Be Encouraged Weary Sister!
One thing I teach my counseling students is that all counseling problems are on some level theological problems. It may be that the person is unregenerate or, as in most of the people I see, the woman does not understand justification and sanctification in her salvation.
The Bible describes our problems as “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13) and yet I find women are routinely overwhelmed, discouraged, and in a state of hopelessness because of them. I find this in women who want to please God, but live under a tremendous weight of guilt. They do not understand their identity in Christ and they do not understand God’s never ending love for them (John 3:16). They do not understand how the gospel applies to their everyday life. They have tried to live the life they know God wants them to live but they can’t.
They embark on various self-improvement courses, thinking they should make themselves better, instead of remembering that Christ is the one who makes them better. They forget they cannot fix themselves and in trying to fix themselves they edit Christ out of the equation. They forget that they are hopeless and helpless apart from God and there is nothing they could ever do that would be enough or good enough apart from Him.
Don’t Forget God’s Love
Many Christian women live as practical atheists. Elyse Fitzpatrick describes it this way, “Even though we believe the gospel, the occasions in which the gospel (the incarnation, sinless life, death, bodily resurrection, and ascension of the son of God) actually intersect and powerfully affect our daily life are infrequent.” (Fitzpatrick, 2008, p. 41) We forget that we have been cleansed from our former sins (2 Peter 1:9). We forget God’s love; we forget the gospel.
Some signs of practical atheism are lacking joy in everyday life, even though you are adhering to the “rules” you have been told to obey. You are legalistic in your thinking and fear that should you fail to be holy that God will be displeased with you. Your emphasis is on external behavior and performance without internal drive and desire.
Performance Based Christianity
What I am describing is a performance-based Christian who believes that a truly committed and growing Christian will live their life by a set of rules. They believe that all they must do is perform everything a good Christian should do and they will have a good life, God will be pleased with them, and they will be blessed. They are continually evaluating position before God based on whether they perceive God is blessing them or not. They believe that if they are being blessed it is because they are doing the right thing, and if they are not being blessed it is because they are still struggling with sin. They believe that they earn or forfeit the blessings of God by how well and how often they succeed at living the Christian life. They believe that God punishes them when they don’t make the grade or when they struggle in overcoming.
This sets up a performance driven paradigm for living which creates multi-layered problems. Many counselees come with fear of man issues; they have become people pleasers indulging the sin of their husbands and children. They have an un-biblical fear of God and believe that God is out to get them. Some also come with extreme self-righteousness because they have become expert at checking all the boxes of their Christian faith.
Living a performance-oriented life is living a life that is not gospel-centered and attempts to negate the justification of the believer. It comes down to acting in all the right ways, saying all the right things, and attempting to give the impression they have “arrived”. They deny themselves, they punish themselves, they guilt themselves, and they shame themselves into conforming so God will bless them. A performance-oriented life is a legalistic life, and stepping outside the straight edge lines of performance brings condemnation and criticism from within. The effect of performance-driven Christianity effectively removes the need for ongoing and personal application of the gospel. The gospel becomes “for other people.” As they struggle in daily life they are miserable, defeated, anxiety-ridden, hopeless, and scared of being exposed. They recognize that they are lacking and inconsistent in their spiritual growth and change, so they live with an ongoing sense of guilt at their failure to perform. A counselee in such a state would say something like, “after all God has done for me, how can I be such a failure? I owe God for all he did for me.”
The doctrine of justification has everything to do with gospel-centered sanctification. We are positionally sanctified because we are justified. It is on the basis of Christ and Christ alone that we are acceptable to God, and it is on the basis of that relationship through Christ that we have any fellowship with God. Our justification had nothing to do with our performance, our activities, or our spiritual disciplines. We have been declared justified and righteous before God. We have been declared adopted and accepted in the beloved by God. We have no righteousness of our own therefore our righteous deeds don’t earn us any extra favor with God, they are an outflow of what God is bringing to us through our relationship with the living Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Gospel-centered justification means that I do not look to my own Christian performance to make me acceptable to God. God’s acceptance is not based on anything we do, but what Christ did for us (Romans 8:1). The Christian’s standing before God is not in jeopardy ever because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
Rest easy, weary sister!