In Christian circles, we hear a lot about “Christ-centered marriage.” But what does that actually mean?
According to Paul, the righteousness of God, namely His holiness (Ezekiel 39:7), justice (Amos 5:24) and mercy (Psalm 145:9), is fully revealed in the ardent love of His son Jesus: He writes, “For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:17).
Stepping down from heaven to earth, the carpenter from Nazareth willingly gave His life on an old, rugged cross so all people would be reconciled back to God once and for all. In short, this is the Gospel, the “Good News” that shines forth in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. Christ followers are sporadically prone to think of the Gospel through the singular lens of eternity, but “life to the full” (John 10:10) suggests a purposeful existence right now as well.
Case in point: Paul’s words provide wisdom for a lasting marriage—a gospel-centered marriage.
A Living Sacrifice
“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed.” This is a strong starting point as husband and wife need not look any further than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for the potent teachings of Jesus on how matters of faith should be approached from a relationship standpoint. These four books, collectively called the Gospels, unpack the numerous ways that followers of Jesus fall short in their respective pursuit of righteousness. (Romans 3:21-26)
Take adultery, a mighty destroyer of marriages: Jesus acknowledges the physical act in his teaching, but focuses on the longings of the heart. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
Lust is commonly associated with men, but it’s not a male-only struggle. Women, too, contend with the cravings of the flesh. In a July 2011 article for Desiring God, Carolyn McCulley remarks on the angst of women.
“Let’s not assume that immodesty only affects the eyes of men. Women are becoming increasingly visualized as well, and can be distracted in similar, though perhaps not identical, ways.”
She adds this a few sentences later: “We need to clearly teach that lust is a human condition, not just a masculine one.”
In the context of marriage, lust is combated by open, ongoing communication, confession when needed, a corresponding forgiveness and a continual transforming of the mind. (Romans 12:1-2) God’s good, pleasing and perfect will for marriage is that it would be a living sacrifice to him.
First to Last
A gospel-centered marriage also seeks “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.” First to last. Like any marriage, my wife and I decided in the midst of family, friends and God to commit to one another for life, from our first day to our last one on this earth. Within this space is our individual and collective pursuit of righteousness. An intentional desire to serve one another and love unconditionally will be the catalyst that steers us towards that end. In the words of Paul, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
Striving to out-serve one another is how selfishness is slowly stripped away and the light of God breaks through for others to see and be amazed at a union that lasts for life.
Live by Faith
Finally, a gospel-centered marriage “will live by faith.” If faith is the flame that keeps a marriage burning brightly, it seems reasonable to suggest that doubt will reduce the blaze to embers, and, with time, ashes. Faith equals trust, trust in one another and a trust that the marriage will weather the storms of life, provided it’s built on a foundation that holds. (see Matthew 7:24-27)
Christ followers further affirm that God is with us and for us. “Though he might guide us toward painful valleys in marriage, we can still trust the heart of our Good Shepherd,” Liz Wann wrote in a compelling Desiring God piece. “In his loving providence pain becomes a gift, which has the power to drive us to our knees in dependence on God.”
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul references Habakkuk 2:4. “The righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” What’s important to remember from this verse is that followers of Jesus are striving to pursue righteousness. We strive, but as those easily given over to temptation and sin (James 1:14-15), stumbling is as easy as breathing. In the third chapter of Romans, Paul says that no one is righteous, not even one (3:10). No marriage is righteous, not even one.
For God’s Glory
In spite of this tendency to drift, both from God and in the marriage relationship, a Gospel-centered marriage, anchored in the Gospel, will endure until Jesus comes for His bride (the Church). The Gospel is good news for marriages far and wide; it is alive and active, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12) to the point that we would be aware of our own selfish desires and thus choose to self-correct the faults we trip over time and again.
God has joined man and woman together, and He does not wish to see them separate. (Mark 10:9) He is the author of the marriage covenant, and this covenant is forged through the refining Gospel. In the words of John Piper: “The most ultimate thing to see in the Bible about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory. It is designed by God to display his glory in a way that no other event or institution is.”
That’s good news.
Great news, actually.
Austin Bonds is a writer who lives north of Atlanta, Georgia. His musings on how running intersects with pop culture can be found here. You can also follow him on twitter and Instagram (@austincbonds).