What if I wrote a column about the spiritual value of scrubbing your floors twice a day and all the health benefits for your family associated with the practice? And suppose it was all backed up with verses in Leviticus? What if I then went on to point out that such hard work, commitment, dedication, and sacrifice would reap for you great satisfaction here and a reward in heaven? And suppose further I followed it up with testimonies from women whose families were changed as a result of the practice? I hope you would think I was out to lunch. But unfortunately, some women would probably either begin to implement my suggestions, or begin to feel guilty because they hadn't.
Today there is no lack of innocent-looking Christian books with friendly titles making the rounds among Christian women which go far, far beyond my floor scrubbing example. They set down absolute rules for Christian households on everythinginfant feeding, potty training, television ownership, homeschooling, and hand washingas though they had a verse from the Bible for each petty regulation. I am amazed and saddened at how many Christian women quickly adopt these methods and believe they are doing their Christian duty when they make a chore list and post it on the fridge. Did God actually say in his Word that this is the Christian way?
Why is it so many Christian women want a list of rules, a set of directions, for every aspect of their lives? And if they find a set of "holy rules" in a sweet-looking Christian book, they adopt it as though it were Scripture itself, even if it says we shouldn't drink pop, or that we should begin potty training our children at birth. What is it in us that wants such detailed rules, and what is it that prompts us to adopt them?
The desire for authoritative rules springs from two sources. First, it comes from a desire to please, a desire not to mess up. Many women want to color within the lines, they want to be "good Christians," and they want to please God, but they don't want to figure this out by thinking through biblical principles. They just want someone to hand them a list of rules. There is a false sense of security in adopting a method"so and so's child-rearing method." If it worked for them, it will work for you. When you go to bed at night, you can feel good about your Christian life.
The "system" can become a source of security. "I am doing fine with God because today I cut sugar out of the kid's diet, I'm breast-feeding on a schedule, and I'm having my next baby with a midwife at home." Approached this way, this is false comfort and is dangerous. Not only is it self-righteousness, works-righteousness, but if this really is God's way, then everyone else who isn't doing it this way is not pleasing God. In fact, they are in sin. This then leads to a feeling of superiority over those saints who do not adopt the "method."
Works-righteousness, a sense of spiritual security based upon my lifestyle, undercuts justification by faith. Jesus Christ is the only One who ultimately works. His work is perfect; his work is finished. Our salvation is based totally upon his work, and not upon any work of mine, no matter how righteous I may believe my work to be. My work may make my life more pleasant (or painful), but it will not save me, or make me any more secure before God. Christ's work alone is our only true security.
The second reason these "how-to" books gain such a hearing is that women can be gullible. When you read a statement that your children will grow up to be self-centered and demanding if you feed them snacks between meals, you need to ask an important question, like, "Says who?" Does Scripture require you to serve only carrots and apples as snacks? Is it more holy than serving cookies and milk? Do you look down on your sisters who have a loaded, accessible cookie jar? Contemporary Christian women, created by God to be responsive, are vulnerable to temptations to be deceived. We must learn to think like Christians and resist the temptation to believe everything we read or hear. Things are not true because they are bound in a cute little book or broadcast on a Christian radio station. We must stop being muddleheaded and be more closely dependent upon the Scriptures. In the light of Scripture, we must look beyond our methods to principles. When we adopt a scriptural principle, our methods (for methods are inescapable) may or may not look like every other family's in the church.
Every form of works-righteousness is rebellious at the bottom. It does not matter if it is tithing spices, or praying on street comers, or home-educating or home-birthingif you are feeling good about your standing before God because of anything you are doing, you are not looking to Christ or trusting in him.
Christian women must learn that justification is not found in long dresses, long hair, gardening, vitamins, or herbal medicine. These are all "things indifferent." But if you are looking to these things instead of to Christ, seeing your acceptance before God because of these externals, or feeling superior to your Christian sisters who have different methods, then these "things" are no longer indifferentthey have become wicked.
Mrs. Wilson is a regular contributor to the magazine Credenda/Agenda (a ministry of Community Evangelical Fellowship in Moscow, Idaho), in which this article first appeared (vol. 9, no. 1). Reprinted from New Horizons, June 1997.