“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9, ESV)
“I’m beginning to realize that I’m not a very good wife!”
I let the honest confession gush out of my mouth as my friend listened intently over a cup of coffee. Soon we were commiserating over the incredibly imperfect, flawed women we were and how surprising of a revelation this was to us. Somehow we had been under the impression that reading the right books, having a foundational understanding of what the Bible says about marriage, and marrying godly men would provide an environment where we would simply flourish into the perfectly godly, helpful, submissive, and encouraging wives God desired for us to be.
Unfortunately, there had been a particularly pesky problem in the pursuit of marital bliss that we grossly underestimated: the problem of our sin. Oh sure, we were firm believers in the doctrine of total depravity and mentally assented to the continuing effect sin would have on our lives as believers, but the reality of the struggle we would face day-in and day-out to deny our natural, self-centered tendencies as wives was more than we bargained for. As we navigated naively through the first years of marriage, began having children, and sought to work diligently in our homes, our desperate need for the forgiving and sanctifying grace of God became glaringly clear. We were not the perfect Proverbs 31 women we had envisioned ourselves becoming once we slipped on our wedding bands. We were women in process and women in need of grace.
As I think back on this conversation, I realize that it signified a mental shift in my thinking. Verbally admitting my unrealistic expectations for marriage allowed me to step back, gather my knowledge about the Word of God, and apply it to the reality I was living in. I had been living as though I could be a finished product for my husband and family, when the Bible clearly tells us that we are all very much still in-process and in need of the sanctifying grace of God.
You see, as much as I wish my husband could have married a woman who loves him perfectly, submits to him without hesitation, and joyfully helps him whenever possible, the reality is he married a sinner. When we said our wedding vows, neither of us were promising to love a holy spouse. We were each promising to love the sinner in front of us–that imperfect, going-to-drive-you-insane-one-day-over-something-ridiculous person dressed up in pretty wedding attire. We couldn’t fully comprehend it at the time, but when we slipped those rings on each other’s fingers, we were committing to deal with each other’s sins for the rest of our lives. Because inherently, becoming one flesh with your spouse means taking up arms with them in the fight against their sin.
For some reason, we have a tendency to forget this reality. We want to have “perfect” marriages and to be “perfect” spouses, but forget that the road of sanctification is paved by the often uncomfortable and never-ceasing discipline of grace. Christ’s work on the cross may have freed us from the reign of sin, but we are not yet free of sin. On the contrary, being freed from the reign of sin means that we are now free to wage war against the enemy within our flesh. We will be doing battle with this foe for the rest of our lives and in every area of our lives–including our marriages!
Is it any wonder we find ourselves discouraged when we assume that we should have “arrived” at some etherial plane of holiness not possible this side of the grave? We are not meant to be putting on an impossible show of holiness for our husbands, we are meant to be growing in sanctification along with our husbands. We are each, daily growing into the likeness of Christ, but we are not Christ. “Growing into” means we are “growing out of” something else. The Holy Spirit is hard at work tearing away our sinful desires, impulses, thought processes, and passions: what the Bible calls the “old man”. Every day he is working out the salvation purchased for us on the cross of calvary, but we will not be free from the temptation to sin until we are liberated from these bodies of death: when we see Jesus face to face and are transformed into his image.
Neither my husband nor I are ever going to be perfect spouses. This might seem like a discouraging truth, but there is actually great freedom and motivation to be found in the knowledge that we have not yet “arrived”. If I can live with an awareness of my own weakness and bent toward sin it helps my marriage in three important ways:
- I can be on guard for manifestations of my sinful flesh: Knowing my own weakness reminds me that I easily fall into sin. I can pretty much assume that there will be multiple moments within every day when I will be tempted to put my own interests ahead of my husband’s or for me to chafe at his leadership or to hastily respond in an unkind manner, but knowing that I have the propensity to do these things apart from Christ helps me to walk in humility and watchfulness. In short: I am more likely to win battles when I acknowledge that there is an enemy to fight!
- I can live in the grace supplied to me by the sacrifice of the Savior: Acknowledging my own weakness reminds me of my need for the gracious, sanctifying work of God. It forces me to seek help from the only Source of power that can transform my life! I know that it is not from within myself that I can muster up the ability to love my husband well; it is solely a work of the Holy Spirit. I must, daily, moment-by-moment be seeking his face and asking him to sanctify my heart, soul, and mind. Living in this grace also guards me from becoming discouraged by my failings. Yes, I will continue to sin despite my best efforts, but this is exactly why Christ died: to forgive me for my sins and to substitute his perfect life for my flawed one. The gracious Groom who vowed to love his bride (the church) by dying for her wasn’t under any illusion that she was worthy of being loved. He wasn’t blind to her sin–after all, he was punished for each and every one of her failings. No, he saw her in all her filthiness and loved her to the point of death, even death on a cross. This is the way he loves me–even on my worst day.
- I can show grace to my husband: Seeing myself as weak allows me to view him in his true state as well. As I become more aware of the depths of my own struggles, I can have more compassion for his. Neither of us are perfect, but rather, we are both in the process of beingperfected. When I see how much grace I need on this road of sanctification, I can in turn, offer that same grace to him. He too is “in-process”.
As my friend and I came away from our coffee date we were both joyful. It doesn’t make any sense because the world would view our admissions as acknowledgements of defeat. But as women of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can have joy in our weaknesses, knowing that our Savior is the strong one. He is the one who has secured the victory to the battle we fight each and every day. In his grace he faithfully forgives, purifies, justifies, and sanctifies those he has called. We are women “in-process” and we can trust the process our loving Savior chooses to bring us to complete sanctification.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 ESV)