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