How do you act when your spouse sins against you? Sarcasm? Yelling? Cold shoulder? Passive-aggressive behavior? Withholding affection? If we’re honest, we don’t always respond to our spouse’s sin against us with humility, patience, understanding, and forgiveness.
I think the best thing a couple can do when they sin against one another is to face the offense together with great self-awareness, humility, and confidence in the gospel allowing Christ to mediate the problem; Christ should be the one who helps a couple reconcile.
Every husband and wife will experience pain from one another’s sin. It’s inevitable. And I don’t think a married couple can work through their sin effectively without Christ acting as their Mediator. And a couple will struggle to submit to Christ’s mediation in marriage if they don’t understand his role of mediation between them and the Father. In other words, a couple will not possess the necessary mindset to work through their mutual sin in marriage without the confidence that they have a Mediator between them and God. A person must be reconciled to God before they can effectively pursue true reconciliation with their spouse. As Christ acts as their Mediator before God, Christ will also act as the Mediator in their relationship, and that’s vital to working through the hurt of sin and forgiveness. Husbands and wives need to have confidence in the gospel, confidence that Christ is their Mediator before God.
Assume for a moment that you don’t know that Christ is the only Mediator. The Mediator must be a true and righteous man and true God. Without both natures, the Mediator couldn’t truly mediate. So why must the Mediator be a true and righteous man? That’s what Heidelberg 16 effectively addresses. It answers:
He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner cannot pay for others.
That’s an excellent point. In order for us to be reconciled to God—which is important for our reconciling with our spouse after they sin against us or we sin against them—we need a Mediator who is human like us. Why is that necessary? Simple. Human beings sinned, so a human being must pay for sin. But you can’t pay your sin debt nor can your spouse pay it for you. Why? Because you and your spouse are morally corrupt or sinful. An infinite debt to God cannot be paid off by a sinner who daily increases their debt (HC 13). So, the Mediator cannot be merely human. He must be an entirely righteous human being. For the Mediator to reconcile sinners to God, he must be himself without sin. He must be morally impeccable. One problem in marriage is a couple trying to right their wrongs apart from Jesus’ mediation and grace.
However, the Mediator cannot be a mere true and righteous man. If the Mediator is going to bear the burden of God’s infinite and just wrath for you, he must possess the power to bear it. A mere human would be crushed by God’s wrath. So, the Mediator must be true God as well. Heidelberg 17 asks, “Why must He at the same time be true God?” Answer:
He must be true God so that by the power of His divine nature He might bear in His human nature the burden of God’s wrath and might obtain for us and restore to us righteousness and life.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus sweated drops of blood, his divine nature and strength were upholding his human nature as he bore in his body and soul the wrath of God for you (HC 11, 37). As God, he also needed to raise himself from the dead by his own power. So, the Mediator is triumphant over death and powerful enough, as God, to restore to a believing husband and wife righteousness and life. The hope of a couple is that the Mediator can pay their sin debt in full and restore to them righteousness and life. When a couple is working through sin against each other, they need to know their sin debt has been paid in full by Jesus, and that Jesus is committed to restoring in them righteousness and life.
So, who is the Mediator that can stand between husband and wife to help them work through their sin in marriage? As good, necessary, and helpful as Biblical marriage counselors are (I encourage couples to seek them out), only one Mediator is truly apt to help a hurting husband and wife reconcile after sin: the Lord Jesus Christ. Heidelberg 18 teaches this Biblical truth:
But who is that Mediator who at the same time is true God and a true and righteous man? Our Lord Jesus Christ whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.
This truth is immensely helpful to married couples working through one another’s sins. Sin is painful and hurts. Sin causes division. Sin sours marriage. Who can sustain and prosper a marriage despite sin? Jesus Christ who is a true and righteous man and like us and who is also true God and unlike us. In his human nature, he identifies with us; in his divine nature, he sustains us.
When a husband and a wife sin against one another, they need the confidence of knowing they are reconciled to God. Knowing this creates a safe space to work through differences, difficulties, and depravities. Having Jesus as Mediator puts humility, peace, comfort, assurance, strength, endurance, joy, etc. into their hearts and positions a couple to best address sin and forgiveness in marriage.
As a couple reconciled to God, Jesus becomes that couple’s wisdom in how to relate to one another and the world around them. Only when a husband and a wife are reconciled to God can they receive the gracious wisdom of Christ through faith. Couples need wisdom to know how to reconcile to one another after sin, and Jesus becomes that wisdom, that pathway.
Jesus is the righteousness of believers, and by his Spirit, he is also the One who motivates husbands and wives to repent in order to live a more righteous life inside and outside their marriage. Righteous living in a marriage is the sweet fruit of true faith (HC 64, 86).
Jesus is the sanctification of believers. In him, believers are not only consecrated to God, they are empowered by Christ’s Spirit to be conformed more and more to Christ himself. That is very relevant to believing couples working through their sin together. They should deal with sin in marriage with the belief that Christ’s Spirit is actively conforming them more and more to Christ. It’s a hope-inducing process that continues “till death do us part.” A Christian couple should expect their spouse’s ongoing struggle with sin as they should God’s faithfulness to continue to sanctify their spouse and grow them in holiness.
Jesus is the redemption of believers. Jesus is the promise that we, body and soul, will be entirely rescued in the end from the devastation of sin and death. We are free and belong to God now; we will be delivered in the end as well. Our redemption means we are married to our sister or our brother in Christ. Jesus changes how we see our spouse and how we relate to our spouse after they sin against us.
It’s imperative for a Christian couple to know the daily relevance of the gospel. In the gospel, God extends to us His provided Mediator, His only Son. His Son is His gift to us, not only to save us from our sin and misery but to help us relate to our spouse after they sin against us. Heidelberg 19 says this:
From where do you know this? From the holy gospel which God Himself first revealed in Paradise. Later, He had it proclaimed by the patriarchs and prophets and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law. Finally, He had it fulfilled through His only Son.
The gospel unfolds throughout the story of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, and the centerpiece of that redemptive story is Jesus Christ the Mediator. The more a couple understands Christ’s centrality and supremacy in the redemptive story, the more they will understand how he can help them reconcile to one another after sin strikes again.
The gospel provides Christian couples with great hope because the gospel promises a Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, who stands between a couple, grabs them by his grace, and pulls them to himself and into a group hug.
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.