This post is the third part of a series. The first post had to do with dating. The second post had to do with dating shifting towards engagement. You may want to start there before you dive into this post.
Being vulnerable is scary. Wearing your failures and shortcomings on your shirtsleeve in relationships feels like the absolute last thing we want to do…because it is. But if Phil Wickham is right (and more importantly, if the Bible is right) in saying that God is “after our hearts,” then the forced transparency that occurs in biblical relationships – specifically in godly dating and marriage – is actually grace and not condemnation. Let me explain.
My wife says many profound things, but she she always tells women who are engaged or looking to marry the same thing: “If you are thinking of marrying someone, you have to accept the fact that they may never change.” Hopefully, she’s not speaking from experience, but there you go. Not everyone who gets married is changed for the better. You are choosing to walk into a world of hurt, pain, and disappointment if you minimize the struggles and sins you and your loved one carry into your marriage. Marriage is not all roses and gum drops. Covenanting with someone is like being put through a juicer that slowly crushes you and strains out all the pulp. The other person is a solid piece of metal that gradually grates on all sides of you, grinding you down and exposing your soft underbelly.
And this isn’t an accident. It is intended to be this way. God knew when He created and ordained the institution of marriage that my sin would splash onto my wife, that your spouse would be affected by your sins and failures, and that your spouse would be the first to not only see your sins but experience your sinfulness.
My wife is a big part of God’s plan to rescue me from myself. God loves me enough to change me, and He has appointed my wife to be His sharpest earthly tool in my transformation. What this means is that my wife will see, hear, and be the recipient of my sins, and by God’s grace, she will hold up a mirror during these moments to show me how ugly I am. Now, once my true sinful nature creeps out, it can go several different ways: If I am transformed by God’s glory and plan for my marriage, this is an incredible opportunity to turn this moment of MY OWN sinfulness into a moment of ministry. I can simply admit what both of us already know (I’m an ugly sinner saved by grace), apologize, and repent. However, if I am functionally dedicated to my own glory and plan for my marriage, I’ll defend myself and my ridiculous actions, usually by pointing the finger at her as a scapegoat excuse. How childish is that? Very. (conviction).
I ended my last post by saying that the amount of forgiveness and grace and mercy in our heart that we give to others is directly linked to the amount of forgiveness and grace and mercy God has given us. You want to marry someone who has been given a lot of forgiveness and grace and mercy. You want to marry someone who has been changed by Jesus.
Look, marriage is difficult. At least know the person you are marrying is on the same team as you and is aware of how wicked they are. The last thing you want to be is Job, sobbing and grieving over how life has beaten you up while your wife is publicly humiliating and berating you because she is not transformed by the Gospel. The last thing you want is for you to have worry and fear for your children’s salvation because their father is not leading and guiding them towards Jesus, but away from Him. The extent you have been changed by Jesus and His Gospel is the degree to which your life will be changed. The more Jesus changes and shapes you, the more your life and relationships and filled with Jesus, His Word, His grace. The Bible says it this way in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
This idea of being changed by God is illustrated in the Old Testament with Moses (Exodus 34:29-35). For 40 days, Moses spoke with and listened to God, and his experience had a transformational result – his face and skin were shining and radiant and glowing. God changed Moses, and as Moses was transformed by God, his relationships, words, actions, and entire life were transformed, i.e., shining, radiant, glowing, and full of God. You want to marry someone who is pliable when the Scriptures are laid over their life. 1 John 1:5-7 says,
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light,as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
As God begins to pour more of Himself into your life, your darkness begins to be exposed and put to death, your words and actions are sifted, and even your mind and heart are changed.
What this means for you and me is this: Dating, engagement, and marriage are not “ends” but “means.” Dating is not the point. Marriage is not the goal, the substance, or the treasure. If dating or marriage were just about you getting your needs met and feeling secure, comforted, and loved, we would all be exceptionally unhappy. And many of us are. No human being can carry the idolatry of another’s heart.
What this DOES mean is that marriage is a shadow of a future glory, when Jesus will be my Husband, and you and I will be His bride. This is the eternal focus to keep. I don’t do it well. One minute I’m functionally loving and serving God in my marriage. The next, I am all about “MY” kingdom, “MY” rights, “MY” glory. But there will come a day when the sky will break and shatter and the Husband of all creation will descend to the earth and reclaim His Bride – those He loved, gave Himself up for, those He sanctified, cleaned with the washing of the water with the word, so that He might present us to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish. He will take those who know and love Him into an eternal Sabbath rest, and we will enter into our true marriage with the King of Kings. And like Job, I hope and pray that my response will sound something like,
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
But I also hope and pray that my time, love, and care that I give to my wife during our marriage will in some tiny way be a reflection and preparation of the eternal marriage we are about to enter into with Jesus. This has to start here on earth, and the understanding of my eternal marriage can and should drastically change my present marriage. I don’t have to work, work, work, in order to prove to my wife that she should love me at the end of every day. Marriage is the most intense love relationship possible on earth AND it is a legal status. Before your vows, you have no part of it, but the second you take your vows, you have it completely. I am completely married to my wife. In the same way, I am completely God’s. In Isaiah 54:5 God tells us that He is our husband. I don’t have to prove to God that I’m good enough and worthy enough of His love and affection so that He will love me at the end of every day. I am already completely His. It is a legal status. I am my Beloved’s and He is mine. And the more I rest in His all-sufficient, “right now” love, the more I am transformed into His likeness, and thus the more my heart worships Him, and therefore the more my heart is changed, and then the more my life, my relationships, and complete perspective comes into sync with Jesus.
Start thinking of marriage from God’s perspective. I don’t do this well, and it always produces bad fruit. However, the moment I am transformed and captivated by His love and grace and mercy, the more my wife benefits from it. The more prepared we both are for our Coming King, our Husband, our Redeemer. And His banner over me is love.