What I’m Reading: When Sinners Say I Do

When Sinners Say I DoI read Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say “I Do” during my July vacation in Colorado and in preparation for my series on parenting. I was glad I did, though I confess that there were times when I was reading about being a good husband when I should have been being a good husband. Sometimes life is so ironic. (When Sinners Read Books is a promising title, I think.)

My first response to the book was that it was too clever. Dave Harvey has a great sense of humor, and he shares a bunch of comical illustrations and observations. It’s very readable. I assumed that the fact that I enjoyed it so much meant that it was also light. I thought of it as the perfect balance to Wayne Mack’s Strengthening Your Marriage. Mack has some great content, but it’s printed in outline form that’s pretty tough to read. Put the two together in a blender and you’d probably end up with two really good books.

Well, that was my initial take on Harvey’s book: helpful and engaging, but not as meaty as I had hoped. I know it’s not kind, but that’s what I thought. The good news is, I’ve changed my mind.

I still believe it’s an engaging read, but I also realize that it’s much more substantial than I gave it credit for. I’ve returned to it many times in the last couple months, looking for helpful concepts and quotations for two series I was preaching, one on the family and one on the gospel. It’s full of good stuff. I appreciate it, and I’m glad to recommend it.

The gist of the book is that the gospel offers the only hope for building a godly marriage. Whereas other books on marriage focus primarily on passages such as Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5, this book is intentionally broader, showing the relevance of the gospel for marriage like no book I’ve ever read. Here are some quotations to give you a flavor for the book:

  • “How a husband and wife build their marriage day-by-day and year-by-year is fundamentally shaped by their theology.” (p. 21)
  • “Truth-based marriages are inherently centered on Christ.” (p. 22)
  • “The gospel is the heart of the Bible. Everything in Scripture is either preparation for the gospel, presentation of the gospel, or participation in the gospel.” (p. 24)
  • “So here is my conclusion: I am a better husband and father, and a happier man, when I recognize myself as the worst of sinners.” (p. 43)

Chapters 5 and 6 are exceptional—worth the price of the book all by themselves. Chapter 5 (“Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment”) teaches that extending mercy is essential if marriage is to work. And, consistent with the spirit of the entire book, Harvey demonstrates that the reason we should extend mercy to a sinner is that we’ve received it. The alternative to treating our spouse with mercy (which assumes failures) is treating our spouse with self-righteous condemnation. Notice how he demonstrates that a God-pleasing marriage is founded in gospel truth:

“Self-righteousness is a sense of moral superiority that appoints us as prosecutor of other people’s sinfulness. We relate to others as if we are incapable of the sins they commit. Self-righteousness wages war against mercy.” (p. 91)

“When I grasp the mercy of God expressed to me, it opens my eyes to the bankruptcy of my own righteousness and sends me to the cross for the righteousness of Christ. I can then sympathize with my spouse’s weakness and rejoice in my own, for they reveal God’s strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).” (p. 93)

I noted in the margin that chapter 5 was the best chapter in the book. Then I read chapter 6. Wow. It is entitled “Forgiveness, Full and Free,” and it is a must-read. Harvey’s teaching on forgiveness is good (though I found the “valves” illustration to be a bit tedious), but the real-life testimony of a couple working through an adulterous relationship is amazing. Cindy, whose husband Jeremy committed adultery, gets it. She writes,

“I knew what God’s Word said about forgiveness—that I could and should freely forgive in light of Christ’s great mercy for me on the cross. Yet, I was not able to see my own sin as clearly, and that became a stumbling block for me to extend forgiveness to Jeremy….I would slip into bitterness often, repent, and start over numerous times. But the more I heard the gospel preached, the more I was able to understand it and apply it to myself.

“Over time, I began to see my own sinfulness and God’s grace and mercy for my sins. It was very hard to look at my own contribution to the breakdown of our marriage. I wanted to just focus on his part and leave the blame there, but God opened my eyes and helped me to see that, even as a victim of my husband’s sin I could not claim innocence in my marriage, and certainly not before a holy God. The gospel gave me power to forgive my husband.” (pp. 108-109)

I’ve written and preached much in recent days about the application of gospel truth to everyday life. That is a great example of how the gospel can address even the most difficult of human situations. The rest of the book is helpful as well, dealing with loving confrontation, experiencing and extending grace, sexual intimacy, the death of a spouse, etc. I won’t address these things here; buy the book yourself.

When Sinners Say “I Do” is a gospel-driven book on marriage, and it is an easy read. I commend it to you, both for your own edification and as a valuable resource for helping others with their marriage relationships, including in premarital and marital counseling. Dave Harvey has blessed Christ’s church with this resource.

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2 Responses

  1. It sounds like an interesting book. I’ll have to check it out.

    ~Kelsey

    http://setapart.wordpress.com

  2. I just keep coming back to this book. I referenced it in yesterday’s message from 1 John 2:7-11 regarding our love for fellow Christians. The book does a nice job instructing Christians regarding their need to love fellow sinners, even when they are at their worst. It’s designed to be a book on marriage, but it’s helpful on relationships in general, and how the gospel affects them.

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