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Three Life Lessons Learned from Elisabeth Elliot

May 13, 2019

I met Elisabeth Elliot during my sophomore year at Wheaton College. She had a glow about her, and she walked with grace and sophistication. The warmth in her eyes made you want to lean into her words. Those eyes were welcoming even with years of heartache, sacrifice, and service. 

She was married to Jim Elliot, who was killed during one of their mission trips in Ecuador. Jim’s death was a catalyst for Elisabeth’s ministry that would inspire and ignite even more world missions to continue to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

She came to speak at chapel at Wheaton. And, as part of the chapel committee, I was able to spend time with her that day.

Elisabeth Elliot’s life was one that displayed one of the greatest acts of forgiveness. Two years after her husband was brutally murdered, she went to live with the tribe that had speared her husband.

She, along with Rachel Saint, studied the tribe’s language and learned their culture. They demonstrated complete forgiveness to the men who had murdered their loved ones two years prior. This so moved the Waodani that they gave these women the opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Many quotes can be found all over the internet that demonstrate her love for God and her heart for others. Three quotes stand out as a summation of what she believed as a Christian woman:

God defines sin. 

We must quit bending the Word to suit our situation. It is we who must be bent to that Word, our necks that must bow under the yoke. 

If I shot an arrow and then paint the target around the arrow, I could hit it every time. So often, that is what we do with sin. We try to define what sin is ourselves, instead of using the word to define it for us. We sin and then paint the outlines of what is acceptable and not acceptable and thereby sinning but rationalizing it away so we are in the clear.

2 Kings describes King Hoshea. He did what “was evil in the Lord’s sight, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him. (2 Kings 17:2). It’s like Hoshea thought: “As long as I’m not as bad as the guy before me, I’m okay.”

Elisabeth’s quote reminds us that we need to change according to the Word, we need godliness, in order to be righteous. For as Pastor Colin Smith states: “Righteousness is built on the foundation of godliness.” 

Elisabeth sought godliness by reading God’s Word, forgiving those who harmed her loved ones, and living a life to point always to Jesus.  

God defines the roles as Christian women. 

The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.

The quote from Elisabeth shows that her defining feature is not her gender but her relationship with Jesus. Because of this relationship, she became set apart. 

Elisabeth was definitely not one to sit at home and “be protected.” She went to the very men who killed her husband. She knew the One who has no rival—Jesus Christ—who saved us from our sins. 

Elisabeth said, “We are women, and my plea is, ‘Let me be a woman, holy through and through, asking for nothing but what God wants to give me, receiving with both hands and with all my heart whatever that is.” 

Whether we are man or woman, Elisabeth reminded us we are called out of darkness into his light: 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (2 Peter 2:9). 

During that time we spent together, I asked her why she never changed her last name of Elliot since she had recently been remarried. She said she wanted that connection of the name. And the connection to what happened to her first husband. She wanted this so that she could continually tell the story of God’s grace in her life. 

This story demonstrated being called out of the darkness. For her, it wasn’t about a name, a battle to win, or a gender role to fit into for her. It was always about Jesus.

God defines our mission. 

I have one desire now—to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.  

We each have one life. At least here on earth. And in answering the insincere question from the lawyer as to what the greatest commandment was, Jesus shared a sincere and powerful answer as to how we can live for him: 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:38-39).

Because of Jesus’s sacrifice, now can live a life of abandon for Jesus and for the glory of God. With this life, we can join him in the work he’s already doing on earth. We do it with everything we have.

Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24) 

We want to be a people who welcome all people, a people who live with such fierce grace that people want to lean in and hear the story of what Christ did.

We want to forgive when it seems impossible, to fight sin when it seems never-ending, and to love with a power that comes from Jesus who first loved us.

Elisabeth Elliot had that as her story–as her legacy. She was more than a grace-giving, completely forgiving hero, she had Jesus as her hero. I am blessed to have met her and thankful for the story of the saving gift of grace she told and lived.

Photo Credit: Unsplash 

The Author
Angie Ryg

Angie Ryg is an international speaker and author who desires to encourage women to find the joy and beauty in the everyday things of life. She is married to her childhood sweetheart and is mama to one princess and three princes. She enjoys putting her Elementary Education degree from Wheaton College and Master's degree from National Louis University to good use as she teaches kindergarten, but she also loves to connect with women and teens while sharing God's amazing story of grace at retreats, conferences, Bible studies, and on her website. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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