When we shift from a performance-based marriage to a grace-based marriage, we begin to enjoy the fullness of the gift of marriage.
Sin is a barrier to oneness and enjoyment in marriage. When one spouse sins in marriage it often triggers the other to sin as well. Then, when we try to “work on our marriage” it can be frustrating. We see the need for improvement and try to do better. Our marriage improves for a time until it reverts to the same or a worse place. Praise God, there is a permanent breakthrough available for all of us. Thankfully, it is not dependent on our behavior, consistency, or improvement. It is shifting from a performance-based to a grace-based marriage.
Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
The Performance – Based Marriage
This is a marriage where the extension of love and kindness are conditioned on the behavior of the other. If you do well, I’ll be nice. If you offend me, I’ll withdraw or strike back. If you are kind and helpful, we will come together physically. If you are rude and unhelpful, distance and no physical intimacy will follow.
Love and acceptance are conditional. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. It is buying into the “you get what you deserve” teaching of the world. And so the roller-coaster marriage begins. As we focus on our performance and the performance of our spouse, our marriage will rise and fall with our circumstances and perception of behavior. Our marriages will be man-centered and man-dependent, not God-centered and God-dependent.
Scripture says, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Conditioning love on behavior will result in a restrictive, heavy, and joyless relationship. The law is referred to as the ministry of death and condemnation. When my wife and I begin to put “laws” into our marriage that we expect each other to uphold, we set each other up to fail. When we set up these “laws,” we begin to hold sin against one another and birth a spirit of distance or condemnation. Then, we can quickly become frustrated with one another as fuses get shorter and distance becomes greater. Ultimately, we get worse, not better, as “the law came in to increase the trespass.”
This is how it worked in the early years of our marriage. We were crazy about each other until we got married. I sinned by being unkind and not prioritizing our marriage, spending virtually all my time in sports or building a career. In response, my wife stayed after me trying to get me to focus on her. In response, I took offense, was harsh and liked my wife less. Within a year, my wife was praying “Lord, am I sentenced to a life of this?” My sin had increased hers and vice versa – sin had control.
The Grace-Based Marriage
So, how do we break the control sin has over our marriages? How can two inconsistent people enjoy one another despite unchanging, frustrating habits? Romans 6:14 contains the answer: “Sin will have NO dominion over you (and your marriage), because you (and your marriage) are under grace, not law.” (parentheses and emphasis added).
Thankfully, our hope in marriage is not slavishly working to become the ideal mate. Grace Marriage would be discouraging if it involved getting beat up and being told to do better the next three months. Praise God, this is not the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace Marriage is meant to draw you to rest and trust the unfathomable grace, freedom, and forgiveness of Jesus. Then, with a light yoke, easy burden, and rested soul, you can enjoy and exhibit the nourishing fruits of the Spirit. Two believers extending and resting in the grace of Christ tend to get along pretty well.
The bad news: You will keep messing up the rest of your life. Paul says he does the things he knows he should not do and does not even understand his own actions. Thankfully, we don’t have to live in perpetual frustration trying to do better than the man who wrote half the New Testament. The good news: We can have an extraordinary relationship with God and each other despite remaining sin. God’s grace and relational miracles happen as the sin barrier is removed and replaced by the ministry of reconciliation.
It is important to note that the extension of grace does not involve living in an abusive situation or in ongoing infidelity. Enabling ongoing abuse or infidelity, in the name of extending grace, is not wise or Biblical.
I don’t know why, but I have been plagued with a spirit of flatness, sadness, and sarcasm over the last four weeks. My wife has loved me despite my sin and has not held my sin against me, although she did ask me to go on a two-week sarcasm fast. Over the last week, the clouds have lifted and I am enjoying the Lord and my family again. Because of grace, our marriage was not the casualty. In fact, it allowed me room to be convicted by the Holy Spirit, grow closer to Him, and to my wife.
Practically, a grace-based marriage involves responding to sin with kindness and grace, as opposed to consequence and distance. In a grace-based marriage, if one distances himself or herself from you emotionally, you pro-actively love and bless, as opposed to holding it against them and withholding affection. “Whoever covers an offense seeks love.”
If your spouse nags at you, it is being responsive and kind, as opposed to being snappy and rebellious. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It is resisting the pride of the flesh and loving each other as Christ has loved us. It is responding to evil with good. “But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
You may be thinking, “If I do this, it will give my spouse a ‘jerk license.’” Romans 2:4 says God’s kindness leads us to repentance. My wife’s strength, grace, and unconditional love motivate me to do better, not worse. The kinder and more graceful she is, the more I am drawn to her. Similarly, the greater revelation I receive of the beauty of Christ, the more I want to abide in and worship Him.
Likewise, the more grace I extend my wife, the more she is helped. Marilyn comments on a difficult day as follows:
“It was one of those days where I was spent before the day began. Life and the kids had eaten my lunch and, needless to say, when Brad got home, I was far from full of grace! Overwhelmed, I barked orders all evening only to crash in bed that night. Brad just jumped in helping and didn’t say a word. The next morning in my quiet time, I was convicted. His kindness lent itself to quick repentance from me. If he had pointed out my bad attitude, I would have launched into the old “you have no idea” and been frustrated with him. His lack of engaging with my frustration left me to deal with myself and allowed the Holy Spirit to work on my heart. “
In a grace-based marriage, God gets the glory. Our marriage doesn’t do well because we are good spouses. It does well because Jesus is the perfect bridegroom. We live in victory because of what He has done, not because of what we can do.
Shifting from a performance-based marriage to a grace-based marriage is liberating. No longer does the behavior of another control you. No longer are you stuck in a relational ditch. Chaos and consequence are replaced with peace and kindness.
In a grace-based marriage, you help each other into a better place, as opposed to driving each other to a worse place. Ecclesiastes 4:10 reads, “But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” In a grace-based marriage, you help each other up – you don’t kick each other when you are down. You don’t fight darkness with darkness – only the light can conquer the darkness.
The overarching purpose of this lesson is to guide each other into resting and trusting in the grace, freedom, and liberty of the Lord Jesus Christ and putting our marriages under grace and not law. May our marriages come alive through the source and giver of life – the Lord Jesus Christ!
 2 Corinthians 3:6.
 See 2 Corinthians 3:7,9.
 See Romans 5:20.
 See 1 John 1:8.
 See Romans 7:15.
 See 2 Corinthians 5:18
 If you are in an abusive situation, prioritize your safety and seek help immediately.
 Proverbs 17:9
 Proverbs 15:1 Romans 5:8
Brad & Marilyn Rhoads
Brad & Marilyn Rhoads are the cofounders of Grace Marriage. Brad, a seasoned attorney of 22 years, saw the marriage and family breakdown first-hand in the courtroom. Also, as a marriage and family pastor, he witnessed the marriage struggles inside the church and the lack of any intentional strategy to keep couples on a growth curve. Marilyn, a counselor with a masters in social work, saw the impact upon children and youth when families fall apart.
In 2012, they founded Grace Marriage as a solution to equip churches with ongoing marriage ministries and to help couples enrich, protect and grow their relationships.