Encouraging the Weary Saint

January 25, 2017

All Problems are Theological Problems

One of the things I teach my counseling students is that all counseling problems are on some level theological problems. It may be that the person is unregenerate, or like most of the people I see, the person does not understand justification and sanctification in God plan of salvation.

The Bible describes us as “being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:13), yet I find women are routinely overwhelmed, discouraged, and in a state of hopelessness when they continue to struggle with sin. There is a desire to please God, but because they are imperfect at it, they live under a tremendous weight of guilt. These sisters do not understand their identity in Christ; nor do they understand God’s never-ending love for them (John 3:16). They do not understand how the gospel applies to their everyday life. These women have tried to live the life they know God wants them to live, but they fall short.

Self-Improvement 101

The “path to perfection” that some embark on only amounts to various self-improvement projects, distracting them from Christ, who makes them better. They forget they cannot fix themselves, and in trying to do so, they edit Christ out of the equation. They forget that they are hopeless and helpless apart from God and that there is nothing they could ever do that would be good enough apart from Jesus.

Many Christian women live as practical atheists. In her book, Because He Loves Me, Elyse Fitzpatrick describes it this way: “Even though we believe the gospel, the occasions in which the gospel (the incarnation, sinless life, death, bodily resurrection, and ascension of the son of God) actually intersect and powerfully affect our daily life are infrequent.” [1] We forget that we have been cleansed from our former sins (2 Peter 1:9). We forget God’s love; we forget the gospel.

Are You a Practical Atheist?

One indicator that a woman may be a practical atheist is a lack of joy in everyday life. Even though she may be adhering to the “rules” she has been told to obey, legalism dominates her thinking. She fears that should she fail to be perfect, God will be displeased with her. There is tremendous emphasis on behavior and performance without a fundamental trust in Christ’s finished work.

This is really a form of works righteousness and creates multi-layered problems. I find these dear sisters in Christ are continually (and fearfully) evaluating their position before God based on the circumstances of their lives. They can be extremely self-righteousness because of their expertise at checking all the boxes of their faith. In other words, they believe that they earn or forfeit the blessings of God by how well they succeed at living the their version of the Christian life. They have an unbiblical fear of God. Some women truly believe that God is out to get them. It is difficult to convince them that God is not punishing them when they struggle to overcome sin.

Not Gospel-Centered

Their performance-driven Christianity blinds them to the need for ongoing and personal application of the gospel. As these women struggle in daily life they are miserable, defeated, anxiety ridden, hopeless, and scared of being exposed. They recognize that they are lacking and inconsistent in spiritual growth and change, and they live with an ongoing sense of guilt over their failure to perform. A counselee in such a state would say something like, “After all God has done for me, how can I be such a failure?”

A performance-oriented life is not gospel-centered or gospel-saturated life. Justification comes down to acting in all the right ways, saying all the right things, and attempting to give the impression that they have “arrived.” These spiritual sisters punish themselves, guilt themselves, and shame themselves so God will bless them. Stepping outside the straight-edged lines of performance brings condemnation and criticism from within.

Declared Righteous

The good news I have for such women is this: “You are free!” In the biblical doctrine of justification, you find your freedom to progress in your spiritual journey imperfectly. It is only because of Christ that you are acceptable to God or have any fellowship with God at all (Romans 8:1). You are positionally set apart and declared “holy” because you are justified in Christ (Romans 3:21; 5:1). Our justification is not based on your performance, your activities, or your spiritual disciplines. You have been adopted and accepted in the beloved by God (Ephesians 1). You have no righteousness of our own, so your righteous deeds don’t earn you any extra favor with God (Romans 3:20; Titus 3:5). Rather, truly righteous deeds are a visible result of what God is doing in your heart through your relationship with the living Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

If you have been trapped in such a state of works righteousness, my message to you is, rest easy weary sister. Your standing before God is never in jeopardy, because you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21)!


[1] Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me (Wheaton. IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 41.

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