One of scripture’s most common metaphors for our life in Christ, our relationship with God, is that of marriage. For example, the prophets routinely refer to Israel’s running after foreign gods as spiritual adultery. And at the close of the grand redemption narrative, we witness the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride, the church. I want to explore some of the possible implications of that metaphor for our lives, especially pertaining to our intimacy with Christ and our lifestyle of evangelism.
One occasionally hears of a married couple who maintain separate bank accounts or something similar, but these are the exception to a well-established norm. By and large, those who are married understand thoroughly what it means to live an integrated life, because they have had to integrate another person—their spouse—into the whole of their lives.
I have been married for a little over eleven years now. I can assure you that little happens of any substance that I do not share with my wife, whether that means recounting stories from the day, discussing an upcoming decision, or soliciting much-needed advice. I bring my wife into every aspect of my life because of the union we share, because I want to cultivate—not hinder—the intimacy I know with her. I cannot imagine spending some time with her in the morning and evening, and then living the rest of my time in isolation from, and without regard to, her. If nothing else, she wouldn’t stand for it! I don’t have the “marriage” part of my life, and then the “other” part of my life, and the twain shall never meet. To critique one of my favorite characters in all of television, there should be no such division between Relationship George and Independent George: there should only be Integrated George.
Now, the intimacy I should know with Jesus is even greater than the intimacy I know with my wife, for one simple reason: my wife dwells alongside me, whereas he dwells within me through his Spirit. I could, if I wanted, hide from my wife; but I have no such luxury when it comes to my Lord (cf. Psalm 139:7-10).
Here’s the crucial point: if the intimacy is greater, so should the integration be! I fear that too often I can compartmentalize my life, spending the requisite time with Jesus in the morning and evening, but then pushing him out of mind during the rest of the day. (And I’m in vocational ministry: God help me if I were in a different vocation!) Instead, I should bring him into every aspect of my life, not simply rehearsing the day’s events in conversation before dinner (as I do with my wife), but in ongoing, lively, transformative conversation throughout the day. He is my all in all, and should be in all that I do. What a difference in my day it would make were I to turn to him unceasingly, crying out inwardly, “Yours alone! Your will be done!” Would to God it were so.
But what about evangelism? Where does this fit in to the discussion before us?
Let me ask you this, if you are married: how long into a conversation can you go without referencing your spouse? Some conversations might never get there, if, for instance, you are having a technical discussion about a work-related project. But other conversations along more informal lines move steadily in that direction, I find. It is unlikely that anyone could ask me how my weekend was without my mentioning my wife, to take just one clear example.
Nor do I have to strain to fit her into my conversation. I am not looking for potential segues into awkward inquiries about my interlocutor’s marital status. She just comes up because she is so much a part of my life. She features in so many answers to so many questions because I have tried to integrate my life and she is a key component.
In fact, only one component is more central: my relationship with Jesus. He is the integrating substance even. What did I do this weekend? I gathered with a group of men and women committed to following him so that we might encourage one another and exalt him. How do I get through tough, exhausting days? By trusting that his strength is made perfect in my weakness. What did I think of the movie? I thought it diagnosed humanity’s wretched selfishness and desperate longing for joy perfectly, but missed the cure. Why am I not angrier about getting passed over for the promotion? Because I find meaning in him, not in my work. How’s it going? Not so well, because I’ve shot my mouth off again; but thank God it doesn’t depend on my good deeds, or else I’d be in a world of trouble.
If I am living my life in Christ, by his Spirit, my conversation will turn naturally to my relationship with him because my life is centered on him. I will be able to answer few questions without reference to him because my whole life refers to him. By the grace of God, these unforced, honest answers will lead to further discussion wherein I can share the whole of the gospel with a person ready to hear it, a person who knows this really is the focal point and wellspring of my life.