I was asked to put down in article form my short message for our Valentine’s Banquet. The following is a distillation of that message.
(You can view the video of this message here.)
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
Three reasons for the message: First, because we need to learn to see that the whole of our lives are in submission to God’s Word because we believe it is God’s Word. Second, because it is easy to “do marriage” and not carefully think through how we do it. And third, because marriage should look different with Christians.
So the challenge I wish to give is simple but hard. That together you must strive against the constant pressure of this age to properly reflect God’s purposes in your marriage. And this all starts by constantly reminding your spouse of the mercies of God. Paul spent eleven chapters unfolding the rich, boundless mercy of God to us, poor sinners. He gave us His Son, while we were still His enemies, to redeem us and bring us full forgiveness from our sins. No longer children of wrath, we are now His children.
With that in mind, husbands and wives need to learn first of all how to offer themselves as a living sacrifice to God. This is the essence of true worship, the daily giving ourselves to God because of His mercies toward us. We were once dead in sin but now we are alive in Jesus. Therefore we need to help each other think as those alive in Jesus. We need to help each other work and serve as those alive in Jesus. We are to help the other become holy, separated unto God. We are to examine what and how we do things to consider if they are acceptable offerings of worship to our Holy God. It is to be a marriage that acknowledges the Lordship of God in our lives and actions. In other words, marriage cannot be passive. You have made a covenant with your spouse and if both of you profess love for Jesus and you hope in His saving work on the cross for your salvation then you must labor to grow together as a pleasing sacrifice.
This means you fight against conformity to this age. This age is constantly pressing in on your marriage. Only a foolish person would not be aware of it. It seeks to conform you to its ideals and goals and delights. A biblical, God-glorifying marriage is a rebellious marriage. It shakes its fist to this age and the god of this age. It stands to make a contrast to the many counterfeits that seek to replace it. But this only happens if we know what worldliness truly is. It can be defined in three ways:
1) It is a belief system. Paul writes, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) It is a belief system that turns our focus from Jesus and the glory of God and onto anything else. What is the great deception that lies at the center of this world’s teachings? You can take all of them, the religions and the philosophies. The convictions and the beliefs and they all boil down to one key point—they distract you from resting and trusting and enjoying the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And when you see your spouse buying into a false belief system you need to pray for them and challenge them. You must provoke them to consider their path.
2) It is an attitude. Simply put, it is a rebelling against the Lordship of God, His designs and purposes. Jesus said it bluntly, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23) You can easily fall into a self-centered, self-righteous mind set. But if you are wise you are always seeking to better express things like justice, mercy and faithfulness. You are mindful that your marriage must not devolve into just doing the right things, but rather, it exists to promote the mercy of God to those who watch.
But the way Paul says we resist the pressure to conform to this age is by renewing our mind. How is this done? It is a huge subject but here are two key ways it is accomplished:
First, as a couple you must practice repentance. Embrace the fact that you will sin and embrace that you both need to repent. As you confess your sin and you learn to reject sin together you will find yourself feasting upon the gospel that broke the power of sin in your lives. A healthy marriage is one where the couple is constantly growing in holiness and godliness in their day to day living.
Second, practice the art of biblical remembering. Remember what you were before Jesus. As Paul says in Ephesians 2, we were dead in our sin, we were held captive to our lusts and under the control of Satan. When a person forgets what he was before Christ he becomes spiritually smug and sin is sure to follow. But we also need to remember Jesus Christ. There are hard times in any marriage and this is why we need to contemplate Jesus. As the author of Hebrews points out, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
In addition, you must remember the days past when you were faithful. There will be times you fail and difficult days. During those times you can lose hope and think that things will never change. But it is good for you to be able to look back in your life to the times you saw God’s blessing and care working clearly in your marriage. It encourages you to press forward. This is what the writer of Hebrews told his audience who were in danger of apostatizing, “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:32-35)
Also remember Jesus’ suffering when you suffer. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20) Your marriage is not fireproof. If you seek to honor the Lord in your marriage it will come under attack from outside and even perhaps from the inside. There are those who look to be lovers of Jesus, but that is before the sufferings of Jesus come. Marriages become dry deserts because the partners had a worldly view of marriage, one that focused on having fun, being fulfilled and such. But suffering reveals our idols like nothing else. But for all who love Jesus, there will come that day, or year when you shall make the decision to stand for His name and only His name.
And finally remember that Jesus shall return. He shall bring all things to light including your marriage. And when he does, your marriage will be done. Too often we forget that marriage is temporary and in eternity there shall be none of it. We shall receive reward or suffer loss in how we honored it as a gift from God. All things shall be made plain and, praise God, all things shall be made new. So we help each other by reminding the spouse that this moment is not all that there is. Rather we help each other look to what is to come.