Marriage as sacrament (or, how marriage is saving me)?

Yesterday Christina and I celebrated three years of marriage.

Marriage, for me at least, has had salvific effects. It has been something that has contributed to my salvation [note: before all of you “sola fide” neo-reformed brothers and sisters pop a blood vessel over that statement, allow me to explain].

If that last statement bothered you then there’s a good chance I’m using “salvation” in a broader sense than you have in mind. I’m not suggesting that the institution of marriage has “saved me from my sins” and “granted me eternal life”. In other words, I’m not saying that marriage is my *saviour*. That said, I think if we look at the trajectory of the biblical narrative then we can speak of salvation more broadly than simply “my-sins-are-forgiven-and-I’m-going-to-heaven!”

The general sweep of the biblical narrative looks like this: creation, fall, redemption. Most of you reading this will know the story. God creates everything and it is “very good”. Sin and death enter said creation and wreak havoc (to this day). Everything is no longer “very good”. Everything turns to shit. God, however, out of an indescribable love was moved, not to abandon his creation, but to rescue it. He chose a people (Israel) who were to demonstrate what life with God was like and in so doing be a blessing to the nations around them. Yeah, that didn’t really work (read: disobedience, idolatry, etc). Again, God did not abandon his creation. Rather, like a father who sees his child drowning in a lake, he striped off his garments  (Phil. 2:5-11), jumped in and rescued his child himself (I realize this image doesn’t translate perfectly, but you get the picture). Even now God is working out this renewing of creation. And, if you’ve read the rest of the story, we all know where this is headed. One day all will be restored, we will once again dwell with our God and perfectly reflect his image. Until that day (and here’s the broad understanding of salvation) anything that leads us to bearing that image more fully is pointing us in that direction (new creation) and thus, has salvific effects for us. When we strive to make society a more human (by more human I mean more truly/perfectly human in the biblical sense) place, then we’re having a salvific effect there which is itself pointing towards God’s new creation that is indeed breaking through into the old. When we allow the kingdom to penetrate our lives and shape us into the image of Christ (becoming more human), whether this be through the word, a relationship with someone else or a moving art exhibit, then we’re becoming more truly human. We’re becoming more like we were meant to be, indeed, more like we one day will be.

In short, like my friend Jason said, “salvation…has to be something tangible.Mar” If I’m on the road that leads to salvation then this will be bearing a very particular sort of fruit in my life. Generally speaking, I’ll be becoming more truly human. You know, I’ll be becoming like the sort of human Jesus was (who demonstrated what a more truly human life might look like, among other things).

And so, to return to the beginning of this post, marriage has had this sort of salvific effect on me. It is making me more human. It is helping to shape me into the image of Christ Jesus our Lord (on a related note, perhaps this is why some traditions refer to marriage as a sacrament?). For example, I had no idea how selfish and self-centred I was before I got married. My relationship with Christina has brought these issues to the surface in my life. And believe me, over the last three years I’ve been confronted face-to-face with my own selfishness and foolishness. If I wasn’t married, I’m not sure I’d have arrived at this same understanding. Being in a marriage has forced me to at least consider the fact that there is someone else I need to think about before myself (I say consider because I haven’t been the best at actually doing this over the last three years). So, marriage has forced me to, in a very real and tangible way, place someone else ahead of myself on a daily basis. We’d all agree that this is a good thing, right? But, *why* is it a good thing? It’s a good thing because that’s how we were created. It’s a good thing because when we live our lives by putting others ahead of ourselves we’re looking back to creation and then pointing ahead to the new creation where the effects of sin and death will be done away with. Here, there will be no selfishness or self-centredness because humanity will once again be perfectly bearing the image of Christ Jesus who selflessly gave his life to redeem us.

Likewise, being married has forced me to face my own sin in ways I never had to before. I say this with all sincerity, that over the last three years I have witnessed my own ugliness like never before. Marriage is the sort of relationship you can’t fake for very long. In almost any other relationship you can put up a facade and get away with it. You know what I mean, you probably do it all the time like I do. We project a certain ideal image of ourself to our friends/coworkers/teachers/pastors/family. But that’s not really what we’re like is it? I mean, how many people in your life *really* know you? Many of you probably don’t really know me, because if you knew me, you’d think I was an asshole rather than a nice guy. You can get away with this facade when you’re dating someone. You can get away with it when you’re engaged. Hell, you can even get away with it for a while in your marriage. But, because of the intimate nature of marriage, there comes a time when you are completely laid bare before your partner. You’re totally naked before your partner and they’re able to see *everything* about you. Christina has seen my ugliness. She’s seen my sin. From the times I get angry playing video games (come on ref!) to other more serious issues. And so when I say that marriage has brought me face-to-face with my own short comings I really mean it. And I don’t just mean “effects” or fruit. I mean, I’ve had to do some real searching of myself to figure out what sort of soil/roots are causing certain fruit to grow in my life and if you’ve ever had to do that you know it’s not pleasant. Seeing the ugliness/darkness in your own life (and how it effects others) is a tremendously humbling experience. But it’s totally necessary because out of that comes life. You see, in marriage I’m not only confronted with my own sin in new ways but I’m free to confess my sin in new ways.

Paul writes that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,” (2 Cor. 7:10a). Marriage has forced me, among other things, to see clearly my own sinfullness and to face it head on. This was tremendously sorrowful for me but it led to repentance and that leads to “salvation and leaves no regret.”

So, Christina.

Thank-you. Thanks for being patient with me. You are compassionate and slow to anger. You’re abounding in love. Thank you for accepting me, for seeing me as I really am an not abandoning me. I say this with all honesty and sincerity, you make me a better person, indeed, a more human person.

  1. JB said:

    I agree! Marriage is one of the few, if only places to really be confronted with who you are and your sin! Over the past two and a half years(today) I’ve come to realize how self-centered, inconsiderate and sinful I am…its not fun, and sometimes I wonder why Chris even puts up with me. but at the same time I’ve been able to grow and through the redemptive power of Christ(Jesus) and with the help of Chris(hubby) and his patience I’m getting better. Hurray for marriage! And congrats to you and Christina on 3 years!

  2. danielle said:

    this is really beautiful and well articulated jon.
    you hit the nail on the head and gave words to my many thoughts and prayers on the subject. thanks for being candid.
    much love turtles, and congrats on 3 years!

  3. “Likewise, being married has forced me to face my own sin in ways I never had to before” (JT)

    So true (been married for 6 and 1/2 years now). Marriage has been a refining process for a roughneck man like myself, I started to realize how much I don’t about women and their needs…in short, I am selfih and marriage is helping me to realize my drawbacks in this area and how it can hurt another.

  4. Orlagh Turtle said:

    that is a beautiful post Jonathan, it made me cry, but at the same time it made me rejoice, because, you see, there are too many husbands/wives who never get to that point, too many who look down and never look UP…I rejoice over you and Christina with Thanksgiving…and as a “sola fida” sister/momma I now give God ALL the Glory…Soli Dedo Gloria hahaha…Love you both to bits, Congratulations on your 3 yrs.,as your marriage relationship deepens and developes so will your love of your Savior Jesus Christ develop, to depths that you cannot yet imagine !!! how exciting, the marriage relationship has the opportunity to bring us closer to God, and some understanding of the depth of HIS Love for us….who can understand the mind of God.
    Praying as always for you my son xoxoxoxoxo

  5. Orlagh Turtle said:

    …DEO !!

  6. On Theology:
    As someone who is closer to an Amillenianist , I feel Christ is currently on the Throne, and the Kingdom is within us. I feel sin and the curse was crushed on the cross (Gen. 3:15) and the Kingdom is at hand, ready for us to enter. Unfortunately our reality (not always the true reality) is that the Kingdom is both “now” and “not yet” and we strive to find our place as someone who is redeemed, yet is still being saved.

    On Relationships:
    I agree with your post, as someone in a relationship with a strong woman I also have been made a better person. In christian culture I was used to seeing Christian women as little sidekicks that supported whatever their man wanted to do. I feel the best friend, spouse, and church is one that challenges us to be better people, while loving us unconditionally. I feel relationships even people out and round our sharp edges. Only someone as close as a partner can bring us to the realization of our shortcomings in such a gentle way that it will help us change. The good news is Jon, that we are becoming more like Jesus through this process, and I believe that is the design-purpose of our relationships.

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