nor our dicussions) went far enough in showing us HOW we are to depend on it. It ultimately left me very discouraged.

    Then I read “Future Grace” by John Piper and the Spirit blessed me with a life-changing understanding of the necessity and gift of faith, faith in God's grace for my future, not in my own ability to meet my responsibilities. We have a huge gap in our understanding of the gospel when we don't emphasize faith. Teaching on this is a huge need, especially for we women, I think.

  3. Mommy, M.D. June 12, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    So, whose faith? Shall I live by my faith, or His? The faith(fulness) of Christ? Or my own ability to have faith IN Christ? If mine, from where do I get this faith, and what to do if I find myself lacking?

    The trouble is, so often faith becomes a work. As in, “I just need to have more faith, so…I guess I'll just work harder at that. Try to drum some up.” As in, everything else originates from Christ, but our faith in Christ is something we're supposed to be able to produce ourselves.

    I think the truth is that Christ alone is sufficient. Not even “faith in Christ” is sufficient, if that faith is dependent on my own efforts to initiate or sustain it. Does that distinction make sense?

    I don't have answers. Just lots and lots of questions. It seems true to say that Christ is sufficient, obviously. But as for how that fleshes out at the more practical level….it gets tricky. Thanks for prompting us to meditate on these Scriptures.

  4. Wendy June 12, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    That distinction does make perfect sense to me.

    Ephesians 2:8 NAS
    8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

    It helped me when I first heard that the “that” of the 2nd phrase refers as much to faith as it does salvation. ” … and that (faith) is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God …” Reminds me too of the guy's prayer in the gospels, “I believe, help my unbelief.” We're as dependent on God for faith as anything else. Which makes Him the place to which to run when our faith wavers.

    “Help my unbelief” is a prayer of monumental importance, in my opinion.

  5. Rebecca June 13, 2010 at 2:27 am #

    I've been meditating on a similar topic from the story of the prodigal son. When we are more concerned about rules than our relationship with the Father, we fear the freedom that the relationship affords, and fall into the patterns of the oldest son. When we are more concerned about our rights than our relationship with the Father, we fear the loving constraints inherent in a relationship, and rebel. The only balance to be found is in nurturing the relationship with our Father so that the rules and rights become secondary.

  6. sandygarman June 14, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    I am a pastor's wife and head of our women's ministry. Our women's ministry is in a holding pattern right now because I cannot figure out how to move from program/event driven ministry to women connecting around the gospel and living it out. I'm under pressure from the elder board to “do something” tangible. I feel stuck. Do I give control of the ministry over to someone else? Is doing something (even fluffy events)better than doing nothing? Oh how I wish you would figure this all out for us Wendy! How do you have a gospel-centered women's ministry that really, really changes lives?

  7. Wendy June 15, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    I wish I could figure it out too!! 🙂 I'll be thinking on this and will try to post something soon. Not an answer, but my thoughts as i process it too.

  8. Megan June 15, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    Oh, yes!!! I really want to know too! Our church has never had women's ministries because for so long the elders feared it would just devolve into gossip, slander, and husband-bashing. So “events” DID fill the vaccuum–jewelry parties, candle parties, crystal parties, etc. As enjoyable as they've been, they're never gospel-centered in any obvious way. For any sort of deep fellowship we have had to depend on baby showers, and while these have been truly wonderful, alone they have created the impression that absolutely everything in women's lives must revolve around being wives and mommies. There's been a growing hole in my heart, and a growing burden to find a women's ministry whose starting point was my human identity in Christ before my female roles as wife and mother.

    Thankfully, more recently the elders' opinions have changed, and they are encouraging women to meet. But there's now fear in the congregation to overcome, and a bit of complacency as well. I've been begging for years to be involved in women's ministry work, but discouragement and lack of teaching have run me down. I so wish I could find both the resources and courage to pursue what God has called good and necessary, and to find someone at whose feet I could sit to learn!

  9. Sherry Allchin June 17, 2010 at 3:02 am #

    Are you familiar with Elyse Fitzpatrick's books? Both “Counsel From the Cross” and “Because He Loves Me” address the gospel centered approach to life and ministry.

  10. Wendy June 17, 2010 at 4:05 am #

    I have heard of them but not read them. Thanks for that recommendation!!!!!!

  11. Christina June 19, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Our women's ministry group has been using “Because He Loves Me” this past year. Any one who wanted to be in a group was paired up with an “older” woman. Our group actually had 4 women in it. We met a couple times a month to go over what we read and encourage each other. It has been a great opportunity. I am really thankful for the leadership that our women's ministry board has provided.

  12. strengthfortoday June 19, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    I head up our ladies Bible study at church. At present, we are studying through “Kept for the Master's Use” by Frances Ridley Havergal. It is basically a study, phrase by phrase, through her hymn, “Take My Life, and Let It Be”. A study on consecration. It has been edifying. I have written some material to accompany it, and we have been working through this for months and months. The discussion has been very good.

  13. Valori June 21, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    This is my first time to visit this blog. I was doing a search on Sharon James and was led here. I currently lead the women's ministry at our church, and have been really trying to seek God's will in how to continue to move forward. Just wanted to say that we just had a wonderful women's event at our church for the ladies. We had Elyse Fitzpatrick come and do her “Because He Loves Me” seminar, and I had so many comments on how wonderful and refreshing it was. She basically shares the gospel over and over again and makes application to how to apply it in specific ways — i.e. when you are in the grocery line, when you are correcting your child, etc. I am a part of a church where we are consistently well-instructed in the gospel and in gospel motivation and yet it is true that we, as Jerry Bridges says, need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. It is our (MY) natural tendency to want to do it on our own, and I think this is a great temptation anytime we hear practical teaching as women. Oh, and along the lines of some of the comments above, another thing Elyse emphasized was faith — and she added, for people like me who tend to think of faith as a work (I see I am not alone), if you don't have faith, just ask God for it! Amen–He is the author and perfecter of our faith!

  14. Wendy June 21, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    I am hearing more and more about Elyse F. I definitely need to check out her stuff.

  15. Lisa writes... June 23, 2010 at 1:24 am #

    Another Elyse fan here! And, another women's ministry leader humbly seeking to fill that gaping hole with the glorious good news that Jesus saves sinners! May we be women of the gospel!

  16. Mrs. B September 7, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    Just found your blog! Enjoying it much!