A Marriage Made in Heidelberg (16): Three Things You Can Do to Improve Your Marriage

Sometimes marriage can seem overwhelming and complicated. We may ask ourselves sometimes, “Why isn’t my marriage working better?” It’s kind of like running. Some days you cruise along feeling energetic and invigorated. Other days your feet feel heavy, and you feel drained. What makes the difference? Well, maybe you’re dehydrated, or you’ve been eating junk, or maybe you’re just off. Marriage can be like that. However, there are some tweaks you can make to improve your marriage.

I love to run, and if I do three simple things—I struggle with all of them—I will feel much better when I run. One, I need to sleep. Eight hours for me makes a big difference. Two, I need to eat right. Eating healthy food gives me more energy. Three, I need to drink water. I’m frequently dehydrated when I run, and it decreases my stamina. I know these three disciplines will help me; the challenge is doing them.

I want to give you three simple things you can do to improve your marriage. You probably know you should do them, but maybe it’s time you got more serious about these three things. I promise you, if you devote yourself to them, your marriage will improve. By “improve” I mean your approach to your spouse will change. You will be more loving, patient, kind, and selfless toward your spouse when you do these three simple things.

Before I give you the three things, I want to give you the gospel because the gospel must be the foundation of your life and approach toward your spouse. Each of the three things depends on God’s grace and Spirit at work in your life; they overflow from faith. Without the gospel, to be candid, you won’t have the energy to improve in these three things. However, the more you depend on Christ, the more strength and joy you will have in doing what God calls you to do as a spouse.

Here’s the gospel. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. This means, as Heidelberg 31 explains, that he was ordained by God the Father and anointed with God the Holy Spirit to serve you. As the Christ, Jesus serves you as your Prophet to instruct you in the things of the Lord. Through his Word, mainly and most importantly through the preaching of your local church, Jesus tutors you on truth, the law, redemption, and what God desires for your life. As the Christ, Jesus serves you as your Priest. He has offered himself for you on the cross to assuage God’s judgment and reconcile you to God. He also daily intercedes for you. As the Christ, Jesus serves you as your valiant King. He governs you by His inspired and authoritative Word and Holy Spirit and defends you against your enemies—the flesh, the devil, and the world—and he powerfully preserves you in the redemption he achieved for you. This gospel is the basis for your strength, endurance, and joy in marriage. So, the three things I’m about to mention are entirely dependent on this gospel.

Okay, what three things can you do by God’s grace and Spirit that will improve your marriage? They are found in Heidelberg 32. Here’s what 32 says:

Why are you called a Christian? A. Because I am a member of Christ by faith and thus share in His anointing so that I may as prophet confess His Name, as priest present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him, and as king fight with a free and good conscience against sin and the devil in this life and hereafter reign with him eternally over all creatures.

This is a very important question and answer. A Christian is not a person who lives in the United States or a person who agrees that Jesus existed or even necessarily a follower of Jesus because some Muslims say they follow Jesus. Being a Christian begins with the gospel. Christians are those whom God graciously and sovereignly unites to His Son through faith. Christians are members of Christ and one another. They belong to Christ because Christ has taken them to be his own. Additionally, Christians are anointed with the Holy Spirit just like Jesus. They share in this anointing, and the Holy Spirit leads them to trust and obey Jesus and love and serve each other. This idea of the Spirit indwelling Christians is found in John 14:17; Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; and 2 Timothy 1:14. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit to live in Christians to daily grant them grace and power to do what God calls them to do in life and marriage, and His fruit is evident in their lives. Again, being a Christian and doing the three things depends on God’s grace and Spirit at work in you. Apart from Christ, you cannot do these three things (Jn. 15:5). You must be united to Christ. Here are the three things:

  1. You should confess the name of Jesus Christ in your marriage.

As Zacharias Ursinus explains, we must rightly know God and His will as revealed in Scripture. [1] Good theology helps you be a good spouse. Good theology is sought and developed in a good local church. And when you rightly know God and His will, you rightly confess Jesus Christ in your marriage so that he is celebrated. [2]

2. You should present yourself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to God in your marriage.

This is Romans 12:1 lived out in your marriage. Your daily act of worship is to die to self and to live to Christ. Every day you must put sin to death in your heart and life and put on Christ and godliness. How you treat your spouse ought to be a self-sacrificing expression of love, joy, and thankfulness to God. Does the way you treat your spouse communicate the truth, love, and joy of God to your spouse? This includes praying for, and hopefully with, your spouse. It will improve your marriage if you determinately seek to obey the 10 Commandments in your marriage for the blessing of your spouse. Even how you endure suffering for Christ is involved.   

3. You should fight against sin and the devil.

Ursinus said, “The kingly office of Christians is (1) to oppose and overcome, through faith, the devil, the world, and all enemies . . . [and] (2) obtain at length through the same faith, eternal life and glory.” [3] Paul talked about fighting the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). We must oppose all that is evil in our marriages. We must fight against evil, worldliness, ungodliness, and anything that undermines God’s law and gospel and threatens our marriage and spouse. Hopefully, you are fighting with your spouse and not against your spouse.

As the name suggests, Christians are to imitate Jesus Christ in part as prophets, priests, and kings. I think many marriages would be better if husbands and wives better understood who Christians truly are and how Christians truly live. Orient your understanding of who you are as a Christian around the function of prophet, priest, and king, and you’ll be better equipped to love and serve your spouse, and that, my friends, will improve your marriage or we could say improve your mindset and approach toward your marriage.   

[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), 337.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 339.

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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