It was the Puritan John Owen that wrote: “To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.”
Perhaps nowhere is this remark more salient than in Christian marriage. What is it that God requires of us, as followers of Christ, in marriage? Mounds of books have been written on this subject, so let me just point to a few of the primary truths and texts concerning God’s expectations for spouses:
1. To understand sin’s effect on us as spouses is critical, and I believe God expects us to study what He has clearly said about us, as it pertains to all of life, including marriage.
a. Genesis 3:16 among other things, states that sin will cause Eve to have “desire” for her husband. The same word is used again in Gen 4:7 where God tells Cain sin’s “desire is for you.”
b. In context then, it seems clear that sin will cause Eve to want to control or rule her husband. But, God essentially tells Eve it will not work, because “He will rule over you.” God’s design, whether or not our culture agrees, is for male leadership or headship of the home.
c. Implied in God’s words, “he will rule over you” is the subtle hint that sin will cause Adam to abuse his God-given leadership in the marriage. Sin will corrupt Adam’s headship. He will not exercise it in God-honoring ways. Indeed, much of the remainder of Genesis shows us sinful men struggling to exercise godly headship in the family!
d. Knowing our resident enemy (sin) and its effect upon us as spouses is foundational; for if we are to fight in God’s enabling power to do marriage His way, we ought to know who or what we are fighting against.
2. To commit to “one man, one woman for life” and to hate divorce (See Malachi 3:16; Matt 19:1-6).
3. For men to lead and love their own wives like Christ leads and loves His church (Eph 5:22-33).
4. For women to respect and submit to their own husbands as the church respects and submits to Christ (Eph 5:22-24, 33).
Numbers 3 and 4 above give many Christians today fits. Perhaps they fail to see that the two principles go hand-in-hand and are really about Christ, not them? As men lead and love like Christ, women will submit and respect (dare I say even treasure) the husband’s Christ-like leadership and love. As wives respect husbands God-ordained headship, men will strongly desire to lead and love their wives like Christ does.
And the grand purpose in all this? The honor and glory of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who paid for and purified His bride, the church, with His own blood and sets His bride apart to love and serve Him forever (Eph 5:25-27). Amazing, huh? As the church glorifies Christ, so Christ is determined to make His bride “holy and blameless.” Christian marriage is to mirror this reality. Who knew Christian marriage could accomplish such lofty things?
But, can a husband and wife really live up to these clear demands of God? Put another way, is the young Christian’s fear of marriage rooted in reality? Is there any hope for a Christian husband to actually mirror Christ to his wife? Can a Christian wife actually submit to Christ’s ultimate headship through submission to her husband’s headship?
As Paul asked in 2 Corinthians 2:16, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Who indeed? Methinks a discussion on sanctifying grace is in order. Stay tuned . . .