A Grace-Based Marriage

Two gold rings - reflected candlesIs your marriage based on works or on grace? Let’s be real, shall we? You are married to a sinful person. Your partner is not only imperfect, but they can be self-centered, lazy, forgetful, vindictive, make poor decisions, and well, fill in the blank. Now let’s get more real. You’re not the picture of perfection either, are you? For some reason, that seems far less of a concern because your spouse is worse, or at least, “causes” these…imperfections to come out in you.

Throughout the Scriptures, there are several common and related themes mentioned in the Old Testament and New Testament alike. First, we (believers in Christ) are the Bride of Christ and He is the Bridegroom. Second, our marriages are a reflection of the greater marriage between Christ and the Church. Third, our relationship with God is characterized or built upon grace and not upon works. Therefore, if our marriages are to reflect the greater marriage, than our marriages must also be built upon grace, and not upon works.
How do we have a marriage that reflects God’s grace and not upon works? Let me offer one question to ask yourself:

Do you have expectations for your spouse?  Are you focusing on what your spouse is doing or not doing?  If so, you are focusing on their works.  You set up standards for them (law of works) and your attention is drawn to whether they met them or not.  If they fail, they will be punished (by you) based on their failure (being yelled at, dirty look, no sex, etc.).

Then, is it wrong to have expectations for your spouse?  No, not necessarily.  Obviously, it is appropriate to have certain expectations for your spouse.  For example, you should expect them to be faithful, to treat you with kindness and respect, to love you, etc.  However, there are standards and expectations that may be placed so high that they become idols in your heart.  In these situations, you become high king or queen of the home and your spouse becomes your subject that must meet your expectations.  Your focus then is placed from yourself and then onto them and their actions.

Instead of focusing on what they are doing or not doing (and whether they meet your standards/law), focus on 1) how gracious God is to you by forgiving your sins (or you not measuring up to His standards); 2) ask His help to love your spouse as He loves you (not based on your actions); and 3) give your spouse the grace (the unmerited favor) He has given you.  Unmerited favor is just that – favor, mercy, or love that is not based on what they have done, but on who they are (at minimum, being created in His image or being a child of God).  Though you may find this difficult to do, seek the Help of His Wonderful Counselor.

May the God of grace empower you to do as He wills through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Gameshows and Faith: Minute to Win It

There isn’t a whole lot on TV that you can watch as a family (especially with elementary age kids).  Most programs are either too childish for the adults, or too adult for the children (although, I must admit, Word Girl is pretty awesome).  So what can a family watch together that has entertainment, fun, and just tugs on the emotions?  Game shows!  This past summer my family enjoyed sitting and watching two gameshows in particular: Minute To Win It & WipeOut.   Of the two that we watched, Minute To Win It was our favorite. 

The object of Minute To Win It is for the contestants to win money by completing assigned tasks…and of course, they have a minute to win it (the task and the money).  If they complete the assigned task, they move up to the next level (the next task) and start the process over again, but with more money at stake…all the way to a million dollars.  Throughout their quest for a million, they are allowed to mess up three times and like baseball, at the third strike, their out.

So what does Minute To Win It have to do with faith?  Well, nothing really. It’s just fun.  Though in thinking a bit deeper (which is what we counselors do), I couldn’t help but notice how Minute To Win It (like all gameshows) is a works-based mentality, at best.  If you complete the task at hand to the level or expectation that has been set, then you receive the prize.  If not, you have failed and either have to start the level over for another chance, or leave the game with what you have earned / won.  Since you only get three chances, there is little room for error. 

Can you imagine if that was the same system that God set for us?  “OK, Fred.  You have three chances to get your life perfectly, at the expectation I have set.  If you fail in the first three tries, then you have to leave this life and go to Hades.”  It wouldn’t take long for me to flunk out of life.  If God measured us based on our ability to fulfill his expectations of righteousness by works, then we wouldn’t have a chance.  Isaiah said that even our best works are like “filthy rags” (equivalent to a used tampon – yucky thought, I know – but that’s what that means!) (64:6). 

Praise God that he does not measure us by our works, but by our faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus performed every expectation of righteousness set by God through the law, took our punishment for us on the cross (because we couldn’t meet the standard), and rose again on the third day, thus defeating death.  Therefore, by accepting Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are, by faith, believing that Jesus met the standard of perfection for us, that He paid the penalty for us (not meeting the standard of perfection), and overcame death (our punishment) for us.  He did all of this for us…and all we have to do is believe.  By our faith (which was given to us by Jesus – Heb 12:2) in Christ, we win!  By our works, we lose.  We will never be good enough to meet the standards of righteousness.

Some of those challenges in Minute to Win It seem pretty tough.  I’m not sure if I’d get that Million Dollar Challenge if I had a lifetime of trying.  But thank God that Jesus met every challenge given.  He had won the Million Dollar Challenge.  He had met every expectation of righteousness…and He had done it out of love for you and for me.  Now the choice is yours.   Will you stop trying to earn his favor by good works?  Will you accept what He has done for you by faith?  If you haven’t done so, do so today without delay…you will not regret it!