What Does a “Christian” Marriage Look Like?

Part 3 – Happiness & Holiness

From the day of the wedding it is obvious. We’re different, husbands and wives that is. The picture above sums it up nicely without 1,000 words – we wear the white gowns and they the black tuxes. But that’s just the beginning of the differences. They build relationships by shared activity, we women more often by… you know the answer, … talking. They want just the facts, we have to share the whole story. They see the world through a totally different paradigm. That doesn’t make them wrong and us right, nor vice versa. It makes us, together, a great team with differing strengths, perspectives, and ideas, equipped by the Father to do the work He has prepared in advance for us to do.

However, it can be difficult to appreciate the differences when you are each coming at the same dilemma from two opposite points of view, and neither of you wants to give in. This is often the downfall of married couples. We begin to see decisions, trials, and everyday difficulties, home repairs and such, as battlegrounds where we fight to have our way. We can become more interested in gaining ground and having the power balance leaning in our favor, than in working toward a resolution, in compromising, and in being unified in living out Christ’s purpose for our marriage. We struggle to find that elusive happiness in marriage that all the Disney princess movies seemed to promise. That “happily ever after” that was supposed to be marriage.

Several years ago my husband and I heard Gary Thomas speak at a retreat on Sacred Marriage. The ideas he put forth that weekend greatly impacted our perspective on marriage. Specifically two really big take-away concepts. (The first one I’ll cover today.) When we can grasp them and keep them in our minds we treat each other differently. Respectfully. Valuing each other. Loving as Christ loved. But when we forget them, we get in that “crazy cycle” that Emerson Eggerichs talks about in His book Love and Respect (a topic for another day). You all know the crazy cycle I’m sure, whether you have read about it or not!

The two ideas we grasped help us to live out a marriage with a spirit of unity, living in one accord on a daily basis. The first idea is this:

  1. What if God designed marriage to make us holy rather than to make us happy?

So let me ask you, what IF God put you in that difficult marriage to make you holy? Are you willing to live it walking hand-in-hand with the Father even if it doesn’t make you happy?

When I started contemplating this question it was like I came to a fork in the road. I suddenly had to make a choice, was I willing to be unhappy and not have things always be my way in order to conform to God’s will? This question has since permeated my life beyond my marriage, but we’ll stick to how it relates to our marriages today. Am I more interested in God purifying me and molding me and refining me than I am in my own comfort? Holiness versus comfortable happiness, which would I choose?

Somehow we have let personal happiness become an idol in our lives. We Americans are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” right? But in God’s kingdom holiness trumps happiness. Joy and peace are promised in Him, but happiness is not a promise to us.

Happiness is a state of well-being and contentment based on external happenings: success, wealth, having friends, pleasurable or satisfying experiences. Happiness is a temporary feeling that can quickly be supplanted by negative experiences.

But holiness is an expectation for us of our Creator. Holiness is an attribute of God alone. It is His purity and perfectness and rightouesness in all He is and does that is unattainable in humans unless His Spirit is living in us. It is that set-apartness of God. In us holiness is that other-ness obedient Christians embody.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27

 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

This way of looking at our spouse (as part of God’s refining process for us) is probably very different than the average church-goers’ view. It is definitely different than the secular viewpoint. But when I choose, as a wife (or husband), to be more concerned about the personal holiness God is working in my heart than about my own temporary happiness, my marriage benefits greatly. My marriage becomes a reflection of Christ. It is a high calling. And it is not easy. What will we choose today?

adults-blur-couple-888899.jpg

 

Legalism?

Christians and non-Christians alike are familiar with the Ten Commandments, and people who were raised in the church know so many shoulds and shouldn’ts that we often struggle with legalism and perfectionism. No one wants to be accused of legalism.

Legalism has become such a distasteful concept in society that modern Christians tend to shy away from anything that could make them look as if they are rigidly following the rules. In fact, contemporary Christians often exhibit behaviors that make them appear just like the rest of the non-believing world. Their underlying message seems to be, “Live how you choose, but carry a Bible, go on the mission trips, and make sure you have the right “look” to be accepted as a modern Christian.” Who wants to be a Pharisee, right?

While living a life by the letter of the law or to fulfill our need to look perfect can trip us up, the thought behind those actions is a holy one: it’s important to live a life obedient to God’s dartboard target aim goal achievement conceptword. It’s as important to play this game of life perfectly as it is to pitch that perfect game of baseball or to get that shut-out in football. No, not as important – more important. In fact the Hebrew word for sin in scripture (chata’) means “to miss the mark.” We tend to give ourselves credit for getting pretty close to the mark. In the game of darts that doesn’t fly: a miss is a miss. In reality, it’s the same way with sin. A miss is a miss; a sin is a sin.

In John 14:23-24 Jesus tells His disciples, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” Our level of obedience to Christ clearly reflects the depth of our love and commitment to Him. It’s not a bad thing to want to live a totally obedient life and follow the rules! In fact it is a precious, loving gift to the Father to walk uprightly and honor Him!

If we dig into scripture and really look at Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees, we find it isn’t because they are rigidly obeying laws, it’s because their inside didn’t match their outside!

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without dishes-197_640neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.'” (Matthew 23:23-28)

Dirty dishes! White-washed tombs! Their behavior didn’t reflect their heart. They put on holy masks and tried to look good before people, to be acknowledged, and to be honored publicly. They obeyed the laws, all the while having hearts full of selfishness, greed, envy, … sin. The Father had chosen His people, the Israelites, way back in Genesis. He had intended them to bring blessing to others (Genesis 12:3), but now these Jewish leaders were looking out for themselves instead. 

And so we come to us. Today. We are to be Ambassadors for Christ. To spread the Gospel. To show God’s glory. To bless others.

In this world of darkness, living a life filled with the light of Christ is more important than ever. If we only offer our stories, scripture verses, and other words of encouragement we are short-changing the people God has placed around us to minister to. Don’t get me wrong, our testimony and uplifting words are very important; we are commanded to share the good news in Matthew 28:19-20! However, if words are all we have to offer, with no obedient lifestyle to back it up, we’re presenting a half-hearted gospel. Our obedient life is living proof of the change the gospel has on a human heart. The world needs what we have, not just what we say. These words of Jesus Christ enlighten us:

pexels-photo-262042“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

How many souls have rejected Christ because I spoke the story of the gospel, but I lived out another story: the same story of fear, depression, worry, desperation, sin, and failure that they were living. While my words seemed hopeful, the reality seemed like a myth. Instead of being a light on a hill, I was like a flashlight with no batteries – not effective for the job I was created for. A help to no one.

Today scripture charges us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) We are a representation of Jesus to the world. Are we reflecting His humility, gentleness, patience, and love for all in our behaviors?

In Colossians 19b-14 Paul calls us to live out a worthy life. He states, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into His kingdom of light! Let us live as children of light as Paul lays out in Ephesians 5:8-20. Let us not fear living blameless, pure lives above reproach in this warped and crooked generation. (Philippians 2:14-15)
 
Following the rules only becomes damaging legalism when we equate adherence to the laws of scripture with salvation instead of offering the grace and love of Christ to ourselves and those around us. Therefore we must speak up to share the gospel with the lost world: Jesus is the only sacrifice for sin. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ” (John 14:6) We must walk uprightly in every behavior. We must also get involved in people’s lives to love them well instead of standing back and pointing out their error, but offering no help. We must be patient, offering grace and mercy to those who fail, but also calling others to a higher standard of obedience.

Walk as children of light!

 

pexels-photo-631986

When the Tables Are Turned

A young friend in her late twenties came to me recently with an unusual concern.

She is the only one in her small group who has chosen not to drink alcohol because of her Christian faith. It’s not that she’s never tasted alcohol. Nor is she rigid, prudish, or legalistic. It is a conscious choice she has made.

I don’t know all her reasons. Our conversation was more on the reactions she had received to her choice than on the choice itself. She had made that decision when she realized that alcoholic beverages offered no benefit to her and didn’t draw her closer to God, and that there are always risks associated with drinking alcohol. So she made the intentional decision not to use alcohol. In my mind I immediately thought of the verse in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable,” and I understood her decision.

But that was not the case with others she had encountered. At a small group meeting the prior week, she had found herself conspicuously being the only one not consuming alcohol. She did not feel out-of-place in her spirit and was enjoying her fellowship time. She also had the strength of character to not feel compelled to drink just because the rest were. So where was the issue? One of the young men approached her offering a drink. She declined, and he reacted!

He was offended that she wasn’t drinking. He chastised her for it and questioned her on it. She explained that she wasn’t judging him; she had just chosen not to consume any alcohol. A discussion ensued and suddenly she was the one feeling judged for her abstinence. We are told in Romans 14:16 to “not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.” So she had to stand up for her convictions to another member of the body of Christ, one who should have been encouraging her and building her up instead of undermining her convictions.

Has our society so infiltrated the church that this is what we’ve come to?

Has it become a world where it is “politically correct” in the body of Christ to be so open-minded about alcohol that we condemn those who choose to abstain?

In another situation, a family friend in her early 30s recovering from alcoholism encountered her church friends, who knew her well, drinking at a class gathering they knew she would attend. She was surprised and let down. How could brothers and sisters in Christ choose to exercise their “freedom” at the jeopardy of her sobriety? Is Paul’s warning forgotten? “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:21)

A skewed view of grace has been slowly rising to the surface over the years, one that says a follower of Christ can do anything they choose and it doesn’t matter because God will forgive. Has the church bought into this so much so that a person who walks in purity and holiness is seen as an affront to this false interpretation of grace? In Romans 6:15, the apostle Paul admonishes us, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Are we so caught up in our freedom, that we are careless with our responsibility toward other believers?

Just as Christ has given us grace, we are called on to offer grace to those around us. In our Christian walk, let us extend compassionate love and care by respecting others weaknesses and not causing them to stumble by our actions. Let us also refrain from judging another for choices they make, that while they don’t go against scriptures we would perhaps consider a sin for us.

And on the other side of that coin, let us all also refrain from undermining a brother or sister in Christ who has chosen a higher standard than we are living. That is often difficult, especially when we feel conviction or condemnation simply by being in their presence. Instead of questioning the high road they have taken, when that conviction comes upon us let us pull aside, and seek God to see if He is using their example as a way of calling us to a deeper walk of holiness.