Confusing Christ-likeness with Christ
Seeking the soft-hearted in the search for a spouse
Christian women are often commissioned on a quest to find a man who portrays biblical masculinity, but quite honestly, I’m afraid we have directions to find a unicorn. Yes, there should be a biblical standard for the person we marry, but because of Ephesians 5:25, many people instruct us to look for the God-man instead of a man-man that loves God. And we eagerly accept the challenge.
Much of the emphasis in complementarian circles seems to weigh on the man, but at times this can place undue pressure and expectations on what biblical manhood should look like. It’s easy to elevate biblical manhood to a place that it was never intended to go—a place that is reserved for only Jesus.
Humble and Contrite
I get emails from women in serious relationships who have certain expectations of their boyfriends. They feel discouraged about the lack of leadership or initiative from these men. But they haven’t realized something. For most, the prospective husband hasn’t been one yet. Their boyfriend hasn’t experienced marriage yet, and it is marriage—and his wife—which helps him grow in the very places they expect more. And it is the process that he is called to. The process of becoming like Jesus in the specific way of laying down his life.
When I council women with these unmet expectations, I usually tell them that there is one vital thing every woman should look for. It’s something that God himself looks for in a person.
“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
Does your boyfriend fear God enough to confess his sins and be vulnerable with you? Does he seek to always change and grow? Does he look for your input and advice as a valuable way for him to grow? God dwells in the heart of such a man.
The God-man and Men
Jesus is the only one who is fully man and fully God. No other man who has walked this earth, or who will walk this earth, is divine. So, when we compare our boyfriends or husbands to him it has to include the realization that Jesus is the unmeetable standard, or it really isn’t fair. No husband will ever be fully like him this side of eternity. The kind of man who makes a good husband is not as much like Jesus as he is like David.
David was a man after God’s own heart, yet he was still a great sinner. David’s sins were no petty thing either. His sins went further than frustrating the partner who can’t stand seeing the toilet seat up or dirty clothes on the ground. David’s sins were traumatic for all involved. I am sure of it, because I lived through the kind of trauma sin can create in a marriage.
My husband went through a particular time in our marriage where sin hardened his heart. I was hurt by his sin and went through my own dark valley. But I married a David.
When the prophet Nathan confronted David with his sin he melted in a godly sorrow:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:1–4)
David knew his sin was foremost against God. His desires here are pure, and his hatred for his sin is great. And he doesn’t stop here. David asks God to “create a clean heart in him” (Psalm 51:10). The man after God’s own heart knew his heart needed help from God. Like David, my husband listened to God’s voice through my help. He saw his sin in a new way and by God’s grace repented.
A Soft Hearted Man
When I was growing up my dad always told me to look for a man with a soft heart. I think what he meant is the type of person David tells us God wants in Psalm 51. David writes, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17). David knew that ultimately burnt offerings were not what God wanted from his people. He wanted hearts broken over their sin.
I had placed my husband on a pedestal where he never belonged, a pedestal that required perfection. Though my husband is called to be like Jesus, he isn’t Jesus. I can’t look to my husband for everything, my everything is Jesus and he supplies my every need in himself.
Godly women in dating relationships must ultimately trust and follow Jesus as they look for a man who is a great sinner, but also a great repenter. A man who knows he needs help from Christ, and from women, is a great leader and will be a God-honoring husband.
Cover image by Henri Pham.