Brennan Manning tells the following story:
A man walked into the doctor’s office and said, "Doctor, I have this awful headache that never leaves me. Could you give me something for it?"
"I will," said the doctor, "but I want to check a few things out first. Tell me, do you drink a lot of liquor?"
"Liquor?" said the man indignantly. "I never touch the filthy stuff."
"How about smoking?"
"I think smoking is disgusting. I’ve never in my life touched tobacco."
"I’m a bit embarrassed to ask this, but you know the way some men are-- do you do any running around at night?"
"Of course not. What do you take me for? I’m in bed every night by ten o’clock at the latest."
"Tell me," said the doctor, "the pain in the head you speak of, is it a sharp, shooting kind of pain?"
"Yes," said the man. "That’s it-- a sharp, shooting kind of pain.""Simple, my dear fellow! Your trouble is you have your halo on too tight. All we need to do is loosen it a bit."
Manning follows up the story with this statement: The trouble with our ideals is that if we live up to all of them, we become impossible to live with.
He's right, and Shelley and I have learned that nowhere is this more true than in the realm of marriage. When a person expects their spouse to be like Jesus, they eventually become angry, frustrated, and convinced that the majority of the problems in their marriage are due to their spouse not being committed or godly enough.
On the other hand, when a person accepts their spouse as a sinner loved by Jesus, they become understanding, affectionate, uncritical, honest about their own flaws, and joyful that they are loved by Jesus no matter what. They begin to realize that the sins of their past and their spouse's past have not only been forgiven by Jesus, but forgotten by him as well. They begin to realize that being a "godly example" does not mean striving to be better and avoid mistakes, but letting people see them repent and be forgiven when they make mistakes.
Two theological terms are important for us to understand at this point:
Justification is the act of being declared righteous by God. We are justified by believing the Gospel (the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead).
Sanctification is the process of growing in godliness and becoming more like Jesus.
But here's the question: If justification is obtained by believing the Gospel, how is sanctification obtained? If you answered "by obeying," or "by striving to live up to high ideals," then you might as well rip Colossians chapters 2 and 3 and all of Romans and Galatians out of your Bible.
The fact is, justification and sanctification are both obtained by believing the Gospel. Living by the Law is what made Saul an angry person. He was in conflct with Christians not because they were preaching Law and morality, but because they were preaching grace and he feared that their message would lead people into a life of moral laxity and disregard for obedience. As a result, he became "impossible to live with." People were in conflict with Jesus not because he was commanding people to be like Him, but because he accepted people who were not like Him-- and for that matter, who didn't even love Him.
How intimate is your marriage? Has the romance faded? Do you blame yourself and your spouse for things that happened years ago? Have you forgotten that Jesus has justified you and forgotten your sins? Have you placed such high ideals on your spouse that you find yourself constantly disappointed in him or her? Do you find yourself thinking that if only your spouse tried harder and obeyed more your marriage would be better? Have you forgotten that Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law on your behalf, and that "He who began a good work in you WILL carry it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus"?
If so, loosen your halo and believe the Gospel. Not only will you be a lot easier to live with, but you'll be amazed at how your romance will blossom.