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Monday, August 22, 2016

Does your marriage more closely resemble a religious exercise or an intimate relationship?

Did I cause you to do a double-take with the headline? After all, isn't this that blog where they are always talking about the intersection of the marital and the spiritual; the blog that explores that "bridal paradigm" thing with Christ and the church being a model for marriage?

Yep this it that blog, but would it shock you if I said I'm not a big fan of religion?

Religion vs. Relationship

The popular Christian pollster George Barna published a 2003 Study which found that 81% of self-identified Christians contended "that spiritual maturity is achieved by following the rules in the Bible."

Does that statistic make you cringe? It actually makes me a bit sad. I think it makes God sad too.

Religion is what Jesus came to deliver us from! Religion is all about rules. Following Jesus is all about relationship. Jesus spent most of his earthly ministry blowing up the rules of His day and pointing people to relationship instead. 

It's not that the truths in the Word of God aren't important. They are very important and there for our good. It's just they aren't the main thing, and they aren't a substitute for the relationship God longs to have with each of us. Spiritual maturity is about being as intimately connected to Jesus as possible. When I'm in that place of intimacy with Him, the rules tend to take care of themselves.

An Important Distinction

Why is the distinction between religious rules and relationship so important for your marriage? Because if your marriage is intended to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, then you need to have an accurate picture of what God intends that to look like. And His highest intention is intimacy, not our good behavior or religious activities.

1. Performing for Love

Religion says that God loves me most when I perform for him. Relationship says that there is nothing I can do to make Him love me more or to make Him love me less. Love is who he is. It's his nature. It's unconditional.

Love for your spouse should be as unconditional as the love of God. Lavish love on your spouse with abandon, regardless of the love you feel you are receiving. God does not withhold blessing from me until I have my act together. Neither should I withhold blessing my wife based on her performance to my standards.

2. Punishment or Grace

Religion says that God will punish us if we mess up. In fact, some act like God is shocked and offended by our screw ups. But the truth is that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross has paid for every screw up I have done and for every one I ever will do. Same for you. Our sin comes as no surprise to him, yet he chose to give his life for us anyway. 
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8
A grace-filled, religion-free marriage means that forgiveness overrules retribution. There may be natural consequences when you or your spouse makes a mistake, does something unkind, or are guilty of some other offense, but relationship dictates that grace is at the forefront of our response.

As you have been freely forgiven by Jesus; freely forgive your spouse.

3. Passion and Desire

The Bible is a love story of a God in passionate pursuit of a bride, who would go to extreme lengths  to win her to himself. So great is his desire for us that he sacrificed his own Son in order to live with us in intimacy, right now and forever.

Passion and desire are godly emotions. We feel them because God feels them, and we are made in his image.

Could it be that the way we have disconnected God from sex has something to do with the way we have disassociated God from emotions like passion and desire? Of course his desire is not of a sexual nature, but I definitely believe that there is a direct spiritual parallel between sex in marriage and the kind of deep, passion-filled intimacy God wants with us.

A right understanding of the emotions of God toward us, including His great passion and desire, is key to understanding how we can love each other in marriage. My own journey into understanding the bridal paradigm started with a revelation of the emotions of God, and it greatly impacted my marriage.

I recently heard Pastor Robert Morris explain this in a sermon entitled "God's Greatest Desire." He summarized it this way,  "God's greatest desire is to marry you, and to live happily ever after with you. And he has worked out all the details through grace." God's own desire for intimacy is mirrored in us, since we were formed in his image. That's the reason he made man and woman to be intimately joined in marriage.

4. Two Become One

Many Scripture passages make it clear that when we come to faith in Christ we become one with him. Yet somehow we labor under the notion that we have to work our way into unity with him and that if we mess up, then that unity is somehow broken. Yet God makes it clear in Scripture that "nothing can separate us from the love of God." (Romans 8:39)

In a similar way, many describe marriage as the process of becoming one, with oneness as something that we work toward, but never fully achieve. Oneness is portrayed as fragile and elusive. I used to think of it that way too! But then I realized that unity in marriage works the exact same way as our unity with Christ. It is what Paul calls a "great mystery" in Ephesians. When we marry, two become as one.
 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:31-32
So then, marriage is the process of learning to enjoy and live fully in the unity we have already been granted by virtue of the fact that we are married. If we see our oneness as something we have to earn, then we'll forever be falling short and striving for the unity that is already ours. As I said in my post What If We Really Are One?  we will live very differently if we believe we are truly one.

I've been digging into the bridal paradigm for more than a decade, yet I am continually discovering new ways in which my relationship with Jesus informs my understanding of marriage and vice-versa. I am realizing that if I want to understand how marriage is designed to work, I have to more fully know the true nature of God. 

What other "religious" notions about God might negatively impact how you live out your marriage? Add to my list. Leave a comment.


Anonymous said...

This was such a great post. I would guess that all of us have the right heart at the beginning of marriage; at the wedding. But then something happens. With our hurts unhealed we stay immature and in this regard it's easier to move in form without substance. Form is religious activity without the heart of Christ or in marriage, going through the motions and sitting at "status quo" until it finally implodes. Whatever those motions are for each couple is different. I think the clearest example would be a couple, each engrossed in reading their own novel. Sitting in the same living room night after night. There is a "form" of togetherness ... being one; but no substance. Same with going to church every Sunday and even a mid-week meeting (in lots of cases is just 'baby' church) but nothing really changes in the person, just more routine, year after year. So YES, religion can definitely hurt (or even kill) your marriage.

Scott said...

Robin, thanks for your comment. My first title was actually "Is Religion Killing Your Marriage." But I backed off of it. Maybe I should have kept it. I feel that strongly about it!

Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading this. I personally feel that as with most things in this life, it's a double edged sword. I believe that it's the combined effort of the spouses hearts and minds towards a mutual belief, rather than a specific conscription to a specific religion. God is everywhere and in us all.... I don't believe any one church can lay claim of ownership to the Holy Spirit. But that's just my opinion. I believe in love, faith, hope, charity, and grace. Thank you for providing such interesting topics.

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