Holiness in Marriage
by Dr. Jay Sklar
When you think of holiness, what comes to mind? For many of us, our concept of holiness often involves very spiritual things, such as reading the Bible, attending church, having consistent devotional lives, praying long and fervently, and sharing our faith. Naturally, all of these things can be indicators of holiness in our lives. But what exactly is holiness?
At its core, holiness in Christians means that we reflect the very character of God himself. Is God loving? Then we reflect holiness in the love we show to others. Is God pure? Then we reflect holiness in the purity of our lives. Is God patient? Then we reflect holiness by our patience with others. In short, holiness in our lives fleshes itself out in very tangible and constructive ways. This will be especially true of holiness in marriage—it is a very practical thing.
Galatians 5 is a beautiful illustration of this. Here we read about the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the different fruits that are mentioned here are all illustrations of the holy character of God. Take a close look at what these fruits are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23a ESV). Did you notice how many of these fruits are things that we demonstrate—or should demonstrate—in the context of relationships? Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. These fruits of the Holy Spirit are at their core very useful things that work themselves out in our everyday lives and in our everyday relating with those around us.
When we think of holiness only in terms of spiritual activities such as reading the Bible or praying, we make two mistakes. The first is that we can underestimate the different ways that those around us—especially our spouses—demonstrate the holy character of God. This hit home with me when my friend Tim shared about his own pilgrimage in understanding holiness. When he was a young believer, he thought of holiness in terms of the religious activities listed above. As a result, when he did not see his wife praying or reading the Bible as much as he thought she should, he concluded that she was not very holy. What Tim did not notice, however, was the joy and gentleness of his wife (see again Gal. 5:22–23a). She was always smiling and had a very gentle spirit. In other words, she exhibited the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Tim missed these aspects of holiness in his wife, though, because he was measuring holiness only in terms of spiritual activities.
The second mistake that we make by evaluating holiness by one’s religious works is that we tend to overestimate our own holiness. If we think of holiness only in terms of doing Christian duties, then holiness becomes a task that we place a check mark beside when we are done. However, holiness as set forth in the Bible is extremely different. The holiness of the Bible shows itself in a life transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit so that one reflects the very character of God himself. This is not just a duty that we mark off our to-do lists. It is a radical transformation of the heart and life that has a deep impact on how we interact with other people—including our spouses. As a result, holiness has a very practical impact on marriage because as we become more like God, we are enabled to interact with our spouses with more “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23a ESV).
Here are some practical questions for you to consider.
- How have you thought about holiness? Is your understanding of holiness related to completing a certain spiritual task, or do you also understand holiness to be a transformation of the heart and life that shows up in very practical ways in day-to-day relationships?
- Read again the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23a ESV). How do these fruits manifest themselves in the way that you relate to your spouse? How should these fruits of the Holy Spirit manifest themselves in your marriage relationship? Try to be as concrete as possible.
Always remember that the Lord has provided us with his Holy Spirit to help us become more like him. Becoming holy is not a matter of self-transformation. It is a matter of looking to God in repentance and faith on a daily basis and seeking His help to become more like him.
Dr. Jay Sklar, a native of Canada, serves as associate professor of Old Testament and dean of faculty at Covenant Theological Seminary. He originally wrote this article for a ministry called Two Becoming One (www.2becoming1.com), and it also appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Covenant magazine. Dr. Sklar has led youth and children’s ministries in both church and camp settings. He has also spoken often at college and youth events in addition to preaching regularly and has taught a leadership study for St. Louis-area men on Covenant Seminary’s campus.