Written by: Josh and Tammy Russ.
Tammy and I were married at a fairly young age. I was almost 20. She was already 20 (which remains a little joke we have between us). We were literally just beginning to figure out who we were as individuals and also who we were going to be as a couple. She and I both grew up in Christian homes, but those if those landscapes had been painted on a canvas they would have looked entirely different.
My family went to church and said our nightly prayers...sometimes. Her family was pretty much on the other side of the “Christian” spectrum. Growing up, for me, I would think I would be accurate in saying that establishing an identity in Christ was not even a phrase I recall hearing.
The Wrong Identity
My identity was in me, my family and my accomplishments. I was one of my high school’s well-known athletes, I was talented and I had a decent brain. My goal growing up in life was to make my parents proud. Their acceptance of my accomplishments, so to speak, is what kept me anchored and is how I experienced love for the majority of my life.
I brought that into our marriage and needless to say it produced major issues. I’ll just be transparent and admit that it took me close to 20 years to realize that my identity wasn’t found in my wife, my kids, my job or success. My family, my career and everything else I felt I needed so desperately to succeed at provided only glimpses of temporary satisfaction and became an idol for me.
Failure to receive some form of reciprocation for my efforts led to bouts of resentment and ultimately rebellion. You see, this was a symptom of a much bigger issue. Even though I claimed to know Jesus it wasn’t until recently that I chose to make Him central in my life. To rest in him and know that regardless of anything else my identity is sealed in Him and his never-failing love for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect by any means. There is definitely a deeper comfort and emotional health knowing that at the end of the day my identity is secure in Him and not any earthly thing, including my marriage.
What exactly does it mean to establish an identity in Christ?
- It is so important to know and understand that God loves us and knows us more than we know ourselves. Psalm 139:13 “For you formed my inward parts and you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
- You are a masterpiece created by God. Ephesians 2:110 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Just two of many examples throughout the Bible that show us why establishing our identity in Christ is so important.
The Impact on Your Marriage
So how does this reflect in marriage? Loving our spouse (for men, loving your bride as Christ loved the church) is definitely important, but your spouse is NOT the replacement for your relationship with Christ. When we put our spouse or our children first that becomes idolatry. Not only is this sinful but these other people, relationships, and things that we are putting so high up on the totem pole are going to eventually let us down.
The praise that we feel we deserve for accomplishing a task at home may not be to our standards and it’s something we harbor, or maybe our spouse that we love more than anything in this world didn’t perform XYZ to our liking and we can't fathom why they would let us down because we wouldn’t do that to them in a million years.
Little seeds of resentment start to build up because it’s in our nature to keep score. Then, before we know it, arguments ensue and all of a sudden we’re confused, angry and hurt that this person we put above all else has let us down. Don’t get me wrong, our marital relationship should without question be the most important relationship we have on this earth, however our relationship with Christ should far supersede that.
Jesus MUST be the Source
Knowing that Christ loves us and loving Him more than anything else sets us up to not only have healthy and happy earthly relationships, but even more importantly, a fruitful Heavenly relationship.
Knowing who we are in Christ allows us to see our marriage with a kingdom minded perspective. Here are some next steps to apply to your daily walk with the Lord. Notice, these are about us as individuals first. Following these important disciplines, can help us live out God’s purpose for marriage…to reflect His image.
- Acknowledge and accept that you are nothing without God. In John 15:5, Jesus tells us, “without Me you can do nothing.” But later in verses 7-8 says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, so you will be My disciples.”
To be unified with our spouse, we must first be unified with our Heavenly Father. We are sinners, we fail, we mess up, and our sin nature will be part of our DNA as long as we are on this earth. This fact alone should not only compel us to abide with our Father, but to know that our spouse can’t fulfill the God-sized void that we all possess.
- Study and know who Jesus is. Do you know His character? Do you know His traits? Do you know what He says in His word that He will and will not do? Knowing these things allows us to be confident in our identity in Christ because we know who He is! John 10:10 tells us “that the enemy comes to “steal, kill, and destroy.” On the contrary, Jesus then tells us, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Be filled to the full in Jesus! Your spouse is incapable of doing this for you!
- Pray. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you, lead you and guide you daily. But then, be obedient to His leading. Pray for the Holy Spirit to show you how to love your spouse in the way he/she needs. Ephesians 5:18 “And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit.” John 14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”
But remember, as we’ve already said...Jesus must be your ultimate. Jesus must be your source for life, reassurance, unconditional love, and acceptance. Then and only then can you be confident in who you are in Jesus and love your spouse the way Jesus loves you.
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