Faith-Filled Women Change the World

Faith-Filled Women Change the World

As I left the post office on a cold December day, the words on a car window decal in the parking lot grabbed my attention: “Well behaved women rarely make history.” I drove away, clicking through the questions that bounced around in my brain: Who said that? Is it true? Well-behaved by what standard? Is the goal of a Christian woman to be well-behaved? To be remembered as part of history? 

I later googled the quote and found that it became a popular slogan for coffee mugs and bumper stickers because of its implicit message: Women must rebel in order to be remarkable and remembered. A woman must not be conventional, traditional, or (heaven forbid) biblical if she wants to make a difference in the world. 

My google research also led me to discover that the earliest version of the quote is attributed to historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who wrote that “well-behaved women *seldom* make history” in her 1976 article on Puritan funeral services. Interestingly enough, when Ulrich wrote those words, she was not implying that women should misbehave in order to be remembered. Rather, she was lamenting the fact that so many virtuous women, who have made necessary contributions to society, remain unknown. 

This quote, with its various interpretations, fascinates me. It’s led me to think about the impact I want to have as a woman. More importantly, it’s led me to drill down deeper into the Scriptures, seeking to better understand God’s plan and purpose for women by examining those women in the biblical narrative who are commended by him. 

As Christian women, what mark are we seeking to make on the world, and what behaviors are essential to our making that mark? Here are three truths I’ve gleaned:

Behavior is More than Just Behavior

Christian women can agree that God’s Word is the standard by which our behavior should be measured. The earliest chapters of the book of Genesis make it clear that the good Creator establishes the rules for his human creatures (Genesis 2:16-17). But while the standard is clear, the Scriptures are replete with teaching that 1.) humans consistently fail to meet God’s standard for our behavior and 2.) behavior is always more than just behavior. 

Yes, God desires and requires righteous behavior from those made in his image, but his primary concern is the heart from which that behavior flows. Consider his words to Israel through the prophet Hosea: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But…they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:6-7).  God is looking for more than external rule-keeping.

We see the truth that “behavior is more than just behavior” also exhibited in the fact that some of the most outwardly well-behaved people in the Bible are condemned , while some who break the external letter of the law in certain cases are commended. Consider the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who scrupulously kept the law of God, yet who Jesus called “whitewashed tombs”–beautiful on the outside but dead in their uncleanliness on the inside. On the other hand, think of Rahab, a Canaanite woman and a prostitute, who lied to hide and protect the Israelite spies as they prepared to take the Promised Land (Joshua 2). Rahab’s behavior is praised by the author Hebrews. (Hebrews 11:31). 

The Bible clearly does not prescribe lying, so why is Rahab described favorably, while the “well-behaved” Pharisees are described so unfavorably? The author of Hebrews gives us the answer when he writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it, the people of old received their commendation… And without faith, it is impossible to please [God]…” (Hebrews 11:1-2,6). 

God Commends Women of Faith

God commends those who behave by faith in him (Hebrews 11). In other words, God is pleased by obedience that flows from belief in his word, hope in his promises, and love for him. The problem, though, is that all of us are naturally faithless. 

From the very beginning, God’s enemy has been whispering the same poisonous lies to every  human heart: You’ll be better off to distrust and disobey God than to believe and obey him. Rebellion is the ticket to the good life. These lies were first aimed at a woman, and, since her fall, the rest of us have come into this world with seeds of doubt growing in our sin-sick hearts: God doesn’t really love me, and he can’t be trusted to keep his promises

As a result of our faithless hearts, we behave in one of two ways (or some combination of both). Either we break God’s rules in an attempt to gain freedom from (what we believe to be) his heavy-handedness, or we strive to keep all the rules in a desperate attempt to gain his favor. God commends neither of these behaviors because both flow from a faithless heart, and both ultimately lead to death. Yet, in spite of our faithlessness, God has never given up on his purpose and plans for women. 

Even after the first woman rebelliously chose death, God made a merciful promise: The woman would still bear life, and, by her seed, God’s enemy would one day be defeated (Genesis 3:15)!  In an act of faith, the man Adam called his wife “Eve”, which means “life giver” (Genesis 3:20). By belief in God’s Word and  hope in his promised salvation, Eve and many women after her would wage war against the lying serpent and participate in God’s plan to bring eternal life to a world cursed by sin and death. 

Consider biblical women like Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, Mary and others. None of these women always behaved perfectly. They were all sinners, but they bravely “hoped in God” (1 Peter 3:5-6), resting in his promises and looking forward to his coming salvation. These women courageously submitted themselves to God’s will, and through their imperfect but genuine faith, each played a vital part in God’s plan to bring to earth the One who would change the course of history. 

Faith-filled Women Change the World

The Bible does not prescribe every behavior of the women commended within its pages, but it does prescribe their faith. As Christian women today, we are called to share their faith. But we see more than they saw! In the pages of Scripture, we see Jesus Christ–the incarnate Son of God– crucified for our faithlessness and raised for our justification.

The goal of a Christian woman is not to be remembered but to faithfully serve a Savior who will never be forgotten. By faith in the finished work of Christ, we are united to him, and through that union, all of our behavior has eternal significance. As we work to nurture both physical and spiritual life in a world where death still seems to reign, we wage war on the enemy. And our efforts are not in vain, even when we can’t yet see the fruit. So, we press on with our eyes set on the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) until that day when he returns and makes all things right and new, as he has promised to do.

We submit to those God has placed in authority over us by faith. We work our jobs by faith. We pray and serve within the body of Christ by faith. We feed, clothe, and teach the physical and spiritual children in our care by faith. Our names may not be in the history books, but through the work of radically submissive, courageous obedience to Christ, we participate in building a kingdom that cannot be shaken. 

Well-behaved women may not make history, but the woman who hears the call of faith and responds, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let me be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)…? That woman will change the world. 

What is Gospel-Shaped Womanhood?

What is Gospel-Shaped Womanhood?

We are living in the age of the modern, individualistic self–a time when women have both the freedom and the pressure to forge a personal identity. Voices within our cultural context tell us it’s our job and our right to discover and define who we are. We are taught to look deep within to find our authentic selves, so that we can pursue a path in life that aligns with our true identity. In other words, we are living in “find yourself, live your truth, you do you” times–times in which we are (supposedly) free to be whoever we want to be.

But is it really true that identity is ours to create? Do self-discovery and self-definition really bring freedom and peace? At the end of the day, we’re all still desperately searching for answers to the same questions: Who am I, and does my life matter? Am I valuable? Wanted? Accepted? Secure? Am I truly, deeply, fully loved? The world tells women we will discover the answer to these questions within as we incessantly navel-gaze and search our own hearts while rehearsing to ourselves, “You are enough.” But if it’s true that identity is self-made, we’re left with the constant and heavy burden of trying to validate our enoughness. Could it be that what the world markets as freedom is actually another form of enslavement to ceaseless striving? 

In our quest to forge a personal identity, we often seek to define ourselves according to our roles, relationships, work performance, possessions, health, and a host of other fluctuating factors that aren’t stable enough to support the weight of our womanhood. If our worth as women is based on what we do, what happens when we stop doing that thing, or when we fail to do it well? If our security and sense of acceptance are wrapped up in our earthly relationships, a bank account, or a fit and healthy body, what happens when those things are lost? When the sources of a self-made identity are stripped away, we are left totally crushed.

But what if “identity” is not ours to make because we do not actually belong to ourselves? What if we could receive an undeserved but freely given identity that sealed our worth, security, belonging, and the love of another forever? Could this identity grant us permanent rest from the ceaseless striving to be enough? Could it enable us to face our brokenness honestly with the sure hope of true healing and wholeness? If so, is it possible that not being our own is actually good news rather than oppression?

The Bible tells the true story of the God of all creation–the God who made human beings both male and female in his image. As those made to reflect God’s glory in the world, all human beings possess inherent value and dignity. We were made to discover and become our truest selves through a relationship with the one who made us. But, in the beginning, human rebellion and sin against God severed the relationship between the Creator and his first children. As a result, every person born since has come into this world with a sinful nature and, essentially, in an identity crisis. We are born as spiritually orphaned children, dead in our sin and desperate for forgiveness, acceptance, love, and purpose. Sadly, though, we look for these things in all the wrong places. Unable to find the God who made us, we cannot rightly find ourselves.

But the Bible’s story doesn’t end with rebellion and crisis. No, it’s a story that culminates in redemption and grace. It’s a story of identity given, identity lost, and a new identity found for all who respond to the gospel call.  The gospel is the good news that God sent Jesus Christ, his one true Son, to rescue his lost children. Through faith alone in Jesus’ perfect life, substitutionary death on the cross, and resurrection, spiritual orphans are forgiven and brought back into relationship with the Father. And, by grace, all who trust Christ for salvation receive more than just forgiveness of sins. We are given a whole new identity as those in Christ, and this identity powerfully transforms and shapes every aspect of our lives and womanhood.

In Christ, we are those who are chosen and loved by God. In Christ, we are declared righteous in spite of our sin. In Christ, we are adopted, brought into a family, and guaranteed an eternal inheritance. In Christ, we are progressively being made into truly good people. And, in Christ, our bodies and souls will one day be totally set free from sin to live and reign with God forever. These glorious spiritual realities that now define us have practical implications for every part of our lives–our work, our bodies, our marriages or singleness, our motherhood, our friendships, and our suffering– and these implications are lived and worked out over time as we grow up in Christ.

So, in a world that tells us to find ourselves and be whoever we want to be (while simultaneously pressuring us to be all things), may we as women find hope in the good news that Jesus Christ brings us lasting rest. He enables us to stop striving to build our own identity and prove our worthiness. He releases us from the endless striving to be enough. Most significantly, his cross-work frees us from the incessant impulse to earn favor with God. It’s this true rest in Christ that fuels us to carry out the various good works God has called each of us to do in the world. Our work doesn’t save or define us, but, in Christ, it is eternally significant and purposeful. It matters greatly.

The grace of God in Christ is the catalyst for both deep rest of the soul and meaningful life work. Gospel-shaped womanhood is about learning to rest and work by the power of that grace as we remember that only the love of Christ tells us who we really are and transforms us into who we were made to be. This love is ours to freely receive, and that is very, very good news.

Taste and See: A Letter to my Younger Sisters in the Faith

Dear Sister,

I would love to meet for coffee and tell you what I wish I had understood and experienced ten years ago. Hindsight is 20/20,  isn’t it? The Lord  teaches us through time, and I suppose this is why the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul exhorts older women to teach the younger women “what is good” (Titus 2:3b). We live in a world that promotes a superficial view of goodness, and we are prone to lose our way—failing to see and believe the One who is truly good. So, if we were sipping coffee and chatting, here’s how I would seek to challenge and encourage  you through what I’ve learned:

*Boast in the Lord*

Regardless of your age or season, you will always be tempted to look to yourself for a defining sense of worth. Whether it’s grades, career success, athletic achievement, the size of your body, quantity and quality of material possessions, number of instagram likes, relationships and attention from the opposite sex; you will find yourself grasping within for a reason to boast. You may be blind to this desperate need to boast in yourself because it often happens within the recesses of your heart even when it doesn’t spring forth from your lips. In addition to worth and value, you will naturally strive to find personal goodness and an ultimate sense of righteousness within. How tempted you will be to claim your own kindness, charity, service, morality, or the fact that you have “checked all the spiritual boxes” as reasons God should count you worthy of His Kingdom. In Psalm chapter 34 , King David writes,

My Soul makes its boast in the Lord;

 Let the humble hear and be glad..

Oh, Magnify the Lord with me,

And let us exalt his name together!

How was David— the warrior King, conqueror of tens of thousands, and man after God’s own heart—able to confidently boast in God alone rather than in his own success or perceived worthiness?

*Taste and See God’s goodness*

The Bible teaches that God alone is good, and He alone is worthy of our boasts. You may know this to be true, but there is a difference in mentally agreeing with truth and personally experiencing that truth. David was able to boast in the Lord because he had tasted the sweetness of God’s goodness in his own life. He encourages his readers to do the same:Taste and See that the Lord is Good (Psalm 34:8A). Jonathan Edwards explains this well:

There is a difference between having an opinion that God is holy and gracious and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former yet know not how honey tastes, but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind.

Until you taste the goodness of God yourself, you will desperately seek to define your value and worth in some “goodness” of your own. Only in understanding God as infinitely good will you discover that human goodness in any form doesn’t measure up. It cannot and will not give you ultimate value, joy, or eternal life.

So, practically speaking, how does one taste and see the goodness of God?

*Take Refuge in Christ*

For you to experience the Father’s goodness, you must trust Him enough to take refuge in His Son. Jesus alone is the shelter God has provided for your salvation and eternal protection. Those who hide in Him are promised ultimate joy.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

…The Lord redeems the life of his servants;

None of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned

(Psalm 34:8-9, 22)

No matter what you achieve or how good you are, you will never meet the righteous requirements of God’s goodness because your heart is corrupted by sin (Jer 17:9, Psalm 51:5). Jesus alone meets God’s standard, and he came to earth as a human to live the life you couldn’t live and die the death you deserved to die. He has sheltered you from the righteous wrath of God you deserve by absorbing that wrath in your place. Jesus’s death on the cross is the visible proof of God’s goodness toward you. You take refuge in Him by looking to Jesus and trusting Him as sufficient to make you right with God. As you daily draw from the well of the gospel through God’s Word and His people (the Church–you cannot do it alone), you will  taste the sweetness of God’s perfect goodness and find it so satisfying.

*Reflect His Radiance in Trials*

Taking refuge in Christ does not mean that your life on earth will be free of trouble and hardship. Scripture is clear that you should not expect your life “hidden in Christ” to be easy. On the contrary, following and identifying with Jesus is a call to die to yourself (Luke 9:23) and lose the life you have known. It is a call to stop taking your cues from the world and looking within for your sense of worth, happiness and goodness. It is a call to recognize that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22) but God is working all things out for the ultimate good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Roman 8:28)  even when “good” doesn’t always look the way we want it to look yet. Sister, your best life is not now. It’s later. And it’s eternal.

Those who look to him are radiant,

And their faces shall never be ashamed. . .

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

If you are in Christ, your freedom from condemnation and eternal deliverance from trials of this life are secure. Take refuge in Jesus when the storms of life rage by saturating yourself in His Word, surrounding yourself with His people, and rehearsing His gospel to your heart daily.  The radiance of His glory will be reflected in your life as you trust Him, and you will find His goodness sweeter and more satisfying than any  worldly treasures you may lose. Do you doubt it? Taste and see.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Psalm 27:13

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. -Jim Elliot