A Marriage Made in Heidelberg (14): Your Spouse Cannot Save You

When I was single, especially in my twenties, I really wanted to get married. I grew up believing that dating was for the purpose of finding a spouse, and so I was on a quest to find a wife. My quest ended on August 7, 2004.

In some ways, I think I made marriage an idol. I still do. Don’t get me wrong, a spouse is a blessing from God, a wonderful gift from God to be thoroughly enjoyed. It is right and good to enjoy your spouse. However, your spouse is not the solution to your biggest problems. For example, to speak in terms that parallel the gospel, your spouse is not the savior who rescues you from the hell of loneliness, lust, sexual temptation, laziness, or childlessness. As good as marriage can be, it cannot satisfy your deepest longings, and whatever idols you refused to smash before marriage will remain intact and continue to distract you from God after marriage. In other words, marriage doesn’t smash idols, the Holy Spirit does by the gospel. If you think your spouse can deliver you from your misery or that marriage can define you, you will be thoroughly disappointed, distracted from God, and prone to put immense pressure on your spouse which isn’t good for your marriage. You can be married and still feel lonely, still struggle with sexual sin, still struggle financially, and remain childless. Marriage cannot be the savior you turn to for deliverance. In what ways might you be expecting your marriage to deliver you?

In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess, “I believe in . . . Jesus.” Those with true faith confess Jesus the Son of God. The name Jesus means savior. Marriage doesn’t mean savior. Your spouse is not and cannot be your savior, even if your husband’s literal name is Jesus (Spanish pronunciation). The Son of God incarnate was given the name Jesus because he is truly the only Savior. The angel visited Joseph in a dream and told him: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21). Jesus saves his people from their sins. Jesus is the Savior, not marriage and not your spouse. And as much as we may agree, if we pay attention to our hearts, we may notice ways we expect our spouse to save us.

Heidelberg 29 asks, “Why is the Son of God called ‘Jesus,’ that is, ‘Savior’?” It answers, “Because He saved us from all our sins, and because salvation is not to be sought or found in anyone else.” Dear fellow believer, Jesus the Son of God saved you from all your sins. He is your Savior, and he is your only Savior. Jesus doesn’t need your spouse’s help to save you. Your spouse can be a wonderful blessing to you and can encourage you in the Lord in significant ways, but your spouse does not assist Jesus in saving you in any way.

In what ways might you be looking to your spouse as a savior? You’re probably not thinking, “My spouse can shoulder my sins, pay off my debt, and get me to heaven.” But how might you expect your spouse to save you from certain troubles or discomforts? For example, maybe you are an insecure person like I am, prone to people-pleasing and hypersensitivity. You might expect your spouse to save you from your insecurity through their constant words of affirmation. You may count on their words to validate you. And when they encourage you, you feel uplifted and valuable. However, when they give you what you consider too few encouraging words, you feel as if your need isn’t being met, and you feel disappointed, uncertain, and unloved. See, you’re counting on your spouse to save you from your insecurity. Your spouse, however wonderful they are, is unable to save you from your insecurity. Only one can save you: Jesus. Jesus can rescue you from insecurity by deepening your understanding of the gospel by his Spirit and revealing to you more and more who he is and who you are in him. Jesus alone is sufficient to help you through insecurity. And folks, this is just one way we may seek salvation in our spouses.

Now consider how Heidelberg 30 applies to your marriage. It goes like this:

Do those believe in the only Savior Jesus who seek their salvation and well-being from saints, in themselves, or anywhere else? No. Though they boast of Him in words, they in fact deny the only Savior Jesus. For one of two things must be true: either Jesus is not a complete Savior or those who by true faith accept this Savior must find in Him all that is necessary for their salvation.

Now, understand, Heidelberg 30 is not referring to marriage. It’s addressing big problems within the Roman Catholic Church. In his commentary on 30, Zacharias Ursinus said:

This question is proposed on account of those who glory in the name of Jesus, and yet, at the same time, seek their salvation, either wholly or in part in some other place without him, in the merits of the saints, in the indulgences of the Pope, in their own offerings, works, fastings, prayers, alms, etc., as do the Papists, the Jesuits, and other hypocrites of a similar cast. [1]

That said, you and I still struggle with seeking our salvation and well-being from our spouses instead of Jesus. No, not likely salvation from our sin and guilt, but probably salvation from our struggles, disappointments, discomforts, etc. We can foolishly think that our well-being rests on our spouses. That thinking not only distracts us from Jesus, it also puts undue stress on our spouses and marriages. Jesus alone is sufficient for your deepest satisfaction and joy. You may boast in Jesus and then turn to your spouse expecting him or her to meet your deepest needs. In a sense, you daily struggle to see Jesus as a whole and sufficient Savior. In some ways, you probably expect your spouse to help Jesus save you. But you must know that Jesus is all that is necessary for your salvation.  

Please understand that I’m not saying that we shouldn’t go to our spouses for comfort, shouldn’t find joy in them, or that they aren’t helpful in our sanctification journey. Our spouses are an immense encouragement to us. God gave them to us to be close friends, confidants, encouragers, sexual partners, co-workers, accountability partners, co-parents, cheerleaders, admonishers, etc. What I am saying is that a spouse cannot meet your deepest needs. Only when your deepest needs are met in Jesus can you delight in your spouse in a way that glorifies God.

Your biggest problem in life and marriage is your sin. Only one can save you: Jesus. Jesus alone provides you with God’s powerful and sufficient grace and Spirit to rescue you fully and completely from your sin and misery. He is doing it now. His love and intimacy are better than marital love and intimacy and knowing him deeply will do more for you than marriage. In fact, the way to have a wonderful marriage is for you and your spouse to know Jesus deeply. But knowing Jesus is not the means to the glorious end of marriage. Knowing Jesus is the end, and the ultimate end of marriage is knowing Jesus. A healthy marriage will help you know and treasure Jesus the Son of God as your only Savior.

[1] Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, Trans. Rev. G. W. Williard, A. M. Electronic version Ed. Eric D. Bristley, TH.M. (2004), 320.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one-half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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