Marry a sinner.

My husband and I don’t pray together regularly. We don’t belong to a Bible study. We haven’t bothered to make plans for family devotions with our children. We’ve kind-of-sort-of begun catechizing our two-year-old, but don’t really know what we’re doing. It’s still experimental at this point. By all conventional standards of a godly marriage and godly family, we’re not.

The thing is, I was taught to marry a “godly man.” A man who loves God more than himself, and even more than me. A man who abides by the descriptions in 1 Timothy 3 (even if he is not called to be an overseer of the church) and Titus 2—temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.

My husband is a simple guy with simple faith. He works hard, plays with our children, provides for our family, calls his mother, takes out the trash, goes to church, watches ESPN. He can be incredibly impatient, insensitive, and unkind. He curses when he is angry. He is your garden-variety dude.   

On good days, I admire my husband’s ability to take God at His word. I respect his ability to follow Christ without Him having to prove His worth all the time. I covet his theological innocence. But on bad days, I criticize my husband’s faith as simplistic, untested, and unrefined. I decide his theological innocence is really theological naïveté. I convince myself that God expects more from him. I accuse him for not caring enough about spiritual growth. I commit emotional adultery by wishing that I had married somebody more like me. (As egotistical as it sounds, my perfect mate would be, essentially, a male version of me.)

Instead of holding out for a “godly man,” I chose to marry a sinner. He, too, chose to marry a sinner. My hypocrisy is exposed when my husband actually sins—when he fails to exemplify godliness, to model Christ and Christianity for my children, to lead in the area of spiritual formation—I hold his sins against him. I judge him as disobedient, ungodly, and immature. I withhold respect from him. I punish him for sinning, even though I believe Jesus has already paid for his sins. Then, as if holding his sins against him isn’t bad enough, I also manage to hold his faith against him. I argue that if he really loves God, he would put more effort into nurturing our family’s spiritual life. If he really believes that knowledge of Christ is important, he should learn the language of his faith and teach it to our children. If he really is committed to God, that commitment should be always visible, never questionable. (This guilt-tripping manipulation, this sense of entitlement, the “I deserve better” attitude…I really need to stop it.) Though I allow my husband to be a sinner in theory, I reject him when he sins in practice.

I wish I had been taught to marry a sinner. Then I wouldn’t expect my husband to be a “godly man.” I wouldn’t hold him to a standard of godliness that I know exists only in my mind and only in the person of Jesus Christ—not in real guys. I wouldn’t have to work so hard to validate and justify my life.

If I allow myself to face the truth, I must admit that I am not a godly woman. I am not on fire for God, not filled with passion, not “sold out” for Jesus. On a good day, I am maybe 65% sold out, and technically, that’s not enough to be considered sold. God does not ask that I love Him as best I can; He demands that I love Him with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength. God is not exaggerating when He says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; no one who seeks God. All have turned away…” (Romans 3:10-12a). I will never be on fire enough, passionate enough, or sold out enough for Jesus.  This is a problem.I need a man who won’t let me minimize this problem and let me get away with thinking that I am ok. Believing that I am a good Christian comes naturally to me; the last thing I need is someone who reinforces this lie. I need someone who will identify with me as a sinner and stand with me under the cross.

But still, it’s so hard to let go of ideals. There are times when I still want to achieve the kind of marriage that I envision in my mind. And this is where it gets murky. When I sit and dissect the situation and contemplate the solution, I have more questions than answers: What is a legitimate amount of godliness to expect of a Christian—man or woman? Just how much human cooperation is involved in the process of sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus in order to practice true holiness)?

The Westminster Confession of Faith says that sanctification is “imperfect in this life,” explaining that remnants of our original corruption still remain in every part of us—mind, heart, and body, which causes a continual and irreconcilable war between the flesh and the Spirit. The remnants of corruption may prevail for a time, but through the strength provided by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit does, ultimately, overcome the flesh. (Paraphrased.)

No doubt, I overestimate the progress and underestimate the imperfection of sanctification in marriage. I expect too much too soon.

For everything I still don’t know about Christian marriage, I do know this: Marriage is not a tactic of a strategic plan to accomplish a larger objective of doing great things for God, which includes cultivating a godly family. God is not some Chairman of the Board with goals, benchmarks, quarterly reviews, and annual reports. Treating marriage like a corporation and spouses like business partners strains the friendship and kills the chemistry. Nothing will grow in this kind of environment.

I am probably too simpleminded about it, but I think Christian marriage is the union of two sinners—two people who acknowledge their need for supernatural help and don’t want to face this harsh reality alone. Christian marriage can certainly mean more than this, but it cannot mean less.

For now, I think the strongest bond between a husband and wife is not mutual love for God, which can be erratic or, in my case, embarrassingly lacking. The strongest bond between a husband and wife is mutual need for a Savior. Since it is sin that always divides a marriage, the need for grace is always what unites it.

Published by Brenda Jung

This is 40. Yesterday I turned 40. Turning 40 is like having to exit the theater of a live show I didn’t want to end. I step out onto the street humbled with grateful wonder. I know my soul was changed. I want to go back in to re-live the story, ponder the themes, understand the characters in greater depth, and most of all, hear all the music again. But I cannot. It was a live performance. I must exit the theater and move on. What makes aging tough is the inability to hold on to moments. When a significant moment is happening, I want to preserve it. Sometimes I get to snap a picture or record a video. Then, it’s over. I have to let it go. So many beautiful moments go uncaptured, unprocessed, unpublished. Life is a series of these moments, these ever-passing days, these premature goodbyes. And then you turn 40. “When I grow up” is no longer future. This is it. This is 40. 1. 40 feels like a mid-term evaluation. How much have you done? What do you have to show for yourself? I find myself trying to validate myself, which I don’t remember doing at 30. And why do I feel a need to apologize for leading an ordinary, average life? 2. The accusing voice in your head that tells you you should be doing more, you should be doing better, is often your own greed and ego. “More” and “better” are vague and meaningless standards. Just do your best with all your heart. 3. Regarding my body, it’s like I tell kids when passing out lollipops: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” A good diet and regular exercise can help, though maybe not as much after 40. 4. Create something. We are happier when we are creating--a cake, a scarf, a sonata, a sermon, a drawing, a painting, a poem, a presentation, a lesson plan. This is because we are made like God, who is Creator. 5. A lot of prayer requests can be discovered by finishing the sentence, “I am afraid of...” --such as, I am afraid of insignificance. Or, I am afraid that godly contentment will always be only theoretical. Or, I am afraid I will ruin my children. Then, pray hard. 6. Regarding stuff: You almost always get what you pay for. There are some things you shouldn’t skimp on by buying generic, such as potato chips and rice krispies cereal and ice cream. Brand names are better. 7. Regarding money: Tricky. Very tricky. Perhaps Satan’s best disguise, second to serpent. Be careful with this one. 8. Jesus is still very busy dying for me. Until I stop filling my water cup with lemonade and telling people I am fine when I am really crying inside, He will need to keep His blood flowing into little plastic cups for me at least once a month. 9. Everything is interesting. If a thing isn’t interesting, type it into the Google search box and spend one minute reading about it and looking at pictures of it. I promise you, everything--a tool, a disease, a plant, a planet, an insect, a war--is interesting. 10. Guilt is suicide. Clear your conscience, at all costs. Pray. Confess. Admit fault. Say sorry. Forgive and beg forgiveness. Try to take back the words. No amount of money, no good deed, no extravagant vacation can substitute for peace with God. This is the hill to die on. 11. Rebellion against God is the simple explanation for so many of our problems. Sin is the single most helpful concept for understanding our temper tantrums, sagging skin, cellulite, credit card debt, communal loneliness, and dying fruit trees. 12. Idols will age and grow with you, if you don’t kill them while they’re young. After decades of care and coddling, my gods of performance, productivity, and pleasing others are well-fed, healthy, and strong. I have done a fantastic job of raising my idols into adults. Now what? 13. Grown-up sins require grown-up grace. Every birthday, Jesus gives me all the love and blood I need to atone for all the sins I will commit over the next year. Forgiveness for the same sins I’ve been committing for decades is no ordinary birthday present. Brenda Jung

3 thoughts on “Marry a sinner.

  1. WOW! “I wish I had been taught to marry a sinner. Then I wouldn’t expect my husband to be a “godly man.” I wouldn’t hold him to a standard of godliness that I know exists only in my mind and only in the person of Jesus Christ—not in real guys. I wouldn’t have to work so hard to validate and justify my life.” meeeeeee soooooooo meeeeee

    We have all been sold the same story and we expect perfection, covering, leadership, and get disappointed when our husbands don’t meet our expectations. This leads to feeling justified in pointing out their faults and with holding respect and love. Lord forgive me!

    This post… wow


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