Is marriage a Gospel ordinance? Does Ephesians 5 relate to unequally yoked marriages?

UPDATE  Sept 2021:  I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches.  He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


[August 27, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

Many people talk about marriage as if it is a Gospel ordinance and they use Ephesians 5 to back up that idea. But marriage happens in many frameworks all across humanity. Even Satanists have marriage ceremonies!

People who claim that marriage is a Gospel ordinance fail to notice how Paul applies Ephesians 5 solely and exclusively to believers. It cannot be applied in any other context by definition. It can only be done in a marriage where both parties are saved. It is not possible to argue from Ephesians 5 that it applies in any other context of unequal marriages. Paul clearly intends Ephesians 5 to be for believers and believers only:

Ephesians 5:23:

….Christ is the head of the church….

Ephesians 5:24:

….the church is subject to Christ;….

Ephesians 5:25:

….just as Christ also loved the church….

Ephesians 5:26:

….Christ sanctifies and cleanses the church….

Ephesians 5:27:

….Christ presents a spotless church….

Ephesians 5:29:

….just as the Lord does the church.

Ephesians 5:30:

For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. [Emphasis added.]

Ephesians 5:32:

….I speak concerning Christ and the church.

So this cannot be about the Gospel at all, but only about what happens after one is made alive in Christ.

This has absolutely positively nothing to do with unequally yoked marriages.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul counsels about staying in an unequally yoked marriage if the vows are not otherwise being violated. Who knows how God may work in the unbeliever there, if he / she is willing to allow the believer to live out their faith without persecuting them for it? But I do not see any such application in Ephesians 5.

Marriage cannot be a Gospel ordinance because it is bilateral

Human marriage is involves vows made between two human beings so it is bilateral (bi- meaning two). The Gospel promises are made by God to fallen human beings and God is the only one who keeps those promises. Fallen human beings can believe and receive the promises by trusting in the Promiser though faith, but even when they do that, even when they are born again, the fact remains that the God is the author and finisher of our faith. So the Gospel is about a unilateral covenant (uni- meaning one). God makes the promises, God fulfils the promises, God quickens a fallen human being’s spirit to life and makes them alive in Christ. And God inevitably works in the believer to produce the Christ-likeness which is demonstrated in fruit of the Spirit in the life and character of the believer and evidences salvation.

God promises that no one who is in Christ will be lost.

As I said to you, my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give to them eternal life. And they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father who gave them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to take them out of my Father’s hand. And I and my Father are one.  (John 10:27-30  NMB)

Thanks to an ACFJ follower who wrote some of the wording in this post.

[August 27, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to August 27, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to August 27, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 27, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 27, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further reading

Salvation by Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone — a sermon by Dr R Scott Clark

Taken Captive by the Philosophies of Man — By Jeff Crippen.

How can I leave when I’m the only one who is giving a gospel witness to him? — From our FAQs.

9 thoughts on “Is marriage a Gospel ordinance? Does Ephesians 5 relate to unequally yoked marriages?”

  1. This has given me so much to think about. Excellent work, as always. Thank you so much for putting so much thought and research into these posts.

    I have been married for 17 years now. It’s amazing how many foolish ideas you are capable of carrying into marriage. Not here to list them all out. 🙂

    But certainly one of the major ones, for Christians especially—goes like this:
    [Italics added by Barb, to distinguish those notions as part of the false teaching which is promulgated by the likes of John Piper.]
    [April 22, 2022: Italics changed to a blockquote. Editors.]

    your marriage is a reflection of your relationship with Christ, or His relationship with the church. It’s meant to reflect the Gospel, in a nutshell. It’s meant to be something of a witness to others—saved and unsaved persons. When they see how you conduct your marriage, they will see the Lord working. They will see His glory shining through. They will be amazed!

    Marriage is supposed to be a model of the kind of love that the Lord has for us. Deep, lasting, faithful and intense love.

    Both persons in a marriage are responsible, but there’s an understanding that you can’t change or control your partner. You can only hold up your end of the deal and you are certainly responsible for your part in the marriage.

    If your head isn’t spinning from the sheer weight of all that, imagine trying to live it out.

    Much of what I was taught is not Biblical, IMO. Or, it’s not telling the whole truth. It would take some time to break it all down.

    But here is my biggest problem with it: it’s wrong to expect a marital relationship (even between believers) to be a mirror reflection of a walk with the Lord. Our relationships with the Lord are special and unique because of the absolute perfection of our Father. And the fact that He is our Savior, and our spouses are NOT.

    As Barb pointed out, God is the One in charge of making, keeping and fulfilling His promises towards us. That is not the case with a marriage covenant, where it’s bilateral.

    No one should put enormous weight on one side of the marriage to be the “glue” that holds it together. If your partner doesn’t see and treat you as an equal—-take it to the Lord and take it seriously. Something is very wrong. A marriage between two believers means you are both equally yoked to Him, and to each other.

    Abuse victims (who are believers)—-from what I’ve been reading and listening to others—-seem to be given the brunt of the burdens put on them. They are constantly asked to give “more” in order to maintain the marriage. More love, more sex, more submission, more prayer, more service, more patience—-always more, more, more. And this is touted as Biblical marriage?

    I was also told that marriage tends to bring out who you really are inside. I’m paraphrasing what I was told by a young male pastor: if you have any “demons” in you (he did not mean demon possessed or demonic influence) he claimed that marriage would reveal them. He meant that parts of you that you did not know existed would reveal themselves. The worst parts of you would come to light. The marriage relationship tends to bring them out, due to the seriousness and depth of such a bond. Hope that makes sense.

    Notice that he made no exceptions for abuse, or that you may have married an abuser under the guise that he or she was a believer. Note: abusers LIE by professing to be Christians.

    And despite the lack of good fruit on the abuser’s part, not to mention bearing much BAD fruit—-many will still believe that he or she is born again—simply based on a flimsy claim. So they treat the marriage as if it’s a Biblical bond between two believers. When it’s NOT.

    I’ll share just a tad from my personal story. It’s hard to talk about, but I hope and pray it will encourage someone:

    My spouse, unlike me, grew up in a Christian home. So I carried a lot of assumptions about him into my marriage. I figured he was taught—-either in word or by example—-all sorts of things that I certainly had NOT been taught. I had grown up in an abusive home.

    Now I realize that he too grew up in a very dysfunctional home. Different than mine, but still very, very serious. But it took years to realize that—- a good decade. No wonder our marriage had problems that I did not see coming, or did not know what to do with.

    Am NOT blaming his family for our problems, by the way, or for his personal behaviors and attitudes. Believe me, I carried my fair share of dysfunction into the marriage as well. But I was fairly aware of some (not all) of my issues, while I now believe he had no idea what kind of a home he had come from. Facing that took serious work on his part, and I think he’s still working on it.

    When I started noticing all too familiar and similar abusive characteristics in his family members, I can’t express the mortification I felt. It again took ANOTHER few years before I was even able to question their status as born again believers.

    And here is the strongest point of evidence: they were all too comfortable in either lying, suppressing truths or being entirely silent and non-communicative when it really mattered.

    No one who habitually lives like that—and seems perfectly content and unrepentant of such a lifestyle—is living as Christ would have us live.

    As believers, we are ALL struggling with and dealing with lies we have trusted in—-but struggling (in and through Him) to break FREE of them.

    It is 100% fair to ask: why did you become a believer if you insist on living that way? Living in lies is bondage. Spreading it around to other family members is also not Christ-like. I became a believer to ESCAPE that lifestyle of cruelty and callousness. You cannot live in such deception and yet believe that Christ is approving of that.

    You must stand for His righteousness alone, and not claim that your personal sense of righteousness is also His. It doesn’t work that way.

    I am at the point where I am 100% positive that I don’t want my marriage—-or my personal relationship with the Lord—-to reflect what I’ve seen in these professing Christians.

    I’ve already told my spouse directly: you and I are believers. I don’t want these people anywhere near our marriage. We must fight to protect our covenant, because there are those that will try to harm it.

    I get so angry when victims who are believers make the decision to separate or divorce an abuser….they get blamed and shamed as if they don’t take the marriage seriously. And faulted for leaving, making the abuser the pitiful one.

    In reading and listening to abuse testimonies, I’ve found that they take their marriages very seriously. They DO understand the serious bond and responsibility. They are NOT flaky, frivolous persons AT ALL.

    They also fear the Lord and are very cognizant of Him. That is another lie flung at them; that they are not serious in their walks with the Lord, should they take certain steps.

    With the harsh stigma in the church that often comes with choosing to separate or divorce, this too adds to the burden of abuse victims. They understandably don’t want the label of “marriage destroyer” or “divorcee” put on their foreheads. That is simply unfair of the church body to do that to them.

    They also worry about their kids, if there are any. And understandably so. They worry how they will turn out, how to raise them right—-if one of the parents is abusive and still has access to the kids.

    IMO, being a “single parent” does NOT translate into “dysfunctional home.” Where did that type of thinking come from? You can be a single parent and raise wonderful, well-adjusted kids in it.

    Yes, it’s very hard and I don’t romanticize it—but don’t romanticize a two parent household if one or both of the parents are abusers.

    1. Thank you for your response. It was helpful to me along with this post.
      The Piper quote hit home. I have believed so many things that are not true. It’s a lifetime of false information.

      The “give more” part for the other spouse I am familiar with. I was told when my spouse’s response was less than kind to love him, be patient, be kind, be the example. There was no limit given. He called me foul names in front of the children and their friends. “What did you do that he called you that?!”

      For real?! Why is it my fault he won’t control his tongue and temper?!

      So our children are talking to each other in the same foul language and using the same hand gestures my spouse used on me when I turned around. So they are looked upon as just rebellious. No one wants to come along side us to help. As the children fall apart we are THAT family. Somehow he is looked at as having a wife that is straying and she is pulling the children down with her. The Elders believe him when he says I stripped him of his authority in our house. He’s also believed when he says [he’s] not allowed to discipline them. So ultimately I’m ruining everything and everyone.

      Some of the children believe this. I’m still scratching my head on that one. Evidently my response to all of this hasn’t been perfect and therefore I’m to blame. Exhausting.

      I’m stronger now. But he is stronger and more of a thinker and out-doing me in every way. The pastor when I last went to him listened….then said….”So Dysfunctional!! I know you have a problem trusting.” And that it was a lot of information to drop on him.

      That’s it. That’s all. No phone call, no follow up, no concern for me….is.???

      I left. And was writing a letter to withdraw the membership. But my husband beat me to it. They accepted his letter for all of us. Now we wait to see what happens. My guess nothing.

      I asked what the pastor said etc. He said what can he say? We came into the church a heap of a mess. All the advice he could give us was to love each other, learn to work together. And all they can tell us is….”You have to learn to get along, and forgive each other and work in a direction together and serve Christ together.” But if we won’t do it then what else do they need to do to help us?

      If WE won’t do it?!

      That’s just awesome. NOT! So I kick the dust off my shoes and walk the other way. Jeff Crippen was correct. They were no help. But it did keep me in bondage for more years.

      There is no tangible help. I’m a stranger everywhere I go. Time to start over. And I’m still scared. Scared of everything.

      1. HisBannerOverMeIsLove I am so sorry.

        Being blamed and shamed as you were is part of the brokenness that abuse causes. It is pouring salt on some very serious wounds!

        The fear you mentioned is real, and serious—-and understandable. Not going to say anything more than that—-but to encourage you to take all those real fears to Him.

        Fear has a way of paralyzing us, or overtaking us in ways that keep us rooted in despair. Exactly what the enemy wants.

        God says:

        and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. (Psalm 50:15)

        It’s never a “bother” to Him to bring your troubles to Him. He is more than willing to hear our cries, and actually He commands us to! And it honors Him!

        The pastor you mentioned seemed to think of your issues as too burdensome to deal with—much less offer any real help or compassion. Maybe they were in over their heads, not knowing what to do so they just shrugged and claimed they did the best they could.

        If you don’t have or know of any real resources to help, I can understand that. But don’t dismiss the real need outright!

        Praying for you.

  2. Helovesme commented:

    Fear has a way of paralyzing us, or overtaking us in ways that keep us rooted in despair. Exactly what the enemy wants.

    God says:

    “and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” (Psalm 50:15)

    It’s never a “bother” to Him to bring your troubles to Him. He is more than willing to hear our cries, and actually He commands us to! And it honors Him!

    Words I need to remember.

    Thank you. 🙂

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