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everyday life inside the fishbowl

Thursday Thoughts: Over-emphasizing the Gospel

on August 29, 2013

{On Thursdays, I share some thoughts about what God is teaching me in my various roles as a Christian, a woman, a wife, a mother, and a pastor’s wife.}

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First of all, let me say that I do not think we can really over-emphasize the Gospel — the whole Gospel, that is. Let me also say that I have been greatly blessed, encouraged, and challenged by the great number of books and articles that have lately been written with a focus on the Gospel.

But a tiny part of me has always hesitated. Something hasn’t quite seemed right. I felt that hesitation again this week as I once again read some blog posts about “mommy wars.” And they were great blog posts. They encouraged me to not dwell on trying to be the perfect mom and wife that the “other mom” is. They encouraged me to relish in the fact that Jesus accepts me in all my imperfections. And he does.

But that is only part of the Gospel. And I think that is what has bothered me a bit. We talk about grace all the time. I love the word grace. In one word, it is the story of my life. But the emphasis seems to be on justifying grace. We emphasize that we are declared to be righteous because of Christ’s holy life and death on the cross. We are emphasizing the Gospel, but we are over-emphasizing justification to the exclusion or minimizing of the other aspects of salvation.

What happens when we over-emphasize justification in this way? The answer is a subtle change in our mindset. We start to think that because of the Gospel, because God’s grace has been poured out on me, because I have been justified, God accepts me just as I am. . . and he doesn’t really want or expect me to change.

We can subtly start to think that we don’t have to work quite as hard to overcome this or that sin. We don’t have to strive quite as diligently to improve an area of weakness. We don’t have to excel. We don’t have to worship God by living holy and acceptable lives. We don’t have to worry about not being conformed to this world.

And so in over-emphasizing justifying grace, we de-emphasize sanctifying grace. We forget that the same grace that justified us is the same grace that trains us to live godly lives. You can’t have one without the other, as Titus 2:11-14 clearly explains:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation [saving grace] for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age [sanctifying grace], waiting for our blessed hope , the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

So, why did this all come to mind again as I read these “mommy war” posts?  I was concerned when I read a comment by a 17-year old girl.  To summarize, she said that she can’t wait to be a wife and mom. She said she’s always wanted to be an excellent wife and mom. The article helped her to see that her motivation was not always correct (excellence for the sake of pride, etc.). But then she basically asked if it was still ok to want to do things well.

Wow! What an eye-opener. Here is a young girl who has high aspirations to do things well as a future wife and mom, but one of the things she is coming away with from these types of articles is doubt.  Because of our emphasis on our standing in Christ (the “Gospel,” grace, justification–whatever you want to call it), she is wondering if, in this present age, it is wrong to want to be an excellent wife and mom!

What should be made clear is that, yes, we are accepted in Christ because he graciously justified us! And I can remember that every single time I fail: every time I yell at my kids, snap at my husband, hypocritically paste a smile on my face at church when I want to cry, fail to clean my house or cook a nice meal because I was too distracted with Facebook, fail to read my Bible and pray, fail to exercise like I should. . . fail, fail, fail. And, yes, there is grace, grace, grace.

But it is not just justifying grace. It is sanctifying grace. I accept the truth that Jesus accepts me as I am because of grace, but it doesn’t stop there! I then take up the promise of Titus 2 that God’s grace also trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. Today, I am justified. Today, I have the grace to live godly.

And that means I don’t accept my mediocre mothering just because Jesus accepts me. I don’t content myself with frozen pizzas every night, a dirty house, kids who watch TV for hours a day, etc. Obviously, there’s a balance here. Sometimes frozen pizzas, dirty houses, and tv-watching kids are a temporary reality. I’m not saying that we should try to be the best-dressed, wisest, godliest, cleanliest, etc mom and wife we know. But we should strive to be better in ways that need improvement. We can strive for excellence.

Imagine if I brought this thinking into a profession like medicine. I am a nurse (though I am  not presently employed). Imagine if I simply relished the fact that I am accepted by Christ despite any mistakes that I make as a nurse (which is true!). But suppose that I stop there. Because I am accepted in Christ, I don’t have to work really hard to excel in my field. What happens when you don’t work hard to excel as a nurse? Well, you could kill someone. Or at least really hurt them. Not trying to excel as a nurse can have really negative consequences.

Not trying to excel as a wife or mom could have really negative consequences too. Wouldn’t we rather be an example of excellence, coupled with a praise-worthy fear of the Lord, to our children? That is the type of woman Proverbs lifts up as commendable.

And so we must balance the truths of the Gospel in our lives. We must rejoice that we are justified – by grace.  And we must strive to live sanctified lives – by grace. And that means we moms need to rejoice that we are accepted when we fail, yet we also need to strive to live more sanctified lives by being ever-better stewards of our time, money, resources, etc to better serve our families and glorify our Savior.

{As a side note, I would imagine that many of these authors who emphasize justification would agree with me in theory. I am just concerned that we don’t subtly slip into incorrect thinking or unwittingly encourage others to do the same.}

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3 responses to “Thursday Thoughts: Over-emphasizing the Gospel

  1. Brendee Dawley says:

    Very well articulated, Holly… My husband and I were just discussing this recently in light of what is currently circulating out there.

  2. […] about (thus the heading, “Thursday Thoughts”). Quite a while ago, I wrote my most-read post, “Over-emphasizing the Gospel.” A lot of well-meaning authors have written about how we need to emphasize grace (as opposed to […]

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