Biblical Obedience Isn’t Legalism, It’s Life

Come and Be Free
Imagine a scenario with me for a moment where you are imprisoned in an old dungeon, wrists and ankles in chains. You have been there a long time, your whole life in fact, because you had been born into this captivity. Because of this, you have no idea that darkness and pain and starvation are not normal or how everyone in the world lives. But then one day, a man comes and releases your chains, proclaiming excitedly that you are now free! He tells you of a glorious King who sacrificed his own life to rescue you as well as the other prisoners who had been jailed with you and invites you to walk with him out of the prison and experience life, light, and liberty. You quickly take his hand and go running from the place of your chains, full of anticipation and hope. However, as you go out, your joy is replaced with shock as your eyes burn from the sunlight you’ve never beheld, your chest aches as it inhales fresh air for the first time, your body shivers as it feels a breeze brush against it, and while you know intuitively that there is beauty and goodness waiting to meet you, the discomfort and trauma that is assaulting your body feels like it is all too much. Suddenly you pull your hand from your rescuer and go running back into the dungeon. You pick up those old chains that chafed your skin for years, and you begin to stroke them affectionately. The darkness feels comforting after the stinging sunlight, and you’ve been hungry and malnourished for so long that you are past feeling hunger pains anyway. You see other prisoners running back in to join you, and rather than reminding one another of the insanity that loving darkness, chains, and bondage is, you all encourage one another, “The King was so nice to die for us, and certainly we should not forget his great sacrifice! But I don’t think he realized how painful it would be for us to leave our home, afterall we have lived here forever! Those soldiers bidding us to leave this place are being so narrow-minded to think that true freedom and joy only exists on the other side of these walls. When we entered that bright light it felt as if we might die, and certainly the King does not want us to experience such agony. Because of what He did, we are now free to walk about our dungeons, and even visit our friends’ in theirs, such grace! And this way we can still be near those chains that have been with us through so much. We wouldn’t even know how to sleep without them! Yes, this King was good indeed to give us such freedom, and we are truly a most blessed people!”

When you hear this story in narrative form, the lunacy of the freed prisoners is immediately apparent. No prisoner in their right mind would choose to remain in those conditions. And certainly if one tried to run back to their chains there would be a hundred people telling them to stop acting crazy and get out of there. And yet, this picture is a fitting description of what so many believers in the American church are experiencing, both personally and corporately, as a Christian culture has sprung that nurtures sin under the guise of grace and writes off serious obedience to the Bible in the name of avoiding legalism. Borrowing some of the apostle Paul’s analogies, they have been left to look and act like natural people when they have been made spiritual in Christ, drinking milk when there is meat on the table, infants in the faith when they should be adults. So many Christians are walking around disoriented by the lack of fruitfulness manifested in their lives, or worse, comfortable in their worldly look-alike lives, unaware that there is so much more to be had if they would only come under the teachings of Scripture. Sin is the chains of our old captivity, the evidence of our previous enslavement, and it is false to view the call to obey the God-breathed Word as harsh, legalistic, or burdensome. Scripture is replete with verses equating our new life in Christ and a love for God to obedience, and when you understand the terrible nature of sin you are able to see that obedience is actually a call to life, light, and liberty. Yes, it is often painful, and in fact comes through a union to Christ’s death as your old self is crucified (Romans 6:6-7). But on the other side of our daily opportunities to die to ourselves is resurrection life, full of real grace, goodness, and glory.

Is Legalism Really Our Issue?
To understand what is wrong with so many in the modern church’s approach to sin and obedience, we have to begin with clarifying what legalism actually is and the sin of self-righteousness that is behind it. Legalism is adding on to God’s Laws or an attitude of self-righteousness because you think you’re really good at following them (plus all the extra rules the Legalist is prone to tack-on). So if you are really proud of how good you think you are at being godly, or if you think you can paint a picture of holiness above or beyond that which God has laid out in His Word, then that is certainly sin in need of serious repentance. Using the illustration from above, it would be like a person getting out of the prison only to put all their chains in a backpack to carry around and fasting four days a week because it brings back precious memories of starving in the dark, dank prison they were supposed to have left. As Paul says, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh,” (Colossians 2:23). However, though our flesh may legalistically desire to boast in what it has accomplished, I think it is fair to say in our current cultural context, self-denial and severity are not what sell. Rather, pride often takes a more devious path in our hearts.

The Humble Brag of a Non-Pharisee
Today, I would suggest that the form of self-righteousness most rampant in church culture is not the kind where people are trying so hard to not disobey God that they wrongly add additional standards to His perfect statutes. Rather, it is the kind where people make a lackadaisical approach to sin their boast, believing themselves to be superior to the stingy rule-followers that, according to them, give following Jesus a bad name. Imagine the tax collector overhearing the Pharisee’s boast in Luke 18, full of its evident pride, and responding in kind with a “Thank you, God, that I’m not like this arrogant Pharisee over here.” Certainly boasting in one’s attempts at obeying the commandments are evil and heartily condemned by Scripture, but what is equally condemned is a lack of love for the Law of God and an unwillingness to submit to it. As James 1:22-25 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” Those who make a feelings-driven, non-confrontational version of Christianity their boast are experiencing the same sinful pride as the Legalist, just with a bit of a backdoor approach. Sadly, this philosophy is leaving people to live in their dungeons while congratulating themselves for not being chained to the wall. Messages of cheap grace are a gross misunderstanding of the Lord’s purposes in calling us to lives of repentance and holiness, and they spring from a lack of comprehending the beauty of Christian obedience.

Defining Biblical Obedience
Biblical obedience is defined for us in Scripture in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.“ and 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” Because we have experienced the love of God in the gospel, we are led to trust what He has outlined as good and avoid what He has called evil in His Word. This obedience is born of our love for Him and a passion for His glory, knowing He laid down His life, “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised,” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Coming out of the dungeon that was slavery to sin admittedly feels like dying a lot of the time because we are still in the flesh, still in that body that was born in darkness. Ephesians 5:8b-10 tells us, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Like eyes adjusting from a dark dungeon to the light of the real world, it will certainly be a shock to our system to open our eyes, but akin to the kind that will lead to visions of mountains and rivers and flowers and the ocean. Putting off anything that reminisces of our old dungeon lives and walking in the Light of our Lord will lead to glorious experiences of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness that are the fruit of a Spirit-led life. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit,” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). This is the magnificent hope of the sanctification offered to us in the power of Christ through the Spirit – freedom and unveiled glory!

Go and Bear Glorious Fruit
In the famous Vine and Branches parable, our Savior said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” (John 15:8-11). The call to obedience is the call to glorify God and to abide in the love Christ has for you, so that you may experience bountiful joy. How could we ever find that burdensome or restrictive? We should not be content with more dungeon space when there is a whole world of gospel glory awaiting us on the other side of obedience. Consider the sin of anger. Is it really “freeing” to be getting sinfully mad at your kids, spouse, the person who cut you off, the insurance agent on the phone, etc. on a daily basis and not feeling like you have to deal with it because of some nice Instagram post you saw about how you’re “enough” and “grace”? Because that is what I see being marketed to women everywhere. In the place of truth and calls to walk in the glorious freedom of obedience there are empty comforts and passing over of sins that God does not give us to permission to overlook. What if instead we were exhorting women with the truth of Scripture to be so secure in the love of God, so desirous of His glory over their own, that they might be liberated to respond to life’s most difficult people or trying circumstances with a peace that surpasses understanding, unconditional grace to give in light of the unlimited grace they have been given, and unshakeable joy that is built upon their trust in God alone?  This is the reflective glory that our King not only died for, but rose again in glorious victory over death and sin: that we might become holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). He purchased our eternally secure position as His children, making us slaves to righteousness and freeing us to live out our blood-bought identities more and more as free women in Him as long as we are on this earth, until He brings our sanctification to a perfect completion (Philippians 1:6). Rather than being discouraged by the fact that we have to battle our sinful flesh or coping with it by diminishing our beliefs about the seriousness of sin and our response to it, we can resist growing weary in doing good knowing that through our perseverance we will be blessed (Galatians 6:9, James 1:22-25).


Women Pastors Have an Authority Issue

In the past month, I have noticed a troubling increase of women pastors infiltrating theological circles that, even a year or two ago, would’ve shocked me (insomuch as anything shocks me these days, which is to say not as much as I wish they did). Speakers and authors whose ministries I have enjoyed for years have recently come out in support of women entering pastoral ministry, have invited women pastors to speak on their podcasts, shared stories on their Instagram accounts of women pastors being confirmed for the first time in their churches, and so on. Five years ago, if I had read of a woman pastor, I would’ve assumed that she was part of a seeker-friendly, watered-down church at best, and even more likely, a part of a heretical church that taught a false gospel. However, the speakers and authors I am referring to do not come from these circles. They come from churches with extensive doctrinal statements that still hold to a biblical view of inerrancy, salvation, and even theological issues such as sovereignty, total depravity, and other typically more “conservative” issues. Two years ago these positions would’ve automatically implied that they also held to a traditional view of men and women’s roles and the specifics of how those flesh out in the context of a church body. But alas, those days appear to be fleeting. So, here I am, writing a “controversial” piece that only reiterates what has been said for the past 2,000 years, even though it should not actually be controversial at all to anyone who claims to submit to the authority of Scripture.

But, of course, women have been having authority issues since Genesis 3 (did I just go there? Yes, yes I did!). From the outset I want to be clear: this IS an authority issue. I am not denying that there are people who have not studied this topic, and therefore, would fall into what Proverbs calls the “naive” category. Out of love for our fellow Christians who have not worked through it, it is so important that we be having gracious conversations on the topic as we seek to reflect our God well together to a watching world. I have spent some time researching “the other side”, trying to understand the thought-process, biblical exegesis, and defenses that are used, and have reached one conclusion: this is not really an issue of differing opinions of how to interpret difficult passages of Scripture, nor is it an understandable misunderstanding of what Scripture has laid out as the roles of men and women. The bottom line is that you can come to Scripture seeking to defend your presuppositions or you can come with the desire for your presuppositions to be shaped by it, no matter how counter-cultural or offensive it may feel. Theological camps who are allowing women to enter the pastorate are simply going along with the first option. So, for the purpose of this piece, I will be reviewing God’s authority, the fact that we are all under it, and then call it a day. Because as Al Mohler shared about his own experience of having his mind changed regarding women becoming pastors, “Going to the Scriptures [on this issue], it doesn’t take long. It wasn’t like I embarked on a lifelong study to discover what Scripture says about this. It didn’t take long at all.”

You did not create yourself. I know you know that. If you are reading this on our blog it is 99% likely that you already believe in God, that He made you, and that He has made a permanent claim on your life through His Son’s redemptive work on your behalf at Calvary. The problem is, in our postmodern, existential society, we can have sneaky presumptions infiltrate our worldview at times without knowing it. And one slug is enough to ruin the whole salad, if you know what I mean. A foundational problem to the conversations in Christian circles regarding what it means for men and women to be equal has been that many evangelicals borrow the world’s definition of equality. Because men and women are both intellectually capable of publicly proclaiming truth from God’s Word and encouraging others in the faith, they believe that women must be given space to exercise these kinds of gifts in the exact same capacities and spheres as men, and if not, they are being treated as lesser than their Christian brothers. But we are not to submit to the world’s definitions, and what is more relevant is whether or not Scripture supports this view. Scripture is indeed clear that men and women are inherently equal in value as they image their Creator God, but it is also not shy about the fact that they are called to inherently different roles in the way they image Him. When the Holy Spirit caused you to be born again, your old self, the self that wanted to choose its own destiny, determine its own place in the world, and pick its own path died. You were made alive in Christ, born unto a cross-shaped, sacrificial life that acknowledges God as the authority over every aspect of your being and life on this earth. I say acknowledge, because He always has had that sovereign authority, you are merely now seeking to live in light of the authority that always belonged to Him rather than in rebellion against it. “You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price,” (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a).

Sisters, with that said, it is critical that we understand that we do not have a right to define ourselves in a biblical role that Scripture has not defined for us. It does not take a Masters in Biblical Languages to understand simple phrases like, “An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…” (1 Timothy 3:2a), “appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife…” (Titus 1:5b-6a), “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve,” (1 Timothy 2:12-13), and “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior…to teach what is good, and so train the young women…” (Titus 2:3-4). Nearly every article I came across in defense of women pastors basically attempted exegetical gymnastics asserting that there was some great mystery hidden in the Greek or using poor Bible translations that deceptively use gender-neutral language in place of explicitly male/female words. It goes against every progressive sensibility to say that women are not “permitted” to do certain things over their male counterparts, even if the language is explicitly rooted in a creational, pre-fall reality (Adam was created first, then Eve). When confronted with the total lack of Biblical examples of women elders or teachers beyond women-exclusive groups, those who defend women in the pastorate pulled a verse about a woman named Junia in Romans 16:7, referred to by Paul as his “kinsmen in the faith” (what?) or how maybe, possibly Priscilla could’ve been one (though it never says she was). These arguments, though fine examples of women using their gifts of teaching, hold about as much water as a holey bucket when it comes to defending women pastors, and expose the bottom line, once again: this stance is not about Scripture being unclear regarding how God wants His church to represent Him to the world. It is that in the midst of this culture that celebrates autonomy, parity, and egalitarianism, more and more people, even those who claim the name of Christ, are rejecting the picture that He is calling us to image through gender-based restrictions in our ministry to the church. God takes His glory very seriously, and as His Bride we should be passionately committed to representing Him the way He desires to be represented rather than creating false impressions of His nature in order to keep up with what the world believes is good or right.

When I sat down to write this article, I had mild trepidation as I wondered what difficult, hard-to-beat arguments I would encounter in my reading that would make explaining and defending a biblical view of church government and women’s roles difficult. To be honest, I was let down by the lack of persuasive, even remotely Scripture-honoring defenses out there and was reminded that like so many things, this view actually comes down not to semantics, but to whether we want to obey the Scripture on an issue or not. The Bible is clear, so we have to ask ourselves: Do we believe that God is the authority of our lives with the right to draw boundary lines around how we may glorify Him with the ways we participate in His church? Or do we believe its ok to start interpreting what God really means by cultural norms and their ideas about women’s place in this world? If you are someone who wrestles with the idea that women are not allowed to be pastors, my greatest encouragement to you is to go to the Word and simply read it for yourself, attempting to check your feelings at the door and consider, “Are you willing to adjust your life to whatever God reveals of Himself in the upcoming days?” (John Snyder, Behold Your God). No matter how uncomfortable the process may be, coming under the authority of our Father God is indeed for our good. Let us not view pastoral ministry as some kind of forbidden fruit or believe Satan’s lie that we are being kept from some delight. There is a whole garden of delights that are ours, and so many joys exclusive to biblical womanhood. So come, taste, and see that the Lord is good, and His purposes for us as women are good, too.

Passages for Further Study:
1 Timothy 2:9-15
1 Timothy 3:1-7
Titus 1:5-9

Some Articles and Sermons for Further Study
Short and Sweet:

If thinking about something you “can’t” do feels discouraging, check out this article by John Piper that lists out EIGHTY ways women get to participate in serving Christ in the Church:

This talk by Andreas Kostenberger addresses common arguments surrounding 1 Timothy 2:9-15 from those who hold to an egalitarian view:östenberger-on-gods-design-for-men-and-women-in-the-church-session-3/

This is part 4 of a great series on Biblical Womanhood from 2 Timothy 2:9-15, with this part specifically addressing verses 12-15 that summarize why women are to not teach or exercise authority over men.

Some thoughts from The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

Why We Need to Stop Giving Cheap Grace

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.” The theme of this beloved hymn, grace, is the banner of the Christian’s new life in Christ. We love grace! It’s the pivotal point of sermons, articles, blogs, podcasts, Bible studies, and even our everyday conversations. And this is for good reason, since apart from the grace of God, we literally would not have the gospel! But there is always a danger present when we become overly familiar with an idea, and that is that through our familiarity we can distill its value and impact. We see a lot of this today in the American church. There are many false teachers that preach about grace, except for the fact that they aren’t really teaching biblical grace since the one they preach is detached from repentance, sacrifice, and the atoning work of Christ. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this “cheap grace” when he says, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

“Biblical grace is inextricably connected to the atoning work of Christ and His sufficient sacrifice on our behalf when He died on the cross.”

While, thankfully, I don’t think most of us are embracing every degree of cheap grace that Bonhoeffer describes, there is still a way that many of us can unwittingly downplay grace that has been a recent point of conviction in my own life. It is common for us as Christians to talk about covering a person with grace, or we even may be encouraged by a friend to give ourselves grace. In certain contexts, these are valid and good exhortations. But what is not valid, and yet is far too common, is how frequently we will use that expression to refer to non-sin issues. “Her personality is different than mine, so I just need to give her grace.” “I’m going to cover this annoying habit of his with grace.” “Ugh, I didn’t get that last load of laundry finished, but now it’s late and I’m just so tired. You know what, I’m just going to give myself grace and I’ll get to it tomorrow.” Now, I am by no means advocating that we shouldn’t overlook personal differences, quirks, or understand that we aren’t always going to get everything we set out to do done in a day. But the problem with this sort of language that I am concerned about is that it neglects to understand what grace really is. Biblical grace is inextricably connected to the atoning work of Christ and His sufficient sacrifice on our behalf when He died on the cross. As Romans 3:22b-25a says, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” This has radical ramifications for our relationships. You can’t give real grace to someone for a non-sin issue, because they haven’t done anything requiring it. And when it comes to sin issues, we must always view grace in light of the cross in order to apply it correctly in difficult moments.

“When we frame our understanding of grace with the atonement in view, and then apply that to how we respond to sin, it has so much more impact on our lives than just broad-brushed so-called grace.”

When we frame our understanding of grace with the atonement in view, and then apply that to how we respond to sin, it has so much more impact on our lives than just broad-brushed so-called grace. For example, when a fellow Christian sins against us, it is through grace that we are able to view that sin in light of the gospel. Yes, they sinned, but we can forgive them because Christ atoned for that sin perfectly with his blood. Because of God’s abundant grace, they will not be condemned for that sin, and therefore should not be brought under condemnation by us. As Paul states in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” When a non-believer sins against us, it is the reality of our own position of favor, graced by God, that equips us to extend forgiveness, to choose to not hold the offense over their head. Like the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35, it would be utterly absurd to not forgive and give grace to others, in light of the abundant blessing of grace that is ours in Christ. It is also precious when confronted with our own guilt as we process our own emotions and thoughts. A few months ago, I was battling feelings of inadequacy. I am abundantly grateful for the many ways the Lord has provided for me to serve Him, but I am also continually humbled by my own insufficiency to accomplish my callings apart from Him. When I am not looking to the Lord, it is easy to feel guilty when I don’t complete everything on my to-do list at the end of the day. This meditation on grace has been so helpful in working through that feeling in my own heart. Is there a specific sin that kept me from walking in the work the Lord has prepared for me today? Then I must repent and turn to grace! My sin has been atoned for. The cross covers that point of failure and equips me to wake up another day and seek to mortify my flesh as I learn to walk by the Spirit. Rather than wallowing in discouragement, I can glory in my redemption, being confident that He who has begun a good work in me will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

“Like the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35, it would be utterly absurd to not forgive and give grace to others, in light of the abundant blessing of grace that is ours in Christ.”

Alternately, understanding grace this way affects how we handle non-sin situations. We don’t need to cover personality differences, annoying habits, or mistakes with grace. We need to humble ourselves and not see our personal preferences as superior to others, because doing so is in fact pride. Suddenly we are not in the seemingly high position of bestowing grace, but in the low position of choosing to esteem others as more significant than ourselves. Not long ago I had the opportunity to discuss this idea with some of my youth girls. We were discussing practical situations, and one student mention a sibling had accidentally broken something of hers. When I asked her what the biblical response was, she responded, “I know, I need to show grace.” I asked her if her sibling intended to hurt her or break her thing, and she answered no. We went on to have a fruitful conversation about how grace didn’t apply in this situation, except that she herself needed to turn to God for the grace to respond to her sibling with patience, in love. As sinful anger sprung up in her heart, she was actually the one who needed grace rather than her sibling who had made an accidental mistake! This idea continues to rings true for how we counsel our own hearts as well. Returning to my feelings of inadequacy that I mentioned previously as the example, I needed to consider: was it just a busy day with unexpected interruptions that kept me from accomplishing certain tasks? If so, then it changes how I needed to approach the Lord. Rather than repenting of my human frailty, which is a gift of God to remind me of my insufficiency apart from Him (2 Corinthians 12:9), I need to repent of my tendency to look to my performance for validation instead of resting in the providence of God. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” (Romans 3:28). Instead of feeling guilty I can thank the Lord for being sovereign over my days and trust that as I seek to obey, He will be faithful to accomplish everything He desires with my life. That is good news!

“As we understand the high cost of grace, that indeed Christ had to die to purchase it on our behalf, we will also grow in our understanding of how we use it.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after defining cheap grace, goes on to provide the contrast with biblical, costly grace. He wrote, “Costly grace…is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” Costly grace is what we as Christians get to live out every day as we pour out our lives as sacrifices unto the Lord. As we understand the high cost of grace, that indeed Christ had to die to purchase it on our behalf, we will also grow in our understanding of how we use it. Hopefully, the examples we looked at served to demonstrate how this change in perspective in the way we discuss grace can have such practical ramifications for our lives. As we take time to truly process and evaluate if and to whom grace need be applied as we encounter different situations and then think about how the cross-work of Christ is relevant, we will experience so much more power in our battle with sin as we fight with the truth of the gospel! It’s a simple fact that we cannot meditate on truth if we are misinterpreting the issue in the first place. Learning to distinguish between sin and non-sin issues, applying atonement-based grace, and developing a humble, kind nature, will producing fruit in our lives as we think and then walk differently towards those closest to us. It is truly my prayer that all of us would, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18).

Truths for the Angry Heart

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
(Psalm 4)

Feelings of distress, being wronged, and anger… these are exceedingly common to the human condition. The vast majority of our anger usually flows out of the belief that we have not been treated by another in a way we feel is right. David felt this in Psalm 4, and indeed, he had been wronged. Yet even in the face of being clearly sinned against, he counseled himself with these words: be angry, and do not sin. He then goes on to gives some beneficial exhortations for how to handle anger, whether it is justified or not (hint: most of ours is not). There is an abundance of wisdom in this psalm from the way David seeks the Lord in prayer, to how he remembers his position as set apart unto the Lord, and later identifies the true joy and peace that can only be found in God. But for the purpose of this piece, I just want to zoom in on verses 3 and 4. As we look at David’s approach to handling his own feelings of distress and anger, there are a few key points that I think we as Christian women would be wise to hold onto, in order that we too might learn to handle even the most intense emotional moments in a way that glorifies Christ.

1) She ponders truth
“Ponder in your own hearts on your bed…” (v. 4)
So often when we are angry, we have chosen to cling to and dwell on ourselves and our feelings rather than looking outside of ourselves to set our minds on the things of Christ. The Hebrew word for “ponder” in verse 4 is amar, and its literal meaning is to carefully give an answer, challenge, or command, or even to speak against something. When we are feeling angry, we must challenge and command our hearts to submit to the Lord’s will for our life at that moment, answering our hearts protests and speaking against any thoughts that might seek to feel justified in lashing out. Tim Keller suggests that, when angered, we would be wise to ask ourselves, “What am I loving so much right now that my heart is moved to feel angry?” Taking time to think about and evaluate our answer before we respond can provide the critical self-assessment we need to know how to move forward. We need to identify the underlying issue to understand the proper truth to apply to it. Psalm 143:5, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” The universal truth we can always choose to ponder regardless of our clarity on the problem is on the great works of God, beginning with Christ’s humble sacrifice for us on the Cross. It is as we meditate on that precious reality that we are able to find strength to overcome any emotion. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 tells us that, “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Controlled by the love of Christ, we have the power to preach the truth to ourselves, strengthened by the One who died so that we might give all of ourselves, including our mind and thought-life, to Him.

2) She is quiet; she doesn’t spew
“…and be silent. Selah.” v. 4
Selah is a word frequently found throughout the Psalms that signaled the musicians to rest and pause, providing a moment for quiet contemplation of what had just been sung. Strategically, David inserts this restful pause here, right after he has commanded silence as the prelude to passing through the minefield of anger righteously. The gateway drug of anger is to say “just one thing” before we tell ourselves we will be done talking. In the heat of anger, it is all too easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we will be able to make one jab, and then cease swinging. And yet we know this is almost never the case. Wisdom from Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” James 1:19 challenges us to be, “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” A wise woman will actively rule her spirit, choosing to be silent in the heat of her anger, running to God with her internal frenzy, so that she will not compromise her position as a representative of God. There is no greater example of patience under pressure than our great Shepherd who was, “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth,” (Isaiah 53:7). If we feel like it is impossible to stay silent when we are feeling wronged or exasperated, we can always think back to the one who bore the Ultimate Wrong in silence.

3) She actively obeys / does good
“Offer right sacrifices…” (v. 5)
Romans 12:1 exhorts us to, “by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” While David wrote Psalm 4 when the Old Testament sacrificial system was still in place, the heart of sacrifice has remained the same pre and post Christ’s messianic sacrifice on our behalf. It is His sacrifice for us that enables us to offer our lives as a holy sacrifice through our obedience. When Saul disobeyed the Lord by not killing the Amalekites livestock, in the name of using some of it for sacrifices, Samuel replied, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” The “right sacrifices” of David’s time were rooted in hearts of obedience, just as ours must be. When we feel the surge of anger welling up in our hearts, the best thing we can do after preaching truth to ourselves and patiently being quiet is to go and actively seek to obey God and do good things. If we just sit around, telling our heart to get right indefinitely without choosing to move forward in our day, it will take so much longer for us to overcome that angry heart. We need to actively divert our emotional eyes from dwelling on the person, circumstance, or words that have upset us and turn to godly ways of distracting ourselves. Cleaning, exercising, calling or texting a friend that you know is in a difficult season, playing with your children, and praying for each of your family members, friends, or ministry leaders as you are busy with your hands are just a few ways that we might be able to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, running after good even as our hearts seek to overwhelm us.

4) She puts her trust in the Lord
“And put your trust in the Lord” (v. 5)
The Christian’s ability to have bold confidence in the plans and purposes of God is one of the sweetest sources of peace and comfort in the midst of life’s most emotionally trying circumstances. In 2 Samuel 16 a man named Shimei cursed and threw rocks at King David, even as he was on the run from his son Absalom. Talk about difficult and desperate life circumstances. Personally, I can imagine few things more likely to ignite anger in my heart than someone throwing rocks at my head (thankfully, something I have never experienced!). But David did not get angry and retaliate at all, even as his men were eagerly pushing to rush to his defense and strike Shimei down. David’s response has humbled me as I have realized how far I have to go in my own trusting the Lord. He says in verse 12, “Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” This older, wiser, patient David stood in stark contrast to the hothead who wanted to kill Nabal the fool for a similarly disrespectful offense in 1 Samuel 25. There is nothing that will take the wind out of our anger’s sails faster than a recognition of God’s providential hand at work through painful people and strenuous situations. No matter what another person has said or done to us, when we “trust in the Lord with all of our heart, and do not lean on our own understanding,” (Proverbs 3:5) we will be able to enjoy the surpassing peace of God in our hearts that is able to overcome any anger that may reside there.

There is so much more in this Psalm that we could dive into, but I hope that these four points from the Word will serve to encourage and embolden our hearts to enter into the battle against our own flesh and anger. All of our efforts to have self-control over our emotions are only possible through of the abundant grace of God in our lives! In verse 3 David says, “The Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.” This is the incredible calling and access that we ourselves have in Christ that encourages us in our battle against sin. He has set us apart positionally, He will continue to sanctify us progressively, and we have the hope that He will consecrate us permanently and perfectly in Heaven. And this position equips our prayers. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:12) He hears us when we call to Him! So let us constantly, hour by hour, be calling to Him, so that we may find due strength to respond to our hearts when we are feeling distressed, wronged, or angry.

You are What You (Read, Watch, Think)

In 1911, a man named Holbrook Jackson wrote a book of progressive “wisdom” called Platitudes in the Making, comprised of short statements intended to be profound and insightful. He sent a book to G. K. Chesterton, who proceeded to respond by writing a response to nearly every line in green pencil. One example was when Jackson said, “When we love we are most like animals. When we love we are at our best.” Chesterton wrote underneath, “We are never like animals. And least of all in love.” Chesterton was wise enough to discern through the facade of Jackson’s words. He tested the self-proclaimed truths and quickly exposed their foolishness. This skill of testing the ideas we encounter, thinking them through and comparing them to Scripture, is an important one indeed.

As women who have grown up in the age of information, we have no lack of resources when it comes to life advice or opinions. If you can think of a question, you can surely find an answer online. Beyond our ability to access material on any topic, we are entrenched in a postmodern culture that constantly barrages our mind with relativistic, liberal doctrine. I am particularly concerned with how this trend has affected our thought processes and views. When I look at the landscape of women in our country, even Christian women, I often see discouragement, dissatisfaction, and even depression. While this is a multi-faceted issue, one of the main culprits appears to be a lack of discernment which leads to ineffectively counseling our own hearts through the issues we face and the worldviews we encounter in various forms of books and media. It is far too easy to allow bad advice and worldly wisdom to work its way into our thought life, and then reap the consequences as we face our days in our own strength. And yet, there is hope! We have access to God’s Word, and that is the primary tool we need to develop a discerning mind that is able to walk in wisdom and make the best use of this life that God has given us (Colossians 4:5)!

Discernment: Wisdom’s Prerequisite
First, we must take a brief look at what discernment is and how it differs from wisdom. While wisdom is doing what you know you ought, discernment is what helps you know what you ought to do in the first place. Wisdom is the application of knowledge; discernment is the tool through which you sift knowledge and test the accuracy of ideologies. It could be said then that knowledge and discernment are prerequisites to wisdom. Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.” What a fascinating word picture contrasting a discerning person and the fool! The fool is running all over the place, always trying to find the next big idea, the newest self-help book, or another angle. Rather than being grounded, focused, and intentional, the fool is haphazard with no anchor for his or her life. Comparatively, we see an entirely different kind of person in the discerning individual. This person isn’t just going along, assuming they’ll figure things out along the way. No, this person is in purposeful pursuit of God’s truth.

What’s a Girl to Do?
So where do we begin? We must ask the Lord to teach us, through His Word and by His Spirit in us, how to have discernment. Romans 12:2 exhorts us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Firstly, we see that one is able to develop discernment through the Spirit-enabled transformation of our minds. We are not naturally born with good discernment, nor do we magically develop a discerning mind just by a mere coincidence. Rather, God’s Word offers itself as the only solution to taking our naturally foolish minds from lesser to greater discernment and wisdom. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The most foolish thing we could believe is that we have the ability to make good decisions or decipher between good and evil based on our life experiences and ability to reason alone. Our natural minds are easily led astray from the truth, deceived by the lies of the world, the Enemy, and our own flesh. Even the psalmists experienced this.

In Psalm 73 we see Asaph lamenting the earthly prosperity of the wicked, tempted to believe that his faith and pursuit of righteousness had been in vain. The solution for his befuddled mind was to get in the presence of God. He said, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end…I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will receive me to glory,” (Psalm 73:16-17, 23-24). Asaph needed the Lord to guide him to what was good and true. Indeed, we all do.

Going back to Romans 12:2, we see that the second way our ability to discern is strengthened is by testing. If you think about it, this makes sense. It is only as you are exposed to ideas that challenge you that you are able to grow in your ability to discern good from bad or evil. We are constantly filtering what we take in from the world around us and either accepting or rejecting those ideas. Numerous times a day we make a judgment on all various sorts of things, but the question comes down to whether we are reasoning from a biblically-shaped thought process, founded upon God’s Word, or are we making them from an ulterior source?

Learn to Discern
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says, “Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” What does it look like on a practical level to be someone who lives out this principle? We must become women who thoughtfully ask questions of ourselves and what we are allowing to influence our minds. To be sure, the habit of asking intelligent questions is one that comes only as a result of great effort. Our natural tendency is to listen to our thoughts rather than to pause to consider the ramifications of how and what we are believing in significant moments. For my own heart’s sake, I have begun writing down questions to consider as I think about an issue, form an opinion, or process a movie, article, book, or song. This is not an exhaustive list, but I have shared some questions below that I’ve thought through when considering books, movies, and various situations. You can use these questions in almost any circumstance, though:

  • When watching a movie, what is the screenwriter’s gospel? What problem are they addressing, and what do they believe is the solution?
  • When reading a book for the purpose of personal growth, what authority is this person drawing from, pointing to?
  • As I am reading up on a particular issue or engaging with a new book, are there any Bible verses that speak to the same theme or topic?
  • When I see reports and comments on tragic events in our country, how does what Scripture tells me about God’s character shape what I believe at that moment?
  • When I read an article that rubs me the wrong way I can evaluate what assumptions I am making. Are they biblical presuppositions? If I believe they are biblical presuppositions, what Scripture confirms this?
  • When reading a fictional book, I ask myself if diving into that fictional world is leading me into sin, possibly feeding sinful desires or tempting me to think in a worldly way?
  • Will reading this book help me to understand God’s design and purpose for relationships and people? Or will it lead me to have false and even sinful expectations of those around me?
  • Is this edifying? Will it improve me morally, intellectually, or spiritually?
  • On a scale of good, better, best, where does this material fall?

A Final Warning for All of Us
There is a sobering situation presented to us in the book of Hebrews. Christians, who had apparently been saved for some time, still lacked wisdom because they had not strengthened the muscle of discernment in their minds and hearts. The writer chides the recipients of his letter, stating, “It is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil,” (Hebrews 5:11-14, emphasis added). May this not be true of us! There is a battle being waged for our minds. Let us take up the Sword, and fight the good fight (Ephesians 6:17). And when we examine our lives, only to find new territories in the form of thought patterns or preconceptions that we have previously allowed the Enemy to infiltrate, may we zealously resolve to regain what is rightfully our Lord’s, by the power of His Spirit, and to spiritually discern what is good. Take heart, sisters, for, “We have the mind of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

The Feminine Mistake

Sometime last year I began noticing an interesting slogan going around on various social media platforms. “Your feminism isn’t feminism unless it’s intersectional,” it said. I found this to be a rather shocking, yet clarifying, statement underscoring what it means to be a 3rd wave feminist in our current cultural climate. (If you are unfamiliar with the first two waves of feminism, see these articles here and here.) 2nd wave feminists, rather than being revered by members of the movement that they have helped create, are now being looked down upon as antiquated, ignorant, and sub-par. Unless they get with the program, their feminism doesn’t count. 3rd wave American feminists are a fascinating breed because unlike the generations of feminism before them, they don’t have any real women-specific platforms to advocate for. Legislatively and sociologically speaking, women have the same rights as men in our country. Women, beyond being treated as equal to men, are frequently exalted, celebrated to a far higher degree for any accomplishments they achieve, more so than men would ever be for doing the same things. But, if you watch feminists on tv at a rally or march these days, you will often find them railing against the patriarchy and a mythical wage gap, or other broad generalities about systematic forms of oppression. So today, let’s take a look at how intersectional feminists view women, what the Biblical response is to that view, and how the church can be on the offensive against feminist systems and their attempts to infiltrate our midst.

What is the Intersectional View of Gender?
Intersectional feminists view women categorically as an oppressed group, victims of a patriarchal system intended to keep them down and on the outs. Men are perceived as oppressors, who at their worst are physically and emotionally abusive to women, and at their best are apologetic benefactors of a system rigged in their favor. Largely downplaying the physical, mental, and emotional differences between genders, intersectional feminists’ stated belief is that true equality will only be a reality when there is a comparable representation of both genders in all fields of academia, business, and politics. Practically speaking, though, they tend to actually push for oppressed groups to have greater power in these spheres over the perceived “oppressors”. At the heart of it all, third wave feminism hates the biblical definition of gender, gender relationships, and the family and wants to redefine the family while nullifying the “binary” of man and woman. This is the natural conclusion of a worldview that deals in power. If being a woman means having less power, then it makes sense to despise the feminine qualities of loving and caring for the home and looking to your husband’s leadership. And if being a strong, assertive man means you’re signing up to oppress and deny good things to your wife, daughters, and sisters, suddenly being a man who exhibits masculinity and leadership seems like a terrible thing. Elizabeth Corey points out that intersectionalists believe that, “If schools, churches, and families are the primary institutions that have always formed people, and if they are fundamentally shot through with oppression and prejudice, then these institutions must themselves be thoroughly remade. In light of such an objective, the self-conscious deconstruction of what we take for granted makes sense. Gender, sexuality, family… must be destroyed and reconstituted.” With a commitment to destroying God’s lordship over people’s gender and family relationships, intersectionality is an affront to everything the Bible says on these topics.

What is the Biblical Framework for Gender Relationships?
Scripture not only openly identifies men and women as designed with differences, but it also honors those differences and calls them “very good,” (Genesis 1:31). Both men and women were created by God to have dominion over the earth, filling and subduing it together. God made Adam first, to be the head of God’s creation, and then Eve to glorify and help him in that task. Scripture assumes physical differences in men and women: men are created with the ability to do more physically demanding labor and to use their strength to defend those weaker than themselves (Genesis 3:17-19, Exodus 17:9), and women are created to bear children and work hard in and for their homes in less physically demanding, but no less disciplined, ways (Genesis 3:16, Proverbs 31:10:31). In the church and marriage, men and women live out their unique designs in corporate worship and the home. Men are to lead, both in the context of their local church and in their families (1 Timothy 3:2-13, Ephesians 5:23-33). Women are to help and submit, with their husband, to authority in their church, and to their husband in the context of the home (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:22-24, 33). Because of God’s great mercy, bestowed upon us, we offer up our bodies as living sacrifices unto God, our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1-2). No matter how many wrong turns our culture takes as it rips apart and tries to rework gender “norms”, we as the church must continue to stand out as lights in a dark world, pointing to the gospel through our God-designed lives (Titus 2:1-8).

How is the Church Called to Handle Gender Issues?
While our culture is becoming progressively more committed to shaping their ideas about gender and men and women’s relationships on the basis of power, even striving to destroy the biblical definition of gender all-together, it is becoming more and more imperative that we fight that narrative in the church through the gospel and its real-life implications. Making Christ our boast, we get to show off the beauty and goodness of God as we honor Him with our respectively masculine and feminine lives. There has not been a time in our nation’s history where standing out from the culture has been so needed. Men must, “act like men, [and] be strong,” (1 Corinthians 16:13), despite so many assaults on their manhood. Women need to let their, “adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious,” (1 Peter 3:4). This is not to say that men cannot be compassionate, sensitive, and caring towards others, or that women cannot exemplify strength and leadership in their spheres of influence. Rather, we bring the way we live out these virtuous qualities in submission to God’s particular designs for us as men and women. As we do this, we are rejecting the intersectional notions regarding power relationships and what gives a person value.

For us Christian women, in particular, we must reject the lie that our value, dignity, and effectiveness are somehow tied to merely our academic and corporate achievements, or to how much power we possess. One way we refute this is through denying the deceptive narrative that women are only truly equal with men if we throw out the scriptures that limit eldership and pastoral ministry in the church to men. In a question and answer session I listened to recently, John Macarthur made an important observation while maintaining a bit of humor. He said, “How can a woman be an elder, when an elder is called to be a one-woman man (Titus 1:6)?” I had to giggle to myself as I heard this, but unfortunately, the biblical mandate that men are to hold the eldership positions of the church, which has gone unquestioned for nearly two millennia, is suddenly considered up for debate by so-called “Christian feminist” who desire to see women take those roles as well. We must stand up against this incorrect view in a couple of ways. The first is to understand the implications of women’s roles in the church and to live out God’s best for us as we seek to show Him off in that context. Another way we withstand this is to understand the fullness of God’s mission for us as women to lead compelling lives, and to press into that role in a way that sets an example to the watching world that to be a God-centered woman isn’t weak, shallow, or less-than. We don’t need a position of “power” to have significant, impactful, and effective lives and ministries. In fact, we understand from Scripture that it is in the precise moments that we appear to be in the humblest positions that we are being prepared for future glory and exaltation in Heaven (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Final Thoughts
There is a chilling story recorded at the end of Judges in chapter 19 where a servant woman is brutally gang raped and dies, a display of the horrors that ensued because, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 21:25). One of the primary aspects of a society that rejects God is that women are left unprotected and abused. Intersectional feminists today are fighting to gain what they believe women need more than anything else – power – and yet their methods will ultimately leave women more unprotected and powerless than ever. When we look to godless systems to shape our views, understanding, and treatment of human beings, the natural result will be a descent away from the inherent dignity and value that can only come from seeing people as image-bearers of God. Intersectional feminists’ denial of men and women’s inherent differences in design, even to the point of their attempt to destroy the “binary” of man and women, will have dastardly results.

It is in light of these dark times that we must cling to the hope of the gospel and the reality that every aspect of our lives, including our genders, are set-apart for the glory of God! God lays out His unique design for our lives as men and women, and as we bring every aspect of ourselves into submission to His will, we will reap eternal joy and satisfaction in Him. For the unbelievers in our culture who have grown up surrounded by relativism, it is not surprising that they are turning to intersectionality for answers. It, “appeals to people for precisely the reasons that all religions do: It gives an account of our brokenness, an explanation of the reasons for pain, a saving story accompanied by strong ethical imperatives, and hope for the future. In short, it gives life meaning.” But like any and every false worldview or religion, the intersectional movement’s hope is an erroneous one, and it cannot save its followers. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that! May we remain steadfast upon the Word of God, allowing it to shape the way we understand our identities and roles in this world.


The #1 Toxic Worldview You Need to Know About Today

Sisters, I am concerned. There is a false ideology creeping oh so sneakily into our churches, and few people are sounding the alarm. Last week, I shared a beautiful, newly released song called “Is He Worthy?” by Andrew Peterson in my recommendations post. The lyrics were poignant and God-glorifying, and it was beautifully produced. But sadly, the song was quickly covered in controversy due to the lack of racial diversity in the casting. There were tweets calling Peterson to repent, he shared in an open letter that he had friends who confided their personal hurt to him in which they mourned with real tears, and ultimately he issued an apology. This high-emotion response to his oversight points to something happening in our culture, and even more important to me, in the culture of the church. Tensions are running high, and conversations regarding group-identity sensitivities are becoming progressively more prevalent in the church. Where does this hypersensitivity spring from? There is a worldview that is spreading like wildfire through our country right now, and the church has not avoided experiencing flare-ups within our own midst. This infectious ideology is called intersectional theory, and it is leaving no part of our nation untouched. Intersectionality is a subversive system that is seeking to completely revolutionize the moral landscape of our culture, and so it is critical that we look at where it came from, what it is, and what Scripture teaches in regards to the issues it presents.

Where Intersectionality Came From
In the late 1980’s Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality theory”. A professor known for her studies surrounding critical race theory, she was responding to a lack that she perceived in the feminist movement. While she herself was a self-proclaimed feminist, she felt that feminism had not given enough attention to black women in particular. The complexity of female oppression, she felt, could not be simplified to just their gender, but were rather the result of an intersection of issues surrounding their identities, in this case, race as well as gender. Not long after, black feminist professor and author Patricia Hill Collins built upon this idea, most notably in her book Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology. Over the past two decades, this ideology, called intersectionality, has expanded far beyond just feminism and race issues as more and more kinds of oppressions have been identified by intersectional theorist and added to what has come to be known as the hierarchy of victimhood. So how can one define this ideology?

What is Intersectionality
In Intersectionality (Key Concepts) by Patricia Hill Collins, a primary source on this movement that I am currently reading, intersectionality is defined it as,

“A way of understanding and analyzing the complexity in the world, in people, and in human experiences. The events and conditions of social and political life and the self can seldom be understood as shaped by one factor. They are generally shaped by many factors in diverse and mutually influencing ways. When it comes to social inequality, people’s lives and the organization of power in a given society are better understood as being shaped not by a single axis of social division, be it race or gender or class, but by many axes that work together and influence each other. Intersectionality as an analytical tool gives people better access to the complexity of the world and of themselves.”

In Collins’ summary, we see that intersectionality theory is a worldview in which people are understood in the context of the organization of power. People are given varying levels of privilege or victim status, according to a hierarchy based on race, gender, class, and numerous other group identities such as age, physical abilities, and skin color (separate from race) – a sociological paradigm that mirrors neo-marxism. Though referred to as a theory, intersectionality isn’t treated as experimental but rather as the highest truth by which of all life can be understood. The Factual Feminist describes it as an, “all-encompassing theory of human reality, constructed to be immune to criticism.” On a slightly humorous note, she also refers to it as a conspiracy theory, pointing out the broad scope of circumstances, events, and people that are susceptible to be interpreted through what intersectionalist describe as a US matrix of oppressions. She, a very real 2nd wave feminist, is now frequently accused of not being a real feminist at all, simply because she does not ascribe to this 3rd wave, intersectional feminism. While parity of power is technically the stated goal, in a painful form of irony it is not uncommon for people dubbed “social justice warriors” to take this worldview to its logical conclusions and to act out in violent protests on college campuses, equating opposing arguments with hate speech, and seeking to silence the opposition as the result. David French elaborates in his own article on the zealous nature of intersectionalist when he says, “The demise of religion among American youth is greatly exaggerated. It turns out that America isn’t raising a new generation of unbelievers. Instead, rising in the heart of deep-blue America are the zealots of a new religious faith. They’re the intersectionals, they’re fully woke, and the heretics don’t stand a chance.”

Some basic tenets of intersectionality:

  • Privilege is the “original sin” of oppressors. Some examples of privilege are maleness, whiteness, wealth, and physical strength. You can be privileged in one or more senses, for example, being rich and white, but still associated with oppressed groups, for example, being a disabled woman. This is where the multifaceted nature of a person’s identity are intersected to comprise a person’s level of oppressions, thereby forming the so-called hierarchy of victimhood.
  • Victims and oppressed people groups possess a superior understanding of the world through their experiences, thereby having the highest claim on truth as it relates to their group topics. Experience is king (or if I was being intersectional appropriate, probably queen 😉) in this worldview. That is, as long as a person’s experiences affirm the group identity platforms shaped by far-leaning leftists.
  • A form of penance is required of all privileged people to bring restitution for the “moral crimes” of your privileged group’s collective oppressions. No amount of apologizing and virtue signaling (showing how “moral” you are by affirming victim group’s positions) are too much.
  • Change the language, change the culture. The adoption of oppressed peoples’ preferred language as an affirmation of their status is critical. When they’re able many proponents of intersectionality call for the silencing of opposing views, claiming speech can be interpreted as a form of oppression.
  • Allyship. If you are associated with one oppressed group it is necessary that you celebrate and promote any and all other stated oppressed people groups as their “ally”. If you take a peek at the Black Lives Matter or Women’s March websites, you will find affirmations of seemingly unrelated issues, like LGBT platforms, on either of their sites. Conversely, to not align yourself as an ally of any and all oppressed groups, as defined by intersectional theorists, is to make yourself an enemy of every other oppressed group.
  • Stay woke. Woke can be defined as an awareness of social justice issues and a comprehensive interpretation of them through an intersectional worldview. An example of this would be interpreting the higher arrest rates of black males as symptomatic of a system of oppression rather than being linked to local culture or personal responsibility.

There are many layers to intersectionality, but hopefully this brief summary is helpful to you in bringing some clarity and understanding to this view. After looking at the breakdown of this paradigm, what is the biblical response?

The Biblical Response to Intersectionality
You may have noticed that I have made a point of referring to intersectional theory as a worldview multiple times. It is extremely important to understand that it is a framework through which people are interpreting circumstances, events, and people, not simply an acknowledgment that people’s experiences differ. As Christians, we should be interpreting all of those same things through the filter of God’s Word alone. Yet, it is not uncommon for Christians to try to merge a biblical worldview with secular ones, such as Christian feminists or progressive liberal Christianity; or even to think that we can borrow from ideologies like humanism or mysticism to reach a fuller expression of our faith. This, however, is decidedly dangerous, and in some cases even leads to full-blown heresy. It is harmful to the church at best, and destroys a church at worst. I recently finished a bible study on the minor prophets in the Old Testament. There was one observation that stood out to me repeatedly, and that was that God has no interest in syncretic religion. Syncretism is when a person tries to merge two ideologies, religions, or cultures to make one new one. In terms of the Christian faith, syncretism is when we try to sync other religions, ideologies, or worldviews with the biblical one. While it may feel intellectually valid in the moment, it is a dangerous path to enter onto. In Hosea, the Israelites were combining the worship of Yahweh with idol worship of Asherah, or in essence trying to worship the Lord God through a pagan filter. In chapter 8, verse 2 they cry out to God saying, “My God, we – Israel – know you.” But God swiftly condemns them, saying in the immediately following verses, “Israel has spurned the good… with their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction,” (Hosea 8:3a, 4b). To worship God in combination with Asherah was an automatic rejection of God Himself. God is jealous for His people, for their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls, and He will not share them with another. May Israel’s example remind us of the terrible risk we gamble when we try to combine any secular worldview with a Christian one, because worldview shapes worship. We are positionally and progressively sanctified, which means set-apart, and we are commanded by God to be holy as he is holy. This purifying process begins in our mind with the way we think, as we process the world around us with either Scriptural truth or the world’s deceptive philosophies.

The Word of God has plenty to say when it comes to the lens through which we should interpret people, relationships, and power. Intersectionality, and even more specifically critical theory, immediately start out on a false premise when they view the world through an oppressor-oppressed framework. The world’s problems are not rooted in power struggles, but rather in the reality that all mankind exists under sin (Romans 3:9). Contrary to the message of intersectionality, a person’s value and dignity are in no way linked to their power or lack thereof, but rather is solely on the basis of their positions as image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Our privileges and struggles, no matter what form they come in, are always an opportunity to glorify God as we render every part our identities and experiences to Him (1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Corinthians 7:21-24, Ephesians 6:5-9, 1 Peter 1:6-7). In fact, Scripture even goes so far as to say that our earthly “oppressions” should actually be a cause for boasting, knowing that as we live out a cruciform life much glory and honor awaits us in Heaven (James 1:9, Romans 8:18, Hebrews 6:10, Hebrews 11:26, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15). That is not to say that Christians should neglect to care for the poor, needy, and oppressed or that if we are being oppressed in some legitimate way we can’t put any effort into getting away from it (Galatians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 7:21). But we care for the poor, the needy, and the oppressed knowing that their dignity, joy, and future glory are not dependent on a change of circumstances (Genesis 1:26-27, 2 Corinthians 6:10). Beyond a complete differentiation between the way we view the world from a Christian or intersectional worldview, I have also observed extremely unbiblical characteristics within the movement itself.

Proponents of the movement are often extremely unloving and exemplify a complete lack of grace for those whose opinions differ from their own (1 Corinthians 1:4-7, Ephesians 4:29). As Christina Sommers states, “Intersectionalist habitually do to others what they have accused others of doing to them: stereotyping, shaming, demonizing, and silencing others on the basis of their gender, race, etc.” They assume wrong of “privileged’ groups, and assume righteousness of “victim” groups (1 Samuel 16:7, 1 Corinthians 13:7). Because they see speech itself as a form of oppression, they feel perfectly justified in silencing any opposition. There is a lack of care for people as individuals as they prioritize the “groups” over people’s personal needs. If your experience affirms they’re paradigm, it will be accepted and celebrated. If it doesn’t, prepare to be bullied. Another sad characteristic of this movement is that it creates an increased desire for victimhood. When your status is seemingly linked to the degrees to which you perceive yourself as experiencing oppression, suddenly oppressive experiences become very appealing. There is a self-righteous arrogance in the way many intersectionalist carry themselves because they genuinely believe they have the moral high ground when they speak out as victimized people against perceived aggressions. What saddens me as I watch people participate in this movement is that they habitually look to secondary identities (a person’s race, gender, class, etc) for their sense of value and acceptance rather than to the identity that Biblically we understand to be most important. All people are haters of God or lovers of Him, and our eternal destiny hinges on that identity (Romans 1:29-31, 1 Peter 1:8).

Closing Thoughts
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God,” (1 John 4:7). “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind,” (1 Peter 3:8). This is the call of Scripture for believers: that we love one another and exist together in unity through the gospel. As you think back to my opening illustration, you may be wondering how this radically secular worldview has any bearing on the situation I described. Peterson’s video would’ve certainly had a more emotional impact if he had been more intentional in casting a multi-racial cast as he sung lyrics about every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping God together. But as he elaborated in his letter of apology, it was an oversight rather than intentional prejudice. They issued an open casting call and only white singers showed up. Yet people did not react to him as a man who had made a mistake. Instead, they accused him of “white privilege” and in serious need of “educating” from minority groups. He was called to “repent” as if he had sinned against his fellow Christians of different ethnic backgrounds. He satisfied them with a penitential apology, affirming himself as an “ally” of all racial minorities. He expressed a desire to “keep learning” which conveyed a desire to get with the times and be woke. Peterson acted in accordance with Matthew 18 when he asked forgiveness of his offended brothers and sisters in Christ, but the fact that this was a source of offense in the first place points to a deeper issue happening in the Body of Christ. While I do not think many people in the church are anywhere close to being full-blown intersectional theorists yet, I have detected a subtle shift in language during the past year on popular Christian blogs and in sermons by well-respected pastors and teachers that points to the creeping in of conversations on the basis of group identity and perceived privileges or oppressions rather than on the foundation of the gospel and the Scriptures. This is exceedingly troubling because when we allow experiences to shape the teaching and studying of God’s Word, rather than using our study and the teaching of God’s Word as an aid to understand our experiences, we are in precarious waters. We can expect the world to turn to their subjective experiences, for apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, what else do they really have? But we as the church of Jesus Christ must guard ourselves against any form of false teaching that seeks to infiltrate our minds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says, For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Battles of worldview are actually spiritual battles as the war between truth and deception rages on. We know how the war ends, of course. Truth will reign through Jesus Christ! As servants of the King, we must not grow weary in this fight but continue to look to the Word to be equipped to stand firm against any form of false teachings or deceptive philosophies. Priscilla and my prayer as we embark on this series on intersectionality is that you will indeed be encouraged as you are given biblical tools from the Word of God to be able to detect this view, even in less-obvious settings, and be prepared with a defense (1 Peter 3:15).