Your life is basically normal … at least most of the time. Your marriage could be better. There have been hard times—maybe even devastating times—but somehow you’re working through life. The kids seem happy enough. You provide for them the best you can—a decent education, plenty of outside activities, loving parents.

But for some reason, there’s a nagging feeling deep inside you, hinting that there’s something more.

It’s as if there is a secret that some of your friends and neighbors know, giving them that special edge on life, but somehow you’ve missed it. You’ve seen the glow from inside the relationships of their homes—even when they’re having problems. What makes them different? How can you know the secret?

Every couple eventually has to deal with problems in the home—there is no perfect marriage and family. Problems like finances, communication, and conflict resolution are all important to work through in order to cultivate strong, loving relationships. That’s why there are ministries like FamilyLife to help you learn how to do that.

But there is a secret. And this is something that all the resources and materials from FamilyLife can’t help you with. This is the basic issue at the heart of every problem in every marriage. No matter how hard you try, this is one problem that is too big for you to deal with on your own.

The secret

Do you want to know the secret for building the type of marriage and family relationships you desire?

The secret is this: If you want to experi­ence marriage the way it was designed to be, you need a vital relationship with the God who created you and offers you the power to live a life of joy and purpose.

Jesus Christ said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” And Psalm 16:11 tells us that in God’s presence is “fullness of joy.” God gives us a biblical plan for making family relationships work—and then He gives us the power to follow that plan through a relationship with Him.

The problem

There is a problem we all face, however. It’s a problem that prevents us from establishing a relationship with a holy God, no matter how hard we try. That problem is sin.

In our world today, sin is not a popular word. Many people have little idea what sin is. Put simply, sin is an archery term that means missing the target, or missing the mark. Romans 3:23 tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Most of us have assumed throughout our lives that the term “sin” refers only to the really bad acts, like murder. But in reality, sin is anything that breaks God’s laws, and it is impossible to go through life without sinning. Look at the Ten Commandments, for example. Here are three of the 10, from Exodus 20:3-17:

You shall not lie.
You shall not steal.
You shall not take the name of God in vain.

If you have broken any of these commandments—even little “white” lies or stealing something small, like envelopes from work or a pen that doesn’t belong to you—then you are guilty of breaking God’s laws. And it is that sin that creates a gap between you and God.

None of us has trusted and treasured God the way we should. We have sought to satisfy ourselves with other things and have treated those things as more valuable than God. We have gone our own way.

According to the Bible, we have to pay a penalty for our sin. We cannot simply do things the way we choose and hope it will all be okay with God. Following our own plan leads to our destruction. Proverbs 14:12 tells us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” And Romans 6:23a says, “For the wages of sin is death.”

The penalty for sin is eternal punishment and separation from God. And no matter how hard we try we cannot make up for the sin that we have committed. God is holy, and we are sinful. In order to enter heaven, God demands perfection, and we have already seen that no one can be perfect. No matter how hard we try, we cannot come up with some plan, like living a good life or even trying to do what the Bible says, and hope that we can avoid the penalty.

God’s solution to sin

Thankfully, God has a way to solve our dilemma. He became a man through the person of Jesus Christ, who lived a holy and perfect life in obedience to God’s plan. He also willingly died on a cross to pay our penalty for sin. Then He proved that He is more powerful than sin or death by rising from the dead. He alone has the power to overrule the penalty for our sin.

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me'” (John 14:6).

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“Christ died for our sins … He was buried … He was raised on the third day according to the Scrip­tures … He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

The death of Jesus has fixed our sin problem. He has bridged the gap between God and us. He is calling all of us to come to Him and to give up our own flawed plan for how to run our lives. He wants us to trust God and His plan.

Accepting God’s solution

If you agree that you are separated from God, He is calling you to confess your sins. All of us have made messes of our lives because we have stubbornly preferred our ideas and plans over His. As a result, we deserve to be cut off from God’s love and His care for us. But God has promised that if we will agree that we have rebelled against His plan for us and have messed up our lives, He will forgive us and will fix our sin problem.

“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

When the Bible talks about receiving Christ, it means we acknowledge that we are sinners and that we can’t fix the prob­lem ourselves. It means we turn away from our sin. And it means we trust Christ to forgive our sins and to make us the kind of people He wants us to be. It’s not enough to just intel­lectually believe that Christ is the Son of God. We must trust in Him and His plan for our lives by faith, as an act of the will.

Are things right between you and God, with Him and His plan at the center of your life? Or is life spinning out of control as you seek to make your way on your own?

You can decide today to make a change. You can turn to Christ and allow Him to transform your life. All you need to do is to talk to Him and tell Him what is stirring in your mind and in your heart. If you’ve never done this before, consider taking the steps listed here:

Do you agree that you need God? Tell God.

Have you made a mess of your life by following your own plan? Tell God.

Do you want God to forgive you? Tell God.

Do you believe that Jesus’ death on the cross and His res­urrection from the dead gave Him the power to fix your sin problem and to grant you the gift of eternal life? Tell God.

Are you ready to acknowledge that God’s plan for your life is better than any plan you could come up with? Tell God.

Do you agree that God has the right to be the Lord and Master of your life? Tell God.

Following is a suggested prayer:

Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I receive you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.

Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? If it does, pray it right now, and Christ will come into your life, as He promised.

Living the Christian life

For a person who is a follower of Christ—a Christian—the penalty for sin is paid in full. But the effect of sin continues throughout our lives.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

“For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).

The effects of sin carry over into our marriages as well. Even Christians struggle to maintain solid, God-honoring mar­riages. Most couples eventually realize that they can’t do it on their own. But with God’s help, they can succeed. The Holy Spirit can have a huge impact in the marriages of Christians who live constantly, moment by moment, under His gracious direction.

Self-centered Christians

Many Christians struggle to live the Christian life in their own strength because they are not allowing God to control their lives. Their interests are self-directed, often resulting in failure and frustration.

“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You arestill worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not act­ing like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

The self-centered Christian cannot experience the abundant and fruitful Christian life. Such people trust in their own efforts to live the Christian life: They are either uninformed about—or have forgotten—God’s love, forgiveness, and power. This kind of Christian:

  • has an up-and-down spiritual experience.
  • cannot understand himself—he wants to do what is right, but cannot.
  • fails to draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life.

Some or all of the following traits may characterize the Christian who does not fully trust God:

  • disobedience
  • lack of love for God and others
  • inconsistent prayer life
  • lack of desire for Bible study
  • legalistic attitude
  • plagued by impure thoughts
  • jealous
  • worrisome
  • easily discouraged, frustrated
  • critical
  • lack of purpose

Note: The individual who professes to be a Christian but who continues to practice sin should realize that he may not be a Christian at all, according to Ephesians 5:5 and 1 John 2:3; 3:6, 9.

Spirit-centered Christians

When a Christian puts Christ on the throne of his life, he yields to God’s control. This Christian’s interests are directed by the Holy Spirit, resulting in harmony with God’s plan.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentle­ness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”(Acts 1:8).

The following traits result naturally from the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives:

  • Christ-centered
  • Holy Spirit-empowered
  • motivated to tell others about Jesus
  • dedicated to prayer
  • student of God’s Word
  • trusts God
  • obeys God
  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control

The degree to which these traits appear in a Christian’s life and marriage depends upon the extent to which the Christian trusts the Lord with every detail of life, and upon that person’s maturity in Christ. One who is only beginning to understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit should not be discouraged if he is not as fruitful as mature Christians who have known and experienced this truth for a longer period of time.

Giving God control

Jesus promises His followers an abundant and fruitful life as they allow themselves to be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As we give God control of our lives, Christ lives in and through us in the power of the Holy Spirit (John 15).

If you sincerely desire to be directed and empowered by God, you can turn your life over to the control of the Holy Spirit right now (Matthew 5:6; John 7:37-39).

First, confess your sins to God, agreeing with Him that you want to turn from any past sinful patterns in your life. Thank God in faith that He has forgiven all of your sins because Christ died for you (Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 1:9; 2:1-3; Hebrews 10:1-18).

Be sure to offer every area of your life to God (Romans 12:1-2). Consider what areas you might rather keep to yourself, and be sure you’re willing to give God control in those areas.

By faith, commit yourself to living according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power.

Live by the Spirit: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:16-17).

Trust in God’s promise:This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything accord­ing to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15).

Expressing your faith through prayer

Prayer is one way of expressing your faith to God. If the prayer that follows expresses your sincere desire, consider praying the prayer or putting the thoughts into your own words:

Dear God, I need you. I acknowledge that I have been directing my own life and that, as a result, I have sinned against you. I thank you that you have forgiven my sins through Christ’s death on the cross for me. I now invite Christ to take His place on the throne of my life. Take control of my life through the Holy Spirit as you promised you would if I asked in faith. I now thank you for directing my life and for empowering me through the Holy Spirit.

Walking in the Spirit

If you become aware of an area of your life (an attitude or an action) that is displeasing to God, simply confess your sin, and thank God that He has forgiven your sins on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross. Accept God’s love and forgiveness by faith, and continue to have fellowship with Him.

If you find that you’ve taken back control of your life through sin—a definite act of disobedience—try this exercise, “Spiritual Breathing,” as you give that control back to God.

  • Exhale. Confess your sin. Agree with God that you’ve sinned against Him, and thank Him for his forgiveness of it, according to 1 John 1:9 and Hebrews 10:1-25. Remember that confession involves repentance, a determination to change attitudes and actions.
  • Inhale. Surrender control of your life to Christ, inviting the Holy Spirit to once again take charge. Trust that He now directs and empowers you, according to the command of Galatians 5:16-17 and the promise of 1 John 5:14-15. Returning to your faith in God enables you to continue to experience God’s love and forgiveness.

Revolutionizing your marriage

This new commitment of your life to God will enrich your mar­riage. Sharing with your spouse what you’ve committed to is a pow­erful step in solidifying this commitment. As you exhibit the Holy Spirit’s work within you, your spouse may be drawn to make the same commitment you’ve made. If both of you have given control of your lives to the Holy Spirit, you’ll be able to help each other remain true to God, and your marriage may be revolutionized. With God in charge of your lives, life becomes an amazing adventure.

Copyright 2002 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.