The Gospel Centered Marriage!

Gospel marriageOn a prior post I asked the question “what is the Gospel?” While it is true that Jesus saves all His elect the gospel is not as much about the elect as it is about the glory of Christ. The effect of the gospel is the atonement of the elect and their union with Christ. This is the effect of the gospel not the gospel itself. The effect of the gospel to me is that my sin is imputed to Christ in his death and His righteousness is imputed to me in His judgement. Further I am adopted into the household of faith a son of the living God and become a member of the bride of Christ. This effect is good news for me, but the good news that transcends me is that Christ is victorious to all who oppose His rule.

In this post I will attempt to demonstrate how the gospel changes marriage. I firmly believe that the gospel changes everything, but marriage itself is a type of the relationship of Christ to the Church. The Apostle Paul intentional conflates the relationship of husband and wife in marriage with the relationship of Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:22-33 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The gospel is first and primarily about Christ, so also marriage is first and primarily about Christ. It is not first and primarily about us it, is not primarily about the bride, the wedding or the sex. It is a type or a living picture of redemption, union and worship. Paul makes it clear that both these relationships have an element of mystery. How is the church united to Christ is similar to how a husband and wife are made one; both are mysterious and beautiful.  Paul also reveals that the roles in marriage are to mirror those of Christ and His bride the church.

One parallel is the church is to submit to Christ as her head, so wives are to submit to their husbands. Because that submission is absolute to Christ, so it is to her husband in “everything”.   The statement of Paul is absolute;by logic the only exception to her submission is if submitting to her husband means not submitting to Christ. This exception is rare and should only be employed when she is absolutely certain of the situation and the law of God. This submission follows a chain of command with the Father at the top then Christ who has been given all authority in heaven and earth 1 , then the husband followed by the wife 2. The submission reflects the chain of command and the flow of authority that even the Son is subject to. There is no fear of being a doormat or envy of the head in this model. The son does not complain about how unfair it is that He is stuck with the task of dying to redeem the elect, he does not worry about being subjugated. The modern wife who worries about such things is rebelling against her head and his head, Christ. As she is in full submission to her husband she is concomitantly in submission to Christ (Eph 5:22).

The Church has largely failed in this teaching. Consider what many consider to be the best book on the subject of a response to feminism in the evangelical church, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood : A Response to Evangelical Feminism by Wayne Grudem and John Piper. I have been thinking for some time about writing on many of the troubling claims in this work, but over at the Society of Phineas he has uncovered this gem on pg 29.


*The book has the definition in all caps, the underlining is mine.

The word “only” is not in the text, but is implicit as a modifier of worthy.  It is also not Biblical!   Christ is the worthy lamb who commands a wife to submit to the husband that God united her to. She is not commanded to submit to just any man no matter his worth, but her own husband, who is Christ’s representative head. Likewise she is commanded to submit to her father, simply because he is her father and has authority over her, not because of her evaluation of his worth. Grudem and Piper would have a woman judging the worthiness of her husband to be her head, as a condition of her submission.  The implication is this evaluation of worthiness is ongoing even after the wedding. This idea is found nowhere in the bible. The Bible states emphatically that the husband is the head, not that he conditionally is.  This teaching of conditional submission is fueling the divorce epidemic of our day.  (The best  current data suggests that 75-80% of divorces are filed by women who find their husbands wanting.)

Going back to the typology of marriage to Christ and the church, the parallel of Grudem and Piper is that the church submits to Christ only when the church is satisfied that He has earned her submission. This is made more explicit by another champion in evangelicalism Al Mohler. He writes: “when I say that a husband must regularlyearn” privileged access to the marital bed, I mean that a husband owes his wife.…the fact that his wife will freely give herself to him sexually only when he presents himself as worthy of her attention and desire.” 3  Mohler agrees with Piper and Grudem, the wife submits sexually only when she has judged her husband to be worthy.

The gospel centered marriage has husbands in full submission to Christ the victor, and wives in full submission to their husbands. For the wife to require more of her husband than being Christ’s envoy is to require Christ to be more worthy of our fear, and worship. The gospel involves fear and worship, and gospel centered marriage involves fear and worship as well. A man worships with his head uncovered to honor Christ, for the man is the glory of Christ and the woman covers her head to honor her husband for she is the glory of her husband4.

The evangelical disconnect between the gospel and marriage is astounding. If the church treated Christ like they instruct wives to treat husbands no doubt there would be fewer lampstands in heaven5. Yet I can’t help but wonder if this is exactly the problem. The popular notion that the gospel is about me and for me is mirrored in the idea that marriage is for me and about me. If a wife is to continually judge her husband’s worthiness, than he must submit to her standards if he is to “earn” her submission and sex.  If he fails to make her happy she can defraud him in bed and chose to not submit to him everywhere else. Likewise the church decides to stop worshipping and submitting to Christ when they feel they have not been blessed enough and are not happy. They sing about themselves and preach about how they can overcome and be blessed and happy.  It is eerie how a self-centered marriage and a self-worshiping church reflect the same pitiable condition.  Is Christ to submit to the church’s standards for Him, of is the church to submit to her LORD?

The Gospel centered marriage, like the gospel centered church, fears the Lord, glorifies Christ in His victory, and worships Him.  Both the Church and the wife submit to their respective head.  The husband submits to Christ and reflects His love of His bride.  He sacrifices for her sanctification, not necessarily her feelings, He protects her from enemies,  He instructs her in the Word and rebukes her in her sin.   The husband loves the wife, because he has been first loved by Christ 6.   This is how the gospel of victory is lived out.  The gospel is vandalized by contentions for power and control, by judging the worthiness of the head and by withholding love, honor and submission.

1 Matthew 28:18 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
2 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
4 1 Corinthians 11:7 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
5 Revelation 2:5 “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.


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