- Seasons of suffering
- Sexual and physical intimacy
- The spiritual life of the home
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About the Author
D. A. and ELICIA HORTON have been fighting for their marriage for more than 15 years. They teach and serve together at their church plant, Reach Fellowship, in North Long Beach, California. They have three children.
Read an Excerpt
BEAT THE WORLD TO THE PUNCH
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
The definition of marriage has been heatedly debated over the past decade. And social media has only accelerated and sometimes inflamed the conversation, as millions of people contribute to the debate with witty memes, posts, and tweets to prove their points and take shots at the opposing side.
As both sides become more polarized, and because Twitter wars rarely lead to helpful outcomes, Elicia and I have purposed to take a different approach. We want to call ourselves and other married believers to gospel-saturated marriages. Talking with believers across the nation about the pressing social issues of today, we've noticed that married Christians are often distracted by the fight going on around them. They're allowing things that are temporal, not eternal, to dictate their marriages. They're choosing the world's priorities instead of God's, and the world is going to keep fighting against our marriages. We need to fight back — by choosing to live out the gospel with our spouses.
On the morning of June 26, 2015, the day the Supreme Court ruled on the definition of marriage,1 I tweeted, "Marriage as God defines it in Scripture is a beautiful illustration of the Gospel. The Gospel shines best when in contrast to darkness." The tweet was picked up by a couple of online media outlets who were reporting on the "Christian Twitter" response to the Supreme Court decision. This placed the tweet in front of people who don't usually follow me, which led to an interesting conversation between me and a person who celebrated the court ruling.
This person told me I was wrong to compare the love of two consenting adults with darkness — that I was juxtaposing God's definition of marriage. My definition of marriage, he said, is outdated and oppressive — and is evidence that Christians will lose. When I pushed back, asking exactly what we are going to lose, he warned me that Christians' opinions, ideas, and priorities regarding the definition of marriage would no longer be part of the conversation.
Politely, I asked a few follow-up questions regarding what he believed about the mission of the church, and he shared his conviction that the gospel is not objective — that any person can interpret it as he or she pleases. He told me that because the "gospel" preached by his lesbian pastor friend differed from the one I preached, the gospel itself must be subjective.
But God's Word is not subjective. It is, and will always be, the authoritative voice that each of us — me, you, the person I was in dialogue with, and the lesbian pastor — must come into submission under.
Our culture today calls for people to be accepting, affirming, and embracing of all voices, whether privileged or oppressed. However, this principle doesn't seem to hold true when a Bible-believing Christian, informed by Scripture and seeking to live a consistent biblical worldview, expresses his or her perspective. The culture of tolerance ironically cannot tolerate the biblical worldview.
Mind you, Christians don't help the situation when we resort to name-calling, sarcasm, and heartless dialogue with anyone who disagrees with us. Sadly, this carnal behavior happens not only between Christians and the unbelieving world but also among Christians who believe differently.
Fighting for a biblical definition of marriage is a challenge on many levels. But the Christian arguments for biblical marriage suffer when the world can point to the same sinfulness in Christian marriages that exists in the marriages of unbelievers. This is why we are not attacking those who agree with the Supreme Court's definition of marriage — rather, we are calling for Christians to look at their own marriages and reassess what God's Word says regarding marriage, holy living, and the Christian family.
Christians are just as susceptible as nonbelievers to issues of poor communication, frivolous spending, sexual immorality, and all other vices, because we are still wrestling with our sinful nature. This reality should humble every Christian who is married and simultaneously cause us to operate with sympathy toward those trying to navigate marriage without the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.
As married Christians living in a pluralistic society, asking for our voices to be heard in the public sphere, we should offer to the nonbelieving world the same respect we want. When legislation directly conflicts with a biblical worldview, Christians should not only respectfully defend biblical convictions but also demonstrate those convictions in their own marriages.
Having gospel-saturated marriages allows Christians to influence the culture without compromising the convictions of the Christian faith. Our efforts can become less about engaging in a war of words on social media and more about living in marriages on mission for God's glory When we live out the implications of a gospel-saturated marriage, the biblical definition of marriage becomes clear and has greater potential to have an impact on a watching world.
So, what do we mean when we say "gospel saturated"? First, let's deal with the term gospel. When we talk about the gospel, we don't mean a generic term or genre of music — rather, the gospel includes the hope of salvation and the implication of what life looks like when a person embraces the truth of the gospel. This is how the Bible lays out the gospel message:
Every human being is born dead in sin (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:1-3), enslaved to sin (John 8:34), and completely unable to save him- or herself from the rightful wrath of God (Romans 2:5-6).
God sent Jesus — God fully incarnated in human flesh (John 1:1-14) — to die in our place (Mark 10:45). He lived the perfect life no sinful human can live (Hebrews 7:26). He was buried only to rise from the grave, showing that His payment of shed blood (Ephesians 1:7) was approved by God (Romans 4:24-25).
Sinners — from every ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic situation — who hear the gospel, believe it, and confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 1:16; 10:9-17) will be saved from enduring God's wrath (Romans 5:9). And they will receive eternal life (John 17:3) by grace through faith and enjoy a rightly reconciled relationship with God because of Christ's finished work (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
Second, let's talk about the term saturated. Something is saturated when it has completely absorbed something else. Once, when I was preparing for a trip out of town, I packed a small bottle of liquid starch to use when ironing my clothes. During my flight, the top of the bottle came off. When I opened the suitcase, I saw that my clothes were completely saturated with starch. While saturated clothes are certainly not ideal, a marriage completely saturated by the gospel message is a beautiful thing. A gospel-saturated marriage is one in which the husband and wife strive to apply the gospel's content and implications in every area of their marriage.
Let's move from the theoretical to the practical by using Colossians 1:3-8 as a case study on how to live out gospel saturation.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing — as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
This passage captures what a gospel-saturated life looks like. Imagine the impact a marriage can have when it comprises two believers indwelled by the Holy Spirit and living this kind of gospel-saturated life! According to the book of Colossians, a gospel-saturated life consists of three things: (1) a regular practice of thankfulness and prayer; (2) a personification of faith, love, and hope; and (3) a healthy commitment to the local church.
A Regular Practice of Thankfulness and Prayer
Paul begins his letter to the Christians in Colossae by informing them that he and Timothy pray for them consistently — and that their prayers include thankfulness to God for these Christians.
The phrasing Paul uses in the Greek tells us that his prayers for these Christians were daily. One lexicon defines the word pray as "to petition deity." Paul is daily seeking the face of the sovereign God of the universe — and praying not for himself but for the saints in Colossae.
Can you say the same regarding your prayer life and the spouse you live with? Do you spend regular amounts of time praying both with and for your spouse?
Early in our marriage, D. A. and I didn't make times of prayer a priority. When moments of crisis hit, we approached God's throne of grace together — but sadly, when the crisis subsided, we were not disciplined to continue the practice. We had no problem praying for each other during our personal time with God; however, prayer together was limited to mealtime and bedtime. When you and another person have entered into a covenant, share a bed, and are both indwelled by the Holy Spirit, not praying together is unhealthy.
It wasn't until we were five years into our marriage that we began praying together regularly. Sadly, it took situations such as entering the pastorate, filing for bankruptcy, making job transitions, and having fallouts with family and friends to drive us to pray together. These times of prayer ranged between five minutes and more than an hour. We began to notice that when we poured our hearts out together before God and laced our prayers with thanksgiving, He answered us quickly. Not every answer was a yes, so we began to ask God to prepare our hearts to receive His will.
The togetherness we gained through consistent times of prayer — which, again, we want to stress were sometimes as short as five minutes — benefited our relationship in many ways. As we made ourselves vulnerable and expressed our anxieties and fears, "my" struggle turned into "our" struggle. And when we took our struggles to God, we knew He was with us in whatever we faced! As we walked in vulnerability together, we experienced a renewed desire to protect each other's hearts, not only from the enemy of our souls and the world but also from each other.
Pride is the great assassin of marriages. And prayer is the ultimate antidote for pride. Coming together in prayer creates the humility to confess wrongs and extend forgiveness. Words of affirmation and thanksgiving become a regular rhythm in the relationship. Togetherness in prayer is a key aspect of a gospel-saturated marriage.
A Personification of Faith, Love, and Hope
In Colossians 1:4-6, Paul highlights the evidence that the saints in Colossae were living out the gospel: their faith in Christ, the love they had for all the saints, and their hope in heaven. Simply put, their lifestyle was in harmony with the gospel. Their lives showed that Christ the risen Lord reigned in their hearts.
The quality of someone's faith is measured by the quality of the object in which that person places his or her faith. Take a chair, for example. My faith in a chair can only be as strong as the chair. If it is a weak chair, then I have weak faith that the chair will hold me. If it is a strong chair, then I have strong faith. The evidence of my faith becomes visible when I decide to sit in the chair. The phrase "faith in Christ" in Colossians 1:4 shows that the believers found security of salvation in Jesus, not in themselves.
As Christians, we are often tempted to put our faith in things other than Jesus Christ. Our entire lives before we were saved consisted of a cyclical trial-and-error process of placing our faith in temporal things that never ultimately protected our hearts. The world regularly throws various temptations toward us that can cause us to seek to put our marriages in the hands of something outside of Christ. Sadly, sometimes marriage itself becomes an idol, and spouses wrap up their identity in their relationship with each other. Or perhaps a dream home becomes the security blanket in a marriage. Maybe for some people, their spouse's job — or their own — forms their identity, and they feel that as long as they're collecting a salary with benefits, they're secure. Yet when the trials of life come and the idols of their heart are exposed — when they're laid off, lose their home, face profound conflict with their spouse — their once-solid marriage is now skating on thin, cracking ice. Their faith was weak because they placed it in temporary things. Gospel saturation calls us to place our faith in Someone who never changes.
Hebrews 11:1 says, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Faith for the Christian is anchored not in something but in someone — the God-man, Jesus Christ. He alone has been tried, tested, and found absolutely true. He is the one who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). It is impossible to live out the implications of a gospel-saturated life if our faith is not rooted in Jesus Christ.
One evidence of our faith in Christ is a genuine love for other Christians. You can't have a gospel-saturated marriage and you can't truly and wholly love your spouse if Jesus Christ alone is not the object of your faith. This is not a mere verbal profession of Jesus being Lord — rather, it is living as if He is Lord, striving to obey His commands from Scripture. When you do this, your love for Christ, for your spouse, for all other saints, and for the entire nonbelieving world becomes evident through your "good works" toward others (Titus 3:8, 14). Your good works must first take place in your home, toward those who live with you, and then these good works produce a natural outflow of love, placing your marriage on display for the glory of Christ.
Displaying this kind of love and marriage takes time and discipline. It takes a forgiving heart dedicated to building a godly future with the person you have entered into a covenant with. The love you express toward your spouse should resemble what we read in Romans 5:8 — that while we were in our lowest spiritual state before salvation (dead in sin, slaves to sin, and separated from God), God demonstrated His love for us by punishing His Son on the cross in our place. If God loved us at our lowest, then no one has the excuse to not do the same for his or her spouse. No matter how our spouses sin, or if they show arrogant stubbornness in an argument or reluctance to engage fully in the spiritual journey alongside us, we should never stop showing unfailing love.
This type of love is possible, and we know this because Paul acknowledged that the saints in Colossae were practicing it. Their motivation to love this way was a result of their hope in heaven — they had heard the Word of Truth, the gospel. Since marriage is an illustration for the gospel, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-32, we must assess what love looks like in a gospel-saturated marriage. Paul says Christ demonstrates His love for the church by giving Himself up for her, to have the privilege of sanctifying her and cleansing her with the Word of God. The outcome Christ is aiming for is a purified and spotless bride.
A gospel-saturated marriage recognizes the hope that carries our hearts through every storm: Holiness in heaven is the secured eternal reality for those of us who are saved and who are part of the bride of Christ. This hope, which is guaranteed (Ephesians 1:13-14), should drive us to emulate the love of Christ toward our spouses by dying to self, holding each other accountable, and regularly digesting God's Word together. Doing this over the course of time will produce in us a level of spiritual maturity that allows us to not be blown over by every wind of false teaching, temptation, and emotion.
A Healthy Commitment to the Local Church
Spiritual maturity, as described in Ephesians 4:14-16, is not designed to be lived out in isolation. Spiritual maturity is affirmed and made evident when we're living in community together. Our marriages will bloom and blossom alongside other marriages when we're planting and rooting ourselves together in local churches. This is why gospel-saturated marriages have strong commitments to the local church.
Excerpted from "Enter the Ring"
Copyright © 2017 D. A. and Elicia Horton.
Excerpted by permission of NavPress.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: We Are Broken xi
Chapter 1 Beat the World to the Punch 1
Chapter 2 Which "One"? 25
Chapter 3 Can We Talk? 41
Chapter 4 Going the Distance 75
Chapter 5 It Starts at Home 97
Chapter 6 Can We Stay Pure? 137
Chapter 7 On the Ropes 155
Chapter 8 The Gospel-Saturated Life 181
Epilogue: To Unmarried Christians 189
What People are Saying About This
Enter the Ring is an unveiling of the deep struggles involved in making a marriage work. In true millennial fashion, D. A. and Elicia Horton open up their lives before us so we can have front-row seats in seeing God work. This book will challenge readers from all generations to pursue gospel-saturated lifestyles that serve as an apologetic for our faith.
Enter the Ring is a book that considers the nuances of being unapologetically Christian, married, and urban. It’s both refreshing and reassuring to see the raw realness of marriage expressed in these pages. The Hortons’ vulnerability and practicability in their approach to marriage is a needed voice in the genre.
Enter the Ring is everything I’ve come to expect from D. A. and Elicia Hortongritty, creative, hard hitting, gospel centered, powerful, and life changing. This is a seriously great bookyou’ll laugh sometimes and feel like you got punched in the gut at other times (and in this book there’s usually only seconds between the two, so when you’re chuckling to yourself, watch out). In all of it, you’ll find yourself looking upward to Jesus with amazement to find the hope and grace in your relationships that D. A. and Elicia have found in theirs.
Reading Enter the Ring makes you feel as though you’re sitting in the Hortons’ living room on their couch while they’re talking to you about marriage. This book is relatable, transparent, and deeply convictingand all the while it points you back to the One who is able to heal even the deepest of marital hurts. The Hortons remind us that while marriage can be difficult, the Redeemer is still able to make beauty from ashes.
Enter the Ring is a gospel-saturated, practical, informational, and inspirational book on marriage. I love D. A. and Elicia’s transparency about their personal struggles for oneness and for defining oneness biblically and relationally. The IDEAL acronym they define is great for handling conflict in a loving and healthy way, and hearing from both of them is helpful. From communication to sexual intimacy, this book covers the whole gamut of what marriage is, what it does, and the goal God has in bringing two people together. This is a great book no matter where you are on your marriage journey. I highly recommended this book for couples and for churches desiring to equip their couples for lasting marriages.
This is not your Leave It to Beaver, “high school sweethearts fall in love and live happily ever after” kind of marriage book. It’s more like a “How in the world did these two end up getting married and staying together?” kind of marriage book. It’s the kind of book that’s needed in a self- absorbed, sex-crazed, anti-commitment world filled with brokenhearted singles and disillusioned young marrieds. With down-to-earth, street-level, blunt honesty, D. A. and Elicia Horton speak out of their own relational struggles and into the lives of anyone willing to listen regarding how to Enter the Ring and fight together for a gospel-saturated marriage. Take up and read this book in your single years, in premarital counseling, and in your first years of marriage. Watch as D. A. and Elicia demonstrate how the gospel is worked out in marriage. Let them walk you through the practical ways of fighting together, rather than against each other, in various potential areas of conflict facing couples today.
Just yesterday I received a request to pray for a marriage. After praying for this couple, I thought of Enter the Ring. D. A. and Elicia are writing to save marriages, and we need to save marriages now more than ever before. Practical and gospel based, this book is a godsend. As D. A. and Elicia write, “We can choose to fight for our marriages. And with God’s help, we can win.