In an article posted at Desiring God, I wrote about my journey to understand Scripture's instructions to women through the lens of the gospel. Apart from the gospel, the law kills. Presenting instructions to women apart from a thorough fleshing out of the gospel sets women up for failure, and I have sat under much teaching and read many books that do that very thing. In fact, I have myself done this very thing to others.
Furthermore, among the books I read and teachers I heard, I wasn't just presented with the law, I was also often presented with the teacher's personal application of the law. I'd like to think I haven't done this myself, though I probably have. I have had a conviction since I was a teenager that Scripture was sufficient—sufficient in what it says is wrong and sufficient in what it says is right—and have tried to let that conviction constrain me in anything I might project onto others.
The law says tithe, but the legalist pressures others to tithe their spice rack. And that's exactly what has happened in many presentations on women's issues. As a new wife, I felt constrained by other's applications for their families of general Bible principles. My husband finally had to tell me point blank, “Honey, I don't NEED that.” I was stressed over color coordinated, organic meals when he just needed clean socks. I was greeting him in a state of anxious self-condemnation over the clutter in our home when he is actually more comfortable IN clutter than in a precisely organized room. But no one clarified for me the difference in general Bible principles and personal application.
Christians historically have confused wisdom and law, Proverbs and the Ten Commandments. For instance, we are all familiar with opposite proverbs. “Look before you leap” verses “He who hesitates is lost.” Or for a Biblical example, consider Proverbs 26:4-5.
4 Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Wisdom is not law. And wisdom is only wise when applied correctly in the right situations. You can't read Proverbs the same as the Ten Commandments, yet in our fight against moral relativism, conservative Christians fear situational wisdom. The result is silly, one-dimensional conclusions.
The answer to our fears of moral relativism as we apply wisdom in ways that are actually wise is the indwelling Spirit. Yet, we are suspicious of Him too. Wouldn't we all rather spend 3 years in person at Jesus' feet as did Peter? Yet compare Peter after 3 years in Jesus' presence with Peter after 3 years of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As Jesus Himself says, it was better for Peter, resulting in greater growth and maturity in his life, that the Spirit indwell him than he continue to sit in person at Jesus' feet. It's a profound concept.
Paul exhorts us in Galatians 5:16 to “walk by the Spirit,” which literally means to “keep in step with the Spirit.” It is this pressing into God via the Spirit that equips us to apply wisdom in wise ways without fear of moral relativism. It equips us to distinguish principle from application and to know what application God has for us as opposed to what He has for the zealous teacher at a women's conference. Remember that you have something BETTER than sitting at the feet of Jesus. And He will teach you well.
John 16 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: … 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,
God bless you as you seek His guidance in how to apply general Biblical wisdom to your specific situation without condemnation for how others apply it in theirs.