FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Basics of a Christian Marriage

with Bob Lepine | January 26, 2012
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Are you in a Christian marriage? Bob Lepine outlines the basis of marriage and explains that marriage isn't determined by external measurements like happiness or productivity, but by transformation as we're conformed to the image of Christ. Bob encourages us to keep in mind that marriage has a noble, upward and outward purpose, rather than an inward or selfish purpose.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Are you in a Christian marriage? Bob Lepine outlines the basis of marriage and explains that marriage isn't determined by external measurements like happiness or productivity, but by transformation as we're conformed to the image of Christ. Bob encourages us to keep in mind that marriage has a noble, upward and outward purpose, rather than an inward or selfish purpose.

  • 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.

Bob Lepine outlines the basis of marriage and explains that marriage conforms us into the image of Christ.

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The Basics of a Christian Marriage

With Bob Lepine
January 26, 2012
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Bob:  If someone were to ask you today to define the purpose for your marriage:  “What’s the purpose?  Why did you get married?”  What kind of an answer would you give?

Girl 1:  I think most people get married because love is a really strong feeling; and marriage is a way to, like, show that, I guess.

Girl 2:  A lot of people think it’s good.  Some people think it’s strange.  I’d love to feel it.

Boy 1:  Are you crazy?

Girl 3:  I hate boys.

Girl 4:  People get married because they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 26th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  Today, we’re going to see if we can tackle that question and try to think through God’s design, God’s purpose for two becoming one.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  This may be my favorite guest—

Dennis:  (Laughing)  The speaker on today’s broadcast is Bob Lepine himself.  Make no mistake about it—

Bob:  (Laughing) I’m just teasing.  I’m teasing.

Dennis:  He does love to hear himself speak; and you will hear that message, that he gave at a convention here, in just a few moments.

Bob:  Yes, Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.  The focus of the event was all about marriage, and I got a chance to talk about what makes a marriage distinctively Christian.  Before we hear that, I do want to remind listeners that today and tomorrow are the last two opportunities you have to take advantage of a special offer we’re making to FamilyLife Today listeners.  Because we are hoping that this spring, and into the summer, there would be literally thousands of marriage events happening all around the country, our team got together and said, “Let’s see if we can encourage couples to sign up to host an Art of Marriage® weekend,”—a Friday night and Saturday event in your church or in your community, wherever you want to do it.

We told folks, “If you’ll sign up and call us this week, tell us where it’s going to be and when you’re going to host it, we’ll send you the event kit, free.”  You get the DVDs, you get a couple of manuals, you get the how-to-do-an-event guide; we’ll send that whole thing out to you, free. 

All we’re asking you to do is call us this week and say, “We’re going to host one of these.  It’s going to be this weekend.  It’s going to be at this location.”  And we’ll get you all fixed up with the event kit.  It’s because we want to see thousands of these events happening this spring.

Dennis:  The reason we’re taking radical measures like this is because we are losing the war.  Now, I know who wins in the end.  Trust me, I’ve read the book of Revelation.  I know that God takes over in the end and He wins; but right now, in our country, we are losing the battle for marriage and family.  It’s destroying a generation of children, and it’s going to have an impact that is going to devastate generations.

What FamilyLife has decided to do is—we’ve said, “You know what?  No holds barred; the way to address this size of a problem is not a bigger organization.  It’s turning loose folks, like you, where you live in your neighborhood, your church, to reach out to your neighborhoods and say, ‘Christians have the solution.  We have the biblical blueprints for building successful marriages, godly marriages and families.’” 

If it’s not enough of a radical statement that we’re willing to give you the tool that FamilyLife has spent a lot of money on, in designing—and I’m not trying to brag just because we’ve done it.  But I’m going to tell you, Bob Lepine helped create this; and I don’t know of a finer tool today available for building marriages and families that can be used by a lay couple, a husband and a wife like you, to make a difference where you live, than the Art of Marriage.

Bob:  So call 1-800-FL-TODAY.  Tell us the date and the location, and we’ll send you the kit.  But you have to do it this week if you want to get the kit at no cost.  1-800-FL-TODAY is the number to call. 

We’re going to talk about marriage today.  We’re going to talk about what it is that makes a marriage distinctively Christian.

Dennis:  Yes.  It’s a message given by Bob Lepine to a group of folks who are very committed to Scripture.  It’s the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, who are highly committed to the Scriptures and to biblical marriage.  I think you’re going to enjoy Bob’s message, just about how Christian marriage is really different.

Bob:  [Recorded message]  We’re going to talk about how the Gospel adorns a marriage relationship; or, “What does a distinctively Christian marriage look like?  What should set it apart?”  Anybody can get married.  Lots of people get married.  Some Christians get married and have hard marriages, and they have conflict.  Some pagans get married and they get along, and seem to be doing great. 

If we looked at external measures and said, “Well, if you have a Christian marriage, everything should be happy and rosy; and if you have a pagan marriage, everything should be hard and conflict.”  Empirical data does not verify that.  Are we right? 

If we say, “What does differentiate?  What does make things different?  Why are Christian marriages different than non-Christian marriages?”  Well, we have to begin with this premise:  Christianity is about transformation.  It’s about the transformation from one domain to another domain.  It’s about the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.  Some of us were deep in darkness before we were translated to the kingdom of light, and there’s a lot of learning who we are and becoming who we are going on.

The transformation is really the issue.  There should be some fundamental change that is observable in terms of a Christian marriage versus a pagan marriage.  When I was in college, I had thought about going to law school.  That was my vocational plan.  The reason it was my vocational plan is because, when I was in the sixth grade, I watched Perry Mason; and I thought, “Man, if in an hour, you can just argue people till they break down, and cry, and confess things, that’s what I want to do for a living.” 

Then, in the ninth grade, I actually got a little more noble purpose when my social studies teacher talked about pro bono lawyers who help people in impoverished areas deal with their legal issues.  I said, “I want to help the poor.”  So that was my vocational goal. 

My cousin-in-law, who was a lawyer, told me, “When you go to undergrad school, you should study something that is simple and you think you’ll get good grades in because they just want people who got good grades.”  So, I said, “Radio would be simple, and I think I could get decent grades and wouldn’t have to do a whole lot of work.”  In fact, I graduated and I took a summer job at a local radio station, in between undergrad and graduate school. 

The middle of the summer job, they came to me and they said, “Would you like to stay on?  We’ll give you an extra $100 a month.”  It was a bump from $750 a month to $850 a month.  “Yeah; yeah, baby.”  So I said, “Well, I can’t turn down the money.”  Actually, I was having such a great time doing it, I thought, “If I don’t do law school, I may never do it, but then,” I said, “I can always kind of do lawyering avocationally in my marriage relationship.” 

That’s what I wound up doing.  (Laughter)  When we have conflict, I just call my wife to the stand and cross-examine her.  That did not work out so well, anyway.  I tell you all of that because, in undergraduate school, I decided I was going to look around for what law school I wanted to go to.  One of the law schools that came up on my radar screen was Pepperdine; but when I went with these buddies of mine out to California, one of my buddies knew a family that lived in Pasadena who said we could stay with them.  I thought, “That’s great.” 

I didn’t know these people at all.  I’d been a Christian for about six or seven months at this point.  I’ll never forget walking into this home in Pasadena where we were going to be staying for the next couple of days.  I noticed that there was just something different in the atmosphere of that home.  I didn’t grow up in a Christian home.  We were a church-going home; but the Gospel wasn’t a part of our lives, and there was some tension. 

My dad was alcoholic; my dad was bipolar or manic-depressive—is what they called it back in the day.  He and Mom had conflict, and there were issues there.  I walked into this home.  I’d never met these people before; and within 20 minutes of meeting them, it was like I’d known them all my life.  We were talking about stuff, and I felt free and relaxed.  I thought, “This is different.  There’s a different atmosphere in this house.  There’s a different fragrance.” 

Then, of course, you read in II Corinthians where it says, “Thanks be to God who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”  You could smell it in that house—the fragrance of Christ in the lives of these transformed people with hospitality, and genuine caring, and love, and graciousness manifested.  I’ve never forgotten what it was like to walk into that kind of environment.

Now the question for us then is—we look at our own homes and we would say, “What does it smell like at your house?”  If folks walked into your house, would the fragrance of Christ be present?  Not with the candles you have lit in the bathroom, not with how clean it is, but is the inviting atmosphere of the grace of God so present that people are overwhelmed by it as they see it in your home and in your marriage? 

Do people look at your marriage and see and smell the fragrance of Christ?  Shouldn’t they?  You go, “I know they should, and I don’t think they always do, and I want to get there,” but, “How do we get there?  How does a marriage have the fragrance of Christ?  What makes it distinctively Christian?”

I’m going to suggest to you two things that make a marriage distinctively Christian.  The first is that there’s a different purpose for marriage than there is with the pagan.  The second is that there’s a different kind of love present in a Christian marriage than in a pagan marriage.  Those are two distinctly different things about a Christian marriage.

This is just a little side trail; but if you’re familiar with Jonathan Edwards’ book, Religious Affections, you’ll know that Edwards wrote that to talk about what distinguishes the evidence of true revival versus what can just be manufactured by human effort.  The first Great Awakening was under attack from people who thought that the religious enthusiasm that was being expressed in these New England churches was a little improper; and they were saying, “That’s just human manufacturing.” 

Edwards wrote Religious Affections, in a way, to say, “You know, there are some things that can be manufactured.”  How loud you sing has nothing to do with whether the Spirit is working in your life.  There are all kinds of things that can come out of the human life; but I will tell you that, in your spiritual life and in your marriage, having a different purpose, a God-centered purpose, is not something that the flesh can generate.  No flesh generates a God-centered purpose for anything. 

I will also tell you that having the kind of love that the Bible defines—you don’t let the culture define love, you don’t let yourself define love, you have to agree to a biblical definition of love.  Having that kind of love is impossible, apart from the transforming grace of God in your life.  A different purpose and a different kind of love will be evidence of genuine transformation that has taken place in your lives, and in the lives of two people coming together as one.

This is just a little side note—but as I was working on this project for The Art of Marriage, one of the things that dawned on me as I was talking with—and what a privilege to be able to sit down with Al Mohler and Russell Moore at Southern Seminary, and to talk with Voddie Baucham, and to talk with Dr. Harvey, and to talk with Paul David Tripp—all these guys—but as we were talking about it, here is the epiphany that I had. 

If I were to ask you, “What is the crowning point of God’s creation?  What is the pinnacle of God’s creation?”  I would have answered that question six months ago by saying, “It is mankind.  Humankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation.  At the end of everything, He created His greatest masterpiece.  He put His soul in the man and the woman, and they are the pinnacle of creation.” 

Then, I kept reading in Genesis 2; and you know what it says?  After He created the man and the woman what did He do?  He married them; and the two became what?—one flesh.  I want to propose to you that marriage is actually the final masterpiece of creation—that the two becoming one is when God is done.  The very next thing that happens is the attack of the serpent, dividing the man and the woman, and causing them, as they rebel against God, to be alienated from one another.

As soon as we say that, I have to make sure you understand that does not mean that single people are second class.  I hope I don’t have to go through a whole theology of singleness.  Single people are called by God into a special season of singleness.  I remember talking to Elisabeth Elliot; and I said, “You know, most people, when they come up to you, they say, ‘Do you think I have the gift of singleness?’” 

She said, “Well, I ask them a question when they ask me that.  I ask them, ‘Are you single?’  And they say, ‘Yes;’ and I say, ‘Well, then, you have the gift of singleness.’”  (Laughter)  She says, “And they want to know, ‘Yes, but am I always going to have it?’”  And she says, “I don’t know!  Nobody knows, except God; but today you have the gift of singleness.”

So, back to having a different purpose for marriage—when I got married, I did not have a noble, godly, biblical purpose for my marriage.  I talked to a friend of mine.  I said, “If you were going to share verses on marriage with young couples and you weren’t going to use Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3, what verses would you share?”  He said, “I would share the verse that I proposed with.”  I said, “What’s that?”  “Psalm 34:3, ‘O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together.’”

That was not what I was thinking when I proposed to Mary Ann.  I’m guessing that some of you in this room were not thinking, “O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together.”  Here’s what I was thinking—I was thinking that somebody had told me, “If you want a truly happy marriage, it needs to have Jesus at the center.”  So, I was thinking, “Okay, I want a truly happy marriage.  We need to have Jesus at the center, whatever that means.”  That’s about as far as it went.

When we were putting this Art of Marriage project together, we asked our filmmaker friend in New Orleans to go down to the French Quarter.  Before he went to the French Quarter, we asked him to go back to the park and to talk to kids about marriage; and then go down on the French Quarter and talk to people, walking along the French Quarter, and just ask them what their thoughts are on marriage.  Just watch this clip, if we can.

“I don’t know.”

“Ummm—because they want kids—”

“I think most people get married because love is a really strong feeling; and marriage is a way—to like—show that, I guess.”

“A lot of people think it’s good.  Some people think it’s strange.  I’d love to feel it.”

“Are you crazy?”


“I hate boys.”

“If I will marry, I will be good.”

“They usually care about each other, and they usually smile at each other and hold hands.”

“I’d like to feel it about someone who makes me happy, who makes me smile, who knows the right things to say, and even if he messes up, he does it in the right way.”

“The other person likes them; and they like them, too.”

“You’ll see one day that they’ll peek at each other when my mom’s making breakfast and they smile, or they say goodbye when my dad has to go to work.  They just give you this warm feeling when you see them do those little things that make you feel what they’re feeling.”

“It makes me feel happy that I’m in a family that loves each other, and that my parents love each other, and I’m fortunate.  It makes me feel loved and want to love everyone else.”

“People get married because they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other.”

Bob:  When we start talking to the grownups, you get a whole different perspective.  The kids have this lofty ideal of what they want marriage to be, and then the grownups have the reality of what’s going on.  There’s still a longing; there’s still a desire, but the reality has set in.  They’re thinking like most people in the culture are thinking.  Here’s what people are thinking—when they get married, here’s the kind of purpose they have in mind for marriage:

“Well, we’re just in love.  We have these strong feelings for one another, so I guess that’s what you do.”  Of course, they have no idea what real love is.  They think it’s somebody feeling special about you.  Or they think, “We’ve dated long enough.  Time to fish or cut bait.”  Or they’ll go, “I’m getting married because there are economic benefits,” or, “I’m getting married because then you can have legitimate, guilt-free sex,” or, “I’m getting married because you get food, and housekeeping, and laundry, all rolled into one.”

This is honestly what some people are thinking; right?  Or, “I’m getting married because it will cure my loneliness.”  That’s one of the big ones; and by the way, some of the loneliest people I know are married.  Some people will get married because the clock is ticking and, “I have to start a family pretty soon.  So, I’d better find somebody.”  Some will get married because they want to get their parents off their back. 

Some get married because they want to escape a bad situation, like abusive parents.  Some get married because they want to fix a bad situation, like they’re pregnant.  Most people, who are getting married, including me when I got married, are getting married for self-centered, not God-centered purposes. 

The reason is because they are self-centered, not God-centered people.  You understand how that works; right?  When you are at the center of your universe, then your motivation for marriage is not to lay down your life for another person.  It’s to feel better, to get whatever benefits accrue to you.  I like the way that Bill Gillham said it.  He said, “When kids are little, they draw a circle around their lives and declare themselves ‘Lord of the Ring.’” 

That’s true. That’s the universal human condition.  We are self-centered; and so our self-centered tendency, carried into marriage, creates two self-centered people trying to negotiate enough good out of this deal so that they can co-exist.  Well, that’s why we have to pull back and say our purpose really is defined, not by what our desires are, but our purpose is designed by what the Designer had in mind. 

When you try to make your marriage be something different than a vehicle through which God is glorified, a vehicle through which people can smell the aroma of Christ, a demonstration of the Gospel to the world—that is the fundamental highest purpose for why you exist and for why marriage exists.  When you try to make marriage about your happiness or your satisfaction, you’re trying to make a bicycle into a motorcycle.  That’s not what it was made to be. 

Now, is there companionship that comes along with it?  Yes.  Is there sex that comes into the deal?  Yes.  I’m glad for these things.  It’s not that it all has to be, “Well, we can’t have any fun because we have to be about glorifying God.”  No.  We magnify the Lord together.  But if we don’t have a fundamentally different purpose for marriage, where the two of us look together and say, “Look, this isn’t about us.  This is about putting the Gospel on display to a watching world, and how we relate to one another says something about Jesus.  Do we want it to say the right thing or the wrong thing?” 

When folks can get that perspective, it’s a paradigm-changing perspective.  Paul Tripp says it this way, and I think this is so good.  He said, “We were made to live upward and outward,” but most of us live inward.  When we can quit living inward and start living upward and outward, life changes.  When our marriage can be about upward and outward, things change.

Dennis:  [Studio]  Well, we’ve been listening to a message given by co-host here, Bob Lepine.  He enjoyed that; he was preaching it there.  I just want to hitchhike on your last point you were making there.  You said a marriage was designed by God to be lived upward—that’s in a relationship with Him—and outward –that means reaching out to the culture, something beyond our own needs. 

That’s why, Bob, we’re making the most audacious offer I think we’ve ever made in the history of our ministry.

Bob:  We are offering folks, this week, an opportunity to receive the DVD set, a couple of manuals, and a starter kit for an Art of Marriage event.  All we’re asking is that you would call us this week and say, “We will host one of these.”  Tell us when and where—so we have to know that you’re going to do it—you have a location; you have a date picked out.  You tell us when and where; and we’ll send you the kit, at no cost.

Dennis:  I’m saying, “It’s game time!”  We are losing the battle for marriages and families in our country.  No longer do we believe what Bob just talked about.  This nation rejects that.  So how do you pierce the darkness?  You don’t do it by pointing a bony finger at the culture.  You do it by presenting the benefits and the positive aspect of what marriage is all about; and you do it in a compelling, entertaining way. 

That is the Art of Marriage.  Get this kit!  Find the date on the calendar, find the location, get agreement with where you’re going to host it, and then invite everybody from your community to come.  Begin to pray there will be 50, 100, 200 couples come to this event.  You know what?  Some people are going to grow upward and outward as a result of coming to the Art of Marriage.

Bob:  Call 1-800-FL-TODAY and just tell us when and where and we’ll send you the kit so that you can host an Art of Marriage video event.  Again, our toll-free number: 1-800-FL-TODAY.  You know what?  We’re excited because we’ve been hearing from folks all week, and there are going to be a lot of these events taking place in cities all across the country this spring. 

We hope, if you don’t host one, you’ll at least come to the website and find out when an Art of Marriage is going to be held in or near your community; and plan to attend one of these Art of Marriage events.  It really is a great event for couples; and we hope you’ll plan to either host one or go to one, this spring.

Then, real quickly, Dennis, before we’re all done here today, I want to remind folks about the special scholarship fund that we have established here at FamilyLife.  We are hoping to see thousands of our military service personnel, husbands and wives who are military couples—we want to invite them to attend an upcoming Weekend to

Remember ® marriage getaway, as our guests. 

We’ve established a scholarship fund called the “Finally Home to Family” scholarship fund, and we’re asking you to consider making a donation to that fund this week so that we can extend the invitation to these military couples.  Go to, click on the link that says “Finally Home to Family”.  There’s more information available there; you can make an online donation if you’d like. 

Or if it’s easier, text the word, “HOME”, to the number 28950.  That’s 28950; that’s the number.  Just text the word, “HOME”, to that number; and we’ll send back instructions on how to make a donation via text messaging and how to support this scholarship fund for military families.  We do hope to hear from you and want to say, “Thanks,” in advance for your partnership with these couples, helping to get them to one of our weekend getaways.

And we want to encourage you to join us back tomorrow when we’re going to again consider what it is that makes a marriage distinctively Christian.  I hope you can tune in for that.

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 will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

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