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Saturday, June 9, 2012


This is the third post in my series on grace in marriage.  Because these build on each other, I encourage you to catch up on the other posts, Introduction and The Big But, before you read on. 

Today I want to expand a bit more on grace and law and how those work in marriage. 

Biblical Warning Bells

We have trouble apprehending the radical nature of the Gospel of grace.  Apparently the early church did too. Much of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is dedicated to the grace vs. law debate. Perhaps this one verse sums it up best:
You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:4
The law says we have to earn God’s love, acceptance, blessing and forgiveness based solely on what we do or don’t do.  Grace says we have God’s love, acceptance, blessing and forgiveness regardless of what we do or don’t do. A right understanding of grace allows us to do for God out of a place of total being totally loved and accepted.

Between law and grace lies a dangerous middle ground, a toxic wasteland which says that even though we have God’s forgiveness, our standing with him is only as good as our human efforts to “live right.”  Do you feel like you can’t go to church until you clean up your act? Are you hesitant to pray when haven’t had a quiet time in a week? Do you feel less “spiritual, because you haven’t read your Bible like you feel you should?  Does shame over sin in your life cause you to run away from God instead of running to him for mercy and strength? Is your ability to engage with God in worship on Sunday affected by how “good” you were during week?

All of these are signs that you are stuck in the toxic wasteland between law and grace.

What’s the problem, you ask?  The problem is that all of our law-based behaviors destroy intimacy with God.  They focus us on our shortcomings instead of Jesus’ provision for them.  They cause us to try to hide from God instead of embrace him. They leave us trapped by fear and shame.  They keep us from living in the fullness and abundant blessing that Jesus died to give us. 

The Law/ Grace Mix in Marriage

This toxic mixture shows up in marriage all the time with the same kind of harmful effects.

We all know that a law-based marriage is wrong.  It’s the kind of legalistic relationship where one wrong move sends you to the proverbial doghouse.  A law-filled marriage is full of harsh judgment, retribution and fear. Living in that kind of relationship is exhausting and fruitless.

But almost equally as bleak is a relationship where law and grace are mixed together; where we speak grace, but hold the law in our hearts; where we give grace to an extent but still base our actions on what our partner does or doesn’t do or how much they give to us.

For example, as you are doing an unusually kind deed for your husband, are you simply delighting in how much it will bless him or are you secretly thinking about the leverage it will give you in getting him to do the dishes later? A grace-filled perspective allows you to give without the expectation of getting something in return.

When your wife says something to you that feels disrespectful, do you immediately shoot her a comeback line or withdraw in frustration and hurt? Or do you stay engaged with her, gently bring it to her attention and seek to understand the why behind her comment?  Grace assumes the best, forgives quickly and maintains your connection above all.

What is your first instinct when you do something stupid that is going to negatively impact your spouse, maybe even as result of directly going against his or her wishes? Do you want to hide it for fear of judgment and retribution? Or do you want to quickly go to them, repair the damage and make it right? If your marriage is grace-based, you know that the relationship matters more than being able to follow all the rules.

When you have been unable to stay connected for some reason, physical separation, busyness, disagreement or whatever, do you feel like you have to “earn” back your intimacy?  Do you wait for the other to make the first move? Do you need things to “feel” better before you act on the intimacy that is yours by virtue of being one flesh?

When your partner does something out of character that hurts you, do you react with anger or fear or judgment?  Or are you able to love them “as if?” Can you love them for who you know them to be despite their behavior?  Do you lovingly work to understand the why behind their behavior?  Are you willing to seek to make things right, even if your spouse doesn’t initiate the reconciliation?

Here’s a quick side-by-side comparison of the grace-law paradigm and the grace-full paradigm:

Law/Grace Mix Marriage

Grace-Full Marriage

I will only show love to you in the proportion you show love to me

I will show love to you freely, regardless of the love you show me in return
I will withhold intimacy from you until you do the things I expect

I desire intimacy with you more than I desire your perfection
We need a 50-50 relationship
with everything split down the middle

A 100-100 relationship means
we both give 100%. All I am is yours.
I love you because of what you do for me and what I get out of our relationship

I love you because of who you are and because we are one

Living a grace-full marriage 100% is neither easy nor natural. Our reactive, self-protective and selfish instincts will fight grace all the way.  We aren’t going to be as good at grace as God is because we are fallible people, with flaws and wrong thinking that will try to get in the way of grace. Yet grace should be our goal.

I’m convinced that God’s intention for our marriages is that they be entirely grace-filled and that we should shift our thinking toward grace and away from the toxic mixture that is law and grace. 

How does this resonate with you? 





3 comments:

Andy & Meg Williams said...

Great post! I have converted from toxic wasteland to grace in the past three years. Now I know why our marriage improved so much! I'm thankful to have changed after a mere 8 years of marriage, rather than wasting my life in such a non-joyful way.The toxic wasteland is still all about me, not my Lord or my husband or anyone else.

Scott said...

Thanks Meg - there so much power to transform our marriages when we get an understanding of grace. Congratulation on your transition to embracing grace in your marriage!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Yeah. This is good. Thank you!
-Katie

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