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The Grace-Filled Marriage - Week One, Growth Principle One:
Healthy Realism

Genesis 3:1-21

Rod MacIlvaine


This morning we begin a new series on marriage that I am calling, The Grace-Filled Marriage. This series is going to last about eight or nine weeks, and during this series I want to lay out what I think will be a very encouraging vision for your relationship with your spouse.

Now, I've consciously chosen the title Grace-Filled Marriage because of my conviction about what marriage ought to be. At the core of an authentic Christian marriage is God's grace. It's a commitment to treat your spouse the way Jesus treated people during his ministry: he was full of grace-and truth.

But if you look at the books on Christian marriage over the past thirty-years, you discover they don't necessarily emphasize grace as the core the vision for marriage. In fact, I'd argue that Christian books on marriage generally fall into three categories.

SOME ARE WRITTEN TO HELP YOU DISCOVER HOW YOU CAN GET YOUR NEEDS MET. The idea is that if you just apply these seven principles, you'll have a romance that sizzles. Your wife will be attractive, fun and happy. Your husband will be tender and kind. It's a needs-oriented approach to marriage.

That approach isn't all bad. There are some really good principles out there that help couples meet needs and get needs met. But getting needs met is not the core of what Christian marriage ought to be.

ANOTHER CATEGORY CONSISTS OF THOSE BOOKS THAT EMPHASIZE DIFFERENT ROLES IN MARRIAGE. The concept here is that if you just embrace your God-given role, your marriage will improve; you'll move toward intimacy and oneness.

On the surface, this approach is quite biblical. The Bible does spell out male/female roles in marriage. But many couples do the roles thing for the wrong reasons. Men will say, "I've led her consistently for six months, and she's not changing! So spiritual leadership doesn't work." Or a wife will say, "I've tried submitting to him, and he just gets worse. He's more withdrawn and passive than ever. I'm giving up on this submission stuff." Learning roles is important, but Christian marriage is not just about doing the roles.

THE THIRD CATEGORY CONSISTS OF BOOKS BY CHRISTIAN PSYCHOLOGISTS. Some of these books are very good, with insights that are hugely helpful to your marriage. But sometimes you get the impression that good marriages are mostly about getting psychologically healthy, and the transcendent spiritual nature of marriage is lost in the process. I've known couples who were a mess psychologically, and yet they had a reasonably good marriage.

I think the implicit promise in much of the Christian literature on marriage, and the promise goes like this:

"Finally, we have a secret for getting your needs met in you marriage! And the secret is contained in this book; or this seminar; or this set of tapes." Of course they don't say this, but it's the underlying tone.

And there is a bit of spiritual idolatry in that approach, because God never intended for marriage to meet all your needs.

What I'll argue in this series is that it's better for you to feel some pain of an imperfect marriage and have passion for God, than to have a near perfect marriage and harbor complacency and pride.

So let me lay out the ultimate vision.

The biblical vision for marriage is that you would glorify God by being a person of integrity, irrespective of whether your mate cooperates or not. The focus is on what you can do to serve and grow, not on how you can be served.

This is why the idea of a grace-filled marriage is so important. How did Jesus relate to an undeserving sinful human race? He was full of grace and truth! What should our vision be for marriage? To glorify God by being full of grace and truth with our partner…no matter what we get - or don't get - in return.

Now this morning, as we begin the series, I want to start in an unlikely place. I want to start with the passage immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin. We begin here, because more than any other passage in the Bible, this passage tells us the three purposes in marriage in a fallen world.

So please turn to Genesis 3. And this morning I want to look at three clues that reveal the purpose of marriage in a fallen world.

1. THE 1ST PURPOSE IS CONTAINED IN GENESIS 3:1-11, AND THE PURPOSE IS THIS - Marriage after the fall is designed to expose you to your sin.

A. Now I realize this isn't a very romantic way to begin, but to understand why this is true, we've got to go back the watershed incident in the entire history of the human race: The fall.

You'll remember that after God established the institution of marriage he placed the first couple in the Garden of Eden. For a period of time they enjoy blissful/flawless harmony; they enjoy a challenging occupation: subduing the earth. The Garden of Eden was the beachhead from which they would fill the earth and provide leadership over the race.

But this first couple was also untested, so God gives a very important command. He said, "You can eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden, but there is one tree that's totally off limits. You cannot eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."

Now this was no arbitrary command. That tree represented the moral test that would determine their nature. If they obeyed God, they would be confirmed in righteousness and live in harmony…both with God and each other. If they disobeyed, they would receive a sinful nature and live in estrangement both from God and each other.

But the stakes were even higher than that. Their decision would determine the fundamental moral and spiritual nature of the entire human race. All of human history - yet future - hangs in the balance as Adam and Eve grapple with their responsibilities in the garden. What are they going to do with the command of God?

Now the serpent comes on the scene. He cunningly entices Eve. He twists the words of God. He casts doubt on the character of God. And he appeals to the sensual delight of determining good apart from God.

Within a short time, Eve is convinced, and she gives in. She takes a bite, and savors the flavors that explode onto her tongue. Then she gives it to Adam. He bites, and he's blown away by this new experience.

Why didn't Adam stop this? Where was he when the conversation was taking place? He was right there with her. Genesis 3:6 makes this very clear; Adam was by her side, listening to everything…saying nothing. There's not even a hint of leadership, nothing like, "Honey this is not a good idea," or "Honey, let's seek God on this." Total silence! And Adam's guilt is greater, because God had given him the greater responsibility.

Now at one level, it's probably hard for us to grasp the immense guilt that washed over them in the aftermath of that bite. They were flooded with remorse. They had violated the trust of one they loved immensely.

But something else happens. A silent invisible change takes place deep within their human hearts. They receive a sinful nature. Rather that automatically seeking God, they shun him. Rather than automatically obeying God, they crave independence.

And with their sinful nature, they become very self-conscious. Their nakedness had been a wonderful thing. It was far more than just physical. There was emotional and spiritual transparency, and it was exhilarating. It led to the deepest intimacy possible. But suddenly they felt exposed, and evaluated, and judged by the other. So now they hated their nakedness, and they wanted to cover up. They sowed fig leaves and made coverings. And when God showed up they bolted, running as fast as they could in the opposite direction.

And this is the important theological truth that flows from Genesis 3:1-7: Marriage after the fall is not what it was originally created to be. Marriage is fallen. It's still God's institution. It's still a wonderful blessing from God. But it's been blemished and marred by sin. If you think your marriage is going to somehow fulfill all your needs and take you back to this blissful Edenic experience, I've got bad news for you. It won't happen.

Marriage will do the same thing to you it did to Adam and Eve: It will expose you to your sin. There is no other relationship on earth where personal habits and idiosyncrasies will be so exposed and scrutinized. And this stark reality is this: your mate will sometimes understand your sin patterns better than you do.

When sin is exposed your response is going to be the same as Adam and Eve's: You'll attempt to hide. Of course, doesn't work very well, because marriage is too intimate a relationship, but you'll try anyway.

So what do you do when your sin his just been exposed and there's no place to hide? There are two responses, a right one and a wrong one, and Adam and Eve - immediately after the fall -typify the wrong response.

B. They respond with blameshifting.

Let's look at how this worked with Adam and Eve. God confronts Adam. Verse 11: "Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" This is a very strong confrontation, and the couple responds like many when a flaw has been exposed: they shift the blame to avoid pain.

So Adam talks back to God, "The woman you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree and I ate." Notice that Adam is simultaneously blaming God…as well as his wife. Then God addresses the woman, and she blames the serpent. "The serpent deceived me and I ate." So now Adam and Eve are caught in a triangulation of blame, desperately trying to avoid personal responsibility.

You know, blameshifting is a fairly typical scenario in marriage when sin is exposed in marriage. It develops in three phases.

IN PHASE ONE, A WIFE HAS A PROBLEM WITH HER HUSBAND'S BEHAVIOR. She wants him to come home on time for dinner, so they can have quality time as a family. She addresses the problem nicely and politely, but he just can't seem to make it home on time.

Now this is a perfectly fair complaint, and she has every right to state it. In fact, healthy couples are constantly addressing disagreements and things that need to be changed in the marriage. You've got to do this to work out differences. But when this doesn't work, phase two kicks in.

IN PHASE TWO, SHE GIVES IN TO HER FRUSTRATION, AND SHE MOVES FROM COMPLAINT TO CRITICISM. "You always come home late. You never give preference to our family. You're always so selfish about your time. You never care about us, just your work."

And here's the problem with phase two communication. Whenever you use words like "always" or "never" you've just moved from complaint about behavior into criticism about personhood.

And what are most people going to do when they feel their personhood has been attacked? They're going to become very defensive. They're going to shift the blame to attack the criticizing partner. "Oh yeah, we'll if you'd make something worth eating, I might come home on time."

SO THEN COMES PHASE-THREE COMMUNICATION, WHICH IS CONTEMPT. And I would define contempt in marriage this way; it is an intense feeling of disrespect that makes you want to inflict hurt on your partner. In this scenario, the husband feels contempt for his wife because she is constantly nagging about coming home on time. And the wife feels contempt for her husband because he's blowing her off. In general, women express contempt with nagging. And men express contempt with anger or stonewalling.

This three-phase cycle is extremely common in marriage. Even healthy couples will have some area of their marriage where they harbor feelings of contempt for their spouse, and they engage in blameshifting in that area.

If that's the wrong response when sin is exposed, then what's the right response?

C. If you find that some weakness or some sin has been exposed, the right way to respond is in humble self-discovery.

HERE'S WHAT SELF-DISCOVERY IS: IT'S THE COMMITMENT TO LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES WHEN THEY ARE BROUGHT TO YOUR ATTENTION. It's like what happens in the aftermath of a plane crash. When there is a crash, the FAA moves in to investigate. They secure the black box containing the electronic data. They interview witnesses. And in some cases, they reconstruct the wreckage. Why do they do this? The FAA wants to learn as much as they can to minimize future plane crashes.

This is what you need to do in marriage: when sin is exposed, engage in self-discovery. Healthy self-discovery always looks at the possibility that there is something you can learn when a weakness or sin is exposed. Of course it's a painful process, but this is what God uses to form integrity in you as a marriage partner.

THE KEY TO SELF-DISCOVERY IS HUMILITY. There are some people whose self-esteem is so fragile they can't bear the thought of self-discovery. Exposure crushes them on the inside, so they bitterly deny their faults.

There are others whose self-esteem is quite healthy, but they can't bear the thought of self-discovery because it offends their pride. So in the face of complaints, they rarely examine themselves. They deflect and deny.

But this skill is foundational to a healthy marriage, and God gives a great promise to people who practice it. James 4:6 says, "God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble." If you want the grace to grow when sin is exposed, you need the discipline of humble self-discovery.

BUT YOU NEED MORE THAN SELF-DISCOVERY. YOU NEED TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP OF SELF-CONFRONTATION. Self-confrontation is the skill of being able to talk yourself into doing the right thing in the heat of the conflict, even when you're under pressure.

This is a spiritual discipline that all the great men and women of the faith used. The psalmist uses it in Psalm 42. He says, "Why are you in despair, O my soul? Why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God!" This psalmist is devastated by some painful set of circumstances. He's so disturbed he's losing hope. But he confronts himself, and instructs himself to trust in God no matter how bad it gets.

Think about how this might work in marriage. Couples go through seasons where they harbor negative feelings toward their spouse. As communication shuts down the negative thoughts become more intense. Self-confrontation is the ability to say to yourself, "Quit going down this mental path. You made a commitment to love unconditionally. You made a commitment to trust. Deal with this in reliance on God."

Let me give you an example of self-confrontation in our marriage. Cindy and I operate on two different time clocks. When I come home at night I'm ready to talk, and I'm ready to listen, and my idea of a good evening is getting into a really great conversation over the dinner table. But Cindy works full time here at the church. And when she comes home she's usually been talking all day, and she's spent; she doesn't want to talk all that much. But when she doesn't talk, I get frustrated.

On the other hand, she likes to talk in the morning. She'll make her coffee. She'll dig into the word. And then when I come down, she'll put everything away and want to relate. But I don't like talking in the morning. I either want to get to the office early, or study, and I don't like to be disturbed. So we have a problem.

Several months ago I noticed that when I came home in the evening. I would immediately get irritated that we weren't doing the conversation thing like I wanted, and I had to confront myself. "Rod," I would say, "you have a responsibility to work this out so that it's a win-win for both of you…not just you."

So what I'm saying is this: Every marriage since Adam and Eve has exposed the weaknesses and the sins of the spouses, yours included. When this happens you have a responsibility. Resist blameshifting. Instead engage in self-discovery and self-confrontation for the purpose of your growth as a marriage partner.

Now, let's look at the second purpose of marriage after the fall.

2. THE 2ND PURPOSE IS THIS - Marriage after the fall is designed to include significant levels of personal pain. Gen. 3:14-19

Shortly after Adam and Eve consume the forbidden fruit, God confronts them, and spells out the natural consequences of their sin. And those consequences include three sources of pain.

A. The first source is spiritual warfare. 3:14-15

Notice who God addresses first: he addresses the serpent, and in Genesis 3:15 God says, "I am declaring war between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers. He'll wound your head, you'll wound his heel. " This is the first verse in the Bible that portrays the conflict between good and evil that rages in the human race. We have an unseen spiritual enemy who is hell-bent on finding weak spots and luring us into sin.

And Satan has an easy job of it. Each one of us has a sinful fallen nature that is temptable. Each one of us lives in a sinful fallen world that looks so alluring and exciting. Satan hardly even needs to tempt us directly. He makes the world look seem so attractive, and he makes our flesh seem so hungry that it's easy for us to slip into sin.

It's hard enough to do spiritual warfare when you're single, but when you're married it becomes even more challenging. You not only have to be alert for yourself, and you have to be in prayer for your spouse because spiritual warfare in them will directly affect you.

And spiritual warfare shows up in three common ways in marriage.

IT SHOWS UP IN THE MISHANDLING OF ANGER. Paul says, "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity." If you mishandle conflict, you open the door to spiritual warfare in your marriage. Dr. John Gottman is a widely respected researcher in the field of marriage, and he's done multiple studies predicting divorce. According to Gottman, the greatest predictor of divorce is feelings of contempt that spouses harbor against each other because the mismanagement of conflict.

ANOTHER WAY SPIRITUAL WARFARE SHOWS UP IS IN THE AREA OF MONEY. I say this because Paul makes it very clear in 1 Timothy 6:10 that "the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil." Notice he doesn't say that money is the root but a root; and it's not just money, but the love of money that's the root of evil. Every year, thousands of marriages are shipwrecked on the rocks of debt and greed. When finances are out of control in your marriage, Satan has beachhead from which to divide you.

ANOTHER WAY THAT SPIRITUAL WARFARE SHOWS UP IS IN THE AREA OF SEXUAL IMMORALITY, SPECIFICALLY PORNOGRAPHY AND ADULTERY. I won't give you a specific verse on this one (although there are some great ones from Proverbs), but just look at world history.

Whenever a religion or philosophy deviates from the truth, that belief system almost always incorporates sexual immorality as a way of worship. This is even true in our postmodern secular culture. What is the predominant marketing tool in today's world? The female body! What is the predominant entertainment tool in today's world? Sex!

One of the hottest battlegrounds wreaking havoc on Christian marriages today is the sexualization of the culture. It draws men into pornography and immorality. But more and more women are being drawn into Internet chat rooms and porn sites as well. If Satan can lure you into sexual infidelity, he can divide you with massive feelings of bitterness.

But let me give you another source of pain. We don't just contend with spiritual warfare, but…

B. In a fallen world, male-female differences will frequently be a source of deep frustration. 3:16a, 17-19

AFTER GOD SPELLS OUT THE CONSEQUENCES TO THE SERPENT, HE ADDRESSES THE WOMAN. And the consequences for her will show up in her closest relationships. Verse 16: "To the woman he said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will bring forth children."

It sounds as if the only consequence for the woman is pain in childbirth, which, of course, is certainly significant. But the Hebrew construction broadens the meaning. It's literally, "pain in your conception," which means there is pain - not just in labor and delivery - but in the entire process that begins with conception. In other words, from conception to adulthood the mother experiences a certain kind of pain within her family. What kind of pain is that? Pain in relationships!

She is more susceptible to experiencing unmet expectations in her closest relationships. She'll have expectations for her children, and for her husband, and for her friends, and she will frequently be disappointed.

THEN GOD ADDRESSES THE HUSBAND. His pain isn't going to come from relationships but from his work. In verse 17 God says, "Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life." God goes on to say that the husband is going to find work difficult and exhausting because the world is fallen.

Now of course, Moses is writing to people living in a farming economy, and farming has always been a tough occupation. But all of work is fallen, especially today: Computers crash. Networks go down. Real estate deals go sour. Employees get dissatisfied. Vendors don't deliver. And sometimes people get laid off.

SO NOW WE HAVE A BIG DILEMMA: The wife's emotional energy is wrapped up in relationships, and she feels pain because relationships are fallen. The husband's energy is wrapped up in his occupation, and he feels pain because work is fallen. So there is an automatic disconnect in marriage.

This dilemma is expressed in a common refrain that I often hear from couples. She says, "My husband just doesn't get it. The kids and I don't just want his money or his great career. We want him. We want him to be with us and spend time with us."

The husband on the other hand says, "My wife just doesn't get it. I spend all this time working and providing for the family, so that she can buy nice clothes and take nice vacations, and I don't get one word of thanks just a lot of nagging that I'm not spending enough time at home."

Now what does this disagreement reflect? Men and women after the fall have completely different outlooks on life and completely different needs, and they're going to be frustrated that the other doesn't understand. It's like we're living in two completely different worlds with radically different worldviews.

Where does this come from? It comes from the fall. God has made it so that male-female differences are going to be a source of frustration. Now did he do this to be mean? No! He did it so that we would trust him for the unity that we so desperately want in marriage.

These differences forces us into a posture of humility, so that we will enthrone God is at the center of our relationship, where he belongs.

And that leads to a third level of pain?

C. 3rd source - Husbands and wives will deal with painful power struggles. 3:16b

WHEN GOD CREATED ADAM AND EVE HE MADE THEM CO-RULERS OVER THE CREATION. They had the same mission: to rule. But they would do it differently. Adam would rule by investing his masculinity into his work. Eve would rule by investing her femininity into her work. And this complementary male-female harmony would cause the image of God to be powerfully expressed in the world.

But after the fall the desire to rule becomes corrupted. Rather than being a help it becomes a hindrance.

AT THE VERY END OF GENESIS 3:16 WE DISCOVER THAT A WIFE IS GOING TO TRY TO CONTROL HER HUSBAND. God says, "Yet your desire will be for your husband." That word desire is not a reference to emotional desire or physical desire. It is the desire to control.

This is how it's used in Genesis 4:7. God addresses Cain and he says, "Sin's desire is for you (to control you) but you must master it." So a woman is going to want to control her husband so that her relational needs get met.

BUT HUSBANDS AREN'T GOING TO LIKE THIS. And so in Genesis 3:7 it says, "And he will rule over you." Most men hate being controlled by their wives. They'll resist it and buck it all day long until they get free. Sometimes they'll resist passively by stonewalling their wives. So she talks and he just stares off into space as if she's not there. This infuriates her, but he loves it because he's in control. Sometimes men will do this actively by controlling what their wives do and think and feel and spend.

So marriage has built in power struggles. And again, we have to ask the question, "Why would God do this?" Power struggles can have a profound impact on our character if we handle them well. And New Testament antidote to power struggles is to be subject to each other.

This is the great command of the apostle Paul before he launches into his teaching on marriage. He says, "And be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." Ultimately in a Christian marriage there is one role: servant. The husband exercises his servant role by acting like Jesus. The wife exercises her servant role by acting like the church. So there is an equality of value but diversity of roles.

Now let me recap where we've been. Marriage after the fall includes significant levels of personal pain. There is spiritual warfare, infuriating male-female difference, and power struggles.

D. And what should we do with the pain of all this?

Remember the purpose. The pain of marriage is designed to construct a Christ-like character that can be formed in no other way.

You know, in life, there is a pattern that broken things sometimes come back stronger than before.

What happens when you break a bone? That bone becomes stronger in the very place that it was broken. What happened after Peter denied Christ three times out of fear? God made him fearless…able to speak boldly to hostile crowds. What happened after Paul received the thorn in his flesh? God gave him the grace to be stronger than before.

The same is true in marriage. When marriage brings pain, and you hang in there out of commitment, you go through a kind of brokenness. But God will make you stronger in the very area where you felt broken.

Now, let's look at the third purpose of marriage.

3. 3RD PURPOSE - Marriage after the fall is designed to be redemptive, provided God is at the center. Genesis 3:20-21

I believe that once you're married you have to make a choice every day to place God at the center of your marriage. This is not just something you do on your wedding day or when things get tough; you do it everyday.

And you do it through prayer. You can say something like this: "Father, again today I submit our marriage to you; I want to love my spouse with your love." When this becomes the pattern of your, God will use your marriage to bring growth.

Now in the final verses of Genesis 3 we see two specific things that it means to have God at the center of our marriage.

A. It means that you act in harmony with God's word. 3:20

Look at Genesis 3:20. "Now the man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living." What a gracious response! Adam could have responded in several ways after the fall.

  • He could have kept on blaming her, saying this whole thing was her fault.
  • He could have been bitter.
  • He could have sought revenge.

Adam does none of those things. Instead he chooses to see his marriage in light of God's word. God had said two things about Eve…first that she would bear lots of children and second that in the cosmic battle with evil, Eve would produce a child who would win the battle. This is the first veiled reference to the coming of the Messiah.

And in faith, Adam chooses to believe all this. She sees Eve in light of God's word. And this is a hugely important principle for marriage; you must learn see your husband or your wife in light of what God says about them.

And what does God say about your spouse? One of the things he says is this: The very moment your spouse became a Christian, God the Father justified him (or her). Let me remind what justification is. In justification God does two things; he declares you not guilty and he declares you righteous.

But it's more than that. God actually imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to your account. Know how Jesus lived a perfect life…always fulfilling the commands of God…always pleasing the Father? Well, God imputes all of that righteousness to your life. That doesn't mean you're actually righteous; it means God regards you as possessing the perfect righteousness of his Son.

Now that's a very sobering concept when it comes to marriage. You can be spitting mad at your spouse. They may have offended you in the worst way, and you feel absolutely justified in harboring feelings of bitterness and contempt.

And when you see them walk into a room, feelings of angry judgment burst forth. You think, "I deserve to feel this way…after what they just did!" But how does God regard your mate if he or she is a Christian? God has already forgiven them. God has already imputed the righteousness of Jesus Christ to their account. He sees them as being not guilty of the sins committed against you on the basis of Christ's death.

Now if God is willing to do that, don't you think you should too? Godly marriage partners are always trying to view their spouses in light of God's word.

And this is why Adam is able to offer incredibly gracious leadership. He names her. Part of leadership in Hebrew thought was granting names to others. Adam has already done this with the animals in Genesis 2:18 ff. And now he exercises leadership again. He calls his wife's name Eve.

This is a very noble proper name: Eve means life-giver. What grace! He could have sarcastically called her "death-maker", saying, "You got us into this mess and I'll hold it over you the rest of your life." He calls her life-giver.

If you see your spouse in light of God's word. You will not hold on to all their faults and failures. Rather you will treat them with dignity, honor and value. So here's my challenge. If you make God's word a priority in your marriage, you'll be able to give great blessing to your mate.

And here's a second thing it means to have God at the center.

B. You are a conduit of grace. 3:21

Look at verse 21. "The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them." Adam and Eve were shocked when God took two beautiful animals, with sleek and beautiful skins, and killed them in their presence. They had never seen death before. The violence and finality of it must have shocked them. But God was teaching them an important lesson. Sin can only be forgiven when a substitutionary-sacrifice is made on behalf of the sinner.

Then God skins the animals; he sews the skins together; and he makes clothing. With great love, God covered the shame of their nakedness with skins from the sacrifice. Of course this is precisely what Jesus did for us.

When Jesus comes the Jordan River for baptism, John says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Three years later Jesus went to the cross. He died in our place and rose from the dead.

The very instant you receive Jesus, he clothes you in his righteousness. And listen to the completeness of that forgiveness. Colossians 2:14: "He canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." God granted forgiving grace to you, and God expects you to extend forgiving grace to your spouse.

Paul said, "Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." It's all about being a conduit of grace.

  • When you're a conduit of grace you overlook sin.
  • When you're a conduit of grace you give your spouse what they don't deserve.
  • When you're a conduit of grace you persevere through problems for as long as it takes.
  • When you're a conduit of grace you have an eternal perspective.


Cindy started our marriage by showing me grace. For the first two years she worked at Arco as an accountant, and I was a full-time student. Then she got pregnant with Sarah. My first job was with UPS. I would get up at 3:30 in the morning and work the early shift until 8:00.

About one month into the job I got the stomach flu. I missed a day of work, and the rest of the week I was so sick couldn't keep up with loading boxes onto the semis at the hub. At the end of the week, the supervisor shook his head and called me into his office, and I got fired. Here I am 21 days into my first job, and I got fired.

I was so upset I decided to call Cindy from a payphone by the side of the road, wanting to tell her as soon as I could, not knowing exactly how she'd respond.

But she responded with pure grace. And I'm still grateful.

Marriage is a wonderful blessing, but it's fallen. And if we have any hope for going the distance we need a grace-filled marriage with a healthy dose of realism. And in that realism we need to remember...

  • Marriage will expose you sins and weaknesses.
  • Marriage will contain significant levels of pain.
  • But it will be redemptive if God is at the center.

Now, next week I want to balance this out. We talked about healthy realism this week. Next week we'll talk about healthy idealism.

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