“Marriage is hard work,” we say, “so Christians better get to it better than everybody else.” Is that true? It seems to me that many of us are already crazy over marriage, but we’re told that we’ve got to push the accelerator to go crazier still?! I don’t think so.
In this, Part 2 of a series called, “We’ve Got To Change Marriage,” I hope to help you see something that will liberate you from life-draining distractions. One of them is marriage. Are you up for that? If you haven’t watched or read Part 1, I strongly recommend you get that before wading into this. You might just get mad at me if not. (You’ll find links at the end of this post.)
I said in Part 1 that we’ve got to lift marriage out of the Old Testament, because it has bogged down and been left behind. Christians haven’t done anything different with it, except try to do the same thing better. And that won’t work. We’ve got to bring it into the New Covenant so that it matches up with who and what believers have become—new creations—and where God is in the New Covenant—He is in us. Unfortunately, He is fairly unemployed in a lot of us, and that’s what this message and series is about. Let’s give God something to do in marriage!
Growing up I never once asked the question, “Who am I?” because I was busy becoming something all the time, or unveiling my latest creation of me. Whatever was needed for any situation, I became that to the best of my ability. I was Ralph, the clever and lovable twin. (Yes, I have an identical twin brother.) I was Ralph, the baseball player. I was Ralph, the pretended Don Juan. I was Ralph, the fly fisherman. I was Ralph, the collegian. I had no starting point, no identity of beginning. So I invented a self and worked hard on that self. . .with varying degrees of failure. But do you see what a trap that is? If, to begin with, you are not a certain thing, then no matter how you labor upon yourself, you will not become it. No one can accomplish a change of identity—not truly. You can only work on the façade.
Except God. He ends the masquerade. He gives to believers an actual, true-at-the-core identity for the first time: son of God. This is what we become when we receive Christ—and we’re born authentic. The real deal! Now we have a core identity, and can live truly from there. Nothing else will ever displace or change your true identity. Nothing. God will always recognize you for who you are—son. That is your identity to God and to the angels. . .and it ought to be with fellow Christians.
So true and genuine, so important and primary is this identity that God has given to us—sons of God—that all and any other identities for us become simply tributary to the one. A branch, an offshoot of the one, the primary.
Look how singular your identity is, according to the apostle Paul:
Galatians 3:26 So in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile (your family isn’t your identity), neither slave nor free (your condition or status in life isn’t your identity), nor is there male and female (your plumbing isn’t your identity), for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Parenthesis mine.)
You are a son of God in Christ Jesus. If you don’t know it, or to the degree that you focus your life upon trying to fashion or to improve upon other, lesser, tributary identities, is the degree of frustration and futility you will experience because you will be attempting the impossible: to return to when you had no identity.
When people see you in your role as dad or mom, and for our purpose today, husband or wife, that is not who you are—it is not primary, it is tributary. Marriage is tributary to who you are and how you live.
This does not mean that you cut off all other roles, or that you block off all tributaries and pay no attention to them. It means that you live and focus upon your primary identity—where God is looking—at the invisible and eternal, at what He has made, and not upon the visible and passing away, your tributary identity, because life and love and grace comes from and through your primary identity.
When a couple meets with me about tangled issues in their relationship, after we’ve talked a while, the most important question I ask them is: “How is Jesus?” Not one time has his or her response been anything other than, “I don’t know. I’m working on my marriage.” Each of them thought they had to fix marriage before they could know Jesus again, as if He had nothing to provide for it! They believed that tributary identity was most important, and that it was the influence of primary identity. In other words, “If you have a good marriage, you must be a Christian.” They had it backwards. Each of them thought the problem was first tributary, when all that tributary does is channel the flow from the source. That is Christian.
And Paul concludes his message. What would be the feeling in that room? Would there be thunderous applause? A standing ovation for the apostle? Or would it be quiet and tense? I think the latter. That should tell you how enslaved we’ve become to focusing and working upon marriage, instead of upon Jesus, who provides for it.
Now, you must know that Paul didn’t mean it as a way to degrade marriage, but as a way to position marriage in its proper place—as a receiver of God’s life and love in us. God in us flows down the tributary of marriage. . .and down the tributary of parenting, and down the tributary of all relationships and situations. Primary to tributary.
Do you see it? We are perfectly set up for this! All of us have lots of tributaries, don’t we? We’ve got jobs, bills to pay, children to raise, relatives to visit and care for, and much more. If you’re exhausted, if Christianity has seemingly worn you out, it’s because you’ve been induced to focus upon tributary identities, and to labor yourself there. And your primary identity, “son of God”, winds up having no practical relevance for you. “It’s a nice title, but no big deal.” What I am saying is that, while you are a Christian, you don’t have authentic Christianity. What you’ve got is not Christian. It can’t work for you.
Aren’t you a little bit glad? It hasn’t been working anyway, right? Jesus’ yoke and burden hasn’t been easy and light because you’ve been shouldering the burden. You don’t have to! It doesn’t fit! Your days and relationships are for Him with you and in you. Set your eyes and heart upon Jesus. He will revive you and work through you. That’s Christian.
Well, that’s all for now. I’ll have more in Part 3. Until then, go for your primary identity: son of God. He will see to your tributaries.