FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Conforming to His Image

with Gary Thomas | September 3, 2007
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What if God designed marriage to make us holy rather than happy? You'll want to join us today when Gary Thomas, author of "Sacred Marriage," tells how God uses marriage to conform us to His image.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What if God designed marriage to make us holy rather than happy? You'll want to join us today when Gary Thomas, author of "Sacred Marriage," tells how God uses marriage to conform us to His image.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

What if God designed marriage to make us holy rather than happy?

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Conforming to His Image

With Gary Thomas
September 03, 2007
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Bob: Okay, see if this makes sense – if you're married, God has put you together with an imperfect person, a person whose imperfections are designed to expose areas where you need to grow spiritually.  Here is Gary Thomas.

Gary: One of the keys as we have these self-revelations is that we learn to treasury our wife or our husband for providing that role rather than resenting it, which is so easy to do – resenting the fact that they're not absolutely perfect.  We learn to cherish their value as a brother or sister in Christ who is helping us see where we need to grow.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 3rd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Your marriage – is God more concerned with your happiness or with your holiness?  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  We're going to be talking about marriage this week, and I think that's appropriate because this weekend we kick off our fall season of FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  These are going to be hosted in cities all across the country this fall. 

 In fact, more than 60 events taking place between now and Christmas, and we want to encourage our listeners to attend one of these two-and-a-half-day weekend getaways for couples, and so we're doing something special for FamilyLife Today listeners this week and next week.

 We're giving you the opportunity to register for one of these upcoming conferences at a special rate.  You will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you call 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at and register either this week or next week.  This offer expires at midnight on September 16th, that's a Sunday.  So if you're planning to attend one of these upcoming conferences, and you'd like to save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, go to our website, and register on online, and if you do that you will come to a keycode box on the registration. 

 You need to type the word "Bob" in there in order to get the special offer, type the word "Bob" in the keycode box or just call 1-800-FLTODAY, and we've got folks available today to take your call at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Just mention that you'd like the special offer, and they will make arrangements to sign you up for the conference, and, again, you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.

 In addition, we're going to send you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's new book, which is called "Moments With You."  This is a 365-day devotional that's not even off the presses yet, but we'll make arrangements to get you a copy when you sign up for one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, and if you need more information about where the conference is being held, when it's coming to a city near where you live, you can find that online at or, again, you can call us today at 1-800-FLTODAY, and we can get you that information.

 And to registration, again, either go online at, fill out the registration form and make sure you type the word "Bob" in the keycode box in order to take advantage of this special rate for FamilyLife Today listeners, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, and we've got folks who are available to get you signed up.  Just mention that you'd like to take advantage of the special FamilyLife Today offer, and this expires Sunday night, September 16th at midnight.

 So make sure that you call or go online and register so that you can take advantage of this special offer.  Again, you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, and you'll get a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's brand new devotional for couples, which is called "Moments With You."

 Now, as I said, we're going to talk about marriage today, and I don't know if you remember this, Dennis, but a number of years ago, I was leading staff devotions here at FamilyLife, and I was talking about the issue of worship.  I had just finished ready a great book called "Sacred Pathways" by a guy named Gary Thomas, and so I was sharing what I had learned from this book about different ways in which people worship God – different worship styles, if you will, and all of them found in Scripture.

 And I remember when I got done, I had people coming up to me saying, "What was the name of that guy, what was the name of that book?" and it really resonated with a lot of folks, and several months later there was a copy of a book that appeared on my desk called "Sacred Marriage," again, by Gary Thomas.  And I looked it over, and I thought this is well-written, and it's profound, and it's something that we ought to talk about on FamilyLife Today. 

 And so you and I agreed we ought to invite Gary Thomas to join us and be a guest, but as it turns out, I've talked so long here at the beginning of the program that we're out of time and, Gary, sorry we can't get to you today.

Dennis: And we've decided to invite somebody else to be on the broadcast today.  Actually, welcome to the broadcast, Gary.

Gary: Thanks, Dennis.

Dennis: That's quite an introduction.  I've got to say to those listeners who have not read any of Gary's works, you are going to hear about him not only for the next couple of days on the broadcast, but I believe you're going to hear about him as a writer in the future.  He has a sharp pen, and just a few moments ago, off microphone, we were talking and, Gary, you mentioned that writing, for you, is like a worshipful experience.  I've never heard a writer describe his work as worship, but that's a great as well as a beautiful concept.

Gary: Well, one of my favorite movies has always been "Chariots of Fire," and there's that – what's become a cliché now when Eric Liddell says, "When I run I feel His pleasure."

 And it sounds a little funny saying that but, in many ways, I say when I write I feel His pleasure."  In fact, my wife caught me just last Thursday, I finished a deadline for the newest book, took Friday off to do some administrative details, and I was at my computer early Monday morning, and Lisa says, "What are you working on?"  And I had to sheepishly confess, "Well, the new idea that has come, and it's just – it's hard for me to stop sometimes, because I just see that sense of – this is what God has called me to do and what He's made me to be, and so –

Dennis: Well, we're thrilled you did it.  Gary is the founder of the Center for Evangelical Spiritually, and has written other books.  Bob mentioned one, "Sacred Pathways," also "Seeking the Face of God," "The Glorious Pursuit," and, really, if there's a verse that really could be the theme for all week long, it would be 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 15, and I don't know, Bob, that we've ever used this verse with a series on marriage, but this is really lifted from Gary's book.

 Paul writes, "And He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf."  You really believe, Gary, that marriage wasn't designed for our happiness but for something quite different.

Gary: That's right, the subtitle of the book is actually "What if God Designed Marriage to Make us Holy Even More Than to Make us Happy?"  Now, I don't believe that happiness and holiness are mutually exclusive.  In fact, I believe the opposite.  I think it's when we live obedient lives that we're going to have the happiest and joyful lives and, really, another verse that I think would be a theme for all this comes from Matthew, chapter 11, when Jesus says, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you as well."

 Of course, God wants us to be happy; of course, God wants us to have meaningful lives and fulfilling marriages, but He says to get there we have to have our priorities in the right order.  The first thing we should be seeking is the kingdom of God.  We make it our goal to please Him, to please God and His righteousness.  Our second concern is am I growing in holiness?  Am I growing in righteousness?  And when we do that all these other things will be added unto you as well.

 And that's the great irony; that once I had this attitude toward marriage that maybe God designed it for holiness even more than happiness, I became happier in my marriage than I'd ever been, and I think that's Jesus's words coming true.  I had to die to the expectations that no human being could possibly fulfill before I could really appreciate Lisa and understand all that God had given me through her, and I could learn to cherish and honor and respect her in all of these ways.

Bob: You know, Mary Ann and I had been married for just less than 10 years, and we were not involved with FamilyLife at that point.  We had a small group that was meeting from our church.  We got together every other week, and some friends of mine gave me a Homebuilders study that was being test-marketed.  So you remember when this was.  We didn't know each other, but FamilyLife was just starting to test-market these Homebuilder studies.

Dennis: Right.  After the flood, I think.

Bob: And, having a small group, they said, "Maybe you could use some of this material with your small group."  Well, as a matter of fact, we were getting ready to do something on marriage.  The group had said, "Let's do that," and so I thought, "Well, I'll use this Homebuilders book as one of the resources I use when I put together my notes for whatever we're going to talk about.

 And I remember going through on of the earliest Homebuilders and hitting on the principle that Gary's talking about, and it was one of those "sit back in your chair, push away from the desk" moments, where I just went, "I never thought about that."  I'd never thought about that.  I never thought about the fact that my marriage was not primarily for my contentment and my happiness, but it was primarily about the glory of God.

 It's what we talk about at the FamilyLife Marriage Conference when we say on Saturday morning – that the first purpose of marriage is to mirror God's image.  All of a sudden, marriage took on a whole new understanding and perspective and made things different as a result.

Dennis: That's right, and that transcendent view of marriage lifts us out of the mundane and anchors us back to the one who designed it in the first place, and if you don't have a transcendent view of why God created marriage, your marriage is going to sink to this low, low lever.

Gary: Well, I remember the night that Lisa and I got engaged, and it was, for us, a particularly holy time.  There was this sense of awe and wonder at what God had given us and what God had done, and this co-mingling of souls – I'd never felt that intensity quite like that before.

 And we prayed, as many young Christian couples will – "God take us wherever you want us to go, do with us whatever you want us to do.  Our goal in life is to serve You and to build Your kingdom – "To seek first the kingdom of God."

 Well, fast-forward 10 years, we're in a townhouse in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.  I'm working for a Christian ministry making about what you'd expect somebody who works for a Christian ministry to make, and we had two small kids at the time, and Friday nights had sort of become – the routine was often a hot night of doing laundry or watching a movie from Blockbuster or something – not every Friday night but many of them.

 So there is this one Friday night, the kids were going to be in bed, we knew we had some laundry to do, and I was going to go out there door, and I stopped and asked Lisa, "Lisa, what do you feel like watching tonight?"  And she said, "How about a nice, romantic comedy?"  And I just cringed.  The last three movies we had seen were romantic comedies, and I felt like if I had to spend another two hours watching an impossibly beautiful couple meet under incredibly improbably circumstances, throw caution to the wind and fall head over heels in love, I just thought I'd die.  I mean, you know what's going to happen.

 You see the best-looking people, they get together, fall in love, have a fight, fall back in love again, and that's the movie.

Dennis: Right.

Gary: So I turned to Lisa, and I said, "I've got to be honest with you, honey, I need to see at least one building blow up and three cars crash …


 … and if I can get some romance in that, I'll see what I can do.

Dennis: Our engineer out here, Keith Lynch, is giving two thumbs up to the blow up the cars and the crashes and everything.

Gary: So I gathered my car keys, I took one step out the door, it was night, and I remember, there on my steps thinking, "When did God change the world through us?  Take us wherever you want us to go, do with us whatever you want to do?  When did that turn itself into, "All right, is it going to be Julia Roberts or Arnold Schwarzenegger tonight?"

 There were no neon signs that said, "This is the direction you're headed."  There were no signposts saying, "Turn left to go this direction."  It was just, "This is what it's like serving the Lord, meeting a mortgage, raising kids, this is what happens.  And I think the transcendent truth that you're talking about will change our attitudes as we face that. 

 Another time in my marriage, we hadn't been married that long, and one of the issues that kept cropping up with Lisa and I had to do with ice cube trays.  Now, the family I grew up in, if you got out an ice cube, you filled up the tray, and you put it back in the freezer so the next person would have a nice, full tray of ice cubes, and I'm convinced that's the biblical way to handle yourself in the kitchen.

 Unfortunately, my wife grew up in a family that would run that thing down to an ice chip.  As long as there was anything you could scrape off with a knife, you weren't morally obligated to refill the tray and put it back there.  And so even though I'm from Seattle, I'm not a big coffee fan, but I'm serious about my Pepsi, and I like it cold.

 So I'd pull out this tray, and one little ice chip would pop out, and I'd get so frustrated about these ice cube trays, and I would share it with Lisa, and she would try to change but, you know, lifelong habits can be impossible to break.

 So one night she was speaking romantically to me, and she said, "Gary, I'm going to love you forever."  And I remember telling her, "Lisa, I don't need you to love me forever.  I need you to love me for seven seconds."  She said, "What are you talking about."  I said, "Well, I timed how long it takes to fill the ice cube trays and then put them in the freezer" …

Bob: You are Mr. Romance.  That moment of passion was gone, wasn't it?


Gary: Well, here's the thing, and this is a dangerous thing for husbands to do.  I was praying the next morning, and the question came to me, and it dawned on me, if it only takes her seven seconds to fill the ice cube trays, how long does it take me?  Well, seven seconds.  And the question I had to grapple with was this – is it possible I could be so shallow, so spiritually immature and so selfish that I would honestly resent the fact that here is this woman who had committed her life to me, who would ultimately bear me three children, occasionally put me out for seven seconds once or twice a week.  And I had to admit, "Yes, I am that shallow.  I can be that selfish," and it really changed my view.

 Instead of looking at those little annoyances of marriage that can just begin to fester and cause all kinds of relational poison and toxins, I began to look at it – you know what?  This is one of the reasons God made marriage – to reveal to us our sin.  To show us, "You know what?  You might not be as mature as you thought you were."  You were kind of hiding, and you're able to do that sometimes, as a single.  If I got in a difficult relationship, I could just have a different roommate or something, but there was something about this almost enforced intimacy of marriage that forced me to look at my life in a way that I never had before.

Bob: I heard someone say recently, Dennis, that – this is kind of a paraphrase, but she was saying, "People have said to me I was never impatient until I got married.  And after I got married, I started to be impatient."  And her response was "You were always impatient."  She said, "You just never had circumstances provoke it in you the way marriage does."

 And the truth is, that's a part of God's plan for the marriage relationship, to be a part of our sanctifying process.

Dennis: One of the principles that Gary talks about in his book is that marriage is a signpost pointing to the very existence of God in all of time and space, and the very thing we're talking about here – I spent the first part of my first 18 months of marriage to Barbara realizing how selfish I really had been as a single person, and it pointed out my need for redemption, my need for forgiveness.

 And it's just like you illustrated, Bob, I needed it all along, but it wasn't until it was this relationship up close and personal, which revealed all my ugliness that I realized how desperately I needed a Savior after all.  Marriage is, indeed, a signpost, isn't it, Gary?

Gary: It is, and I think one of the keys, as we have these self-revelations is that we learn to treasury our wife or our husband for providing that role, rather than resenting it, which is so easy to do – resenting the fact that they're not absolutely perfect.

 We learn to cherish their value as a brother or sister in Christ who is helping us see where we need to grow.

Bob: You know, for a lot of folks listening, they hear about your seven-second ice cube tray challenge in your marriage, and they go, "I wish I lived in a world where my biggest challenge" …

Dennis: … was seven seconds.

Bob: Yeah, was an ice cube tray.

Dennis: It's seven days or seven weeks.

Gary: Well, let me say first I would be grossly overstating things if I said our biggest issues were ice cube trays.  That was one principle, and I don't want anybody to think that we have had this ideal marriage where we haven't had substantive issues to deal with, and I think that will come through later this week as we talk.

 But one of the purposes, again, when we talk later about the covenant of marriage, you know, we don't get in front of a church and promise before God and promise before our friends and our family, that we will feed ourselves three times a day for the rest of our lives.  Why don't we do that?

 Well, we know we're going to do that.  It's easy to do that.  We want to do that.  The reason we have marital commitments and covenants is because it presupposes that it's difficult, that it's not always easy and, in fact, in every marriage there are going to be times when a couple is going to have to choose, "Will we stay married?" 

 And I'm not just talking about divorce, although, certainly, that is part of it, but I'm talking about staying married in the sense of will we continue to fall toward each other, will we continue to move toward each other, will we continue to act married?  And every marriage is going to face those times.

 The value of this approach, looking at maybe God designing marriage to make us holy even more than happy, and where it gives us, I think, some added mileage to our commitment, is that it gives us that overall purpose, knowing that even if I have a spouse who isn't cooperating, God is using this difficult marriage to shape me in such a way that I can fulfill His purposes for me in my life; that God is using this difficult marriage to make me into the type of person He wants me to be and to prepare me for the work He has.

Dennis: And, Gary, as you were talking, I couldn't help but think and wonder about how many people have quit one lap too soon, and they've missed what God was up to in their lives simply because they didn't hang in there. 

 Just a couple of thoughts in wrapping up today – first of all, we need to trust the God who does know what He's doing when He brought His spouse and us together.  God is the giver of good gifts, and He is completing you with a spouse who has weaknesses, and those weaknesses have a divine design in your life, and God can be trusted.

 And then, secondly, I think what you talk about in your book, "Sacred Marriage," provides a clear reminder that we need a transcendent view that marriage is not man's institution created by man and made in his image but is an institution created by God for the purpose of reflecting God's image, and we need to keep that transcendent view before us as we handle the ups and downs of a marriage that goes a lifetime.

Bob: I don't know how many of our listeners do this.  I have a friend, he and his wife take one day a week, and they get together and, over lunch, they will read to each other a chapter from a book.  He reads one week, she reads the next week.  This would be the kind of book that any husband and wife would benefit from reading through together, because it will help them understand what they're all about in marriage more profoundly than they have before.

Dennis: The only thing I would say is you're probably not going to read a whole chapter.  You're going to read a half chapter, and then you're going to start talking, because the way Gary writes, well, he's going to spark some creative conversation that I believe is going to take you not only deeper in your love for one another but, most importantly, deeper, I believe, in your love for Jesus Christ.

Bob: We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, again, the title is "Sacred Marriage," and if you'd like to receive a copy, you can go online at, click the red button that you see that says "Go" in the middle of the page, and that will take you to an area of the site where you can get more information about Gary's book, or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and ask, again, about the book, "Sacred Marriage," and we'll make arrangements to get a copy sent out to you.

 And don't forget when you go online or when you get in touch with us to take advantage of the special opportunity you have this week to register for one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  We're going to be holding more than 60 of these conferences in cities all across the country this fall, and this week and next week, FamilyLife Today listeners can register at a special discounted price. 

 You can save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you register this week or next week either by going to or by calling 1-800-FLTODAY.  Now, if you're registering online, you need to make sure that you type the word "Bob" into the keycode box that you'll see on the registration form in order to qualify for that special rate for FamilyLife Today listeners. 

 Or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY just mention that you'd like the FamilyLife Today special rate, and that rate will apply this week and next week for our FamilyLife Today listeners.  So we hope that you'll make arrangements to attend one of these conferences.  If you need more information about when the conference is coming to a city near where you live, go to our website,, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.

 And, as a special bonus, if you register for the conference this week or next week, we'll make arrangements to get you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's new book, which is called "Moments With You."  It's a 365-day devotional for couples.  It's a sequel to their bestselling books, "Moments Together," and it's not even off the presses yet, but as soon as it's available, we'll make arrangements to get a copy to you if you sign up for one of our Weekend to Remember conferences.

 So you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee and get a copy of Dennis and Barbara's new book, "Moments With You" if you register online at this week or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Don't forget to mention that you want the special FamilyLife Today offer.  Or if you're registering online, type the word "Bob" in the keycode box, and we'll take care of the rest from there.  And we do hope you'll plan to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.

 If, for some reason, you don't think you're going to be able to get to the conference this fall, and you'd like to hear the messages on CD, they are available in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go online for more information about that, or just ask about that when you call 1-800-FLTODAY.

 Well, one of the foundations for a healthy marriage is for a husband and wife to be able to trust each other and tomorrow we're going to talk about why that is difficult for so many couples and how we can build trust in our marriage.  Our guest, Gary Thomas, is going to be back with us.  I hope you can be back with us as well.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 


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