What Makes a Christian Marriage Christian?


You wouldn’t think I would need to do much work stressing the importance of this subject.  After all, it seems kind of obvious that it is important.  There’s no relationship in your life that is going to have more of an impact on your life, your joy, your ministry, your future than your relationship with your husband and wife.

And yet it is strange how little careful thinking many do about having a God-honoring marriage and family.  It’s not unusual to meet with someone who has never thought for example about the purpose of marriage, or who has never thought about what it takes to have a God-honoring marriage,  or who has never thought much about marriage at all, except that they want to get married, or that marriage is what people do.

It no surprise then that so many people are deeply confused about marriage.

They don’t know how to have a good marriage. I often have young people who are about to be married come to me discouraged, because they have talked to their friends who are married, and their friends tell them it is terrible. 

And this unfortunately is sometimes even true in the church. There are many Christians who were excited when they got married, but after they have been married a few years, are now pretty discouraged about the whole thing, and they don’t really know what to do to make it better.  

This is a problem for many reasons obviously. One of the reasons it is such a problem is because God intended the marriage relationship to be about much more than you or me. If we get marriage wrong, we get many other things wrong as well.  The husband, wife relationship is the basic building block of every other social unit or institution.

When you have strong marriages you will have a strong society.  That is perhaps why when we look to the Scriptures we discover that the first commands are given to a family unit, a husband and wife team.  Marriage is irreplaceable in God’s program on earth right now. 

That is clear when you see how the Bible starts with extended teaching about marriage and family.  It starts that way because an unbiblical understanding of the marriage relationship has a devastating impact on everything else in our cultures and societies, and really on us. 

God intends for the husband and wife relationship to strengthen us. If we don’t understand what marriage is about, we are missing out on a major part of how God intends to change us and to work in us to work through us. 

This is why I think, while there are lots of areas in your life you may want to work on, if you are going to honor and glorify God with your life this is definitely one of the most important.  You can’t neglect it.  You need to think about the marriage relationship.  

One reason you have to think so carefully about marriage as a Christian, is because really, Christians should think about marriage, what it means to be a husband and wife, in a remarkably different way than people who aren’t followers of Christ.

A Christian marriage is unique.

When you listen to people who say they are Christians talking about marriage and they are sounding just like unbelievers, it should make you wonder a little bit, just like you would wonder if you heard a person who could see describe a sunset in the same way a blind man would.  There should be a difference.

And I thought what might be helpful is to point out to you some of the ways that a distinctively Christian marriage is different from that of the world.  

What is it exactly that makes a Christian marriage, Christian?

First, as Christians we understand that God is author of marriage.

Ultimately, marriage is not an idea that a group of people made up because they thought it might be a nice idea for people to have someone to live with and be committed to.

It was God’s plan. 

When we go to back to the beginning of the Bible we see that God created the world and He created man, and as God made this world, He made it good, and He kept saying that everything was good, until He looked at man by himself, and then He said that was not good, which is a remarkable thing for God to say in a perfect world, but God did not make man to be alone, and in His kindness, He came up with a plan to deal with the problem of man’s loneliness and He created woman and He designed marriage.

This all took place at God’s initiative, meaning that this wasn’t man coming to God and saying hey, do you think maybe I could have a wife, this was God looking at man and saying this is something you need and I have a plan to deal with this need in a perfect way.

Marriage was planned by God, initiated by God, and designed by God.

This is important for us to remember and understand at the start because there are many people in our day who look down on marriage. 

They kind of think, hey, we come up with our own plan for how to live with people. Or you will talk to them about marriage, and they will say they don’t like this or that idea, they are going to do it their own way.  But this is obviously foolish, because marriage is not a human invention. It’s not an idea that even one culture came up with.  We can’t say, this is the way a certain culture and this is the way another culture does marriage, no what matter is what does God say about how to do marriage, because He is the one who designed it.

First, Christians understand God is the author of marriage.

Second, Christians understand God is the purpose of marriage.

You know how many people approach marriage, they look to marriage as a tool for their own pleasure. What matters most to them when they get married is their own pleasure. What I am saying is that many people come to marriage with a self-centered attitude. What can I get from this marriage for me?

We see that here in Africa don’t we? When someone goes to get married, the parents are often thinking how can I get the most money for my daughter from this marriage, the daughter is thinking how can I marry the richest and most important husband, and the man who is getting married is thinking how can I get a bargain who will make my life easier.

A distinctively Christian marriage begins in a very different place. 

A Christian husband and wife both know that looking to physical things and even good things like marriage as their ultimate source of joy is idolatry and instead they look for their joy first in Christ and they do that through submitting themselves to the guidance and control of His Spirit as He reveals to them what He wants them to do through His Word.

While both a Christian husband and wife are looking forward to all the joy that God brings through marriage, they both know that their marriage is bigger than simply the two of them enjoying one another. 

Marriage is designed by God as a means of making Him look great. 

In other words if you were to ask them the question, why is their marriage? Why does this marriage exist? What is your purpose as a husband? What is your purpose as a wife?

The way they would answer to this question would be the same as the way we as Christians answer any question about why anything exists. 

Anything and everything exists to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31 puts it like this,

Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do everything to the glory of God.”

This means the reason we are here on the planet and the reason marriage exists at all is to make the beauty and greatness of God look as big and wonderful as they really are in the minds of the people around us. It’s not simply that we can be comfortable.  It’s not simply that we can have an easier life. It is that through being a husband and through being a wife we can show this world how great and valuable and beautiful God really is.

Third, Christians recognize that God is the strength for their marriage.

When a person is not a believer and he or she gets married,they often think of marriage as something they can do.And if they have problems in their marriage,they think what they need to overcome those problems is simply some more instruction.

While Christians of course know that they need instruction, they also know they need something much bigger than simply good advice on marriage, they know they need God’s grace.  Grace means God’s undeserved kindness.God’s help.

Christians do not think they can have the kind of marriage that honors God or is good for them apart from God’s work in their lives.They don’t think they are strong enough on their own to make this marriage work. They know they need God to be at work if their marriage is going to be a success.

They know that, they are clear about that at the beginning, because really,whenever someone is truly saved, they have come to understand something about themselves.

We come to understand that we were so bad that apart from God’s grace, we would be damned spiritually. No one becomes a Christian until he’s seen himself a sinner who deserves God’s judgment.

And I wonder if you have ever thought of yourself like that? I meet many people who say they are Christians but who think they are fundamentally good people.The Scripture says something very different about us. The Bible says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Bible says, there is none who do good, not one.

And I wonder if you have you come to the place in your life where you realize that you have disobeyed God’s laws and that you deserve God’s judgment?

As Christians we recognize that we have, and that we need forgiveness and that no matter how hard we might try we cannot repay the debt we owe God, we need God to provide a Savior for us, and we are so thankful He has in Jesus Christ.

This is why Jesus came into the world. To do what we could not. He lived the life we couldn’t live, perfectly obeying God’s law.  And he died the death we should have died and he rose again as a proof that God has accepted His sacrifice on our behalf.

We as Christians realize that we are only forgiven because of God’s grace and that the only reason we are alive spiritually right now is because God saved us and the thing is, why this is important, is that knowing that we are who we are because of God’s kindness changes the way we think about marriage.

First of all, it creates a real humility. We all know that one of the great killers of good marriages is pride. Christians know however, they have no reason to be proud in themselves. Their confidence does not come from who they are and what they can do, instead their confidence comes from looking to Jesus Christ.

It also creates a dependent spirit. When a Christian husband looks at himself, he sees a person who desperately needs God’s help if he’s going to be the kind of spouse God wants him to be.  And when a Christian wife looks at herself, she sees the same.

And knowing our need of God’s help, and understanding how much help we do receive every day, creates a real atmosphere of grace in marriage, because when a Christian husband looks at himself he knows he is a person who has been forgiven much and a Christian wife sees the same.

Fourth, Christians understand God is the authority in marriage.

Since God is the source, purpose, and strength of marriage, it makes sense that He is the ultimate owner of marriage, our marriages belong to Him, He is Lord and gets to tell us what to do.

I remember when I first came to Africa being surprised at how many people said they were Christians. It sometimes seems like everyone you meet says they grew up in a Christian home and that they are Christians. But unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to discover that many of those who say they are Christians, aren’t really living like it.

This becomes especially clear when you look at their marriages.

All too often the way many Christians look at marriage is similar to everyone else.  It is like there is a disconnect in their minds. While they say they think much of Jesus, it is pretty obvious they don’t think much of what Jesus says, especially when it comes to marriage.

They feel like they can have a good relationship with Jesus without submitting to the authority of His Word.

The problem is, Jesus says you can’t.

Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?”

Lord means master.  It is our fundamental confession as Christians.  You can’t be a Christian without confessing that Jesus is your master, and you can’t truly say that Jesus is your master if you aren’t willing to do what He asks.

Acknowledging Jesus’ Lordship with your lips is a waste of breath if at the same you don’t acknowledge Jesus’ Lordship in your marriage. The way you acknowledge Jesus’ Lordship in your life is through your submission to the authority of His Word over your marriage. 

In Ephesians 5:21, Paul tells us this very thing.

He says, being filled with the Spirit will result in us addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, giving thanks always and for everything, and verse 21, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Our relationship with Christ, in other words, is to change our relationship with one another.

It is tempting to try to separate your life into categories or maybe you could say different boxes.  And in one box or category, you have your relationship with Christ and when you think about that, you think about all this time you spend at church and praying and doing religious kinds of things.  And then in another box or category you have your relationship with other people in your home.  And for some people, those two boxes or categories never touch.  They think of themselves as really being great with God, and they come to church and they talk, and they act all kinds of spiritual but they go home and they are terrible to their wife and to their children, and they don’t see any connection between the two. 

The Bible has no time for that kind of thinking.  It destroys these boxes.  Your love for God is going to show up in your love for your wife, it has to.  Real reverence for Christ changes the way you relate to your husband or wife. 

The apostle John expresses this idea in a very direct manner.  He says in 1 John 4:20, “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom He has not seen.”

By brother, John means fellow Christian and so this certainly applies to your husband or wife. If you say you love God and hate your wife or husband. By hate, John doesn’t simply mean you say you hate them.  He is also referring to the way you act. So don’t think just because you don’t say you hate them, doesn’t mean you aren’t hating them. You can hate your wife or husband by not actively seeking their good, by not caring about their needs, through your life.  And we know from John is saying that if you say you love God and hate your husband or wife like that, you are lying. 

Your real attitude towards God shows up in your attitude towards your spouse.

The point is, who do you really think God is?  Do you think He is your master?  The one in charge?  If you do, and if you are a Christian, you say you do, if you do, then it is got to show up in the way you treat your spouse. 

If Jesus is Lord of your life, He has to be Lord over your marriage.

When we talk about marriage, we are not talking about something you can do on your own.  You need to depend on God if you are going to be able to follow this counsel.

When we talk about marriage, we are not talking simply about ways to make your marriage more comfortable for you, but how you can glorify God with your marriage.

And when we talk about marriage, we are talking about something that has to do with your relationship with Christ, this is a way you submit to Jesus’ Lordship in your everyday life.

Fifth, Christians understand God has a goal for marriage.

We know that God is not only the creator of the world, we know that God is not only the purpose of the world, we know that God is not only the owner of the world, we also know as Christians that God is in control of the world and that means, practically, when it comes to our marriages, that we are not married to the person we are married to accidentally, but that God has brought us into this relationship for a purpose, and part of His goal in allowing us to marry the person we did, is to help us become holy, to change us.

There’s a great illustration of this, in Ephesians 5:25, where Paul is calling on husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and he says, “and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

In other words, what did Christ’s love cause Him to do for those who make up the church?  Die, sanctify, cleanse, with the goal of presenting the church to himself in splendor.  That tells us a little bit about who is part of the church, the church is made up only of those for whom Christ died and those whom Christ will present to Himself in splendor.

It also tells us a whole lot about what Christ’s love does for those who are part of the church and that’s the point. He sanctifies the church, which means to set apart and then there’s the word cleanse, it means to purify; and these two words together describe the positive and negative aspects of what Christ was accomplishing for the church on the cross. 

Jesus came to die so that we might be wholly His and for that to happen of course, we needed to be purified or cleansed from our sins. Now there is a funny little phrase here, where Paul says that we are cleansed by the washing of the water with the word and I think probably what Paul is saying is simply that the church has believed the gospel, the word, and God through His Holy Spirit has cleansed the church as a result and that can be pictured like a kind of washing with water. 

The Holy Spirit has used the gospel message about what Jesus accomplished on the cross to act like a kind of cleansing agent in the lives of those who are part of the church.

And what is so awesome about Christ and His love for the church as it is pictured here, is that instead of the church’s sins causing Jesus to turn away from her, which is what we do with our wife’s sins and mistakes isn’t it, we think I will love this woman until she fails me, but that’s not how it worked with Jesus is it, he saw us in our sin and came to give himself up in our place in order that we might be cleansed of our sins and transformed into something wholly different. 

This is so different than the way we normally love, how do we normally love, we respond to something we find worthy in the other person, but that’s not the way it was with God’s love, there wasn’t anything worthy in us when He loved us like this. But look at His intentions, His purpose in doing all this for the church because it just keeps getting better and better. 

Paul says that He gave Himself up for the church, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that she might be holy and without blemish.”

We might take a long time just to enjoy that, what hope! there is for us in this passage, because we look at ourselves now and we don’t see what we want to see, as individuals we long for glory and we don’t see it and as a church; but what Paul’s telling us is that Christ is so committed to us as the church that He will finish what He started and bring us to the point where we will stand before Him one day, beautiful, glorious, blameless. Why did Christ enter into this relationship with us?  For this great day!

And the point of all this is that, in the same way Paul says in the very next verse husbands, you are to love your wives! 

In other words, this is what marriage is for!  This is God’s goal.

You as a husband, you look at your wife, and as someone has put it, “you get a glimpse of the person Jesus died for them to be, and you say, “I see who Jesus is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey to take you to His throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you would be like this!  I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!’ The husband should see the great thing Jesus is doing in the life of their mate through the Word the gospel. The husband should then give himself to be a vehicle or tool for that work and look forward to the day when he will stand with his wife before God, seeing her presented in spotless beauty and glory.”

 So many people, as one person put it, when they get married, they are looking for a finished statue, “when they should be looking for a wonderful block of marble.  Not so you can create the kind of person you want, but rather because you see what kind of person Jesus is making.”

When we look at Christ’s love for the church in this passage, you see that it is realistic, he recognizes our great need, we needed to be cleansed and purified; at the same time, he also has a great goal for us, there’s something wonderful that he is moving towards up ahead. 

And as husbands and really, I think also as wives, we need to follow in Christ’s footsteps; instead of becoming discouraged when you see your spouse’s flaws and imperfections, realize that’s part of why you are there, that is part of what God intends for you as a husband, if you don’t see those flaws and weaknesses, you are not even in the game; you are there to give yourself up to lovingly help her change; but you shouldn’t stop with only seeing her flaws and imperfections, keep your eye at the same time on where Christ is taking her, you want to be part of helping your spouse become who God wants her to be and it’s glorious.

God has a great goal in bringing you and your spouse together, and that is to use you both, to help each other become more like Christ.

“When two Christians” and I am quoting Tim Keller here, “when two Christians fully understand this stand before the minister all decked out in their wedding finery, they realize they are not just playing dress-up.  What they are saying is that someday they are going to be standing not before the minister but before the Lord.  And they will turn to see each other without spot and blemish. And they hope to hear God say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants. Over the years you have lifted one another up to me. You sacrificed for one another. You held one another up with prayer and with thanksgiving. You confronted each other. You rebuked each other. You hugged and you loved each other and continually pushed each other towards me. And now look at you. You’re radiant. Romance, sex, laughter, and plain fun are the by-products of this process of sanctification, refinement, glorification. Those things are important, but they can’t keep the marriage going through years and years of ordinary life. What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness. You’re committed to her beauty.  You’re committed to her greatness and perfection.  You’re committed to her honesty and passion for the things of God.  That’s your job as a husband.  Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing at being married.”

Which, we definitely as Christians, don’t want to be doing.  We don’t want to be playing at being married.  We want to honor God  through marriages that are not Christian in name only, but are Christian through and through.

The way a Christian should think about marriage should be very different than the world’s. And that difference comes down to the fact that we take a God-centered view of marriage, not a man-centered.

God is the author of marriage, the purpose of marriage, the power in marriage, the owner of marriage and we can trust, He has a great goal in our marriage,our holiness and His glory.

If you are going to live as a Christian husband and wife,you can’t simply copy yourself after the world, you are going to have deliberately attempt to model yourself after the design God’s given us in His Word.

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