I was walking down a street in New York City last year when my good friend Justin Buzzard called to tell me that he was writing a book (in his exact words) on "how to date your wife." Somewhat taken aback, I stopped walking and said, "Your writing a book on how to date my wife?" He laughed and assured me that it wasn't my wife he was trying to date. Rather, he explained that he was writing a book to help men think about how the gospel empowers them to be the romantic leaders in their marriages.
I know, I know. Why do we need another book on marriage? Why do we need another guy telling us already-struggling husbands what we're not doing well? Telling me to do more and try harder only makes me want to do and try less. Been there, done that. Give me a break!
Ahh, but this is the genius of Justin's book: he understands and clearly articulates the radical difference between a religious approach to marriage and a gospel approach to marriage.
A religious approach to marriage is the idea that if we work hard enough at something, we can earn the acceptance, approval, and life we think we deserve because of our obedient performance. Justin rightly points out that religion governs how most of us approach God and our wives: "If we live as a basically good person, we can earn God's favor and get the decent life we deserve. If we stay committed to our wives and don't go anywhere, God will give us a decent marriage with decent sex in a decent American town with a decent church down the street." In other words, in arguing for becoming the romantic leaders of our marriages, Justin argues against a guilt-driven, performance-oriented, approval-seeking, "do more, try harder", approach to marriage.
Instead, he argues for a gospel-empowered approach to marriage. Justin writes, "A man comes alive when he finally feels in his guts that religion can't fuel his life or his marriage, when he makes the painfully sweet discovery that there is only one fuel source can get the engine running again: Grace." Right on! See, I told you he "gets it." He understands that since we already have all of the affection, approval, and favor we could possibly crave in Christ, we are now free to love our wives without fear or reservation.
Sadly, the fear that our love will not be reciprocated is something that paralyzes many of our marriages. It prevents husbands from loving their wives "as Christ loved the church." We come to this conclusion: I will love you only to the degree that you love me. It's an attitude that enslaves us. But the gospel frees us from that.
I enjoy receiving love from my wife. I'm ecstatic when Kim loves me and expresses affection toward me. Something in me comes alive when she does that. But I've learned this freeing truth: I don't need that love, because in Jesus, I receive all the love I need. This in turn liberates me to love her without apprehension or condition. I get to revel in her enjoyment of my love without needing anything from her in return. I get love from Jesus so that I can give love to her.
This is what Justin is talking about. The gospel sets us free to become the romantic leaders of our marriages without fright or hesitation. Because we have been forever wooed by Jesus, we are now free to forever woo our wives.
This small book is biblically sound, theologically rich, sensitively illustrated, and profoundly practical. If you read it prayerfully, God will show you his heart for you which will in turn enlarge your heart for your wife.
Read it. It's good. It's really good.