(Photo: Dan Delzell)
The period of the Reformation in the history of the Christian church marks a time of renewal and hope due to the basic message of Christianity....it is a message of God's grace and forgiveness which is freely given through faith in Christ....rather than something that is earned by man's efforts and works. Martin Luther was one of many people during that time some 500 years ago who came to understand that salvation is a free gift....and that the Gospel is a life-changing message.
In fact, Luther stated, "When I finally came to understand God's righteousness and that His Son has paid my debt already....and that He now pardons me from all my guilt and declares me innocent and not guilty....I felt like I was born again and the gates of heaven swung wide open for me and I was free."
Do you know why Luther felt born again at that time in his life? Because he suddenly was born again....that is, spiritually reborn through faith in Christ alone. He had been baptized as an infant....but that didn't do it for him....he had even jumped through all the hoops which his church expected of him....yet he was still a man who was trying to earn his way to heaven. There was no personal reformation in Luther's life until he stopped trying to save himself, and placed his faith in what Jesus did for him on the cross.
It's really the most simple message in the world....but boy does it pack a punch. The power that begins to flow in the life of someone who experiences this personal reformation is absolutely dynamic. It takes your soul from death to life....and your relationship with God from non-existent to eternal. It truly is a new life of peace and assurance....and all because of the price Jesus paid to provide it!
Well....with that much power at work, what do you suppose happens when the Gospel takes center stage in a marriage? The answer is simple....reformation! Words cannot fully explain the transformation that takes place when spouses begin growing together through the supernatural power of the Gospel.
Here are 7 remarkable changes which the Gospel produces in hearts and in marriages when husbands and wives place total reliance upon Christ. A tremendous difference is made as things shift from....
1. Religion to Relationship.
No one was more religious in his day than Martin Luther....but all of his religion didn't do a thing to establish a relationship between himself and God. All he could seem to find in his search was an "angry God" who was so far out of reach and way beyond his zealous attempts to be good enough. It's like in a marriage where you can never seem to do enough to please your spouse. You work and work to make your spouse happy with you....but to no avail. Their expectations never seem to be fully met. It leaves you discouraged and feeling like giving up. Only the Gospel message can take the relationship from this place of "always falling short" to a place of warm feelings and loving attitudes toward one another.
2. Heaviness to Joy.
Luther's religious efforts had become like a massive yoke upon his neck....and many marriages today feel just as burdensome. There is no fun in it anymore, but only wearisome attempts to get along. The Gospel message produces joy because it connects you to the source of joy....God Himself. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy (Gal. 5:22), and the Holy Spirit comes to live inside a person who believes the Gospel.
Many marriages today feel so heavy. The arguments and conflicts have left both parties feeling weighed down with anger, guilt, and frustration. That is what Luther felt in his relationship with God....before his born again conversion by grace through faith. There is a way that your marriage can have the burden lifted, and the joy brought back again. Connecting to the cross is your path to connecting your marriage to a place of true joy. Look to Jesus....trust Him and His payment for your sins....and then ask Him to lift the heavy load that come from sinful actions and from legalism.
3. A Performance Mentality to Acceptance.
The problem with works-righteousness is that you are always focused more on the "doing" than on the Person you are doing it for....it becomes all about YOUR efforts....rather than His grace and acceptance. A performance mentality fails to recognize the most essential thing about the relationship....that is, your works will never cause the other one to love you if the love isn't already there in the first place. By striving to gain acceptance, you end up falling short of the very thing you hope to achieve. When Martin Luther came to see that God accepted him based on the work of Christ, everything changed in Luther's heart and in his motives. Once you know that you are accepted and redeemed through the blood of Jesus, you can take a deep breath and begin to do things for the right reason.
Does your spouse know that you accept him or her....or, does your spouse always feel like there is something to prove and something to earn? Are you a hard task master in your marriage....or an accepting and loving friend? Don't let your upbringing or your perfectionistic hang-ups lead you to act like a grumpy drill sergeant with your spouse. Remember this Christian...."We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
4. Restlessness to Forgiveness.
There is no peace for the person who is striving to get right with God through his own efforts. It is a never-ending quest. You never arrive....but are always trying harder and harder to get God's approval. The restlessness only ceases when the Gospel message is embraced, believed, and relied upon. It is so much better to be forgiven than to be restless. Jesus died so that you and I could be forgiven of our sins.
In marriage, restlessness is the by-product of a strained relationship filled with hurtful words and very little if any forgiveness. Jesus enables us to forgive our spouse because of all the times He has forgiven us. It is hard for a Christian to hold a grudge when he recognizes how many times he has broken God's commands, and yet has been forgiven of his transgressions. The human soul and "the soul of a marriage" is a tossing sea and continually restless without Christ.
5. The Letter of the Law to the Spirit of God.
There is none of God's power in the soul when man is simply trying to abide by the letter of the law. Man's soul needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order for his spiritual life to have love and peace with God. Martin Luther knew the letter of the law long before He experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.
Many marriages are the same way. Is your marriage being filled with God's love....or is it running on the fumes of your self-effort? Are you rigorously attempting to cross all the t's and dot all the i's....without even having first received by faith the grace that only Jesus can give? It's time to stop relying upon your power....and ask God to show you what He can do when husbands and wives trust Him to work a miracle in their marriage. A Spirit-filled marriage is the only cure for legalism between husband and wife.
6. Man's Wisdom to God's Wisdom.
From a human and religious perspective, Martin Luther seemed to have it all together. That facade was in place long before He knew even the first thing about the Gospel. That's the problem with man's wisdom....it doesn't even reach the starting line of God's wisdom. It is on a totally different level....and one that will prevent you from being saved if you trust in it. "The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." (1 Cor. 1:25)
Marriage counselors have limited wisdom. God is the source and essence of all wisdom. If you are relying upon what you know to save your soul or to fix your marriage, you better be sure that you are getting that information straight from the source of all wisdom. The Scriptures are a closed book to the one who does not yet understand and believe the Gospel. Just ask Martin Luther, the former monk who had to let go of "his religion" in order to gain what only God could give him.
7. Rituals to Heartfelt Love.
Religious people all over the world commit themselves to doing certain things in hopes of appeasing their gods. None of their rituals bring their soul one inch closer to the God of heaven and earth. We desperately need the blood of Jesus which was shed on the cross for our sins. Martin Luther, like the apostle Paul before Him, was a master at performing religious rituals. He lived for them....and was practically willing to die in the course of performing them....but then, he came to grasp why the Son of God died....and that "if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing." (Galatians 2:21)
People who overvalue their religious rituals are people who greatly undervalue the cross where Jesus died for them. Either His death was enough to make you righteous in God's eyes....or it wasn't. Either His death is enough to produce a reformation in your marriage....or it isn't. The incredible and unlimited love of God will rush into the heart of anyone who accepts Jesus as Savior....and it will rush into the marital relationship of any couple who will bow at the foot of the cross....and confess their sins to God and to one another....and will humble themselves enough to accept that forgiveness, and allow reconciliation and reformation to take place.
At the end of the day, it's not what we bring to the table....but rather, what Jesus did when He suffered and died for our sins. It's all about Him....and His work....and His death and resurrection. Can your marriage rise again? Only if both of you humble yourselves before your Creator and before one another....and completely rely upon the Risen One to raise your marriage from the ash heap. Apart from Christ, your marriage already had elements of death in it before you even made it home from the honeymoon.
So there it is....the reformation that takes place when people shake off their misguided religious beliefs....and instead, embrace the Gospel message. These are 7 changes that the Gospel produces within those who receive salvation by faith....and then rely upon the Lord for a daily outpouring of God's grace.
Will you be one of those people....or would you rather experience only religion, heaviness, a performance mentality, restlessness, the letter of the law, man's wisdom, and empty rituals? Just because God did all the work to accomplish our salvation doesn't mean that He is also going to believe the good news for us. He allows us to either believe it and be changed....or to continue relying upon our efforts and our performance in hopes of a good outcome.
Let's see....God's plan, or my approach? I guess it now just all depends upon how sincerely I desire to have a reformation in my life and marriage. The tracks have already been laid....and others like Martin Luther have traveled on them before me and discovered the power of God's work on the cross....but am I, in this time and place, willing to allow God to lead me in the way everlasting? This sounds like an even bigger decision than when I first said, "I do," in the presence of God and my bride.
Jesus is right next to you in this very moment my friend. You can tell Him, "I do" accept the sacrifice you made for me on the cross as the basis for my righteous standing with God....or "I don't" accept your death as the payment for my sins. When one party walks away from the wedding without saying anything, their answer is understood to be "No....I don't want a relationship with you."
When you walk away from this moment, will it be alongside the lover of your soul....or will you walk away all alone? The choice is up to you. God does not force a reformation upon any person, or any marriage. He just lays it out there....kind of like Jesus was laid out on the cross for you and me. You can accept the good news of reconciliation, or reject it as being beneath you, and unworthy of your majestic omnipotence.
In the end, I suppose arrogance and hardheadedness are the biggest reasons that people turn their back on the Gospel....and the biggest reasons why many marriages miss out on reconciliation and reformation. Each of us has demonstrated plenty of arrogance in our own lives over the years....wouldn't you agree?