Keeping Faith With God And Your Marriage Partner
(How to Guard Yourself in Your Spirit)

 By Kim Butts

    The sanctity of marriage is under attack! Sadly, a significant reason is that the world living outside of Jesus Christ sees nothing different in Christian marriages than in secular ones. The divorce rate is equally dismal for both groups. Some reports indicate as high as 50%. Christians complain about the failure of marriages in this nation; however, we do not seem to know how to safeguard, heal, or restore our own marriages. How can we even consider having any credibility to offer hope to marriages outside of Christianity unless Jesus has complete Lordship in our marriages?

    In the Old Testament, Malachi declared to the people of Israel that the Lord was displeased and was not hearing and answering their prayers for two specific reasons: they were breaking faith with God by marrying outside of their faith and they were breaking faith with their spouses through divorce, adultery, etc.

Breaking Faith With God

    Let’s examine the first issue. In Malachi 2:10-12 we read, "Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god. As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD cut him off from the tents of Jacob – even though he brings offerings to the LORD Almighty."

    The Lord had made very clear that His covenant people were not to marry those who worshiped other gods and bowed down before idols. He knew that if they did so, their faith and beliefs would eventually be compromised: "Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you" (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). This is exactly what happened over and over again, as fleshly desires won out over Scriptural commands. Perhaps the Israelites believed, as many Christians do today, that they could change their pagan spouses, and win them to the Lord.

    We all know Christians who determined that their faith was strong enough to withstand dating or even marrying an unbeliever. Yet, God is still adamant that we do not do so. In your zeal to win an unbeliever to whom you have given your heart, you may end up embracing his or her beliefs or even unbelief instead. The apostle Paul faced this with the Corinthian believers who struggled with sexual immorality and false teachings. Such behavior and teachings threatened to disrupt and lead believers away from their faith.

    Out of concern for this troubling state of affairs, he stated, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial (a Hebrew term referring to Satan)? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people’" (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).

    Christians should always carefully choose a spouse who loves the Lord and is committed to being His obedient servant. This is not a guarantee that a marriage will not fail; however, if both spouses desire to keep faith with God, they will be less likely to break faith with one another.

Breaking Faith With Our Spouse

    In Malachi 2:13-16 we come across the second issue that the prophet was emphasizing – that of breaking faith with a spouse: "Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because He no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith."

    It appears that in this day and age, Christians cast off (break faith with) spouses as easily and often as unbelievers. Marriage is not held up as the holy, sanctified union that God intended for it to be. Instead, Christians have tended to embrace the easy-come, easy-go mindset of our worldly culture. Extramarital affairs are rampant – even among clergy. When things get a bit rocky, or when the romance seems to have worn off, spouses look elsewhere, or call it quits. It appears to be too much effort to "do whatever it takes" to keep a marriage together. Yet, the Lord clearly says, "I hate divorce." If our desire as Christians is to be obedient to the Father by maintaining godly marriage relationships, then we are breaking faith with one another at an alarming rate; and, as we do, we are expecting God to continue to hear and answer our prayers, and pour out His blessings on us. What arrogance!

Biblical Instruction for Marriage

    We must never assume that because two Christians marry they have the tools needed to grow a healthy, stable marriage. They must know what God has to say to them, what His expectations and requirements are, and then obediently live their lives in such a way that He is honored and glorified in and through their marriages! Here are several examples of biblical instruction on marriage: "The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called "woman" for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:23-24).

    "‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God "made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’" (Mark 10:5-9). "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral" (Hebrews 13:4).

    "Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control…To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife" (1 Corinthians 7:1-5,10-11).

    Christian couples with strong, vibrant marriages should be mentoring engaged or newly married couples. We tend to keep wonderful blessings to ourselves rather than to share what God has done and is doing in our lives. Couples should be taught to pray together, worship together, be obedient in giving and serving together, and to utilize the gifts God has given them. We must first be fully obedient to Christ in our individual lives so that this obedience will flow into our marriages. When we are faithful to Christ, we will be faithful to our spouses.

Ways to Guard Yourself in Your Spirit
(So that You Do Not Break Faith)

    The Lord commands us to guard ourselves in our spirits so that we do not break faith with Him: "…So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith" (Malachi 2:16). He also commands us to guard ourselves in our spirits so that we do not break faith with our spouses: "…So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife (husband) of your youth" (Malachi 2:15). In the Bible, there are many instructions to teach us how to guard ourselves in our spirits. Please take time to study these together as a couple. Seek the Lord in prayer together asking Him to show you how to apply these to your individual lives and to your marriage.

     •  ASK THE LORD TO GRANT YOU A WILLING SPIRIT.

    "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" (Psalm 51:12). A person who has a willing spirit is enthusiastic, ready and prepared. You will be enthusiastic to do the will of God, and to carry out His plans and purposes for an obedient life of service. You will be ready, because you have prepared yourself by studying the word of God and seeking after Him in prayer. Sometimes, even though you have the best intentions, the enemy will throw temptations at you to trip you up – especially in the area of your marriage. Satan hates marriage…isn’t that obvious by the startling statistics of divorce and unfaithfulness?

    It is so important to guard against temptation, but when it comes, you must have a willing spirit, functioning under the control of God, so that you can strive against your human weakness. Jesus knew that the disciples would be tempted to be unfaithful in the midst of threatening circumstances, which is why He said to them, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38). You must guard against the temptations that will assault your faith and your marriage by being watchful and prayerful. Ask the Lord to give you a willing spirit to sustain you so that you will not break faith.

     •  ASK THE LORD FOR A NEW SPIRIT (CONTROLLED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT).

    God purposed to put a new spirit in us. "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them…" (Ezekiel 11:19a). A new spirit is one that is undivided. It is the kind of spirit that focuses on the Lord completely and exclusively. It is the kind of spirit that honors marriage and is determined to keep that relationship unbroken and whole. When you allow the Lord to do a spiritual and moral transformation within you, it will result in commitment to the Lord and His will.

    It is important to remember that this change is brought about by God through the power of His Spirit. "And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws" (Ezekiel 36:27). In Ezekiel 18:31, the Lord commands His people to "Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit…" When the Lord requires something of His people, He will always provide the way to do it. It appears that the steps the Lord is asking us to take are the following:

    1. Recognize sin and in complete honesty before God, repent of it. "Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit" (Psalm 32:2). "The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being" (Proverbs 20:27).

    2. Claim the promise the Lord has made to give you a new heart and a new spirit and prayerfully ask Him for it. (See Ezekiel 11:19a above.)

    3. Receive this new spirit by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform your mind and heart. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2). "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

    4. Recognize the fact that you are now able to follow the Lord wholeheartedly because your spirit is controlled by the Holy Spirit. "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Romans 8:9).

    5. Now that you are able, act upon the new spirit you have been given as a child of God! Do not live in fear. Be faithful to the Lord and to your spouse. "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children" (Romans 8:15-16).

    We cannot expect the world to truly understand God’s intent for marriage. "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). However, we should expect ourselves, as Christians, to uphold the standard the Lord has set for us. "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us" (1 Corinthians 2:12).

    For example, when a Christian husband gets angry with his wife, he should not threaten to divorce her. He should not physically or mentally abuse her. Nor should he go looking for another woman to console him. Yet, Christian brothers and sisters…these things still take place in the Church. It is not enough to have religious head knowledge. "Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). We must have our spirits transformed by the Holy Spirit so that Christian marriage can be held up as a desirable example to those outside of Christ. The world must begin to see that "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD" (Proverbs 18:22).

    However, the world must also see that Christian marriages are honored, and the marriage bed is kept pure (Hebrews 13:4a). Guard yourself in your spirit by asking the Father for a new spirit…one controlled by the Holy Spirit. A Spirit-controlled spirit will keep you from breaking faith with the Lord and with your spouse.

     ASK THE LORD FOR A HUMBLE, BROKEN SPIRIT.

    "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17). The sacrifice of humility pleases the Lord. Pride stands in the way of our relationship with the Lord and with our spouse. Pride can separate us from God, and deeply damage the person we have committed to honor and cherish. In marriage, pride can devastate trust and alienate us from one another. It can keep us from apologizing when we have hurt one another and hold on to anger or bitterness rather than expressing love and forgiveness. Here are some clear teachings that the Father has given us about pride:

    "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).

    "Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud" (Proverbs 16:19).

    "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1b).

    "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud" (1 Corinthians 13:4).

    "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).

    If pride is harming your marriage, ask the Father to replace your pride with a humble, broken spirit: "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2b). Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers, came face to face with the damage his pride had done to his marriage as he listened to one of the speakers at a Promise Keeper’s event. The speaker said, "The true value of a man’s life can be seen in his wife’s face." McCartney was the highly successful head football coach for the University of Colorado, who had brought the team from obscurity to prominence. Yet, he had been so caught up in the pride of his accomplishments and success that he had failed to see his wife’s face. This is what he saw, when he took time to really look: "My wife was in so much pain. I became convicted that I was not doing everything I could to bring my wife to splendor in Jesus Christ."

    So, in the midst of a sterling career, he walked away from the success of the world to embrace the success of a restored marriage. He humbled himself before God, confessing his sin. He humbled himself before the world, by doing what those outside of Christ cannot fully understand. And he humbled himself before his wife, asking for forgiveness and committing to see his success as a husband upon her face. This is the kind of humility that only comes from a contrite and lowly spirit. "A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor" (Proverbs 29:23). Guard yourself in your spirit by seeking after humility. A humble spirit will keep you from breaking faith with the Lord and with your spouse.

     ASK THE LORD FOR A STEADFAST SPIRIT.

    Christians are uniquely prepared for faithfulness because the Lord Himself is faithful. "For the word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does" (Psalm 33:4). "The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made" (Psalm 145:13b). Unbelievers do not have this foundational truth, and therefore, the concept of faithfulness in marriage is dependent only upon their own ideas and perceptions. When the culture says to get out of a relationship at the first signs of trouble, or because you meet someone you seem to be more "compatible" with, it is no wonder the divorce rate is so high. When the world merely blinks at extramarital affairs, or is no longer shocked or offended by them, it is no wonder that there is such a high rate of unfaithfulness in marriage.

    So, if Christians, as stated above, are uniquely prepared for faithfulness because of the faithfulness of God, why is there so much divorce and unfaithfulness in Christian marriages? The frightening answer lies in the fact that they do not understand the faithfulness of God, which precludes being faithful to God. We must then be faithful to God before we can truly be faithful to our marriage partner. Breaking faith with our marriage partners is sin! "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word has no place in our lives" (1 John 1:8-10).

    The Church must be about discipling and preparing couples for lifelong commitment rather than settling for damage control when they come apart. Christ’s Church is all about faithfulness, yet the world sees unfaithfulness even among the clergy and those in leadership positions. We have become like the stubborn and rebellious generation described in Psalm 78:8b, "whose hearts were not loyal to God, and whose spirits were not faithful to Him." We must guard the spirit of faithfulness! "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26). The spirit of faith requires action on our part! Keeping faith is not breaking faith. "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). A steadfast spirit is a spirit that does not break faith with God or with a spouse. The Lord has some wonderful promises to Christians who are faithful:

    "To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless…" (2 Samuel 22:26).

    "For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake His faithful ones" (Psalm 37:28).

    "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

    "But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one" (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

    "So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith" (Malachi 2:16).

    If you would like to read more articles by Kim Butts, please visit www.harvestprayer.com.