“She…she doesn’t respect me!” he stammered with arms folded. “I told her not to question my authority like that.” After an argument with his wife, this deacon was convinced of one thing: once his wife gathered more respect for him, their marriage would eventually find more love. For someone with such good theology, his theology of marriage was awful. My friend believed that God’s grace was sovereign, and that His love in the Gospel was unconditional. However, ironically, his love for his wife demanded something in return.
The institution of marriage and the idea of sovereign grace are so closely aligned that our laziness in one can seriously call into question our understanding of the other. In the Gospel, Jesus didn’t just save His bride. He didn’t just atone for her sin. He sought her. He wooed her. Jesus was the initiator in the relationship. In the Gospel, the church didn’t give the Bridegroom a single reason to love her. She wasn’t beautiful; she was made beautiful. She wasn’t clean. She was cleansed. She wasn’t lovable. But she was loved nonetheless. Today, there is nothing more ironic than a Christian who teaches salvation apart from works at church and goes home silently expecting his wife to give him a reason to love her. It’s a sad misunderstanding of the Gospel. And that’s precisely why marriage was given to us. To show that we know. To demonstrate what we believe. When the body of Christ gathers together on Sunday confessing “We love because He first loved us,” Jesus turns to the men of the church as they’re leaving for their homes and says, “Prove it.” In marriage, God gives men the opportunity to live out sovereign grace. To love our brides apart from their works or their deeds. Men who profess to have been changed by sovereign grace don’t wait on their brides to get their act together. We of all sinners don’t have the luxury of withholding our apologies. After all, our marriage is a small picture of the Gospel. And because God’s grace is unmerited, so now is our love.
Jesus didn’t wait for His bride to respect Him. Had he waited, He’d still be waiting. When he found us, we did not submit to His authority, we loved only ourselves, and we were whoring after every idol our adulterous hearts could find. And yet He served us nonetheless. He gave His life for us. Not because of anything in us, but because of His great love. (Eph. 2:4) Unbelievably, Jesus became one with the very people who hated Him. When a man believes in Jesus and that Gospel of love, he forfeits every right to demand respect from his wife before emptying himself. He loses the ability to make his love conditional or to deem certain household duties out of bounds. Sovereign grace in Jesus destroys a man’s pride and turns his marriage into a solemn platform of self-sacrificial love. If Jesus went to the cross for a dirty spouse, nothing is off limits in our pursuit of our brides. If nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ, almost nothing should separate a man from wooing and nourishing and cherishing his “better half.”
A church body knows whether a man believes in Jesus. A small group or a Sunday school may perhaps know if he affirms the doctrine of sovereign grace. But a wife will always know if a man has surrendered himself to the King of Kings. Our wives are vessels of sanctification and they are barometers of faith. A man should never be proud to have authority over his wife. Instead, he should be proud to display the Gospel to his wife. On one hand, a man who believes that Jesus’s love waits for us to show progress will demonstrate that same conditional theology to his bride. But a man who truly believes Jesus’s love is unconditional will always lavish his faith upon his bride before their Bridegroom. If the doctrine of sovereign grace is the essence of the Gospel, marriage is one of the primary ways we live out our faith in that precious truth. May we love our wives as Christ loved the church. That is, unconditionally.