This is part of a series on partriarchy, headship, authority, and submission. See this index.
This series on sanctification in marriage began its life in response to an ongoing topical discussion of marital sanctification at the Sigma Frame blog. In my previous essay, I noted how marital sanctification was not a regenerative act of salvation. Many who still make this assertion argue that a woman is regeneratively sanctified through raising children, citing Scripture:
1 Timothy 2:15 (REV)
[Wives] will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in trust and love and holiness, with good judgment.
They believe that it is through marriage—through her husband sanctifying her—that a woman gains salvation. I will argue below that this view is incorrect.
Yet there is a lesser view that is also incorrect. A few years ago, Jack at Sigma Frame cited this very verse, taking the stance that having and raising children was not itself sanctifying per se but was indeed a regenerative act as part of an overall plan of sanctification.
“Paul is saying that women are kept safe from deception when they embrace the roles that God gave them, when they properly value and esteem the domestic sphere and when they continue on in faith, love and self-control.” Amen, brother! [..] [In childbearing] their brains are also becoming more specialized in ways that will improve their worthiness from the spiritual and marital standpoints as well – becoming less selfish, less solipsistic, more emotionally attached, more humble, more empathetic, and more fresh and randy too. In short, more of what Jesus wants for her sanctification”
— Jack @ Sigma Frame “They Shall Be Saved Through Childbearing“
This is a clear belief in the personal development within the wife that facilitates sanctification.
What do all of these views have in common? The idea that the actions of persons serve to regenerate someone, either directly or indirectly. These views violate the teachings of Scripture.
1 Corinthians 7:8,32-35 (NIV)
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. [..] I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
What we find in the writings of Paul is that a single women—with no family—is better placed to serve the Lord. How can a woman with no husband be sanctified by the husband she does not have? How can a woman—with no husband or children to sanctify her—better serve Christ than the married woman? Well, the premise is plainly absurd.
At this point we are compelled to note that in each other instance in Paul’s Pastoral Epistles of the word ‘saved’ refers to the salvation of everlasting life, not earthly virtue or holy living. There is no doubt that being married and having children results in positive changes to both men and women, but the bearing and raising of children is not a virtuous process of holy self-improvement. Nor are any of these human acts—of themselves—sanctifying, for no act of man or woman can save:
Acts 4:12 (REV)
“And in no one else is there salvation, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among people by which we must be saved.”
As we saw in Ephesians 5 in the previous essay, the acts of faith, love, and holiness that Paul mentions here are acts of obedience to—and imitation of—Christ. They spread the Word of God through personal example. And indeed, spreading the Word of God is the only role a Christian has in the process of sanctification, which comes entirely from God at his discretion. It is entirely indirect, as it is God who uses it within another: the hearers respond to the Word, not us. Many women (and men too) will be saved through Christ by the example of Christ within us. It is not we who sanctify, but Christ within us.
Galatians 2:20 (KJV)
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.