Holiness Is Not The “Point” Of Marriage

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, we 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 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 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.

Marriage Isn’t What Makes You Holy

This is my final post in response to Al Mohler’s words about the “sin” of delayed marriage. As I’ve said before, I’m not really singling Mohler out other than that I think his words represent a lot of what Christian leaders think and teach.**  We’ve discussed the nuclear family idol of the Church already, but I want to talk about a part of that idol that is often left out.

Mohler sets this up by basically saying that you are made an adult by getting married and if you wait too long (however long that is) you are going to make it tougher.  He states:

Delaying marriage until the late 20s or beyond often allows a person to develop unhealthy lifestyle patterns that become difficult to break once he or she is married, Mohler said.

“The corruption of delay, the injury that comes by delay, is multiple,” Mohler said.

“If we claim for ourselves, either as men or as women, the right to define ourselves as adults who will get married when we get to it, we’re defining ourselves in pretty specific terms. Let me be clear: The longer you wait to get married, the more habits and lifestyle patterns you will have that will be difficult to handle in marriage.”

Now remember, I’m for marriage.  I’m for getting married sooner than later if you are called to it.  But this crosses the line in several ways.

First, the statistics don’t back this up at all.  In fact the divorce rate of people getting married after 25 and with a college education is ridiculously lower than if you get married younger.  I’m not saying you can’t get married younger but the reality is that our culture has changed.  We’ve lengthened adolescence.  The delay of marriage is both a cause and a result of that, but we have to be careful here and deal with the current reality.

But the bigger issue here is the idea that we can’t be mature if we aren’t married.  The way this usually gets talked about is the idea that Marriage Makes You Holy®.

This is the bell that evangelicals have been ringing lately.  Marriage is hard.  Marriage is not about making you happy it’s about making you holy.  Which is sort of true . . . sort of.

This talking point creates all sorts of weird dichotomies.  Let’s look at the messages we are receiving.  It goes something like this:

Marriage is really hard.  But you should hurry up and get married.  You are able to focus more on Jesus and be less distracted as a single person.  But marriage is how you become more holy.  You need to be a man and get married.  But being married makes you a real man.

Confused yet?

Here’s the thing: Regardless of your marital status you are called to holiness.  We are called to grow and that includes the proverbial “growing up”.  But marriage doesn’t guarantee that. There are lots of immature married people.  For sure there are lots of spiritually immature and unholy married people.  Marriage itself doesn’t make you holy.  Jesus will if you walk with Him.

You see marriage isn’t the answer or the problem.  We’re the problem. Our sin is the problem.  Jesus is the answer.  The context of marriage can indeed lead us to deal with our sins and wounds if we let it.  But if I’m single, I need to deal with those same things, and you know what? –  You can. Right now.

People always told me when I was single that one of the things they learned when they got married was how selfish they were.  But what’s funny about that is that they were already selfish.  They didn’t become selfish when they got married, they just didn’t deal with it until they got married.

In some ways it was an advantage for me when I got married later in that I already knew I was a sinner.  I didn’t need a wife to show me that.  Now I do see it in some new ways to be sure.  But you can’t sit around and wait to get married to deal with sin.  That’s a terrible idea.  And you don’t have to.  You can deal with your sin now.

We don’t need to fear marriage and we need to quit underselling it.  Telling a bunch of people who aren’t getting married how hard marriage is seems to me to be sort of counter productive.  Marriage is good and can be fun.  It actually can make you happier.  I’m happier.

God can indeed use marriage to make you more holy if you let Him.  But He can, and wants to, use your singleness to do the same thing.  God always, every single day, wants to grow us to be more holy.  Regardless of context.

When we count on marriage in and of itself to do that we are adding to the idolization of it.

 

 

**Recently someone has suggested (on social media) that I am unnecessarily picking on Mohler.  They have suggested that Mohler doesn’t actually believe what I’ve attributed to him.  First, I want to be clear that I have nothing personal against Mohler.  However, I in no way feel that I have misrepresented him here.  I have for sure not misquoted or even taken his quotes out of context in any way.  If he doesn’t believe it, then he should think about how he says it.  I think he does believe it, as do most evangelical leaders – not out of malice or ill intent – but out of modern evangelical tradition on the subject of marriage of which I was once beholden to as well.  Their premise is wrong to begin with in this area and it’s killing us.  What they are doing is not working.  At all.