The term “gospel-centered” is quite the buzzword these days. We see gospel-centered podcasts, counseling services, preschools, and law firms. We ponder what it takes to be a gospel-centered parent, teacher, coworker, and spouse.
And though it all sounds terrific—what person wouldn’t want a gospel-centered spouse?—we often get confused about what gospel-centered living actually means.
For starters, what is the gospel? It is the announcement that God has restored our relationship with himself by sending his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins on the cross, to all who “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15).
So, when we say something is gospel-centered—particularly a gospel-centered marriage—what does that look like? Is it a marriage in which couples share the gospel with as many people as possible? Is it a marriage that follows the well-known husband and wife passages of Scripture? Those things are part of it!
But let’s center our thinking on Jesus—on how the gospel principles of salvation, humility, forgiveness, and love apply to the marriage relationship.
A husband and wife must rely on Jesus to save them—not on each other. If you have a tendency to place God-like expectations on the person you wake up to every morning, looking to them to fill you with purpose and fix what ails you, your marriage may not be gospel-centered.
Our spouses weren’t created to be our all in all; they’re incapable of rescuing us from our guilt, confusion, fear, failures, and restlessness—in particular, our sin. It’s time we let them off the hook, or they just might break under the pressure of our need.
Timothy Keller puts it this way: “Only God can fill God-sized holes. Until God has the proper place in our lives, we will always complain that we are not loved well enough, respected well enough, or supported enough.”
Humility is at the core of gospel living—and at the core of every great marriage. As C.S. Lewis so famously puts it, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Couples who model the humility of Christ are quick to lay down their rights and “value others above [themselves]” (James 4:6 ESV). They don’t expect to be first, demand to be heard, and insist on winning every argument. They listen attentively, seek perspective, and serve wholeheartedly.
What about couples who don’t do these things? As it turns out, admitting their struggle with humility is a giant step in the direction of, well, humility.
Here’s a closer look at the humility of Jesus: “He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8).
In order for a married couple to love each other well—until death do them part—they need to practice forgiving the small stuff and brace themselves for forgiving the big stuff. Full-spectrum forgiveness is only possible because Jesus fully forgave our sin, for he was “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).
The more a husband and wife experience the grace of the gospel, the larger their capacity to forgive one another. Like Paul, who said out of the overflow of God’s grace, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15), we too should view our sin as “the worst.”
This isn’t a call for couples to be passive about each other’s faults, rather it’s a call to be radically grace-giving. After all, we know all too well the sin that lurks deep within our hearts.
J.D. Greear writes, “When you have tasted the grace of the gospel, no relationship—no matter how wrong or hurtful or annoying—looks the same to you. You see yourself as first, sinner, and second, sinned against.
When a couple experiences the love of Jesus, they are empowered to love in a similar way—in a real way. Gospel love is far more costly and risky, yet exciting and rewarding, than the world’s version of love. It goes way beyond a big crush or intense liking, which fluctuates according to our moods and whims.
A love that reflects Jesus takes the marriage commitment seriously, seeks unity of thought, and works toward restoration when things get messy. It produces compassion enough to ask, “How are you doing?” and supplies the grace needed when the answer is “I’m miserable”—or even a hurtful “Go away.”
Love is approachable in times of embarrassment, is able to revive romantic chemistry, and is on the look-out for ways to please one another. Yet, when left up to us, our love can get a little conditional and biased—sometimes subconsciously, sometimes not.
At its root, according to Paul Tripp, “Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.”
That’s gospel love, the kind Jesus showed: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God’s Word never fails to point us to a more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31). Within its pages we learn about sacrificial love, comforting love, romantic love, unconditional love, servant-heart love, and love-your-enemy love—essentially, all the “loves” found in a gospel-centered marriage.
Molly Parker is a freelance copywriter and content editor whose passion is helping clients craft engaging, personality-packed content. In addition to finding beauty in the way God’s redemptive plan is woven throughout Scripture, she adores imaginative story lines, catchy phrasing, and sentence structure (just watch how her eyes twinkle when she mulls over comma placements). Molly calls Southern California home with her grown-up kids, hunky husband, and sassy cat. Visit her at www.mollyjeanparker.com.
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