Friday, February 29, 2008

The letter of the New Testament - Part 4 - Conclusion

I know I posted 3 fairly long posts on this already, and I pretty much figured that Part 3 was the final post on this subject, but I keep thinking of one of the underlying reasons that all of this means so much to me, and so I'll just go ahead and share it. I've posted my story before, so some of this won't be new to some of you.

I mentioned something in the comments of Lydia's "Spurring On" post that would probably shock a lot of people... but it's something that is true as true can be. I said, "My marriage was hurt... by Biblical marriage principles!"


I'll try to explain. It's not that the words about marriage in the New Testament are bad or wrong. It's just that I had unwittingly replaced Christ with marriage principles when it came to wanting to have a great marriage. See, there was a period in my marriage in which I thought I didn't love my wife. And the sad thing is that this all happened long after I had begun to be firmly established in grace. My problem was that grace and biblical principles had become letter to me, rather than me seeing them and understanding them in the light of life.

I saw many areas in my marriage in which I felt I was falling short. Well, actually, I was "doing" a lot of good things that a Christian husband "should" do, but in the long run it was really out of either "duty" or out of an attempt to try to be a good husband, whether it came from a heart of love or not. So much of this became duty and not delight, that I began to think that I didn't really love my wife. "I'm just faking it," I thought. "Sure, I want to do things to please my wife, but what good is any of it if all I'm really doing is going through the motions."

I was looking at things through the wrong eyes. My beautiful, loving wife - and my marriage as a whole - had become more of a "project" for me to work on, rather than the relationship and union that it's meant to be. Ok... not that marriage doesn't involve work! Any amen's? :D But instead of viewing my marriage through the eyes of grace, I was viewing it through the eyes of living by marriage principles.

Like I said, I was actually "doing" a lot of good things, at least as I saw it. However, something was festering beneath the surface and I didn't quite know what it was. No matter how much "good" I was doing, I always felt like I fell short. The reason, as I've come to now see it, is because of the constant preaching and teaching of biblical marriage principles! I would go to church and hear principles for Christian living. I would turn on Christian radio and I would hear principles. I would go to my small group and hear principles. I couldn't go anywhere without hearing "this is how a husband should treat his wife," and "husbands, we need to be doing this or doing that for our wives..." I can't say enough, it's all good stuff! But the constant preaching and teaching of it all was very overwhelming - especially when God's grace was only mentioned in passing, rather than being taught as the foundation for the Christian life that it is. I felt that just as I was achieving victory in a certain area, I'd find that I'm so far away in other areas from being this wonderful "biblical" husband that I want to be.

Finally, something happened that got the light of true victory shining again. We went to see a counselor who really helped me see my folly. I really had resisted going to a counselor, because I thought all I would hear would be more principles! But in short, this man listened a lot, and in the end he said one word to me that turned everything around and gave me the right perspective again.

That word was "identity." My whole problem was that rather than living out of my true Identity in Christ… the New Creation that I truly am, in which Christ is my life… I was trying to be all the things that I thought I was supposed to be for my wife! I can hear the gasps of legalists now. :) But all I can say is that it wasn't working and it never will work!

We may have a nice, shiny appearance on the outside that makes us look as if we're really doing well at "living the Christian life," but on the inside we're dying, because we're living by letter and not by Christ's life.

Grace is the essence of the Christian life. "Doing" is not the essence of the Christian life. Rather, "doing" is the fruit of resting in grace, and growing in grace! As Lydia says in her post that I linked to, we need to be constantly encouraged in grace. As we submerse ourselves into pure grace and into God's unconditional love, we will find that we don't have to "try" to live the Christian life, but that the life of Christ in us cannot help but overflow into our doing. Anytime we go back to "trying," we quench the Spirit of grace and we find ourselves going backwards and not forward.

I see my wife with such different eyes today. That day - the day when the counselor said "identity" - I knew things would be different forever! See, I had taught grace. I had lived a life of grace, to a big extent. I could share grace doctrine and I could encourage people in who they are in Christ. But in a big sense I had backslidden. I had fallen from grace in my marriage. To fall from grace means to start trying to live by law and rules again, rather than by grace! That day, I repented of "trying" and I began trusting again. I changed my mind about how this marriage was going to be lived out.

Can you understand how "marriage principles" hurt my marriage? They became New Testament letter to me and they did what letter does... "kill." Life has now replaced letter. The New Testament exhortations and commands are wonderful reminders to us of what Life in Christ looks like. But if our lives become a matter of simply studying them week after week, and trying to live by them, we can very easily miss out on real Life.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4


  1. kudos Joel! my marriage was hurt by biblical principles as well......I could have written this, it is so much like my experience - I lost my first love for Jesus, and then in turn lost genuine love for my man, due to believing I had to "apply" (a word I am not so into anymore..) the passages referring to marriage and to my specific "role"......and ya know I never got it right, nor did he....!
    I love the last paragraph - yeah if we look at the to do parts and try to "do" them without understanding the full measure of the gospel of grace and the true New Covenant, we will very quickly lose sight and miss the joy of God's true heart for our lives......!

    What were you trying to do before, turn your wife into a Stepford wife..........kidding really...ha ha!

  2. Joel,

    I just wanted to let you know that these posts have been a great help to me. I know exactly what you meant when you said, "My marriage was hurt... by Biblical marriage principles!".
    Well, you did a great job explaining 'why'. Thank you for taking time for doing this and also thank you for being honest and real.

  3. Lydia and Jul... Thanks for the comments. I know that both of you have shared similar things that you've been through in your marriages and I'm so glad that after having dealt with this on my own in the past, there are others who I can now share war stories with. :)

    Same with you Bino... I'm glad this has helped you and I'm very happy to be sharing this with someone who understands.

    In all of this, my purpose is not only to share war stories... LOL... but it's also for the purpose of us all building each other up as we share what we've been through, and learn that we're not alone in it, and share the various ways in which we've overcome by the grace of God.

  4. Oh, yeah, Lydia... the Stepford Wife thing. LOL. The irony is that back in my legalistic days, which were still hanging around when I first got married (although I had begun to come into a better understanding of grace), it could probably have been said that I was trying to turn my wife into a Stepford Wife. I'd grown accustomed to "my" way of doing things and I found myself being critical way too often. However, as I grew in grace I somehow began to put all these expectations of perfection on myself - in a sense, trying to turn myself into a "Stepford Husband." :) That's the irony... I was growing in grace, but in my marriage I was falling from grace (as I mentioned in the post) because I was trying to perform as a husband in my own strength.

    I knew that grace was the power for Christian living, so why wasn't it working in my marriage? Well, it's because I was giving lip service to grace in this part of my life, but I wasn't allowing it the time it needed to work in me (really, a lifetime). I felt like a failure because somehow grace wasn't "working."

    But yes it was working and it is working. Just on a different time table and in a much sweeter way than I could've ever imagined. :)

  5. Joel---Great post. I can so relate, because so many times I've tried to boil down the Bible to "principles for successful living." It misses the whole point of why the Bible was given to us.

    In our fellowship this past Sunday we looked at John 5. One thing Jesus said in that section applies here: "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me." So often I look past Jesus to see what Scripture says.

    And the Scripture says, "Look to Jesus!"

  6. Richard... That really gets right to the heart of all this! The scriptures don't point to themselves as the way, the truth and the life, but they point to Jesus Himself. God does indeed speak to us through the scriptures (
    and in so many other ways
    ), and I never want to deny the importance of the scriptures, but the scriptures are always going to be pointing us to Jesus, the Person who dwells in us and lives through us.