I was never any good at romantic love. I feared falling in love — being vulnerable with my emotions. I knew whoever I married would need to be a worthy man according to Scripture, but also someone I could fall in love with, and that second part scared me. As I dated my husband, two big questions hovered over our relationship:
Was he godly? Yes.
Do I love him? Yes, I do.
But it did not end there, like I had thought it would. Because I had overcome my fear of falling in love and “took the plunge,” I thought I had arrived. I thought we had arrived. Instead, I realized that, though I had fallen in love, I did not know a thing about true love. In fact, God walked me and all my fears about love through the door of romantic love on my wedding day in order to teach me about his true and lasting love in new and deeper ways.
There is a clear distinction between biblical love and romantic love. Biblical love is unnatural to us, so it is always worked in us by the Holy Spirit. No one loves like God without God’s help. Romantic love comes more naturally to us, and therefore happens easily.
Romantic love is a good gift of God’s common grace meant for our enjoyment, and it is good for this type of love to develop into marriage. Biblical love is a different category altogether. At its core, biblical love is selfless, committed to truth, and driven by a divine work inside of us. It never happens unless we draw near to God in Christ. Biblical love can also be expressed and experienced in any relationship, while romantic love is exclusive — designed to be expressed and experienced (at least ultimately) with one person in marriage.
Romantic feelings only scratch the surface of God’s design for us. They give us a glimmer of the ecstatic feelings God has for us, the kind of feelings that lead him to sing over us (Zephaniah 3:17). Biblical love takes us even deeper into that wondrous love. Our love for one another models his covenant love for us — a love so zealous to uphold his covenant with us that he will die for us, even when he had every reason to leave us.
Death is at the center of God’s love for us, and death is at the heart of all biblical love. The covenant vows we make on our wedding day are a death sentence of love. We vow to die to self, in every season of marriage, for the other — to keep the covenant at all costs, doing whatever it takes to serve our spouse’s joy in Jesus.
God Is Love
This is biblically defined love: to consistently die to ourselves for the sake of someone else’s joy in God. True love is not based on feelings alone, but grounded in deep eternal truths. This kind of love comes out of who God is. God is love (1 John 4:8). His very essence and makeup and character is love defined. Because of this, we must seek our love for one another from him. In order to love our spouse biblically, rightly, and deeply we need the love of the Father to be infused in us.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discusses this idea of love being a part of who God is. He mentions that when most people throw around the phrase, “God is love”, they really mean, “Love is God.” But he says for Christians, “God is love,” means, “The living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else.”
Lewis goes on to say that this love works through us, and if we want to truly love as God does, we must draw close to him. Lewis calls this an “infection,” meaning that the Holy Spirit works a spiritual life inside of us when we get close to God through Christ. The Spirit is working in us to “infect” us with Christlikeness. As we love by the power of this Spirit, we share in the life, death, resurrection, and love of Christ.
This was God’s plan for our love all along. He saves us so that we might experience this great love, and then become channels of his love to everyone in our lives. This love happens inside and outside of marriage, but it’s helpful to remember that this love is the ultimate purpose of every marriage. Romantic love is not the highest peak in marriage. God gives us a love for one another far more beautiful and powerful than Hollywood love.
Marriage is God’s means for showing us a truer, deeper, and lasting love that is rooted in the divine, and it is also his means of imparting this love to us. In order to know and live out biblical love, we must draw near to the center of love itself. He will supernaturally work this love in us. Romantic love is for believer and non-believer alike, but biblical love is something that can only be experienced and expressed by a true follower of Christ.
The Power of True Love
The love of Christ working in us is the anchor underneath the rise and fall of romantic waves in marriage. The love God calls us to is a long process. It goes well beyond love at first sight, and focuses ahead instead on eternity. This love is a choice and a well-developed practice — a grace-filled, day-by-day effort. Biblical love is going long distance, whereas romantic love is often more like a sprint.
On my wedding day, I felt like I had finally mastered romantic love. After years of marriage, though, I now realize I’m barely just learning how to love. I always thought I was afraid of strong romantic feelings, but really I was afraid of dying to myself. I was afraid of true love — the kind of love that dies to itself, even after months and years of struggle and pain, in order to then rise again to a greater and deeper love. This is the resurrection power of faithful, sacrificial, joyful, biblical love.
Our marriages can share in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:5). All we have to do is admit we are empty of this type of love, and ask for God to fill us with himself and his love. We must, as Lewis has said, draw near enough to him to catch the infection.