… a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Marriage is a pretty big deal. When you get married, you decide and commit to become one flesh with someone else. You don’t just decide that you’re going to live together, share a bed, and maybe raise a family… you decide that what is yours is theirs. In some ways, you have to cease being who you had always been. St. Paul quotes the verse above from Genesis 2 in his letter to the Ephesians:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
To Paul, when a man and woman get married, they are ceasing to live for themselves and begin to live for each other. But wait! Is he talking about marriage or is he speaking “concerning Christ and the church”? This dying to yourself and growing in union to each other… is he referring to husband and wife, or Christ and His body?
Of course, the answer is Yes! In the same way that man and wife become one flesh, a Christian grows in union with God. In His “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17, Christ describes eternal life as “that they may know You, the only true God…” As crude as this may sound, I imagine that knowing God in this way is something like the way Adam knew Eve when she conceived Cane. If intercourse is the ultimate expression of marital love, then communion is the pinnacle of the Christian life.
I’ve been married for over 7 (blissful) years and I intend to continue to be for the rest of my life. But my marriage isn’t based on a vow that I recited way back when. I really meant it then, and I still mean it now. But I don’t continue in this relationship simply because of the contractual arrangement I made with my wife on our wedding day. I continue because I love her.
And this is my point. Marriage is so much more than a ceremony and a certificate. In the same way, Christian salvation is so much more than a “sinner’s prayer”, or one-time (or even once-a-day) forgiveness of sins, or even baptism. Salvation is to know the one true God, to die to yourself and to live forever in that relationship, and to grow deeper and deeper in communion with Him. And just like any good marriage, it takes lots of work… and just like any good marriage, it is way more than worth it.