Mike Johnson, M.Div. serves as a counselor for Anchored Hope Biblical Counseling. He is also the pastor for preaching at Ridgeview Bible Church in Chadron, NE, and a former church-planting missionary in Siberia, Russia. Mike loves helping married couples find hope and healing in Christ and in the principles of God’s Word.To help us grasp the nature of marriage, the Apostle Paul enlightened us as to what marriage refers to in God’s big plan. Ephesians 5:32 says, “This mystery [the mystery of marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.”
Let that sink in. Marriage, at its essence, refers to the relationship between Christ and his Church. In God’s wisdom, he has given us marriage between husband and wife to serve as a mirror of the most wonderful relationship in the universe: the relationship between Christ and his redeemed people! When a marriage is healthy, this is a picture of the gospel. It’s love and grace and devotion and faithfulness.
What Makes a Marriage ‘Hard’?
In a sense, all marriages are hard. It takes work to maintain a healthy and happy relationship. But beyond being hard in effort, there are seasons of difficulty and strain that nearly all marriages experience at different points along the way. The mirror becomes foggy and the image it’s supposed to reflect becomes blurry.
And what fogs up the mirror? Sin, of course. It creeps into our marriages, often slowly and over time, and distorts the image that it’s is meant to display. In a hard marriage, we no longer see grace and forgiveness. Instead, we see discontentment and bitterness. In the hardest cases, we might not even see faithfulness.
While all marriages are affected by sin, it becomes especially unhealthy when one or both spouses allow sin to grow and go unchecked. Sinful patterns of communication creep in and fog up the mirror. The sinful attitudes of discontentment, covetousness, grumbling and dishonesty can find a place within a marriage. Sexual sin, such as lust and pornography, can invade and take up residence in a marriage, blurring the image of marriage (sometimes beyond recognition). And the list goes on (Gal 5:19-21).
Help for Hard Marriages
Help for marriages is in the very image that it is intended to reflect: the gospel of Jesus! Just as a sinner’s real help is the grace, love and forgiveness in the work and person of Jesus Christ, so the gospel is the only hope for marriage.
Healing from the harm that sinful patterns bring to a marriage is possible through the grace of God in Christ. Repentance of sin, finding and offering forgiveness and returning to the principles of Scripture bring dramatic healing. I’ve seen this play out in dozens of crisis-marriage counseling cases. I’ve seen this play out in my marriage. By God’s grace, the gospel is the help for hard marriages.
So, where do we learn how to apply the gospel in our marriages? Here are a few suggestions.
Being a part of a healthy, gospel-believing church is a great first step for your marriage. Not only will you hear the Scriptures preached and taught in a way that you can apply them to your life and marriage, but you will be around other Christian married couples. A community of faith is one way that we spur one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24), including the good work of a gospel-reflecting marriage.
My wife and I can attest to the grace that we have found through our church. Brothers in Christ hold me accountable, encourage me and even call out my sin. This has helped me immensely. My wife has also found that in many of her friends from church. Our community helps us tremendously. We aren’t supposed to try to figure this out on our own. God has given us the church to help us in our hard marriages.
Another help available to us is marriage counseling. Whether from a pastor of a local church, or from a counseling center like Anchored Hope Biblical Counseling, there are resources when marriage gets hard. An experienced biblical counselor can help us identify sin patterns, encourage repentance and forgiveness and show how the gospel should be lived out and displayed in our marriages.
Whether your marriage is new, easy, difficult, full of beauty or full of strife, don’t try to go it alone! Find encouragement and help from mature believers in your local church or from qualified biblical counselors. Truth is, all marriages can benefit and must utilize the grace God gives us through others.
A Word to Those Who Whose Marriage-Issues are More Complicated
Some marriages are extremely hard. Abuse (physical, emotional/verbal or sexual), unfaithfulness and even mixed-faith marriages can make the dynamic far more complicated. Scripture speaks to such cases and offers clear hope, no matter how much you are hurting.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. – Psalm 121:1-2
Questions for Reflection
In what ways does your marriage reflect the Christ-Church relationship? In what ways does it need improvement?
Consider verses like Ephesians 4:32. How would living out the gospel truths in that passage help a hard marriage?
Who are some other Jesus-loving couples or counselors you could reach out to for help?
How can you help other couples find help for their marriage in the gospel?