by Taylor Combs
I don’t like to lose.
You can ask my wife, parents, sister, high school and college teammates, or friends who have had the privilege (or burden?) of joining me for a game of Spades. I’ve always been competitive, and usually the worst kind of competitive—you know, the kind that hates losing more than it loves winning.
Unfortunately, I brought that competitive nature into my marriage. I formally set it aside when I vowed to lay down my life for my bride as Christ does for his church (Ephesians 5:25), but that competitive spirit gets a deep hold on your heart. In a culture where “the good life” is marked by merit—how much you make, what you drive, where you vacation, or how your team competes on Saturdays—this competitive spirit captures the hearts of men from our earliest experiences. From the three-year-old tee ball field on, we’re taught that winning is the most important thing.
This posture isn’t just damaging to our marriages; it’s toxic. Our competitive spirit means we hate losing and don’t want to fold even when we know we’ve been beat. Even more importantly, our competitive spirit means we don’t want to say we’re sorry.
I can’t tell you how may arguments I’ve had with my wife where we’ve both sinned against one another, but instead of moving to her in love, I’ve waited for her to apologize first. This is not the way of Jesus.
What is the cure for this competitive spirit in our marriages, this unwillingness to apologize? I think it’s the old Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone.
The good news of Christianity can be summarized by three verses in the third chapter of Romans:
The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22–24)
What are we trying to accomplish with our competitive spirit? What are we hiding with our refusal to admit fault? I believe this posture is an attempt to prove our own merit and cover up our weakness and our failures. Why do we do this? Because we’re afraid. We’re terrified that if anyone really knew the truth about us, they wouldn’t accept us. But Romans 3:22–24 tells a different story.
The gospel tells us the worst thing we could imagine about ourselves is true. Those weaknesses we want to hide? They’re worse than we know. Those faults we don’t admit? Even deeper than we’re aware. The gospel tells us we’re so bad, so weak, so incompetent that the Son of God had to shed his blood to save us.
But the gospel simultaneously tells us the best possible thing about us. The bad news is that we’re so bad Jesus had to die as our punishment; the good news is that he did! The cross tells you, then, that you are both more sinful than you will ever know and more loved than you could ever imagine.
And what happens when we believe this is true? When we believe the gospel, we are justified, declared to be righteous by God the Judge, and made to be in right standing with him. And if we are accepted by God himself, then we no longer have anything to prove.
You no longer need to pretend you’re good enough; you’ve already confessed you’re not.
You no longer need to hide your faults; you’ve already admitted they’re there.
And you no longer need to worry about whether you will be accepted if you’re really known; in Jesus, you are fully known and fully loved.
So husbands, let the apologies flow freely. Fathers, let the apologies flow freely. Don’t pretend to be perfect or self-righteous in front of your family. You really don’t have to have it all together. They’ll see through it; they’ll be hurt by it, and it will embitter them to the Christian faith—the very faith it is your job to point them toward.
The exemplary husband a wife needs isn’t a knight in shining armor; it’s a peasant who is humble enough to know the only good thing he has to offer her is the same good thing he’s received from Jesus. This humility will lead us to apologize often, and I think it just might revolutionize our marriages.