Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:14)
With this poem, Paul grounds the often-quoted marriage instructions of Ephesians 5:22–33 in the transformative power of the gospel. The gospel rouses sleepers and quickens the dead. It calls those trapped in darkness into the shining light of Christ, where, for the first time, they can truly see and do what is good.
If the gospel can accomplish these feats, it can surely transform ordinary men into husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the church, and it can surely transform ordinary women into wives who respect and submit to their husbands’ leadership. But this transformation is not automatic, and it does not happen overnight. That’s why Paul offers this apostolic marriage advice: stay in the light (Ephesians 5:8–9).
While his advice applies to husbands and wives alike, this article addresses wives. Wives who want to see their marriages transformed must stay in the light, where Christ himself shines on them, revealing truths and exposing lies that shape their expectations for marriage. In particular, light-seeking wives embrace two foundational truths and reject two persistent lies about their marriages.
Truth #1: He is still a sinner.
The first expectation-shaping truth about marriage is that even though your husband is awake, alive, and in the light, he is still a sinner. And as a sinner, he will struggle in many ways common to humanity, some of which Paul warns us about in the rest of his letter to the Ephesians.
“God sees your husband’s faults more clearly than you do. His is the superior wisdom.”
At times, your husband may be proud, harsh, or impatient (Ephesians 4:2). His unique cocktail of deceitful desires will afflict him (Ephesians 4:22). He will stumble by not actively guarding his mind (Ephesians 4:25–32; 5:18). He may be tempted toward dishonesty, theft, laziness, destructive speech, resentment, selfishness, sexual immorality of various stripes, jealousies, greed, or substance abuse. In a word, he will falter in his charge to love you self-sacrificially.
As a native Texan, my mother-in-law strictly follows this rule: turn on the light during middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom. Failing to do so might mean a surprise encounter with a cockroach (at least in Texas).
When Christ shines on a marriage, his light exposes sins so that we can see them for the stealthy, invasive, dirty, creepy, darkness-loving, Texas-sized cockroaches that they are. The light protects us from surprise over our husband’s failures because our expectations are built on this foundational truth: he is still a sinner.
Truth #2: He is growing.
The light also trains us to shape our expectations around a second foundational truth: although your husband is still a sinner, he is growing. In the light, his sin is visible. And once seen, the way forward is clear.
In the case of a cockroach, a heavy-soled shoe is the clearest way forward, but sin requires a different kind of death — one of confession and turning and walking away, further and further from sleep’s darkness and the grave, and further into the light of Christ. The way forward may not be easy, but it is brightly lit.
If your husband is awake and alive, then Christ shines on him! He will increasingly see his sin, and he will know what to do about it. Equipped with more than a thick-soled shoe, he has everything he needs to crush the sins exposed by the light. (Ephesians 6:10–18 gives a full inventory of all the offensive and defensive weapons in his arsenal.)
These two foundational truths — your husband is a sinner, but he is growing — should shape your expectations about marriage, tempering your idealism with reality and your pessimism with hope.
Lie #1: ‘I’m more righteous than he is.’
Besides revealing two foundational truths for marriage, the light of Christ exposes two persistent lies in marriage. The first is the lie of superior righteousness. All of us indulge in pride from time to time, supposing ourselves better than our husbands. But if we stay in the light, we cannot escape the equalizing effect of the cross.
The light reminds us that we need the sin-cleansing blood of Jesus every bit as much as our husbands. Alongside them, we too must grow in detecting and killing sin. We must stand on guard against the temptations that hide behind our husband’s failures. Too often, we respond to their sin with sin of our own because the lie of superior righteousness tempts us to excuse our sin when it is provoked by theirs.
On this matter, Paul is far from silent: “Be angry and do not sin . . . and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27). Sin hurts. Anger is a natural response to pain. But the light helps us see beyond those moments of hurt and anger to the true enemy lurking behind them. Our husbands are not the enemy, but behind their failures, the devil strains to reassert his dominance over our lives. He would use our anger against us, seducing us to react in sinful ways — perhaps by lashing out with hateful words, by giving quarter to arrogance or self-righteousness, by plotting revenge, by cynically despairing, or by withholding forgiveness.
But these reactions are from the shadows, lining the path back to the grave. The way of light and life is to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). We should expect to find sin crouching at the door of our marital disappointments, so we proactively guard our hearts against the snare of anger by continually confessing our own sins and by cultivating a heart of forgiveness toward our husbands.
Then, when they confess their sins, we can eagerly, though not painlessly, extend all the mercy and grace to them that God has freely given us. In this way, we defend ourselves against the lie of superior righteousness that stalks us from the shadows of our husband’s failures.
Lie #2: ‘I know what’s best for him.’
Be wary also of a second persistent lie lurking in the shadows: the lie of superior wisdom. Doubtless, if you were God, you would choose a different path for your husband’s transformation than the one he is currently on. But the light of Christ breaks into our blind spots, challenging even our expectations about how our husbands should grow.
Perhaps you’d prioritize his inattentiveness or his [fill in the blank], but God sees your husband’s faults more clearly than you do. His is the superior wisdom. He exposes sin according to his curriculum and his calendar.
He may not transform your husband into the most attentive partner, but he might stir his heart to give more generously at church. Your husband may not notice a sink full of dirty dishes as much as you’d like, but he might begin to exercise more oversight when it comes to your children’s Internet access. He may continue struggling to remember what you’ve asked him to do, but over time he may grow in contentedness at work, faithfully laboring at an unsatisfying job to provide for your household.
“Stay in the light, where lies are exposed and faulty expectations transformed.”
In Christ, your husband is growing whether or not he is walking the precise path you’d prescribe. If you do not see growth in an area that is particularly grievous to you, invite Christ’s light to shine on your expectations so that you can truly see and wisely assess them. Is this trait that irks you truly sin, or could it simply be a dispositional weakness? Are you expecting your husband to do something God does not require? Stay in the light, where lies are exposed and faulty expectations transformed.
If unaddressed sin persists in your husband’s life, remember Paul’s divinely given counsel from another of his letters: rather than nagging, shaming, or despairing, “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Before you go to your husband, go to God! Recognize that God, better than anyone, can see your husband’s sin, and in his superior wisdom knows precisely what to do with it. (Even so, recognize that some patterns of sin may require outside counsel or help, especially if the sin endangers you or others.)
Let There Be Light
Stay in the light, and it will transform your marriage. Reconfigure your expectations around the truth that your husband is a sinner, and the light will protect you from surprise or disillusionment over his failures. Shape your expectations around the truth that he is growing, and the light will fill you with hope as you increasingly see your husband the way God sees him — as a dearly loved son gradually being transformed into the likeness of Christ, the only perfect husband.
And “finally . . . put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10–11), rejecting the lies of your own superior righteousness and wisdom. Then, hand in hand with your husband, grow up together into the image of your Savior.