Updated: Oct 28, 2019
Christian marriage is in trouble. We have lost our way. What’s the problem? Well, frankly, we don’t reflect Christ. And, it shows in the poor quality of our marriages, the shallowness of our faith, and the temporariness of our influence. Too many Christian marriages are content with looking good on the outside but lacking the substance of faith on the inside.
Do you really want to be clean inside or is what you really want is to look clean on the outside? An outside clean can get you likes on social media and maybe even influential positions at the church. But, only an inside clean pleases God and blesses your full potential as a couple.
During the Eusebeia LIVE weekend experience a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to encourage a large group of Christian couples to adopt a new standard of clean in our marriages. My talk with them was inspired by a compelling passage of scripture (2 Corinthians 7:1, ESV), Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
I’m struck by this verse because it conveys the insight that our holiness is not a fixed entity. It does not stay at one place. Your holiness and mine is on a continuum between incomplete and complete. This passage insists that our holiness be pushed to completion. His desire for us is “complete holiness” in which the entirety of our body and spirit are singularly focused on fulfilling the Lord’s desires through us—including our marriage, which God equates to his relationship with the church. You simply cannot achieve “complete holiness” with an "incomplete marriage”. They are mutually exclusive and incompatible.
Signs of an incomplete marriage
An incomplete marriage is selfish — pitting one spouse against another to get one’s own way
An incomplete marriage is a scarcity mindset —spending more time thinking about and wrestling with perceived limitations they face rather than the abundance God promises when two can touch and agree on anything
An incomplete marriage is short-sighted — losing sight of the big picture and what is takes to be pleasing in the sight of the Lord
As I ponder this notion of an “incomplete marriage”, I am reminded of the well-known biblical story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). My hope is that their story illuminates the tendencies all of us have at times to prioritize outside clean over inside clean—to our detriment.
First, let me set the early Christian church context in which Ananias and Sapphira come to our attention. The early church was experiencing a Holy Spirit-inspired revival. The Apostles were performing miracles where even the shadow of the Apostle Peter healed broken people. The church was operating in such unity that they committed themselves to use their collective resources to meet one another’s needs. Scripture affirms that there was not a needy person among them (Acts 4:34).
There is no question that there was a powerful move of the Holy Spirit happening among a body of believers who prioritized being together, prioritized being of one heart and mind, and prioritized sharing everything they had.
However, what is captivating is that this egalitarian model of the Early Church where everyone served one another was in direct contradiction to the broader Roman empire in which it existed. Roman society of this era was based on what is call a patronage system—which was a very hierarchical structure of the have’s (called the patricians) and the have-not’s (called the plebeians). The patronage system obligated the plebeians to the patricians and in turn the patricians were supposed to look out for the welfare. The key point here is that all segments of Roman society was governed by the this patronage system. From the emperor to nobles, to officials, to landowners, to freemen, to servants and to slaves, each layer of society existed by wielding power over the layer below.
God’s way, as seen in the Book of Acts, is just the opposite. God’s society exists for service, and especially for service to those in weaker, poorer or more vulnerable positions.
It is in the midst of this countercultural revolution, almost out of nowhere, that Scripture introduces us to Ananias and Sapphira--a couple who seems to embody all of the things that we Christian couples say is important to us. At a glance, we might even call them the perfect couple. Look at how they operated as a team of two:
They attend church together
They give of their resources to support the needs of the church
They transacted business together
Down to the details, they communicated, planned, and strategized together
They owned multiple real estate properties together
All of the evidence suggests that they acted together—as one. Yet, something was very wrong. So wrong in fact that the Apostle Peter, accuses them of letting Satan fill their heart after they each individually lied to Peter about how they were accounting for the proceeds of a real estate transaction which they said was to benefit the Church. In reality, Ananias and Sapphira were imposters who were more interested in looking selfless than in being selfless.
In the midst of an epic revival where the power of the Holy Spirit was flowing and causing miracles, here you have a Christian couple that cannot let go over the culture in which they live. In a Roman culture that celebrates and worships status, they want to be celebrated. In a Roman culture that pedals influence, they want to be influencers. In a Roman culture that promotes materialism and wealth, they want to accumulate assets for themselves.
Despite how things looked on the outside, neither Ananias nor Sapphira were clean inside. The issue here is not that we don’t love Christ. We all do. But, the challenge is that there is a struggle within us. Everything can look good on the surface. But, we are not clean inside because we can’t figure out which Christ we actually serve.
Will we as a Christian couple serve an Absolute Christ or an Acceptable Christ?
Who is the Absolute Christ?
The Absolute Christ demands that we see only one (not many) paths to salvation: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
The Absolute Christ demands that we prioritize his desires over our own: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
The Absolute Christ sends us out to darker places: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)
The Absolute Christ commands us husbands to love our wives in the same way that he loves the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25)
The Absolute Christ convicts you that if you love anything more than him you are in disobedience to the first and greatest commandment
Who is the Acceptable Christ?
It is difficult for many of us to follow the Absolute Christ. It was hard for the disciples too. In fact, they couldn’t really do it until they were empowered with the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room. And, because it is hard, too often we create a different Christ, an Acceptable Christ, that feels more sustainable and we interpret scripture to support this distortion of Christ.
We interpret the Acceptable Christ as accepting of our sinful forays, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (John 8:7) — a misinterpretation that leaves us trapped in patterns of sin
We interpret the Acceptable Christ as a divine version of Aladdin who is bound to accept our personal wishlist when he says "Ask and it will be given. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you." (Luke 11:9)
We interpret the Acceptable Christ as exonerating our calculated missteps because after all "Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more” (Romans 5:20)
And, we interpret the Acceptable Christ with the fascination of a winning lottery ticket when we retort “he is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)
Herein lies the complete irony. We don’t even state the rest of this Ephesians 3:20 verse which says, “according to the power at work within us”. This is the core of the problem. There is no power in an Acceptable Christ.
We have in our heads, John 12:32 where the Absolute Christ says that if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people unto myself. But, only, the Absolute Christ has the power to draw people.
How many of us are lifting up the name of the Acceptable Christ, and sitting waiting for something to happen?
How many of us are praying in the name of the Acceptable Christ and wondering why prayers are being answered?
How many of us are loving in the name of the Acceptable Christ and confused that your spouse doesn’t feel loved?
How many of us are serving in the name of the Acceptable Christ and wondering why you feel burnt out and under appreciated?
How many of us are married in the name of the Acceptable Christ and wondering why we feel trapped in things that never really get better?
This distinction between the Absolute Christ and the Acceptable Christ is not an academic argument. It is about a question that you must answer every single day in the choices that you make. Our Christian marriages do not have the power that they should because we have not fully committed to an inside clean that is washed with the blood of the Absolute Christ. We, like Ananias and Sapphira, want to keep walking in two worlds. We want to be Christian while holding on to the selfish values of the dominant culture around us. But, we can’t serve both of these masters (Matthew 6:24). We must absolutely surrender to one.
If you desire to be among a community of Christian couples who are doing our best to reflect the Absolute Christ and to hold one another to this expected standard, then you should definitely consider the Eusebeia Movement, http://prayformarriage.com. Until then, keep raising the banner of the Acceptable Christ because He is the only way to eternal life.