Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Sweet, Permanent Complication

Leslie Basham: Jani Ortlund gives wives this challenge.

Jani Ortlund: God doesn’t just tolerate you, in the Bible—He embraces you. Let’s not be wives who tolerate their husbands. Let’s embrace them as God embraces us.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Forgiveness, for Monday, September 24, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: If you’re a married woman or if you hope to be married someday, do you realize that marriage is not all about you and your husband? Actually, your marriage is all about God’s glory. It is supposed to be a picture of Christ and His Church.

My good friend, Jani Ortlund, is going to explain today why it's so important to understand this. When you view marriage this way, it has huge practical implications. Jani is a pastor’s wife. She and her husband, Ray, have been married over forty years, and they have four married children and a bunch of grandchildren. Jani recorded this message at one of the Gospel Coalition Women's Conferences. Here's Jani.

Jani: If you have your Bibles, will you open to Romans chapter 7? We’re going to read verses 1–6. You didn’t think I was going to go there, did you? I’m not a Romans scholar—I happen to be married to one, but just because you sleep with one does not mean it comes through in osmosis. These six verses I have studied somewhat.

We are not going to go through them phrase-by-phrase. We are going to take some ideas and apply them to a gospel-centered marriage. Listen as I read Romans 7:1–6.

Or do you not know brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she’s released from the law of marriage.

Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she’s not an adulteress. Likewise [Do you see that word? It’s a very important word, as we link it to our marriages], my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

The new way of the Spirit is “Mrs. Grace.” The old way of the written code is “Mrs. Law.” Imagine this scene with me. “Dearly beloved.” You’re dressed in your wedding finery. “We’re gathered together today in the sight of God and these many witnesses to bring these two people together in holy matrimony, which God has foreordained . . . and to see just how much pain they can cause each other and their families and their church and the world in the years ahead.”

We laugh because we know every single marriage starts with hope. Unless you were dragged down that aisle, there was a dream in your heart for a romance that would have a happy ending.

No one ever enters a marriage thinking, How can I ruin this and cause pain to all the people who matter most to me? We sense every marriage should be a love story with a “they lived happily ever after” ending, but it’s not. We know, even in this room if we took a show of hands, some of us are divorced, some of us have been divorced.

Some of us have children who’ve been divorced, or parents. Divorce has touched, I’m sure, every one of us. Even those of us who have stayed married are not always examples of what a godly marriage should be. Every married person understands that marriage is a permanent complication.

From the moment you say, “I do,” at the altar to the moment you say, “Goodbye,” on your death bed, marriage complicates your life. Why? Because in marriage, God is trying to fit together basically two self-centered, sinful, really bad people . . . and put them together for life. Sixty years . . . sixty-five years. Of course, it’s going to complicate things!

Oh, but what a sweet complication! I hope you think of it as that. I hope it’s not a burden to you. I believe marriage is the sweetest and the hardest . . . the most wonderful and the most exasperating . . . the most ennobling and the most terrifying . . . the most difficult and the most rewarding relationship of one’s life.

Marriage makes two people, together, what they could never, ever be alone. I have three simple points, and as we go through these points I want you to ask yourself—if you’re married or if you’re contemplating marriage—“Will I be a Mrs. Law or a Mrs. Grace?”

My first point is, How does the gospel beautify a marriage? My second point is, How do we live as Mrs. Law? And my final point is, How do we live as Mrs. Grace?

Now, a human marriage is not the ultimate human experience. Jesus Christ is! But, under God, marriage is the most profound and ought to become the most delightful and rewarding relationship we have here on earth. This is because marriage is the display of the gospel on earth . . . the love of Jesus Christ, the Savior, for His Bride, and Her honor for Him.

We all know Ephesians 5:22–23 is a major of passage on marriage. We’re not going to take time to read it because that hasn’t been my assignment, but I do need to refer to that in a talk on marriage. Those verses show us what Paul calls, “the mystery of marriage.” If you are married, your marriage is a mystery.

When the Bible speaks of a mystery, it doesn’t talk of something that can’t be solved, rather it means something that God has, up to a point, kept secret, and now is revealing it. Your marriage is a mystery revealing the beauty of Jesus Christ for His Bride, and the Bride’s sweet submission to Him.

Ephesians 5 teaches us that our marriages reveal the mystery of Jesus Christ and the Church in love forever, with the happiest ending to this romance ever imaginable. Now, verse 30—you don’t need to turn there, because we don’t have enough time (but you’re familiar with that Ephesians 5 passage)—says that Christ nourishes and cherishes (that’s the Groom’s responsibility) the Church because we’re members of His body.

I love that. I am attached to Jesus Christ. He cannot imagine His future without little ol’ Jani Ortlund. He can’t imagine His future without you. There’s a deep connection between Christ and His Church. Something is displayed in the intimate connection between a man and his wife that echoes that.

The very next verse, Ephesians 5:31, goes on to say, “Therefore [and of course we ask ourselves, what is the “therefore” there for?—it’s very interesting] a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast [or cling to] his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”

Do you understand what he’s saying? That is why people get married. Christ loves and nourishes and loves His body, the Church; therefore, you get married. People get married to show the relationship of sacrificial, divine love, wedded to joyful human reverence. That’s the reason God has us marry.

Before time began, way before we were ever even conceived, before the world ever began, God proposed to create a Bride for His Son. If you have sons who are not married yet, you know how you would like to create a bride for them.

I had several in mind. My sons wanted to create their own brides. They said, "Thanks anyway, we'll choose our own." But God designed and created a Bride for His Son, and he says, "My universe exists as a backdrop for the romance for My Son with His Bride."

It’s as if God is saying, “How can I communicate the grandeur of how I’m going to love these people? How can I create a Bride for My Son through my chosen ones? How could I . . . I know! I’ll create human marriage, and it will show them.”

If marriage is the display of the gospel on earth, then what is the gospel? The gospel, I believe, is an intimate and personal engagement ring to each and every daughter who will say “yes” to her Groom at the cross. It’s an invitation into the most satisfying relationship in the universe.

The gospel brings lonely and sad and guilty women into a beautiful relationship of purity and of love and security. That relationship is based on the Groom alone. He initiates it; He pursues you, and He sustains the relationship. The gospel invites me to look outside of who I really am . . . the me that Jani Ortlund spends hours and days trying to cover up.

It invites me to look to Christ. In Christ, I find the freedom from myself. I don’t have to cover up anymore. That’s part of the beauty of marriage. If you are married to a godly man, you don't need to cover up any more. You can be yourself. It's the same thing with your heavenly Groom, Jesus. There's no need to cover up because Christ has covered me with the shadow of His cross. The cross is what unites us. That’s where the engagement takes place.

Nothing is more terrifying than the wrath of God, and there’s a heavenly Father in this engagement. He needs the Groom to pacify Him, to convince Him that you are a worthy Bride. How does He do that? He covers you. He covers you; He covers me.

The only way to run from God’s wrath is to run to His Son. The only way to hide from God’s anger is to hide in the One on whom God spent all that anger. First Corinthians 1:30 says, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Because of Him you are in. We look beyond the shame and reality of our guilt to Christ, and we rejoice in what God has done.

He’s immersed us in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. God never sees Jani without the shadow of the cross between me and Him. It’s His Son between us—my Bridegroom, my heavenly Bridegroom.

  • In that shadow of the cross, God sees Jesus living for me, the way I ought to be living.
  • He sees Jesus in my place, condemned and dying, instead of me.
  • He sees Jesus buried, so that I don’t have to be buried.

The gospel explains how I can never fall out of God’s mercy. This is important for our marriages, and it’s important to understand how to be Mrs. Grace.

Colossians 2:13 and 14 say this, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him [Jesus], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of our debt that stood against us and its legal demands. . . . nailing it to the cross.”

Have you ever been in debt? It’s a terrible thing. Ray and I were in Scotland for four years while he worked on his PhD. We had four little kids there, and we had invested with a really solid Christian investor. Many of our friends were investing with him, but unfortunately, while we were in Scotland, he went belly-up; therefore, we went belly-up.

We came home absolutely broke. To go to Scotland we had sold everything—our house, our car, our furniture—everything but my piano and Ray’s library. We came back with the piano and the library . . . and a PhD. Well, we needed a loan. We had four kids, we needed a car, we needed a place to stay. My dear parents loaned us $26,000.

They did a lot to get that money together. Through the years we continued to try to pay it back, $100 a month. We were church planting in Oregon at the time, and not making much money. Those of you who have children know—there are always expenses—orthodontists, doctors, sports, school, clothing, furniture, beds, food. So we were struggling to pay, and we had to drop the payment down to $50 a month.

And you know what they did? They cancelled the debt. They don’t even know how much we didn’t pay them back. They never kept track of it. It was at no interest. They said, “Look, we don’t need it. You’re our kids! Forget it. Keep that $50. Buy more milk! Your boys are drinking a gallon a day!”

I can’t tell you how wonderful that was! They never brought it up, never again. Even now, when my mother’s living alone and my father’s in heaven, she never brings it up. I brought it up once in-between, feeling guilty about it. She said, “Well, I don’t even remember how much we gave you.” Cancelled! That’s what God has done.

Do you see the language here, with its legal demands? It’s as if He took a document and wrote down all the sins of Jani, or all your sins, and then He took it and, when Christ was being nailed to the cross, every drive of the hammer wrote, “Cancelled,  cancelled, cancelled, cancelled . . . never to be brought up again.”

It’s not as if the things we do—the lies, the gossip, the gluttony, the deceit—are ignored. Justice does demand a payment, as Paige reminded us last night. You can’t just ask for forgiveness. Do you remember what she said? “It has to be paid for.”

God took the record of your debt and of my debt—to Him and to everyone else we’ve ever hurt or lied about or stolen from or cheated on or done anything evil to—and He took that record to the cross and He nailed it there. He no longer keeps score. That’s what the gospel means. That’s what it means in a marriage—no score-keeping.

Now we’re under God’s smile. How does that relate—living under God’s smile—to our marriages? I’m speaking for myself here. (I’m the speaker, and I don’t want to use you as examples, so I’ll use me.) I tend to live under the law with Ray. That puts a curse on any marriage.

The Bible says in Galatians 3:13 that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. What is the curse of the law? The curse of the law is, “Do this or else.” It’s the “or else-ness” of a relationship. We’ve all been in relationships where there is an “or else-ness.”

“Get an 'A,' or you don’t get your allowance.”
“Be in by midnight, or you won’t be able to go out with this guy again.”
“Have dinner ready on time, or I’m not going to be able to get to my elder’s meeting.”

There’s an “or else-ness” in nearly every relationship.

At the cross Jesus took on to Himself the “or else-ness” of our relationship with God. We are no longer loved on condition. There’s no condemnation. Right now, no condemnation, not just when we’re nicer or better or we feel God more or we serve Him more. Right now there’s no condemnation.

God doesn’t just tolerate you, in the Bible it says He embraces you. Let’s not be wives who just tolerate our husbands. Let’s embrace them as God embraces us. Since God treats me with grace, how can that change my marriage? Justification changes my relationship to God from one of law to grace. No more “or else-ness.”

That changes my marriage from one of judgment to mercy . . . from condemnation to acceptance. A gospel marriage looks like Christ and the Church in love together forever. Grace renews a marriage. A gospel-filled marriage is not filled with criticism and "or else-ness."

Now, I’m going to refer back to Romans chapter 7. Just think this through with me a little bit, and then we’re going to move on. Paul uses the example of a bad marriage here, a hard marriage, to teach us about law and grace. In this passage the woman is married to Mr. Law. He needs her to perform up to his standard.

You fill in the blank of the “or else-ness.” Some of you probably have experienced it. Either he’ll get angry, or he’ll walk out, or he’ll withdraw, or he’ll threaten, or . . . you fill it in there. So many demands. This wife wanted to be good, she wanted to fulfill the law of their marriage, but she just couldn’t keep it up.

Every time she apologized, Mr. Law just told her to work harder, exert a little more energy. “You can do it. Come on, try!” She ended up feeling small and guilty and ashamed and hopeless, and very, very lonely, wondering if she could make this marriage work.

And then in verse 4, Mr. Law died and she found out that she could marry a new husband called Mr. Grace. Verse 4 says, “You’ve died to the law, through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another.” Now she relates to her new husband on the foundation of acceptance, not threats. No more “do this or else,” no more finger pointing.

Jesus said, “At the cross, I’m not going to point my finger at you anymore. I’m going to love this sin right out of you. Will you come? My love wants to lift you into obedience, not beat you into it.” You see, grace changes everything. How can we, as women, take the "or else-ness" out of our relationship to our husband?

Nancy: That’s Jani Ortlund, showing us how the gospel, and living in God’s grace, can transform a marriage relationship. We’ve been listening to is called "Marriage Through Gospel Eyes." Jani delivered it at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference.

When you visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com, you can hear the portions that we’re airing this week. If you’ve been struck by Jani’s words today and you’re ready to take the next step in seeing your marriage through gospel eyes, I hope you’ll get a copy of a booklet that our team has developed called 30 Days of Encouraging Your Husband. This booklet takes you through a challenge that I’ve been giving women for many years.

You may have heard me talk about this before. Here’s the gist of it. It has two parts. For the next thirty days, don’t say anything negative about your husband—that's to him or to anyone else about him. I know the husbands are really going to like that. And here’s the best part: Each day for the next thirty days, or longer if you want, I want to encourage you to say at least one positive thing about your husband—to him, and to someone else about him.

I'll just tell you that in my own marriage with Robert, I've seen what a huge difference encouraging words make in my man's heart. I’ve watched as this challenge has transformed husbands and wives in a huge way over the years. In fact, as I travel for Revive Our Hearts events, I often have a number of women come up and share with me how this challenge revolutionized their marriage and their thinking about their husband.

So, here’s a booklet that will help you take this challenge . . . 30 Days of Encouraging Your Husband. It will give you practical ideas of ways you can bless your husband and some specific ways you can express appreciation to him.

We’d like to send you this booklet when you make a gift of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Just ask for the booklet when you call us at 1–800–569–5959, or you can make your gift online and ask for the booklet when you visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com. Your gift at this time will be an investment in the lives and marriages of women around the world. Thank you so much for your partnership.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. Tomorrow, we’ll hear part 2 of the message "Marriage Through Gospel Eyes," with Jani Ortlund. She’ll continue showing you how to glorify God in your marriage. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth knows the gospel can transform any relationship. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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