Our lives are a transcript of our theology. We cannot separate what we believe about God from the choices we make.
One of the saddest things I encounter as a writer is the lack of biblical knowledge many Christians possess. They attempt to parse together a knowledge of God from Sunday School messages, Beth Moore studies, and the every-now-and-then quiet time. We live in a world of Christians who might know the word ‘justification’ but couldn’t tell you what it means for their lives.
Our doctrine – our theology – it matters. It is fundamental to absolutely everything we do as women. What you believe about God and His gospel story will affect:
- How you speak
- How you think
- How you dress
- How far you go with your boyfriend
- How you navigate your future
- How you view marriage and children
- How you handle your finances
- How you view your purpose in life
Don’t believe me? Here’s an example.
Anna was raised in a strict, ‘fundamentalist’ church that preached fire and brimstone on Sundays. She learned a lot about God’s judgment on sin but never learned much about Jesus or His grace. Sex was bad. Homosexuals were evil. The women of the church were more concerned with how she looked than what was going on inside her heart. When Anna went to college, the distant God she’d learned to fear seemed even more distasteful thanks to her atheist peers. “What kind of God says marriage is the only place for sex? If I love my boyfriend, I can have sex with him as much as I want!” Her hallmates jeered. Because Anna never knew God as loving, she never understood His plan for love in marriage. Anna found a guy who seemed to love her and began sleeping with him. At least someone seems to care, if only for a moment.
Or how about this one:
Danielle grew up in a church that preached a lot about God’s love. She had no doubt God loved her. Her parents believed that because God was loving, they were to be ‘loving’ too – and they let Danielle run the show. Danielle never wanted for anything and learned with enough sweet talking, she could always get more. Danielle figured that since God loved her, He didn’t care if she slept with her boyfriend, partied on Friday nights or quit going to church in college. To her, love meant ‘no rules’. After all, that’s how my parents raised me.
Both of these girls were taught an incomplete theology. Anna learned God with an overemphasis on justice; Danielle learned God with an overemphasis on love. Because they viewed God through this incomplete lens, their actions were not in line with His will. They did not know God’s true love nor His true righteousness.
It is not enough to learn God through the mouths of other people. We must look for ourselves, learn for ourselves, and allow what God has revealed in Scripture become a truth for our lives.
When self-identified Christians object to what I write about sexuality, their arguments are 90% a flawed perception of who God is and 10% personal experience. That 10%, however, has a heavy influence on their perception of God (this is why parental discipleship is so very important!). Like in the example of Anna and Danielle, personal experience directs us into our theology and perception of God. But this does not mean that personal experience dictates God’s identity or role in our lives.
One of my readers recently sent me an article called ‘How Being the Good Christian Housewife Almost Killed Me‘. I wish I could write a response post, but instead I’m just going to highlight the core of this woman’s story.
Like Samantha, who wrote “I Waited Until My Wedding Night… And Wish I Hadn’t” (which I responded to in “I Waited… And It Was the Best Thing I Ever Did”), Vyckie of the ‘Christian Housewife‘ post was part of a movement. Samantha’s was the purity movement; Vyckie’s, the Quiverfull movement. Both movements reference biblical sources, but instead of concentrating on God’s grace and our response to that graciousness, faith is narrowed down to specific laws.
Both Samantha and Vyckie talk more about the behavior they were required to perform than the nature of the God they knew. Both Samantha and Vyckie saw the continual laws and rules as a reflection of an abusive, limiting God. And both Samantha and Vyckie have rejected ‘religion’ for a life determined of their own ‘free will’. Samantha sees sex outside of marriage as perfectly acceptable. Vyckie divorced her husband.
The experiences of Samantha and Vyckie were undeniably damaging in many ways. But in a feelings-driven culture, we cannot depend on personal experience to direct our understanding of God. Jesus Christ is not captive to cultural perception. He is not captive to what the church says. He is not captive to our experiences, our parents, or our past.
Samantha and Vyckie didn’t know God for themselves. They knew God through a movement, through rules, and through legalism.
In the play Fiddler on the Roof, the main character, Tevye, opens the scene with the song ‘Tradition’. He says:
“Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything… how to eat, how to sleep, even, how to wear clothes… Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.“
Are we Tevye? Are we Christians who have allowed tradition, regulation and rule to be the lens through which we view God?
“Because of our homeschooling… we know who we are and what God expects us to do.”
“Because I saved my virginity, I know who I am and what God expects me to do.”
“Because I read the KJV and wear skirts, I know who I am and what God expects me to do.”
THIS is the mentality Jesus came to destroy. THIS is the mentality of the Pharisees, who used tradition and law as a means to know God!
You can never know God through law. All you can know through law is condemnation, because the law is meant to POINT to grace, not become the source of it. And this is why Samantha and Vyckie have rejected Christ: because they never really knew Him for who He is.
They will say they knew Him. Vyckie says she had a personal relationship with Jesus for 20 years – but it is not possible to know the Living God who lovingly created you and come to the conclusions she did. Vyckie had a personal relationship with Tradition. A relationship with legalism leaves us like Tevye, asking: “How did this tradition start? ….I’ll tell you – I don’t know.”
What you believe about God will determine every part of who you are. It will determine your identity. It will determine the success of your marriage. It will determine how you raise your children, handle money, and whether you share your faith. So I beg and challenge you: know God for who He has revealed Himself to be, not who someone else says He is.
Is it hard to get past what we know of God to understand Him for who He is? Yes. I went through a stage like this two years ago, when I struggled to understand God’s grace in light of His justice. So I searched Scripture. I wrote out every verse I could find about God’s love. I pored over commentaries that explained sanctification, justification, and the role of faith in my behavior.
And at the end of my searching, I saw Jesus with new eyes.
Oh, Samantha and Vyckie, how my heart breaks for you! If you knew Jesus you would have never rejected Him! If you knew the love of a Father who sets high standards for your safety, you would never equate rules with abuse. If you knew marriage as a partnership of love and respect, of equality and honor, you would not submit to divorce.
When we seek God Himself instead of the checklist of law and approval of man, we can know the security of real love and grace. Your virginity, your modesty, your homeschooling – it can never save you.
But Jesus Christ can.
Vycki says, “You see, being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a set up for dysfunctional game-playing and crazy-making head trips. According to Christianity, Jesus subjected himself to torture and death, so that we could have the “free gift” of eternal life … and by “free,” he means, it’s only going to cost you everything you have and everything you are.”
Vycki never recognized her need for a Savior, so she doesn’t understand the weight of grace. This is the blinding quality of the law, so clearly illustrated by the Pharisees:
“When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.“ (Mark 2:16-17)
Jesus cannot reach those who think their righteous acts make them ‘good enough’ for God. When we elevate our acts to qualify our righteousness, we have forgotten the ‘free gift’ God has given us. And when you forget that gift, you begin to think that the ‘rules’ were God’s idea in the first place – when in fact, they were yours.
But I remember who I was before Christ. I remember the confusion, the lack of identity, the insecurity. And now that I know Him, I can’t wait to spend eternity with Him! When you understand grace, giving everything you have and everything you are seems like a small price to pay in light of Calvary. I live righteously because that is who Christ made me – not who I made myself.
And it is because I love Jesus Christ that I saved myself for marriage.
It is because He has made me beautiful that I respect my body, my husband, and the men around me.
It is because I am so serious about the truth of Jesus that I wish to homeschool my kids in that truth.
It is because Jesus showed me an example of loving submission that I submit to my husband in the same way.
If you don’t know Jesus, all you have left is law. But with Jesus there is freedom from every condemnation, because He is a Lord of both justice and love.
How you think about God has the power to alter your entire life. Your theology is the pen writing your story. So we need to stop judging God according to the laws of man and know God for who He really is.
Accept His grace; embrace His love. Read what He has revealed of Himself in Scripture. Seek Him, and you will find Him – and in Him is the abundant quality of life, the kind of life where eternity begins NOW. The kind of life where death is but a doorway to eternity.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.…” (Matt. 7:7-8)