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If you read Christian marriage books, go to marriage seminars, or listen to Christian podcasts, you’ve most likely heard of Gary Thomas. He has written extensively on the topic of marriage, most notably in his books, Sacred Marriage and Cherish. We recently had the privilege of hearing him share what leads to a happy marriage, and following are some of the insights we gained.

You can’t outrun a bad diet. What does this have to do with marriage? Quite a bit, actually. Just as going on a run won’t offset a diet of junk food, a marriage enrichment program won’t offset spiritual immaturity.

If you’re reading this, you are already making strides toward maintaining and improving your marriage. But God doesn’t want us to approach our marriage with a “5 Tips and Tricks to Improving Your Marriage!” mentality. He wants to go deeper. He wants us to become holy.

You can’t have a healthy marriage without a spiritually healthy you. So one of the foundations for a healthy marriage is for each of you to keep growing in holiness. If the word “holiness” strikes a negative chord for you, just think about being “healthy” or “whole.”

In 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul laid out God’s surprising path to holiness. Here is how Gary broke it down, phrase-by-phrase:

  • “Let us purify ourselves…” – So often, we want to purify others, not ourselves.
  • “…from everything…” – Not just the worst, scandalous things we can imagine, or the things that would get us fired or written up in the newspaper.
  • “…that contaminates body and spirit…” – Not only the physical sins we can commit, but the sinful thoughts and attitudes that we have: impatience, irritability, lack of forgiveness, malice, anger.
  • “…perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” – This is an ongoing process. We will never be perfect on this side of heaven, but we can become more like Christ every day.

If there’s anything in you that doesn’t reflect the love, the compassion, the gentleness, the patience, and the self-control of Christ, then get rid of it.

Christianity is a one-time decision that unleashes an all-the-time pursuit. We shouldn’t use the forgiveness of our sins to become complacent about our sins.

If we let it, marriage will afford us opportunities to get outside ourselves – we’ll put aside our own desires and wants for the good of our spouse. This will lead to our holiness, and ultimately, our happiness.

One of Gary’s friends had an opportunity like this. Rhett’s wife, Kristy, became ill and needed surgery that would require extended bed rest. Kristy was the engine that made their house run, and Rhett didn’t know if he was up to the task. But he honored his vows to Kristy and devoted several weeks to taking care of her.

So although Rhett might not have chosen to be a servant/nurse for this extended time, God used it to make him more holy. In moving toward his wife in humble service, he moved toward the likeness of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t just a teacher, He was a healer. He was kind and compassionate, and would take time out from teaching in order to touch and heal someone who needed Him. God used Rhett’s marriage to make him more like Jesus!

James 3:2 tells us, “We all stumble in many ways.” We all have lots of issues, sins that hang onto us and weigh us down. But these sins don’t just war against our souls, they war against our marriage.

Now, we can allow our sin to destroy our marriage, OR we can allow our marriage to destroy our sin!

Gary shared an example from his own marriage to Lisa. When he was showing impatience and a sullen attitude in line at the airport one day, she gently reminded him of the kind of man he wants to be and how far off the mark he was. From then on, his attitude shifted, and he began to pray for the people who were in line with him. Gary was much happier, because his wife pointed out where he was less holy! Holiness didn’t threaten his happiness, it enhanced it.

When we start to understand God’s plan for marriage, our view of marriage changes. We start out thinking marriage is all about our emotional satisfaction or getting our needs for intimacy met. But as we mature spiritually, we realize that marriage is a way for God to make us whole – it’s a vehicle for His Spirit to purify us. And this realization makes us welcome and value our spouse’s input instead of resenting it.

A holier you, a healthier you, a happier you, a happier marriage.

In Gary’s work as a pastor, he has observed that almost every case of marital dissatisfaction goes back to unrepented sin. It’s important to have good communication skills and ways to resolve conflict, but the best marriage tools won’t overcome the sin in your life that’s being ignored. Couples don’t fall out of love, so much as they fall out of repentance.

Consider a coffee date with your spouse to talk about the following questions:

May God bless your marriage,