Imagine a young woman walks up to you after your church service this Sunday and says: "Hi, I was wondering if you might have time in the next few weeks to get together and talk? I'm looking for someone who can show me what it means to be a godly woman."
What would you say?
Maybe you could invite her over to watch how you live during the day. You could teach her how you get up early, have your quiet time, make your family's breakfast, organize your grocery list and schedule your life throughout the week. You could let her tag along while you go to work, or visit the nursing home, or go to the PTA meeting, or teach at the homeschool co-op. At the end of the day, she might have a little glimpse of what godly womanhood looks like.
Or maybe you've been burnt by well-meaning women who tried to show you how to be godly. Maybe when this young woman comes up to you, you respond by saying, "Just give it up. You can't do it. Just embrace your failures and give yourself grace."
Now, I realize there’s something to be said for women teaching one another skills like cooking, cleaning, organizing, serving, and so on. I’m not demeaning those things. But when someone asks for help with becoming a godly woman and that’s what we teach her, we might just be missing the point. Whether we mean to or not, we’re equating godliness with domesticity. After all, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” right?
The truth is, I could be a fantastic cook, have a perfectly organized home, iron not just my husband’s clothes, but also my kids’ jeans and sheets (I think people do this, right?), and miss the beauty of gospel grace because I’m so wrapped up in the vanity of my own performance.
So what’s wrong with the second response—the one that tells the young woman to just give it up?
I tell people all the time, "Just give each other grace." But I recently had to ask myself, "What does that mean?"
Lately I’ve noticed this propensity for us to expose our failures to one another, whether online or in conversation. Now, I realize this sounds like a good thing. It's true--we do need to show one another our failures and sin. So we call things “mom fails” or “epic fails” and display pictures of messy homes, children covered in sparkly make-up, perhaps to encourage other women that it’s okay—you don’t have to have it all together. I’m all for being real. But after a while, this trend started to bother me and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause.
I think the problem is that this is probably not what Paul had in mind when he wrote of boasting in weakness. Our “boasting” looks a lot more like actual “boasting” than what I think Paul was intending. It can almost become a competition—who is the most “real”? Who has the most chaotic life? Let’s follow that woman because she gets it…it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Indeed, freedom from the pressure to be a perfect Proverbs 31 woman is a good thing. Many of our efforts to be this kind of woman are human-driven, rather than flowing out of faith in Christ. But how does that freedom come about? Do we just collectively throw in the towel and say, “No one’s perfect, and you don’t have to be!”
Is this what we mean when we talk about giving one another “grace?”
Is “grace” really just making excuses for one another or overlooking each others’ sin?
I think somewhere along the lines, this is what it became for me. Maybe because it’s what I wanted people to do for me. Maybe because I didn’t want to take the time or put forth the messy effort of confronting sin. Maybe because I just didn’t understand the power of the gospel.
So here’s what I think we’re missing with both responses to our sweet friend:
Proverbs 25:25 says, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”
What is the good news we can give this young woman—good news that will be cold water for her thirsty soul?
She wants to be a godly woman. Is it possible? Can she do it by employing our practical advice? Should she just throw in the towel now?
Well, we have good news—Proverbs 2 gives us hope that we can attain wisdom:
If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
And notice especially this part—Proverbs 2:6:
For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
So where does wisdom come from? From the Lord. More specifically, from His mouth. So it’s in His Word.
We have His wisdom right in His Word. And as I've been learning more and more, His Word is all about His redeeming grace—His perfect plan to redeem sinners through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.
We know both of the aforementioned responses are inadequate—one tells our friend she can be a godly woman based on externals, the other tells her that her sin isn’t that big of a deal.
We know she needs the cold water of the gospel for her thirsty soul. But how do we give it to her, and to each other? How do we really give each other grace without excusing sin?
Here’s what we do. We make sin real and big and terrible. We don’t excuse it.
J. Gresham Machen said, "A low view of law always produces legalism; a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace."
In other words, a low view of law tells us we can do it—we can be righteous on our own. This leads us right back to legalism. We think we’re giving each other grace, but we’re not. We’re denying each other the grace we need by saying we don't need it.
So there’s a better way. We can tell our young friend, and each other, this:
I know you want to be godly. That is Christ in you, loving you and causing you to want to bear fruit. And by trusting in His work, abiding in the Vine, and praying for the Spirit to work in and through you, you WILL bear fruit. But you will also fail. You will lose your temper. You will be lazy. You will manipulate. It’s hard to imagine it now, but it will happen. You will sometimes resent your husband. Your organizing system will fail. Or maybe you’ll struggle with pride because your organizing system is awesome.
There will be mom fails or wife fails or friend fails.
But that’s not even the half of it. It’s way, way worse than that. There’s the epic fail that has nothing to do with housework—it’s the epic fail of original, indwelling sin. Rather than telling you it’s not a big deal, I’m going to be honest. It’s a really, REALLY big deal. And no amount of trying harder will fix it.
So rejoice. He has done it all. It is finished. The problem is way bigger than you could ever imagine, and the victory is far greater than we could ever dream.
This is grace—our Savior came to earth as an infant just so He could live a complete, perfect life in our place. He empathizes with our suffering and our sorrow and our temptation. But He did it all—perfectly—with perfect wisdom. Not because it was easy, but because He loves us. He paid the debt, He bore our sin, He finished the work He set out to do, He rose in victory over sin and death, and now He is pleading on your behalf before the Father. This is grace.
This is cold water to our thirsty souls.
This is good news from a far country.
This is what it means to be a godly woman--a woman whose faith is in Christ alone.
For more on the idea of the "mom fail," check out this post by Kimm Crandall.