Frequently, sin backs us into a corner full of false dilemmas. We come to believe that there only two choices, two ways to go. Even where there may only be two choices, we frequently still misunderstand the two choices, framing the obedient and faithful choice as an exercise in futility and therefore the only option left is the disobedient one. Of course we never label that last option as “disobedience” — we are much more creative in our self-deception.
Many times our false dilemmas may come under the broad categories of law and grace, or we might call it holiness and mercy. So for instance, we read articles about the Duggars or Bill Gothard or Doug Phillips, and the school marms come out in full force warning us about the dangers of patriarchy, homeschooling, having lots of children, and courtship. See? See? They clamor with a little too much enthusiasm. These practices are full of judgment, guilt, sexual repression, sexism, and there’s so much pressure to conform, to stay in line, to tuck your shirt in, how can you blame them for slipping up? It’s a breeding ground for every form of abuse.
But this is the false dilemma dressed up like an over-pious old lady with glasses perched at the end of her nose. But let’s begin by agreeing that there certainly are problems in these circles. But the problem is not in the practices per se, the problem is in how the practices are clung to, trusted in, and exalted over the centrality of knowing Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the forgiveness of sins, and the joy of the Holy Spirit. In fact, these particular practices, all things being equal (and taking one thing with another), are such targets for the angry mobs because they represent God’s blessing.
“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate” (Ps. 127:3-5).
“Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord” (Ps. 128:1-4).
If I cared about such things, I should have probably put a trigger warning before I quoted these verses. No doubt some bitter person out that should steer clear of various parts of the Bible where we are told that a man with a wife and children is a happy man and blessed man. Not only that, but the men and women who are pursuing this blessing with honest faith in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ — they pose a truly substantial threat to the enemies of God.
At the same time, it is unmistakable that the Enemy loves to take down those servants of Christ that are the greatest threats. And those men whom God blesses with leadership in these circles need a greater sense of the threat, a greater urgency to have their souls and homes and churches in order. This means being truly accountable to other men, elders, and pastors who are free to speak into your life. A man who is not under authority has no business exerting authority. And this is why the “home church” movement is the thing that should give everybody the creeping fantods, as my friend Douglas Wilson would say.
But our options are not loose standards or tyranny. Our options are never either obey the Bible and breed abusive leaders and sexual predators or else filter the Bible for verses that could be taken wrong and pretty it up as though Jesus is a well-meaning but rather sloppy kid with peanut butter smeared on his cheeks. Thank God for you, ma’am! Otherwise, Jesus might have gone out with his shirt untucked. Otherwise people might have read the Bible for themselves and gotten the idea that a marriage where the husband sacrificially leads his wife, where a wife respects and submits to her husband freely, and where a home is filled with many joyful noises (and spills) — they might have gotten the idea that that home is blessed and happy. In other words, holiness and godliness are not curses. God is not setting us up to crush us. Understood rightly, the Word of God is grace, the whole Bible is a wonderful, refreshing gift.
But it is perilously easy to think that what you do will earn you God’s favor. It’s perilously easy to begin to believe that since you’re doing X with your kids or Y in your marriage and there’s a verse about it in the Bible you must be walking with God and His blessing must be upon you. But this is upsidedown and backwards. We do not obey God in order to become free. We are freed by the grace and mercy of God so that we may follow Him all the days of our lives. If you are not already free by the grace of God then you will turn His grace into a bull whip and that will breed tyranny. If you are not already free you cannot become free with rules, even ones taken from the Bible. But to those who have been set free from sin and guilt, God’s word is life and health and freedom. To the extent that there are problems in the patriarchy, homeschooling, yay-babies! world, it is a matter of seriously misplaced identities and priorities. If you think you are righteous because you have Psalm 128 on your fridge, if you think you’re a true Christian because your kids don’t watch TV, if you think you’re righteous because of anything you do or don’t do, you need to know that the Bible calls this pride and you are in grave danger of falling and giving the enemies of God yet another opportunity to howl with glee when you fall.
But the alternative is not to stop caring. The alternative is not to send your kids off to the government schools or subtly stop using words like “submission” or “obey” in your wedding ceremonies. The alternative is not to give up on holiness. The alternative is to learn what grace really means. Grace is not a wet noodle. Grace is not going limp. Grace is not running from standards, from principles, from the Bible. Grace runs towards the only Standard, the First Principle, the Word of God Himself. Grace runs to Jesus. And in Jesus mercy and truth kiss. In Jesus, holiness and grace meet. In Jesus, God tells the truth about sin and does not lower the bar in the slightest, but in Jesus, we are forgiven completely of our sins. In Jesus, we are accepted as righteous only for the sake of His death and resurrection in our place. We do not lead our families, teach our children, or do anything out of fear of what others will think or what might happen. Whatever is not done out of faith is sin, Paul says, but there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Nothing can separate us from His love. Nothing.
Wherever you have added to this simple, glorious gospel, repent. Repent of the pride. Repent of self-righteousness. Repent of making your home, your family an idol, a graven image. Repent of clutching your standards like gods which will save you from the world, the flesh, and the devil. They can’t and they won’t. Turn to Jesus who is always there, who always meets us right where we are. Turn to Jesus, Who by His grace, will work in You what is well-pleasing in His sight. Turn to Jesus and walk before Him in holiness.