This is part of a series on partriarchy, headship, authority, and submission. See this index.
The Bible tells how Christ loved the church and sacrificed himself to sanctify it, making it pure and holy. Husbands should emulate that by loving their wives as they love themselves, to nourish and tenderly care for it. Over at Sigma Frame, Jack muses about the nature of marital sanctification and how to achieve it.
“I have identified certain elements, such as giving women attention, women’s need for attention, bonding, Csíkszentmihályi Flow, desire, ego, feedback loops, headship authority, humility, incentives / motivation, sexual authority, and trust, but how these factors interact to produce attraction and sanctification is still unclear.”
How can these various tactics and strategies guide one towards a sanctified marriage? In general, they can’t (e.g. attraction has nothing to do with sanctification).
Sanctification is making something sacred or holy. Strongs defines it as
“to make holy, consecrate, sanctify”
These are all synonyms for the same thing. Sanctification is making holy, pure, and without blemish: an offering or sacrifice to God. The very purpose of sacrifice is sanctification. Hebrews 10:10 says we are sanctified by the sacrifice of Jesus’ body. As Ephesians 5 notes, the way to sanctify one’s wife or family must be through love and sacrifice to God.
Jesus loved the Church. He loved the church, the congregation of believers. In Hebrew culture, the first rite of marriage was the father choosing the bride for his son. What followed was a marriage proposal and an offer of a bride price, a marriage contract and payment of the bride price, a set of binding rituals (shared cup, baptism), a betrothal period for a time, the groom returning to sweep away his bride, a marriage feast, and then finally taking her home.
The church is the body of believers. It is not made up of unbelievers. A person who does not believe cannot be the recipient of God’s love and sacrifice. They cannot be sanctified. The bride price has been rejected and no marriage will take place. But once the payment has been accepted and the contract signed, the bride no longer has any say in the matter. So too in marriage:
I command that the wife not depart from her husband, and that the husband not leave his wife. If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she is content to live with him, let him not leave her. And the woman that has an unbelieving husband, and he is content to live with her, let her not leave her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified because of the husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are sanctified. Yet if the unbeliever departs, let him depart, the husband or the wife is not bound in such cases, but God has called us in peace. For how do you know, wife, if you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, if you will save your wife?
A husband sanctifies his wife by being Christ-like—loving and sacrificial—with the hope of leading her to salvation. It is another instantiation of the Great Commission:
Marriage is ultimately an extension of the Great Commission: to administer grace to our spouse by spreading the Gospel of Grace: the favor of God in the form of his mercy and love that saves us from our sins and grants us eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by any work of man.
By imitating Christ, we show Christ to our spouse and in so bring her towards holiness. It is the same as the sower (the evangelist) who sows the seeds (the Word of God).
Even if—as with Hosea—your wife were an unfaithful prostitute, the bride price has—literally and figuratively—already been paid and there is no going back. And so it does not matter if a wife does not explicitly wish to be sanctified. Her assent to stay in the marriage is enough to create a soil in which the water—the Word of God—can nourish. The husband needs to remain blameless and pure, loving his unbelieving wife, in hopes that one day too she will embrace faithfulness to God and be saved.
Consecrating one’s unbelieving spouse is akin to a baby dedication: consecrating that baby to God through the promise of the parent to guide the child in the ways of Christ so that one day they will make a confession of faith. Just as when Hannah dedicated Samuel to God’s service, this did not cause him to be holy.
Any strategy or technique designed to lead to marital sanctification must focus on personal—inwardly focused—holiness through love and sacrifice, to model Christ-likeness within marriage. It doesn’t mean she will embrace it. A husband’s duty to sanctify his wife—whatever means is chosen—is not predicated on her obedience to Christ, even though this is the goal.