In my short time being married, I have already experienced how deeply sanctifying this relationship can be. Mike and I started dating shortly after I graduated from college and were quickly and happily engaged. We got married in May of 2014. I knew that marriage would be hard and we’d have conflict, but I never knew how much I would learn about myself and the Gospel so quickly. Through marriage I have realized that I had intense anxiety rooted in deep fears of rejection, shame of believing I am the problem, and that the Lord doesn’t delight in doing me good, but in doing me harm. I wasn’t aware of these insecurities or how deep they ran, until about a year and a half into our marriage. My husband was there, physically present with me and seemed a lot more real than my true bridegroom, Jesus. It was easy for me to put my hope in him instead of Jesus, and it was even easier for him to fail the impossibly high expectations I put on him. I grew dependent on Mike, it was stressful on our marriage, on us, and on our relationships with the Lord. We were in conflict a lot, much of it brought on by my disappointment in him not living up to my expectations and the fear of him rejecting me whenever I messed up or failed him. We realized in my anxiety, our extremely different communication styles, and some painful experiences in our lives, that we needed help.

As we worked through these things in counseling, we began to focus intently on my anxiety as it was one of the main factors in the hardship of our marriage. Through this I began to realize that I was afraid of God, not in the way the Bible talks about fear, as a reverent awe, but a deep fear of His sovereignty and goodness in my life. Through past experience and pain I believed that God was out to get me and didn’t ultimately want me to have a happy marriage. I believed that I would mess it up and that Mike would reject me, thus intense anxiety. I desperately clung to Mike emotionally because I believed that if I held him loosely, he would instantly be taken away. This is not living in light of God’s grace abounding love that is demonstrated in the Gospel. Our counselor is wonderful and would press into this nearly every time, and as homework for one of our sessions, he asked me to work through the question: can the promises of the Bible be so true for me that I can rest in them? He told me that the only wrong answer was the right one, he wanted me to come back and say honestly what I thought. This was exactly what I needed. 

As I was wrestling through this question, I realized I was really good at “preaching the Gospel to myself”. I could recite verses and that Jesus died for my sin so that I could be in eternity forever with Him. But I wasn’t doing the work to engage my heart, I was so afraid of God’s sovereignty that I didn’t engage His love for me. I realized this in working through Romans 3. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, I knew this verse from childhood, but had never studied it in the context surrounding it. Right after this it says, 

“and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He passed over former sins.” (vs. 24-25)

Propitiation here means, that God’s wrath against sin has been satisfied, He is no longer angry at me. He satisfied His wrath through His own Son. I knew all of this, I knew it in my head, but it had been missing my heart for a while. 

As I walked through this I thought, what is my Gospel? How do I not just preach the Gospel to myself daily, but walk myself through it in a way that when my husband doesn’t satisfy me, I quickly turn to Jesus who will fully satisfy? In answering this, I wrote down all the things that amazed me about these verses and others, and the Gospel is: 

  1. Christ purchasing me, buying my freedom from the wrath of God.
  2. God’s wrath on me is just and right, because he is so perfect and holy that He can’t be in relationship with me. BUT He is also loving and gracious.
  3. God’s love and grace won out and He sent His son to satisfy His wrath, to die for me, in my place, so that I can be a part of God’s family, so that I can fully partake in His love for me.
  4. This Gospel is binding forever, nothing I have done or will ever do can change God’s love.
  5. I am always a part of the family forever - even if I fail every day for the rest of my life to love God fully and love others fully, I will always be a part of the family and will spend eternity in Heaven, basking in God’s love.

I have fought to remember these truths when I feel disappointed or tempted to idolize my husband. I have not by any means done this perfectly, and it has not completely removed our conflict. We will always be sinners and will continue to have conflict. But it has minimized our conflict and brought freedom. Instead of hiding in fear when I mess up or hurt Mike, I fight to confess it and ask for grace and rest in the grace and love that Jesus has for me. When he hurts or disappoints me I fight to forgive because I am always forgiven because of Jesus’s love for me. I also fight to not just recite these truths, but to walk my heart through them and rest in them. Our marriage has been more free, fun and loving over the last month than it ever has, because instead of just Mike fighting for Christ to be the center, we are both fighting. This quote from one of my favorite books has been especially helpful for me in the last few months, it fleshes out the Gospel in a way that is so sweet to my soul. 

“For God Loves me, even me; and though Satan parade my sins and weakness before me, yet am I saved by the love of God in Christ Jesus, from which nothing can separate me. Justice would separate me from the love of God. By my sins do I justly perish. But I am redeemed, reborn, recreated; I am held and sheltered and restored by the love of God. [...] I cannot call that justice. It is grace, free grace, it is the most prodigal generosity. It is mercy.”
               The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock

Joanna Polley 
Campus Outreach Minneapolis
Campus & Resource Staff