Over the last two weeks, I’ve written about my 1st and 2nd take aways from writing The Gospel-Centered Woman.
My 3rd and final take away from writing The Gospel-Centered Woman has to do with the interplay between the phrase biblical womanhood and the Holy Spirit. I’m not a fan of the phrase biblical womanhood, yet I don’t get to set the agenda in the Church on what topic will be discussed or what terminology the Church uses to discuss said topic. Evangelicals have been having a long discussion on women and Scripture, and like it or not, biblical womanhood is the general term used in this discussion.
Interest in the phrase biblical womanhood exploded last year with the publication of Rachel Held Evan’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood. When the Today show is discussing the topic of biblical womanhood, you know something’s up. I disagree with Rachel (whom I’ve never met but I think I would enjoy) about what is and is not biblical womanhood. To me, the term indicates what the Bible actually teaches about womanhood rather than anything the Bible happens to say to or about women, regardless of context.
So here’s my 3rd big takeaway – you can’t understand biblical womanhood without understanding covenants, and you can’t understand covenants without understanding the Holy Spirit.
“Covenants?! Holy Spirit?! Where did THAT come from,” you may ask. After studying this anew, I’ve come to believe that if you don’t understand how the Bible presents itself by way of the Old and New Covenant, Scripture on any topic, and certainly on biblical womanhood, is then going to seem piecemeal and haphazard. Seriously, WHY don’t women in conservative churches sleep in tents during their period? There are many insufficient answers people give that reflect a haphazard approach to Scripture. And then there is a coherent, connected answer that sheds light on all instructions in Scripture. Our understanding of Scripture is going to be skewed, and we will miss the power and glory of God IN us in the form of the Holy Spirit if we don’t understand covenants in the Bible.
I don’t mean to lay down a reformed gauntlet–that everyone has to be reformed to understand womanhood as the Bible presents it, but I will say boldly that it definitely helps. If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say covenants or reformed, here’s a good book to check out, Far as the Curse is Found : The Covenant Story of Redemption.
The Holy Spirit is the essence of the New Covenant. God no longer speaks through stone tablets. Now He lives within us and writes the law on our hearts. Jeremiah prophesied of this New Covenant in Jeremiah 33, and the author of Hebrews confirmed it by quoting Jeremiah in Hebrews 8-10. The law is now written on our hearts. Instead of God speaking law externally, from the outside/in, now He lives INSIDE His people. He speaks the law from the inside/out. His law now stems from His already secure relationship with us instead of being an external thing we seek to secure our relationship with Him. This sanctification is the role of the Holy Spirit (2 Thes. 2:13, I Pet. 1:2). You can’t understand the New Covenant and the beauty of all Christ ushered in through His life, death, and resurrection without the Holy Spirit.
The necessity of the Holy Spirit is why the disciples are clearly commanded by Jesus before His ascension, “DON’T DO ANYTHING UNTIL THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES!”
Acts 1:4-5 And while staying with them (Jesus) ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Jesus didn’t quietly instruct them. He ORDERED them. It’s the same word used to describe Him commanding the unclean spirit out of a man in Luke 8. Jesus uses strong words to communicate to His disciples that they should not go anywhere until the Spirit comes, because the Spirit was THE key to this next stage–to this NEW covenant/testament.
The Holy Spirit was always there in the Old Testament. In the earliest moments in Genesis, the Spirit hovers over the face of the waters, and God proclaims that He is making man in OUR image, alluding to the fact that there is more than one person in the Godhead. But the Holy Spirit emerges in the New Covenant as the conduit for much (all?) of the specific blessings that distinguish the New Covenant from the Old.
Jesus had begun to teach His disciples this truth before His death.
John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 16:6-14 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: … When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Note that Jesus says it is BETTER to have the Holy Spirit reside within us than to sit at the feet of Jesus. Personally, my natural inclination is to resist that truth. I have often longed to sit at the feet of Jesus and wonder what it would have been like to walk with Him on earth. Yet, consider Peter. After 3 years with Jesus, Jesus had to rebuke him with the strong words, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter cut of the soldier’s ear at Jesus’ arrest and still denied Jesus at His crucifixion. But read of Peter in Acts just days after the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and wow, what a difference. Peter’s example gives us a little inkling of what Jesus meant when He said it was to their advantage to receive God IN us in place of God WITH us.
So what does all that have to do with biblical womanhood? Well, how can it NOT radically transform our understanding of biblical womanhood?! God lives in us now and guides us through His Word. The very Spirit that guided the original authors of Scripture now lives in us as we read their words. And this is very relevant to biblical womanhood. It is relevant to, first, our understanding of what the Bible actually does and does not say to women and it is relevant, second, to how we receive and implement it in our lives.
2 Cor. 3:3-6 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Of particular note is that the Spirit convicts of sin. As Jesus said in John, He will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Holy Spirit takes on this job of guiding us in womanhood that reflects the God of the Bible. He convicts us of what is wrong in us as women and what is right for us to pursue. And He does it through His word applied to our hearts by way of His inner conviction.
Such an understanding frees all of us on the issue of Biblical womanhood. It doesn’t free us so that we will turn away from God’s instructions. It frees us to embrace them as God intended. It also frees us from the need to convict others of how God convicts us. I’m pretty sure that if the conservative evangelical church better grasped the power of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, they’d remove a large amount of the controversy the topic of Biblical womanhood evokes, because then we can all stop trying to convict each other! Really, folks, the Holy Spirit has this one under control. The rest of us can all take it down a notch.
I can’t explain in a single blog post what took me 154 pages to write out in book form, but suffice it to say that the Spirit’s role in the New Covenant is extremely relevant to understanding Scripture on any topic, including the topic of what the Bible does and does not say to women and how we are to receive and implement those instructions.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.