This article explores the relevance of Christianity to marriage, and is intended to evaluate different elements of our married lives, but is by no means exhaustive. Furthermore, there is rarely a day that goes by that I am not acutely aware of my own need for God’s grace in my marriage. I am not one of those rare blessed souls, if they exist, who can say that they have handled every spousal disagreement perfectly, or that they are always unselfish and never become frustrated. No, not I. Rather, I recognize that there is no room for hubris in this incredible and yet delicate entity called marriage. For me, as for many, the simple truth is that if my marriage is to remain healthy, I must remain humble and open to the reality of my imperfections. This singular recognition profoundly restrains me from taking the moral high ground with my spouse, with you, or with anyone else by pointing fingers. Therefore, let me be the first to say that it is only on the foundation of grace that this man stands.
This Flesh of Ours
Let’s begin by considering whether we have experienced any of these of late: selfishness, pride, anger, lust, unforgiveness, resentment, hatred, jealousy, envy … shall I go on? Any of us who would say no, can readily add deceit to the list. Whatever anyone may say, there is no deceit in the fact that we are incredibly sinful beings, and that we bring this sin nature into our marriages. This does not mean we are not saved (although we may feel that we have lost either our salvation or our minds here and there, depending upon how upset we are), but it does mean that we have a seemingly insurmountable amount of work to do in becoming more like Christ. Seems impossible, right? It is, if we were left to the task ourselves. But thankfully we are not, as God has empowered those who believe in Him to accomplish the necessary changes of heart by the power of His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).
The Dichotomy of Flesh and Spirit
This flesh we carry desires to do what it naturally feels it needs to do – whether it is healthy, safe, or morally right. Yet, this is only a part of who we are as we are both flesh and spirit. Our spirit, the part of us that is transformed and declared righteous when we receive God’s gift of salvation, desires to do what is right. As the Apostle Paul so clearly demonstrates in Romans 7, this dichotomy of flesh and spirit becomes evident when we find ourselves desiring to do what we know is right, while simultaneously being deeply tempted to do what we know is wrong and unhealthy. And these dynamics undoubtedly play out in our marriages.
We are well acquainted with the actions of our spouse that quickly send us into the realms of anxiety, frustration, and anger. Although we understand that the Lord has called us to be patient and kind with them (Galatians 5:22), and we desire to do as much, we are immediately faced with our flesh-based emotion that powerfully draws us to wanting to argue, yell, and be critical. I’m not saying a spouse will never do things that are legitimately wrong or deeply painful, or that we should not experience any strong emotion. Rather, I am saying that in general it is very easy for us to allow our flesh to override our spirit’s desire to do what is God honoring and honoring of our spouse. It is also easy in those moments to forget about our own imperfections and to be blinded to our own sense of pride, especially when we have taken it upon ourselves to point out their faults.
It is one thing to let someone know that they have done something that has affected us. It is entirely another thing to harshly, critically, and pridefully tell them how bad they are, while not realizing that treating them harshly is inherently bad. Oh, how hypocrisy creeps in! There is truly a better way to live together.
Choosing to Live by the Spirit
Scripture makes it abundantly clear that as followers of Christ we are empowered and led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14). Yet we also know that each of us must decide whether we will yield to and live by that leading. If we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, we will not only live in accordance with the truth of God’s Word, but will also bear fruit that will be unmistakable to ourselves and others: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Furthermore, having a marriage steeped in love by definition implies that these fruit will be involved when the spouses engage with each other.
Although perfection is not possible in this area due to of our tendency to yield to the flesh at various times, this sense of imperfection does not negate our responsibility to consistently honor both the Lord and our spouse each day with our lives. There is nothing flippant about this, and I fear that we treat this responsibility far too lightly. A change of heart is needed if we expect to have a vibrant and lasting marriage framed in the sentiments that God intended (Ephesians 5).
Being Drawn to Love
There is nothing super-spiritual about living according to the Spirit, but it is absolutely necessary. Effectiveness in this area demands that we spend time with God in prayer and remain familiar with and committed to living according to His Word. This is especially true when we become frustrated, disappointed, or in any way upset with our spouse. Our responses will then be subjected to and restrained by a greater force, namely, love.
As complicated as marital situations can become, our desire to love God and to love our neighbor transcends carnally-based desires (Romans 8:7-14). The Holy Spirit also helps us in this regard by continually drawing us to points of love in the midst of spousal discord. The more consistent we are in yielding to the leading of God’s Spirit, the greater the opportunities are for us to not only honor and love our spouse, but to experience a joy within our marriages that money and possessions will never be able to supply.
Christian Counseling for Your Marriage
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I realize that it can take a considerable amount of time and effort to reach points of strength and unity in a marriage. Here at Seattle Christian Counseling, we are able to take the time needed to help you and your spouse to build a healthy relationship through a biblically-centered approach to treatment. If you would like more information on the marriage counseling process at Everett Christian Counseling, please visit our website at everettchristiancounseling.com.