Law and Gospel and Grouchiness in Marriage

I returned home from a conference this week. I left careful instructions for my family—mail two letters that needed to go out immediately, eat up the food in the fridge, don’t watch copious amounts of TV, and attempt to keep the house picked up.

The letters did get mailed out, food sort of got eaten up (“But Burger King had $1.49 nuggets, Mom!”), the house kind of got picked up, and I’m pretty sure there was some confusion as to whether the Xbox qualified as actual TV. My husband’s version of tidy, fed, and nurtured is slightly different than mine.

My homecoming wasn’t what I had in mind. I went to bed angry, turning my back to my husband and making loud huffing noises, just in case he was unclear about my feelings on the subject. The loud old Adam voice in my head shouted at the top of his lungs, “You are giving this your all, your time, your energy, your love and affection, and what is he giving? 10 percent? Not even! He is just not getting it. He doesn’t consider my feelings.”

As wrong and terrible as my inner monologue sounds, with all the assumptions and blame and reactivity, this is our earthly reality in this temporal world. Both my husband and I fight the old Adam in us every day. We are two sinners, married, in one home. I’m married to a stand-up guy who honors Jesus, constantly does consider my needs, and plays wholeheartedly with our children.

Our marriage really is quite remarkable, and still old Adam the complainer, the spoiler, the restless one, the finger-pointer comes knocking on our door. It’s our nature, pure and simple.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15, 19–20, 24)

Yikes! It’s true. Marriage is not only work, very good work, but it is also the reality of Law and Gospel playing out before my eyes. Mostly I’m applying the Law where there should be Gospel. The Law alone never motivated anyone. Anyone. It may appear to motivate for a time, but this is the devil’s fake facade, a screen hiding the truth. Without the hope of the Gospel, the Law begins to eat at the person, killing the joy in marriage, hurting the relationship, keeping reconciliation at bay and forgiveness in an ice chamber.

The Law applied to motivate in marriage leads to death. It slowly prickles and smothers my beautiful husband’s soul. Every time I think it will work—“maybe he’ll listen to me more now, he’ll do what I want, and our life will be so much better because I know best”—it doesn’t work, no one listens more, no one’s life improves, and we grow further apart, the ice fields we need to cross to share forgiveness and restoration growing wider.

That is not the marriage I want to live in, and it certainly wasn’t the one Christ Jesus intended for me or my spouse. Look at the conclusion to the apostle Paul’s thoughts above in Romans:

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 7:25–8:2)

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ indeed! He has rescued us from this cycle of Law with no Gospel! He came down from heaven, placed our sin on the cross, died in our place, laid it in the tomb with Him, and rose in glorious resurrection on Easter Day . . . for your marriage! For my marriage. He has rescued us from ourselves, from the world, and from the devil’s voice raging in our heads to layer on the Law nice and thick to motivate our spouses to listen.

The Gospel is what motivates. Jesus alive in me, speaking to my husband, encouraging him. Him responding, someone saying the wrong thing, someone getting angry . . . Jesus’ grace and forgiveness pouring back and forth between the two of us . . . that motivates, that makes a better marriage, that improves the big things and the little things and everything in between.

It often takes time and energy. It takes a lot of prayer and even some creativity. We have the Spirit of Life, Romans tells us. Life, not death, to help us find when we have applied the Law where Gospel was intended. We have forgiveness and LIFE in our marriages with Him at the center.

There are two practical ways I’m trying to be more conscious to this Law and Gospel difference in my marriage. Maybe we can work on this together.

I’m praying for God to help me see more ways to share the Gospel with my spouse. We can each pray that He would help daily drown my old Adam in my Baptism and rise up, bearing the hope of one redeemed in Christ, and LIVE in it through the Spirit of Life. Pray, pray, and pray some more. Please show me Your Gospel, Lord. Show me Your Gospel truth in Your Word and in my marriage.

Also, when there is a hubbub, an argument, something poking at your marriage, take twenty-four hours off from the topic. Take that time to come to a place where you can mutually share your vision for your family, your home, and life together. Let’s call this the Gospel break. It is nearly impossible to properly apply Law and Gospel when you are raging against the machine. Nowhere in Scripture did God ever proclaim a truth that everything in life must be taken care of immediately. After this Gospel break, come to the table and share your heart and ideas for your marriage and your home. Discuss what is going well and what is not, without finger-pointing and blame. Let Christ into all of it. Discover together what the Bible says about sharing and caring and living out the Law and Gospel together every day.

The Law will motivate, but only for a time, a passing glance. The Gospel gives life forever; it steers the heart and makes new what was old and stinky. Here’s to marriages made new every day by Jesus Christ, whose love conquers sin, death, and grouchiness each day.

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Heidi Goehmann

Heidi is a licensed clinical social worker and mental health provider, deaconess, writer, speaker, wife, mom, and advocate. She can always be found at, advocating and providing resources for mental health and genuine relationship. Heidi loves her family, sticky notes, Jesus, adventure, Star Wars, Star Trek, and new ideas . . . not necessarily in that order.

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