One of the recent trends in that I see in much of Christian culture is the idea that marriage makes you holy or that the point of marriage is holiness. In fact, as you look back over the last few decades (if not centuries in Protestantism), you see some groups state that it is the path to holiness.
Some of this was a reaction to celibacy for the kingdom previously being seen as more holy than the domestic life. But I see this idea of marriage as the path to holiness all of the time and frankly it’s not helpful as it views the whole frame in the wrong way.
Here are a couple of ways that this plays out in our culture:
One place that this comes from is the thought that going into marriage we need to understand that the point of marriage is to make us holy, not happy. A lot of this is an attempted reaction to the divorce culture that started decades ago. The thought is that if we go into marriage looking for it to give us happiness, or fulfillment in and of itself, then when we don’t feel happy or fulfilled we will be in trouble in the marriage.
To be fair there is obviously a lot of truth to this. We should’t look to marriage to fulfill us. Jesus does that. We shouldn’t enter marriage purely for our own self happiness or only because of romance and attraction because no matter how great the marriage there will be times where we don’t feel any of that. If one enters marriage thinking they will always feel those things, or that those things (attraction, happiness, etc) are the main barometer of the marriage, then there are going to be problems. All of that is fair, and a good thing for both singles seeking marriage as well as married folks to realize.
But in a culture where people are delaying or not even seeking marriage (80% of people between the ages of 19-29 are not married) this can become sort of counter productive. I’ve written a whole post on the Marriage is Hard Movement™ previously. But suffice it to say, focusing constantly on how hard marriage is probably isn’t going to change that.
But a second less discussed idea that that comes out of the marriage makes you holy line of thinking is that marriage makes sex holy. This line of thinking goes something like this: we all want sex, in fact we’re actually driven by sex. It is an unstoppable animal instinct. We can’t control it. Especially men. We are told that we can’t control any of this. So what is the answer to this uncontrollable desire? Marriage.
But this misses some very serious biblical truths about us as humans and about marriage as instituted by God.
First, we are not just animals with uncontrollable desires. We are created in God’s image. We have this thing called choice. I’ll say more about desire soon, but the fact is that if we were just animals we’d have no responsibility whatsoever for sin.
Secondly, God did not institute marriage as a concession because we wanted sex. It’s not as if we were created, then we desired sex and so God said, “Whoops, didn’t think that through, what am I going to do here. . . . Oh wait. . . I’ve got it: Marriage!”
Marriage was instituted before sin and before sex. Marriage was not created for sex. Sex was instead created for marriage.
This matters because it changes the entire frame of following God in our unmarried state by not having sex and in marriage itself. By telling people that marriage is the answer to sex and our uncontrollable desires, we put the emphasis on sex instead of the covenant relationship of marriage.
Marriage doesn’t legitimize sex. Marriage doesn’t redeem sex. Marriage doesn’t fix our sexual sin. When we place marriage as created for sex we are opening the door to all of that. The implications of that are enormous in our current culture. I’ll spell those out more at a later date, but you can see it everywhere both inside and outside of the church.
What we’ve discussed here doesn’t even get into the fact that if marriage is what makes you holy, then what does that say to the unmarried? Can they not be holy? What is that person to do?
The bottom line is that marriage is not what makes you holy.
This of course raises several key questions. If the marriage doesn’t make you holy, then what does? If holiness is not the the point of marriage, then what is the point? If marriage doesn’t make sex holy then what is the point of the creation of sex?
I’ll explore more of this soon. But let’s start with this truth: God wants us to be holy. He is constantly calling us and pulling us towards holiness. But assuming we let Him, He is going to do that regardless of marital status.