Excerpts from Chapter 4
Taking it Out for a Spin
A Test Drive for Your Doctrine
“What’s the point of sitting here gunning the engine if we’re not going anywhere?” The question seemed inspired at the moment. In retrospect, I think I was briefly possessed.
Terry, my thirteen-year-old buddy, had decided it would impress the neighborhood kids to get his brother’s car keys, start the souped-up Chrysler, and sit there in the driveway revving the engine. I joined him as co-pilot since I was only twelve and far too young for the awesome responsibility of revving. Smoke billowed from the tailpipe as Terry perched behind the wheel punching the accelerator. The plan worked, causing quite a commotion. Kids gathered from as far away as Canada to see what was going on.
That’s when the question formed in my mind. I probably should have left it as a question, but it just seemed pointless to stay parked in this awesome machine that was so ready to roll. My hand slowly reached for the gearshift.
Terry was oblivious. He was waving to the growing group of kids, a smile of triumph spread across his face. In the world of kid-dom, this was the equivalent of winning a NASCAR race. Little did he know that the race hadn’t actually begun.
With split-second timing, I jerked the gearshift into drive at the exact moment he punched the accelerator. That’s when I discovered two things. This Chrysler had pick-up! And Terry had never learned about brakes.
Fortunately, panic worked in our favor as Terry instinctively adopted the crash posture, a kind of seated fetal position. Somehow the car slipped out of gear and we gradually coasted to a stop without hitting a single house, tree, or person. No real harm done, we thought . . . until we got out of the car and faced a sea of stern parental faces. Certainly they would understand how pointless it is to just sit in a car like that but not put it in drive?
Put it in Drive
What compels two adolescent boys to act in such an audacious (or reckless, depending on your point of view) manner? Teenagers don’t want to sit still. They want to put life in gear. And there’s something of that restless desire in our relationship with God. God’s grace at work in us compels us to not just sit behind the steering wheel, but put what we know into gear. When God saves us, we are drawn to unfamiliar things—to holiness, truth, the Scriptures, and God’s amazing love. As we learn more, though, we have a desire to act on what we know and believe about God.
But how do we do this? How do we put our knowledge of God into gear—specifically into gear for our marriage? Biblically speaking, putting theology into gear means driving onto the road of wisdom. Wisdom in the Bible isn’t some mystical knowledge or simple street savvy. It’s the life and decisions of someone rightly related to God. It’s applying what we know is true. Theologian Graham Goldsworthy says that wisdom —
. . . Is not primarily a function of how clever we are, nor of how much information we have managed to cram into our minds. Rather it is a moral choice to be independent of God or to be subject to him in our thinking as well as our doing.
The way of wisdom is open for all who have believed the gospel, because Christ himself is our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30). That’s why we can confidently ask for wisdom, and expect God to grant it to us (James 1:5). This freeway is open to us because of the gospel. Wisdom for our marriages then, is not found in “how to” books, or in formulas for success. It is found in putting our beliefs into gear and heading down the road of wisdom with God behind the wheel.
So why sit around gunning the engine on our theology of sin unless we’re going to put this machine into drive? Why have a powerful car that never leaves the garage? Progress comes when we slip our theology into gear and find out what it can do. Let me offer four roads you can practice on. I’m confident if you can drive on these roads, you can get about anywhere you need to go in your marriage.
First Gear: In Humility, Suspect Yourself First
It is very important in our Christian lives to be suspicious of any claims to righteousness we bring to our relationship with God. It is in Christ alone, and in his merit alone, that we trust. True humility is living confident in Christ’s righteousness, and suspicious of our own.
The word “suspicion” often gets a bad rap. An ominous cloud hangs over it—it’s nearly always negative. People in custody are suspicious. Gangs at night are suspicious. Smiling children around empty cookie jars are suspicious. Christians should not be suspicious. Or should we?
Let’s backtrack down the road of your last conflict. She said something; he did something. Things went wrong—happens all the time. When we seek to address difficulties in our marriage, does a humble suspicion of our hearts influence our assumptions and approach?
This may be a shocker, but we should be suspicious . . . selectively, permanently, and internally. As the worst of sinners, in the day-to-day conflicts of marriage, I should be primarily suspicious and regularly suspicious of myself! To be suspicious of my own heart is to acknowledge two things: that my heart has a central role in my behavior, and that my heart has a permanent tendency to oppose God and his ways.
This is an area where you have to train yourself. The humility of a healthy self-suspicion definitely does not come naturally. It’s always a low road—safe and secure, but not exactly the scenic highway. And sadly, it’s often the less-traveled road in marriage.
When you’re in a conflict with your spouse, or evaluating a past conflict, have you ever said (aloud or to yourself), “God knows my heart in this situation”? Was that a comforting or reassuring thought? Did you imagine that a divine examination of your deepest motives and desires would uncover nothing but the purest and most Christ-like intentions? If so, you were on a dangerous stretch of road with no guardrail at all, and probably well on your way to hurtling down into the bottomless canyon of self-deception. We’re talking crash and burn. But to live suspicious of your heart’s motivations, that’s safe spiritual driving.
Many marriage problems could move toward resolution if husband and wife actually lived as if they were “sinners” who said, “I do.” Sinners who are humble are growing more knowledgeable about their hearts. In doing so, they are discovering what’s really going on—that the ability to claim righteousness apart from Christ undermines the truth of the gospel. Why not better acknowledge what the cross says about you and relish the truth that J. I. Packer so vividly states, “Our best works are shot through with sin and contain something for which we need to be forgiven.” Sound bleak? It sure does. But it is the gateway to the safe, low road of humility.
Read an excerpt from Chapter 5