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Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Today I’m continuing my series on grace. As we explore grace and its implications for marriage, keep in mind my message from the Introduction, which is that grace is an invitation to deeper intimacy in your marriage.
In a spiritual context, the number one concern I hear, the "big but” referred to in the headline, is that a grace focus will leave people to do as they please, without regard to sin or displeasing God. Logical, perhaps, but completely wrong! The book of Romans addresses the issue clearly:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?Rom 6:1
The next verse answer with an emphatic, “Of course not!!” Paul then goes on to explain that grace makes us one with Christ and so we are dead to sin and our old nature. “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (v. 11) Paul concludes this discussion on the radical power of grace this way, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”
Can people still sin? Of course. Do people still sin? For sure. But the answer is not to reject grace and go back to the law! The answer is still grace. Remember, “It is His kindness that leads us to repentance,” or as The Message puts it:
In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.Romans 2:4b
I realize that God’s grace is somewhat confounding, even a little counter-intuitive, but that’s also true about so many Kingdom principles. It doesn't make them any less true.
The Marriage ‘But’
“But if I show grace to my husband/wife, won’t he/she just keep on doing all the stuff that annoys me so much?”
“But if I go the grace route, how am I going to get my husband/wife to do what I want?”
These are common and understandable reactions to the grace message in marriage. The problem is that these questions miss the point of grace entirely.
Grace is not about getting someone to do the right thing; grace is about intimacy and relationship. Grace is given by God, not in order to gain your obedience or conformance to a bunch of rules, but to gain your heart. Obedience follows out of the love relationship we have with Jesus, not the other way around. We get that backwards sometimes.
Remember that intimacy comes from being fully known and yet completely loved. When we come face to face with the unconditional, unyielding, passionate love of God, even though he knows us to our core, we are completely transformed.
These same principles apply to grace in marriage. I don’t show my wife grace in order to get her to stop doing things I don’t want or to get her do the things I want. I show her grace in order to ensure intimacy between us, to strengthen our relationship and to keep us deeply connected. Out of the place of feeling completely loved and accepted, she is much more willing to do things to please me than if she feels judged and criticized by me.
When you express grace in your marriage (unmerited blessing and favor, undeserved kindness and forgiveness) you are, in effect, saying to your spouse, “I want intimacy with you more than I want your perfection.”
No Fuss, No Muss
Cherl, a commenter on my introduction to grace, put it this way, “So should I fuss and tell him the little things or work on grace???”
My answer? Neither one.
First of all, fussing at your spouse about the things that annoy you isn’t likely to do much for the intimacy level in your marriage. They may stop doing that one thing you fussed about, for a time, simply to start doing that same thing again later or something else even more annoying and frustrating.
Better than fussing is to show grace, true grace, meaning a desire to be as close as possible, a genuine desire to be one. I’m not saying you should simply ignore the mistakes and frustrations you face in your relationship, thereby allowing the resentment to fester and build to the boiling point. I’m suggesting, rather, that you show mercy, kindness and love to your spouse, with the goal of deepening intimacy (truly knowing each other).
When you choose to bless your husband or wife in face of their shortcomings, it speaks loudly to their heart that they are loved and accepted. In a healthy relationship, their natural response will be to want to bless you back. Then you have the opportunity to tell them what that looks like to you, giving you an invitation to address, in a loving way, whatever it is the issue or concern is.
Let Grace Work on You
So do you instead need to “work on grace?” as Cherl asked in her comment?
Nope, not exactly.
Rather, I say, let grace work on you.
What I mean by that is to press into a deeper understanding of the grace that you have been shown by God in Christ. Apprehending God’s grace will empower you to show grace to others, including your spouse. Get it in your heart and mind the extent to which grace is about intimacy and relationship, and let that knowledge fuel the response you have to your spouse in the face of his or her failings or shortcomings.
Let grace work on you and on your heart, thereby allowing grace to work its way into your marriage.
So, have I dealt sufficiently with your “but” or do you still have some doubts about this whole grace thing? Let’s talk. Leave a comment.
Next time: The Toxic Mixture of Grace and Law
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