“Submit yourselves therefore to God” (Jas 4:7).
In the covenant of grace, God extends his friendship to sinners who are by nature totally depraved. He does so by his Spirit, accompanied by the preaching of his Word, drawing his elect people out of darkness into the marvelous light of his fellowship. And although the hearts of his people have been transformed to the image of his Son who died for them, yet while on earth they still retain their sinful natures. Throughout their entire lives the people of God struggle with their sinful natures which are at enmity against him, crying for deliverance. In earnest expectation they seek the blessed hope of Christ’s coming where their sinful natures will be fully destroyed and transformed into perfectly glorious bodies.
As much as courtship is a time of great excitement, it is also a time of profound humility. This is because the two young believers who are brought together in the providence of God realize that they are ultimately nothing but sinners saved by grace. They understand that they still retain their distinctively sinful natures and are prone to sin against God and each other. They know that only the grace of God could have brought them together in covenant courtship and that it is the only thing that will sustain their relationship.
Sin is present in any relationship, be it in the home, with our colleagues or friends. When we approach courtship with a spiritual frame of mind, we see the motions of sin working in the relationship. We see sin working powerfully and expressing itself in the form of pride, lust, jealousy, anger and self-centeredness amongst other sins. A covenant couple may not be guilty of all of those sins but they carry with them specific sins according to their characters. This struggle with sin carries on not only in courtship but also in marriage and all through their lives as one flesh. The form for marriage at the back of the Psalter confesses accurately that “married persons are generally, by reason of sin, subject to many troubles and afflictions.”
Sin has the potential to destroy a couple’s relationship. When sins are committed in the process of courtship and are not repented of, they grieve the Spirit that unites both believers in the bond of love. This grieving draws the couple away from each other, and consequently their personal relationship with God is also affected. They are unable to enjoy God’s favor and each other’s love for a season because sin has separated them.
The tendency to sin against each other in courtship is far greater than in normal friendships because of the closeness that the couple shares. Ironic as it may be, this closeness can sometimes have a contradictory effect. On the one hand it is the cause by which a couple devote themselves to each other, care for and love each other deeply. Yet on the other hand, this closeness makes them deeply aware of each other’s flaws and sinful tendencies. This awareness may sometimes cause a couple to sin against each other willfully or to tempt the other to sin.
A couple’s knowledge and experience of sin in their courtship must finally bring them to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. Above all things they must acknowledge their sinfulness which provokes the holy God to wrath and anger. As they pray for forgiveness and submit themselves to him in repentance, they understand that they need God every moment of their relationship. God must reconcile them to him and to each other. Only then will they experience his favour again and enjoy the blessings of his friendship with each other.
When a couple submit themselves to God, then they will be able to submit to each other. The ability to confess individual faults to each other, to seek each other’s forgiveness is evidence of the Spirit’s work in their hearts. Pride hinders us from confessing our faults, and the devil is ever quick to stoke that pride when believers sin against each other in a relationship. Sometimes the hardened heart finds it agonizingly painful to humble itself in repentance.
Nevertheless, the powerful grace of God working in the lives of his covenant children will break down that sinful pride, enabling the couple to surrender themselves fully to each other. As they are reunited to each other in humility they experience the peace of God which passes understanding. This peace gives them the assurance of their covenant friendship with God who alone works out all things for the good of his people.