Marriage is hard. Even those who marry in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39) will sometimes struggle to see marriage as that source of happiness they were told it would be. Married people—like single people—need good news to offset the frustration, disappointment, and resentment that can creep into even the closest relationships.
The good news that can actually make a difference will be more than the helpful tips offered by friends or found in the marriage books they might recommend. The good news for marriage is the good news for all of life: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So how can that simple message—that in Christ God saves sinners—rescue marriage?
1. The gospel prevents us from idolizing marriage.
This is good news for both married and single people. Unmarried people can be so focused on getting married that the quest becomes a little god. Tragically, idols never deliver what they promise. When the desire for marriage becomes idolatrous it ceases to be a God-given help for our weakness and takes on an unsatisfying life of its own. Married people, too, can look to marriage for the kind of satisfaction that can only be found in God.
Human marriage can be a beautiful gift. But Paul talks about marriage in the context of Christ's gift to the church to teach us that the best human marriages are but shadows of the glorious marriage between Christ and believers (Eph. 5:32–33). In the gospel, Christ gives himself as the new life we need. He can satisfy us as no one else can. Believers can say of Jesus, "He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend" (Song 5:16).
2. The gospel helps us avoid a demanding spirit within marriage.
Marriage, like all relationships, can be quickly spoiled by a demanding attitude. "I deserve better than this" is one way we express a self-righteousness that will almost surely prevent the cultivation of deep companionship. Through the gospel, we affirm that we are debtors to divine mercy. Though we rightly deserve hell, God has promised us heaven. We have earned wrath, but he has shown us grace. As this gospel truth permeates our lives, our gratitude for God's gifts changes us from being unrelenting demanders to being thankful recipients. As God's grace becomes more real to us, we see ourselves as servants—missionaries of God's mercy—inside and outside of marriage.
3. The gospel gives us hope for our spouse.
We have to be careful about expecting our spouses to change. We should love people, including the person we marry, for who they are today, not for what we hope we can turn them into. But, we all need to change. When we are confronted with our spouse’s shortcomings, the gospel can prevent us from being traumatized by despair. Peter encourages wives in unequally yoked marriages to win their husbands by their conduct (1 Peter 3:1; cf. 1 Cor. 7:16). Peter knows that godly conduct isn’t the power of salvation, but it is one of the ways that God demonstrates the life-changing power of the gospel. Whether married to believers or unbelievers—both of whom have significant potential for growth in practical godliness—believers know from experience that no one is beyond the saving reach of Jesus.
4. Despite relational difficulties, the gospel makes us joyful.
Peter says that, because of the gift of salvation, believers can "rejoice with joy" even "though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials" (1 Peter 1:6, 8). Joy transcends circumstances. It cannot be destroyed by a harsh word from your husband or persistent coldness from your wife. The kingdom that God graciously gives believers through the gospel is characterized by "joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). This doesn't mean that believers are oblivious to the pain of brokenness in relationships, but that in our brokenness we are more than persuaded that God is making all things well. Believers choose to listen more intently to God's good news than the world's bad news. Jesus teaches his followers to "rejoice…and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven" (Luke 6:23). Believers can choose joy even when marriage is hard.
5. The gospel makes us able to love sacrificially.
The gospel is more than a message. It is a life-changing power. In conversion God pours his love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5), enabling us to love as he loves. Conversion opens the door for spouses to reflect God's radical love: "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). Those who know they have been forgiven much are able to love much (Luke 7:47).
The gospel doesn’t make marriage easy, but it introduces much-needed grace into a close relationship between two sinners. When God’s grace is working in a marriage, both happiness and hardships help prepare God’s children for that eternal wedding banquet in the age to come.