Is Your Marriage Founded Upon Grace or Law?

This past Sunday we launched our new preaching series that comes on the heels of our recent month-long Bible Study, “MARRIAGE: GOD’S FIRST MINISTRY”.  Our first message asks the question, “Is Your Marriage Founded Upon Grace or Law?”  The answer to this question will determine whether you marriage has what it takes to make it through life’s tragedies and deep moments of disconnection in a world where discontinuous change is destroying households by the hour.

I share transparent moments and skills Kay and I used to create a marriage that glorifies God and transforms lives around us.  But don’t think it’s just for people who are married.  If you’re considering or hoping to marry one day, this Biblically astute message will impact you greatly.

And we ask that you please support this ministry at Èlim~Orangeburg’s Future Campus and Children’s Home with a donation amount of your choosing.  We are a missional church planting family who are sent to Orangeburg, SC to join Christ in His work to redeem this city from the clutches of apathy, miseducation and broken families.  We receive denominational support.  We are fully supported by those the Lord moves upon to meet our needs.   Thank you!

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Genesis 3:7-10

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Matthew 23:25-28

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.

28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there was a forest filled with magical fairy’s and mythical being. Deep in the forest was a dark and foul smelling swamp.  And deeper in the back of this swamp lived a Ogre.  His name was Shrek.  In 2001 Dreamworks told a love story about this ogre.

Shrek was sent on a mission to rescue a beautiful princess for a ruthless and cowardly man who wanted to be king of the kingdom.  Once Shrek had defeated the dragon that guarded the princess in the high tower – with a little help from his sidekick Donkey – they began to make their way back to Lord Forqaaue. 

As they traveled the princess, whose name was Fiona desired to thank her rescuer with a kiss.  But Shrek refused to remove his helmet, afraid of how his image of a big green ogre might frighten her.  She insisted because she believed that was what she was supposed to do.  She said, “Everyone knows that’s how true romance is supposed to happen.  A princess gets rescued from a horrible existence by a handsome prince.  They kiss and live happily ever after.”  But Shrek and Donkey laughed because they knew what he was truly like – a ogre.  But eventually after Princess Fiona’s relentless assault Shrek finally removed his helmet – which hid his true face – and the princess stepped back in shock.

That evening as they prepared to sleep, Donkey happened to surprise the princess as she hid in a makeshift bedroom of a small cave.  Donkey was shocked to find the beautiful princess was no longer there.  Instead he came face to face with a large green female ogre.  After the ogre calmed Donkey down by explaining that she was indeed Fiona and how she had been cursed to live by day as a beautiful princess but at sunset she would become a hideous ogre, she explained that she had begun to have romantic feelings for Shrek.  But she also refused to tell Shrek the truth because she could never believe anyone would love someone like her. 

The next day Shrek delivered Princess Fiona to Lord Fauquaa and they returned to his castle to get married.  It was Fiona’s belief and hope that if she could get married and kissed by her ‘true love’ then the curse would be lifted and she could live as a normal woman.

Shrek ultimately realized Fiona cared for him and hurried to the castles to win Fiona but it was too late.  The wedding had concluded and she was about to kiss Lord Fauquaa when suddenly the dragon appeared and crashed through the window.  Fiona stepped away from everyone realizing the sun was setting and she would in a moment become an ogre again.  As she transformed into the monstrous ogre everyone gasped and some fainted. She was revealed to be who she truly was. 

Shrek seized Fiona, embraced her and kissed her.  Suddenly she was lifted off her feet and began to rise high in the air.  Light from within her began to erupt through her feet, and her hands and her ears, and eyes and mouth.  With outstretched arms she was caught in a whirlwind of light and transformative power.  Then she gently returned to the floor of the castle and laid in a bundle of beautiful robes.  As Shrek called and reached for her, she stood and everyone gasped as they realized that the princess was still an ogre. 

Fiona was disappointed and dismayed.  She was depressed that she was still an ogre.  She, as most everyone else, had expected her to become the beautiful princess in human form.  She looked at Shrek and said, “I’m still ugly.”  Shrek responded, “No, you’re beautiful to me.”  They embraced and kissed and danced and lived happily every after.

In every human relationship there exists a never ending tension between law and grace.  Every marriage, every romantic misfire, every point of trouble you have with a growing child, every resentment you store up against a parent, every argument you get into at work, every single possible moment of tension in relating to other people are all factors of law and grace – in tension with one another.

The truth is that if and when you learn to understand what is going on with your spouse and children in terms of law and grace, almost every problem you can name in your family will become clarified, comprehensible and corrected.

So how are we supposed to learn so that we can correct or even avoid many of the problems we have in our families?  Actually it really begins with you as a single person.  Because before you are ever a part of a family, you are a single, living, autonomous human being. For husbands and wives it begins with one another.  It begins with you demonstrating appropriate levels of law and grace toward one another.  Then as you observe your children and even your aging parents through the same lens of law and grace your perspective will deepen.  It could lead to creative ways of communicating with them and new dimensions valuing their presence in your life.

First though, let us consider how grace and law impact marriage. 

Many people have their ideas about marriage.  Before this study I held some notions that have even been challenged.  But as I reflected upon my own life and experience with the origins of our marriage I became more agreeable to what Holy Spirit was saying to me.

If you recall, I’ve shared how my wife and I met in very different places of our lives.  We were in no way mutually or equally appropriate for one another by anyone’s standards.  She was a single woman, living in her own home, working a job for 13 years that she loved and was loved by.  She owned her own car, had no children and lived with the freedom of a self-sufficient adult.  She didn’t drink, she didn’t do the club scene aggressively, and she was a part of a loving church community and had no immediate intimate relationship.  I on the other hand, slept under a bridge like a ogre.  Was a womanizer. I worked as a painter for different companies who used me as long as the job lasted.  I had no sense of purpose, no desire to love anyone, or be loved by them.  I was a walking drug addict for more than 13 years who abused cocaine, crack, marijuana and alcohol.  I was a petty criminal.  While she slept in her own three bedroom townhouse in Arial NJ, I slept in the graveyard on Ferry Avenue, in Camden, NJ. I was on a fast track to death or long term incarceration.  She lived a vibrant hope-filled future, surround by people who loved her, and still do. 

One Sunday afternoon, I was compelled to reach out to her by telephone.  It had been many months since I stood her up after she accepted my invitation to go on quasi-date to watch the July 4th celebrations and fireworks over the Delaware River, which separated Philadelphia and New Jersey.  After several attempts, I could hear a click muting my voice while the operator finally spoke to her saying, “Hello, I have a collect call from Albert Griffin, the painter.”  The very first thing she said to me after agreeing to accept the phone charges was, “Hello, I was praying for you.” Over the course of a few moments which now seem like hours, I shared with her – mostly – everything I was involved in.  The drugs, the violence, the homelessness.  Before ending and saying good-bye I told her, “I know you’re not going to believe this, but I believe God is going to give you to me for a wife.”  She laughed.  But over the course of the next year, she would visit with me, talk with me – see me for who I truly was.  Without the mask. A broken, broke, and formerly purposeless shell of a man.  But she also saw what the Lord was cultivating within that shell that once held such corruptible seed.

I realize there are many people who are hearing this and saying to themselves, “There’s no way I would marry anyone with such a background.”  Or they may be saying to themselves like Princess Fiona, “My life is so jacked up, and I know no one would ever want someone like me with my baggage.”  Most people today believe a potential spouse has to have a certain amount of money in the bank, a certain credit score, possibly their own home and a financial portfolio that bolsters their attractiveness.  Some even go as far as to make public declarations that their future spouse must be emotional stable, well-educated with a post-secondary degree or spiritually mature.  Some of you may possibly agree.  And I am not totally against such expectations – if reasonable.

It is also important to know that we were never sexually intimate with one another, before our marriage to one another.  Now, in full disclosure, there were times I would certainly wonder why she would wear those tight Jordasch jeans to visit me when she knew it would take God’s strong right arm to keep my chin off my chest.  The point is we honored one another.  We didn’t engage in heavy amorous petting.  It was against the rules of where I lived.  But what we did do, and a large amount of it, was listen to one another. We cried with one another.  She heard my deep pains of regret and shame. We shared our deepest dreams and hopes of a future together.  In other words, we revealed our weaknesses not our strengths.  In other words, we founded our relationship on the grace of the Cross of Christ rather than our own glory. 

This leads me to my point of how grace must be the origin of a lasting healthy and God-honoring marriage.  If it is anything else, such as the things I mentioned earlier, it is more likely to not endure – not in regards to time – but rather in regards to love. 

Kay had a choice to make.  Would she be willing to listen to my weaknesses or focus upon the things she thought, or others would tell her she needed to have as a husband?  My argument then sounds like this: Marriage depends on a theology of the cross rather than a theology of glory. 

I like what Paul Zahn says, “The root and fountain of the [marriage] relationship was the discovery by another of your true but hidden self.”  You disclosed or revealed yourself.  That disclosure lit a fire that gave off a lot of heat.  A purely sexual relationship did not have this fire.  But the sexual relationship that accompanied the disclosure and vulnerability did.  It led to your desire to be married to that person who heard and saw you as none other ever had.  You were transparent and that transparency was like a magnifying glass capturing and narrowing sunlight to spark an explosion of energy within your heart.

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Kay & Pastor Griffin Celebrating Èlim’s 2nd Anniversary – May 15, 2016

This is the difference between a person who is a Christian and develops their relationship with God based upon their own efforts of goodness and a Christian who develops their relationship with God based upon the Cross which suspended the dying, bloody body of Jesus Christ with all of humanities shame residing within His torn and broken flesh. 

The first person is one who identifies with God’s glory which leads to an unbiblical starting point in their relationship with God. 

They believe they desire to be a Christian because of the benefits and promises of God.  The latter person realizes they desperately need a savior because of the grace and mercy only He – Jesus Christ – can provide to them. 

I would argue that most people considering marriage today, or who are already married, would identify with the former ideals of glory and security.  The problem though is that such a launching point leads to unrealistic goals and unforeseen outcomes – divorce.  There is, in this scenario, no need for or expectation of grace to be afforded to the other person.  The person has no requirement of grace because no fault is ever seen.  Theology of glory is a foundation of such a marriage.  FIONA

The theology of the cross on the other hand declares from the very outset that failure and shameful regrets are inherently part of their offerings to one another. Like Shrek removing his helmet, they don’t hide behind veiled narratives of the wealth they’ve amassed or their exploits of career choices.  They don’t hide behind the newest model cars or the trendiest fashion apparel.  They don’t hide behind the physical fitness or the amount of bling they wear around their necks.These people take the time to learn of the wounds and dress the embarrassing moments that linger in the backstory’s of everyone.  They provide the grace of God to their partner in life. 

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God is asking the question today, “IS YOUR MARRIAGE FOUNDED UPON GRACE OR LAW?  It’s important and I’ll tell you why.

Grace at the origin of romantic love, which is the entry point for hopes of marriage, is related to the concept of intimacy.  True intimacy.  Again, I like Zahn’s simple but accurate definition: “Intimacy is when I know somebody else as they really are.  I know someone inwardly and outwardly.”  This is what occurred in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve hid from God and were ashamed because they knew they were naked.  They had become aware of one another’s most visible faults, inwardly and outwardly.  Those faults may have always existed. What had changed? It was that neither of them had the capacity to extend ‘grace’ to the other person because of sin, which came through their disobedience to God.

Jesus Christ comes to reverse that problem.  He is called the New Adam by the apostle Paul because He re-creates that moment through His being obedient to His Father’s command; even to the point of His own death on the Cross. 

In Matthew 23:27 we find Jesus in a moment of confrontation with a group who believed wholeheartedly in the outward appearance more than their inward reality.  He calls this group of religious leaders, “whitewashed tombs”.  He goes further to reveal to everyone listening that these men were “filled with the bones of the dead”.  These men pretended to be pious, good, —wait for it—associated with God’s glory.  But in reality they were mere clay boxes with legs.  Like Fiona trapped in a high tower and guarded by a demonic dragon, they too were living out their existence with others in false relationships that yielded no fruit for God’s kingdom.  They knew nothing of extending God’s grace to others.  They lived exclusively by and for the law.  Fiona knew the rules.  The rules the curse had established for her life.  But she hadn’t learned of grace until she was revealed for who she truly was, inwardly and outwardly — and still loved, unconditionally.

Grace dismantles the poser; the imposter; the one filled with the remnants of a life that’s now dead and futureless.  Extending grace toward your spouse in marriage is the ability and power to see into the core of a person, while not being repelled by what you see.  A marriage that is committed to God is one where grace is available and provided and gladly extended to the life of the other person throughout the everyday operations in are a part of that marriage.  Meaning there is no place where grace cannot be given – simply because it comes from God.

When one person surrenders to God’s grace by declaring they need it to live, they are also now responsible to say to their spouse that they will show them grace because they realize they are also a human being with faults and sinful ways that also requires grace from God; just as they do. 
Whenever a marriage is confronted with the challenges of life, the couple must go back to the place of origin and identify the grace that was used to ignite the spark that led to marriage and their family.  I challenge you who are married to remember this.  Say to yourselves, “I was human – naked – revealed – transparent – vulnerable – ashamed with this person, and instead of turning away from me, which would have been an act of the law, this person turned toward me.  Embraced me.  Listened to me.  Loved me.  It was a purely one-way love.  It had nothing to do with my worthiness.  It was love in my direction from the eye of the one beholding me.  It all happened in a flash with a heat that exploded in my heart for them.”  I argue that the grace that came to you from this woman or man birthed the fruit of grace and true love, and the connection was sealed.  And it is the origin of this grace-filled moment that charts the future for your marriage and upon which your marriage truly depends.

Yes, grace destroys the power of the law.  It removes all competition.  It elevates your marriage to heights unimaginable.  This is why God manifests the union of marriage so powerfully and important throughout the scriptures.  Jesus begins His first work in ministry by providing grace to a newly married couple in John 2:1-12.  The power of being loved when we know we don’t deserve that love is what draws us to Christ.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son.” John 3:16.  And Romans 5:6-11. “For while we were still weak, at their right time Christ died for the ungodly.

As we reflect for a few moments upon the Word of the Lord this morning, Ask yourselves honestly, “Is my marriage based upon grace or law?”  If your marriage is struggling, I encourage you to revisit the origin of your beginning.  What was that which drew you to trust your spouse as none other before them.  I would argue that if it was gracious love extended to you then your marriage can endure anything.  If it was the law, you were accommodating someone’s expectations of you as you thought they wanted then I would say it’s time to reinvent your marriage.  Learn to love one another through God’s grace instead of the law which only seeks to draw division between you. 

May the grace which drew you to Christ continue to provoke you to love unconditionally, sacrificially and spontaneously.  Just as Christ Jesus loves you….Amen!

ΑΩ ~ Reverend A. David Griffin, MDiv

One thought on “Is Your Marriage Founded Upon Grace or Law?

  1. Thanks for this beautiful reminder…as always, your ability to share your own vulnerabilities strengthens the message.

    Like

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