black and white, people, couple

Marriage & Sex (Part 1): Thankfulness

Thankfulness is central to your Christian life. When you received Christ by grace alone through faith alone, the Holy Spirit was also given to you to produce the fruit of thankfulness in you and from you. Thankfulness is evidence of true faith. The thankfulness that the Spirit is producing in you will help you see and experience your marriage and sex differently. Discontent and criticism toward your spouse is cancer in marriage and the bedroom and the effective treatment is God’s grace and Spirit producing thankfulness where cancer once grew. If you realize that you deserve no good thing from God but only condemnation, that you have Christ the greatest of gifts, and that every good thing you have is a precious and generous gift from your heavenly Father, your gratitude for God’s grace will greatly influence how you perceive and experience His good gifts. You will begin to see your marriage and sex as lavish kindnesses from your heavenly Father who loves you. This will deepen your love for God and your spouse. Discontent and criticism never enhanced someone’s joy in marriage, they only ever worked to crack and break it apart. Thankfulness to God, on the other hand, has only ever enhanced someone’s joy in marriage.

Psalm 50:23 says, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.” Psalm 69:30 adds, “I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” We glorify and magnify our God when we are deeply grateful for our marriage and sex and enjoy both as lavish grace. This approach allows us to be resilient, patient, and content when marriage and sex don’t go as planned because we are still confident in the lavish gift of Christ. This approach also allows us to be overjoyed, thrilled, and so appreciative when marriage and sex are positive experiences because our awareness of our unworthiness and God’s kindness heightens our thankfulness and joy and motivates us to honor marriage even more (Heb. 13:4).

Heidelberg Catechism 86 asks, “Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works?” Apply that to marriage. God saved us by His sovereign grace alone. We contributed nothing. Why, then, must we serve our spouses selflessly? Why must we treat our spouses with kindness, gentleness, love, respect, and utmost care? Why must we selflessly give ourselves sexually to our spouses? The Heidelberg answers:

Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits, and He may be praised by us. Further, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ.

Do you see where the gospel leads you? When God gave you a new heart, when He cleansed you, when He put His Spirit in you, He began to renew you to be His image. God is restoring righteousness and holiness in you through sanctification by His Spirit. Why? So that your whole life, including your marriage and sexual expression in marriage, may show that you are ever so grateful to God for His gracious gospel benefits and good gifts and that you will constantly praise Him. But there’s more. Your good works, including how you actively love and serve your spouse, are assurance of the legitimacy of your faith. In other words, the more you selflessly love and serve your spouse the more assured you are that your faith in Christ is real, that you have true union with the Savior. This assurance gives us much comfort and joy. But there’s more. By our godly life, which certainly includes treating our spouse with the kindness and love of Christ, will display to the world the power of God in us. How you love and serve your spouse relates to you winning your neighbor for Christ.

I have been married to Kristina for over 16 years. I truly cherish her. She has been so good to me, and I am deeply grateful to God for her. I can see the kindness and goodness of God through her kindness and goodness. She is not simply a gift, but a lavish gift. And yet, sadly, ingratitude through the years has led me to sometimes think about and treat Kristina unfairly and unkindly. This ingratitude has caused trouble in our relationship. See, discontent has never arisen from my clear thinking about the gospel of God’s lavish grace; it has only ever arisen from my self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-regarding, and self-righteous heart. See the pattern? Self. The gospel frees us from ingratitude, fills us more and more with gratitude, and reorients our mind to think about and experience God’s good gifts differently, even reorients our actions to give ourselves to our marriage and sexual relationship differently, to experience marriage and sex more and more as God’s mercy, grace, kindness, and goodness toward us.

Every spouse is sinful and imperfect. Every spouse hurts and wounds. Every marriage is broken and needs redemption. Every sexual relationship is ultimately unfulfilling (only Christ can truly fulfill). But as a husband (and I think the principle here also applies to wives as well), I am greatly helped by God when I hear Him tell me, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 18:22). Kristina is a good thing for me, in fact, one of the best of things. I am receiving the favor of God through her. As a Christian husband, thankfulness for my wife expressed in my prayers and how I treat my wife is an important expression of my true faith in Christ.

Are discontent and criticism toward your spouse creating problems in your marriage and in your bedroom? Have you been unfair and unkind? Have you been expecting your marriage and sex to be for you what only Christ can be? God has heart-transforming grace for you. His gospel grace is gently escorting you further and further into his gospel to delight in Christ more, and as you travel in to explore the storehouse of the riches of God’s grace in Christ more and more, your gratitude for God’s good gifts is deepening, becoming more manifest in your thinking about and experiencing your spouse. The Spirit can grow gratitude where the cancer of discontent and criticism once grew. Look to Christ and trust him to fill your heart with gratitude because, though He didn’t have to, God graciously gave you a spouse, a friend, a lover. Receive your spouse as a good gift from your heavenly Father to the glory and praise of your Father.

About the author

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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