You Don’t Need to Gaslight Yourself About Your Marriage

by | Aug 16, 2023 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 74 comments

Desiring God tells women to gaslight themselves about their marriage
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It’s okay to tell yourself the truth about your marriage.

This year, I want to focus on what healthy marriages look like. And one of the big things about healthy marriages is that they tell the truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He lives in truth and he embodies truth. When we tell the truth, we invite Jesus into the situation. We become vulnerable and authentic, and that gives Jesus room to act.

Now, truth needs to be tempered with grace, as in “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15). Throughout Scripture, justice and mercy are often seen together (as in Micah 6:8). 

But truth is still truth. You can’t truly forgive, for instance, until you confront the reality of what happened. You can’t build intimacy until you can be vulnerable with your spouse and tell them what you’re thinking and feeling, which requires truth. You can’t fix a problem you can’t name.

Truth is the building block for healthy relationships.

So why is it that Christian advice tells us to ignore truth?

When I got back from vacation, I found a note from a reader with a link to a recent article from the Desiring God website (Desiring God is run by John Piper and his followers, and is based on Piper’s theology. This particular article was not written by Piper, but obviously people think it’s compatible with his teachings).

Addressed to women married to flawed men, this article gives four big pieces of advice–two things that you need to believe, and two lies you need to resist.

I’d like to take you through each of them today to show how this sort of advice is rampant in the Christian world, and actually runs counter to everything we know is healthy (while also being unbiblical).

So let’s take this one by one:

1. You’re supposed to believe he’s a sinner.

Her first point is that you need to remember he’s a sinner. She writes:

At times, your husband may be proud, harsh, or impatient (Ephesians 4:2).
His unique cocktail of deceitful desires will afflict him (Ephesians 4:22). He will stumble by not actively guarding his mind (Ephesians 4:25–32; 5:18). He may be tempted toward dishonesty, theft, laziness, destructive speech, resentment, selfishness, sexual immorality of various stripes, jealousies, greed, or substance abuse. In a word, he will falter in his charge to love you self-sacrificially…

The light protects us from surprise over our husband’s failures because our expectations are built on this foundational truth: he is still a sinner.

Desiring God

Your Husband Will Be Perfect: How to Love a Flawed Man

Quite frankly, this is so bad I don’t even know where to start. 

If you look up the verses she’s quoting, what you’ll find is that Paul is saying, “this is the way you USED TO BE,” not “this is the way you are now.” Our identity, once we are saved, is NOT as a sinner. It is as a saint.

This doesn’t mean we never sin; but sin does not have dominion over us anymore. The New Testament expectation for Christians is that we WILL NOT indulge the sinful nature anymore.

And take a look at that list of things she’s talking about: substance abuse, sexual immorality of various stripes. Really? We’re just supposed to accept his temptations towards these things? That’s how so many addicts and abusers defend themselves. 

Her end conclusion is that, if you accept that he’s a sinner, you’ll stop expecting anything else, and this will help address the problem. But the New Testament tells us to expect that Christians will act like Christians, and if they don’t–we’re not supposed to have fellowship with them. 

Perhaps, instead of quoting Ephesians 4 out of context, she should have gone on to the next chapter and quoted this:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 

Ephesians 5:3-11

2. You’re supposed to believe he’s growing.

The second thing we’re supposed to believe about our husband is that he is growing.

 If your husband is awake and alive, then Christ shines on him! He will increasingly see his sin, and he will know what to do about it. Equipped with more than a thick-soled shoe, he has everything he needs to crush the sins exposed by the light. (Ephesians 6:10–18 gives a full inventory of all the offensive and defensive weapons in his arsenal.)…

These two foundational truths — your husband is a sinner, but he is growing — should shape your expectations about marriage, tempering your idealism with reality and your pessimism with hope.

Desiring God

Your Husband Will Be Perfect: How to Love a Flawed Man

Anyone see any problem here? People can choose to grow away from Christ, not towards him. As we noted at length in our critique of the book Power of a Praying Wife, people can choose to do the wrong thing, and can choose not to listen to God.

The idea that a man who calls himself a Christian will automatically be growing more like Christ is just simply untrue on its face.

We all know that. 

Yes, she gives a caveat, “If your husband is alive and awake…” But who is this caveat for? This post is written to women married to men who are difficult. There needs to be much more understanding that many men are actually actively ignoring Christ, not growing towards him.

Okay, now let’s turn to the “lies” that you aren’t supposed to believe.

3. You’re supposed to believe it’s a lie to say, “I’m more righteous than he is.”


Besides revealing two foundational truths for marriage, the light of Christ exposes two persistent lies in marriage. The first is the lie of superior righteousness. All of us indulge in pride from time to time, supposing ourselves better than our husbands. But if we stay in the light, we cannot escape the equalizing effect of the cross.

Desiring God

Your Husband Will Be Perfect: How to Love a Flawed Man

Yes, all of us sin and are thus separated from God, and need Jesus to be reconciled to God.

This does not mean that all of us sin equally.

Throughout the Bible, people are commended for having MORE righteousness than others. Jesus even says, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20). The Bible talks about how some people will receive worse punishment than others, and some will receive greater reward.

It is simply untrue on its face to say that you can’t be more righteous than your husband.

If  he is using porn and is abusing you, then, yes, you are likely more righteous than he is, and it’s okay to know that.

4. You’re supposed to believe it’s a lie to say, “I know what’s best for him.”

Be wary also of a second persistent lie lurking in the shadows: the lie of superior wisdom. Doubtless, if you were God, you would choose a different path for your husband’s transformation than the one he is currently on. But the light of Christ breaks into our blind spots, challenging even our expectations about how our husbands should grow.

Desiring God

Your Husband Will Be Perfect: How to Love a Flawed Man

Once again, back the truck up. Yes, we are not God. But it is very possible that you DO know what is best for your husband. If he is abusing you, it is true that it is better for him that he stop. If he is gambling your money away, it is true that you know that it is better if he stop. 

You absolutely can know what’s best for him. You can know what God’s will is for him–to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. You can know that it is God’s will that he be transformed into the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29).

This idea that if your husband is in rampant sin you can’t say that you know better than him is rampantly false!

I think it comes from this idea that God is in control over everything, and God’s will is supreme, so if your husband is doing something bad, God must somehow be working out his will in a way that you just cannot understand.

But this ignores the issues of free will (and is what we brought up in the issues with Power of a Praying Wife). It could be that your husband is simply choosing to not listen to God. It could be that your husband is ignoring God’s will altogether. And God does not violate our free will. 

These four pieces of advice gaslight the reader.

They tell the wife: What you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing is not true. You are wrong. You are misinterpreting everything. You should not expect him to be good. He’s growing even if he shows no evidence of it. You’re not better than him and shouldn’t think badly of him. You don’t know any better than he does. 

Is any of this in line with Truth? Or is it instead telling the wife, “Ignore what you know and feel to be true”?

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How can God work in this marriage if she is being told to ignore the real issues?

Doing marriage the Jesus way means telling the truth about your marriage. 

You are allowed to name issues. You are allowed to confront issues. You are allowed to say what you see. 

Yes, sometimes you may not have the full picture. But you can’t find the full picture until you start talking about it. Advice that tells you to have no expectations, ignore your feelings, ignore what you see with your own eyes, and put up with bad behaviour is not of Christ.

It is not aimed at solving issues; it is aimed at papering over issues so that you put up with bad behaviour rather than blow up the marriage. 

The goal is maintaining the shell of a marriage rather than dealing with the health of the marriage.

The Jesus way is always authenticity, not image.

Authenticity requires telling the truth. So next time you hear advice like this from a pastor, a website, a podcast, or anywhere else, remember: If it’s telling you to ignore truth, it won’t result in healing. The goal is not true healing but rather maintaining an image. That’s not of Christ, and it’s okay to ignore it.

And it’s also okay to say, “this source is likely not a safe place for other advice either”!

Desiring God website tells women to gaslight themselves about marriage

What do you think of these four pieces of advice? What struck you as the most “off”? Why do you think people still teach this stuff? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Angharad

    This article reminded me of the old adage that lies mixed with truth are more dangerous than outright lies, because they are so much harder to spot. On the face of it, it’s all good – no, my husband is not perfect (because none of us is!), yes, God is at work in us to transform us, yes, God knows better than we do what is right for another person’s life, and no, none of us are righteous through our own efforts…

    It’s the subtle twist that is given to the truth that makes this so dangerous: My husband is not perfect – so I should expect him to be abusive, immoral, dishonest or deceitful…God will work to make him better – even if he is actively walking away from God…God has more wisdom than we do – so I can’t possibly speak up when I see something wrong…None of us is perfect – so any concern over my husband’s behaviour is me being self-righteous…

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! But I have to admit I was surprised by the blatant misrepresentation and errors in this article. You can’t be more righteous than someone? Really? The Bible is full of such statements! That one honestly surprised me, because I don’t know if I’d ever really heard it before. I can’t imagine growing up in a faith tradition that taught that. I mean, Catholics have the whole history of sainthood, too, when they honor people based on their righteousness!

      • R

        I have heard that one before, at a retreat given by a former employee of Peacemaker Ministries. She said it’s as if we are standing on Earth, and God is the moon, and if I say I’m more righteous than someone else, then it’s like I’m standing on a piece of paper — that’s how much closer my “extra righteousness” puts me to God in comparison with another person.

        I remember it vividly because it’s what led me to think I had to just keep putting up with being mistreated.

        • Angela

          And not a scriptural piece of paper to stand on. God emphasizes the differences between the wicked and the righteous all the time, as does every society.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’ve heard that analogy too.

  2. Anne

    I was recently skimming through a group workbook for men with SA and the part where they told the men that their wives were codependents made me stop like NO. But then I see articles like this and understand why one might say that a wife contributes to her husband’s addiction. She might be under this bad teaching that doesn’t allow her to hold him accountable. So maybe it is enabling the addiction in that regard.

    Whats that saying? “What you do speaks so loud that what you say I cannot hear.” That phrase itself might not be scripture; but it proves the point. Your actions (an inactions) demonstrate what you really believe. And sometimes that’s rotten fruit.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I agree. I don’t like the codependency language either, but the truth is that so many women have been taught that it’s anti-Christian to set boundaries, speak up, and say no. And that does let their husbands sin with impunity.

      I think it helps when we see things not in terms of blame but in terms of dynamics. You grew up thinking you shouldn’t have a voice, and that feeling contributed to your husband’s sin worsening while you felt more and more alone. So let’s deal with that root issue of you thinking your voice doesn’t matter.

    • Phil

      As a man who participates in 12 step recovery groups for sex addiction I can tell you not by numbers but experience that there are in fact quite a few who are co-dependent. Also – I prefer the word enabler – The problem is not all are co-dependent/enabler but the spouses are all lumped into that category and it just isnt so. My wife is not codependent or enabling – Never was and never gonna be. What we say in program is we do what works for us. Its a resource for folks. Some do and some dont. Just my 2 cents.

  3. Mara R

    The bad news: People are still giving this toxic advice to women in order to gaslight them into maintaining the status quo and give the illusion of shiny happy people.

    The good news: They can no longer give this toxic advice with impunity. Now there is pushback from people who are sick and tired of God being so horribly misrepresented.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, exactly. What we do here won’t stop Desiring God from publishing stuff like this, but it may help more of us recognize how bad it is. It may help people realize that John Piper, and things associated with him, are not safe and can be ignored. It may cause their reach to start shrinking, while healthy stuff gets out there more. That is my prayer.

    • Emma

      Thank you for this powerful response to that article. I read it before reading your post, so I could react to it and then read your reactions. My first thought – what if it’s ok to give women permission to search out and marry a really good man so that these ‘truths’ and ‘lies’ don’t even have to apply?! As someone who married a little later in life (by evangelical standards only), I watched friend after friend grapple with advice like this article gives in their struggling marriages. Some of them are now divorced, and others are still married and still struggling. In my journey of dating, I had so many models for how to be in relationship with a really unhealthy man, because I was in church cultures that preached exactly what this article says. Being with a “sinner” almost came with a tinge of extra holiness – like, look at me, I can surrender to God’s will and not have “superior wisdom” and extend unlimited grace as he sins and I can look for God’s light at work in really awful situations. That makes me a better Christian right?!? Wrong. It wasn’t until a counselor said, “You know, it’s ok to be with someone who has a story, as long as they’re farther along in their story…” that I realized I had permission to marry a whole, healthy man, and to expect that from a relationship!! I got married six months ago to someone who is WONDERFUL, and I find I’m still detoxing from the message that articles like this send. I catch myself wondering sometimes if I should be on the lookout for some secret hidden sin, or if I should prepare myself for when things get really hard. I’m learning now to trust the work that God has already done in my husband, as well as the hard work that he himself did to build godly character. And this is good and God-honoring as well!! Six months in, our marriage is peaceful and built on a solid foundation of trust and I have good reason to believe this will continue. Rather than lowering my expectations and waiting for my “sinner” to mess up so I can show him “painful” forgiveness, I’m retraining my mind to trust God’s work in his life and to enjoy the fruit of that, which is love, joy, peace, and all the rest. You are absolutely right in pointing out that not all Christian men are growing more Christlike – I dated several of them. But some Christian men are, and those are the ones that we should be pointing out to our single friends, while sounding warning bells about the Christian men with temptations to the sins listed in that article. Yes, God’s light and grace can work in those lives and marriages, but you can also choose the goodness of an emotionally healthy, mature partner.

      That was so incredibly cathartic to write out.

  4. Andrea

    This was authored by a woman who is most likely married to an abusive man, just like so many other female authors whose terrible advice to women comes out of their own trauma.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! Just looked up her bio and she’s a professor at Bethlehem College & Seminary (that’s affiliated with John Piper).

    • Tim

      I obviously can’t say this isn’t true, and I think your general point is probably correct, but I don’t think it’s helpful to make assumptions about specific people’s personal lives based on reading between the lines of something they’ve written.

    • Tim

      In saying that, if a friend wrote something like that, I’d definitely check up on her.

      • Andrea

        That’s a really good way of explaining it. Since she’s not my friend, I’ll never know about her real life (though often times friends are shocked when they find out how long something terrible can remain hidden), but to your previous comment — I am not reading between the lines, I am reading the actual lines, such as this one: “He may be tempted toward dishonesty, theft, laziness, destructive speech, resentment, selfishness, sexual immorality of various stripes, jealousies, greed, or substance abuse.” Some time ago, in quoting another woman’s terrible advice to women, Sheila pointed out how it might sound ironic, but it’s not. That’s how I feel about this quote and the article as a whole. Is she mocking extreme complementarianism? Cause it’s hard to believe she is seriously claiming that a husband is growing daily in the Lord despite this long list that includes infidelity and also some criminal acts. And I guess we’ll never know if she is gaslighting herself first of all and that’s her only way of getting a platform with Desiring God, or is she is consciously complicit because it’s the best she can manage in the patriarchal bargain she’s had to make.

        • Tim

          I read that line you quoted as a general catalogue of the kind of things bad husbands might do, rather than any direct reflection on the author’s marriage. Though as you say, the extremeness (is that a word?) of the examples she picks is pretty concerning. I just think that in the absence of any relationship with the author or her husband, engaging with/critiquing the ideas in the article will be much more constructive than speculating about what their life is like.

    • Sharon

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. Articles like this reveal a lot about the author’s personal experience.

  5. Nessie

    These are all egregious. This is standing out to me at the moment though, ” If your husband is awake and alive, then Christ shines on him! He will increasingly see his sin, and he will know what to do about it.”

    I despise “If, then” statements largely because it makes gaslighting sooo easy. -If he is awake and alive, then you should know it, right? So then you have to let him do his own thing, working through his sins with Christ. I mean, wisdom is attached to that Y chromosome, right? Of course, if he isn’t awake and alive in Christ, then you really should have been wise enough to see that and why aren’t you a godly enough wife to have noticed that?? Shame on you for not caring enough about him to try to gain him over to Christ! Are you sure YOU are saved?-

    That kind of drivel. It may seem extreme but 1. This bad advice IS extreme and 2. For women who have had gaslighting beaten into them for years, it truly can feel like that is the case!

    In many ways though, it’s the cocktail of all these things that make it even more terrible. And echoing what Angharad said- it really is the lies mixed with truth that make them so dangerous. And evil.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, and I think these “If, then” statements are really about covering people’s butts. “Well, I gave a caveat!” But then all of their advice assumes this is the case. They never say what to do if it’s NOT the case.

      • Lydia purple

        According to this type of theology…if the husband is not saved, then the wife should be quiet and win him over by her conduct, and she is also not allowed to divorce him, only if the unbelieving husband is not willing to stay with her. So it doesn’t matter really, the advice is shut up and hope for the best either way 🤦🏻‍♀️

  6. Susan Peterson

    I didn’t get past the discussion of the first point (“remember your husband is a sinner,”) before feeling compelled to make a comment. The author states that ,”he may be tempted toward [laundry list of major sins],” than goes on to say the wife should show grace. I am so tired of this particular form of gaslighting. What she is really getting at is not husbands who “are tempted toward” bad things. She is really talking about husbands who are ACTIVELY EMBRACING bad things. Similarly, the phrase ,”struggling with lust,” sets me off, when what people are actually referring to is ongoing, unrepentant sexual sin. There is a big difference between being tempted and acting on temptation, and there is a big difference between struggling with sin and excusing sin because, “all men do it,” or “nobody’s perfect.” Words matter, and authors should be called out for minimizing evil behavior.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


    • Angela

      Great points!

    • Jen

      Yes, my husband “struggled with lust” for three decades. I thought that meant he was fighting -and winning – to NOT betray me. Nope, it meant he was betraying me and feeling guilt about it, but continuing a pattern of betrayal and abuse.

      But let’s remember that feeling guilty and promising yourself to never do it again and confessing it to God while you lie to your wife IS NOT real repentance. Repentance is confession to God AND the person you hurt, stopping the behavior, and then making amends.

      Articles like the one being refuted don’t teach truth. It’s more victim blaming.

  7. Jo R

    A sampling of the many lies women believe:

    • Marriage should make you holy, not happy.

    • Women should not challenge men, and especially not their own husbands, because that would be unsubmissive.

    • Pray more, give more, have sex more, pretend to enjoy sex even if it’s painful and even if you never orgasm, despite having a clitoris.

    • If you don’t look happy all the time, then you destroy your Christian witness.

    • You can’t expect your husband to meet all your needs, so don’t expect him to meet ANY of them. Instead, rely on God to meet your needs.

    • It’s wrong to have any expectations in marriage, even simply expecting your husband to be a mature, or at least functional, adult who could actually run his own home should he suddenly be widowed.

    • If you don’t let your husband lead, he never will.

    • Women don’t know their own minds, but expect their husbands to read their minds.

    • Women are incapable of explaining what they want and need.

    • Women should listen to men rather than the indwelling, omniscient, omnipotent Holy Spirit.

    Exactly how does any of this make “Christian” marriage sound attractive? “Ladies, step right up and marry this overgrown child so he can boss you around interminably and with the church’s backing”? Oh, that’s right, there’s another lie that compels way too many women into a lifetime sentence:

    • A woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother.

    • Angela

      Solid gold here…

    • Nessie

      I heard nearly every one of these!! They were SO damaging, to both myself, my husband, AND my child!

      The happy vs. holy one really gets me though, and I hear it often from well-meaning people- why can’t my marriage be both? Iron sharpening iron AND joining myself to another believer who loves well should result in both holy and happy. Talk about a bad witness/advertising for Christianity.

      • Lisa Johns

        Happy and holy are NOT mutually exclusive!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It’s really pathetic when you sum it up that way, isn’t it?

      It looks nothing like the Christian life.

    • Saved ByGrace

      A great summary of what I was “taught”

      Man, it’s ugly when it’s written that way, but that’s why I’m currently living in home separated from my husband. 26 years, most of them abusive, which got worse after we started attending church :/

      These types of things enable abusers and silence those being abused.

      Gotta love how the men get a pass “cause they are still sinners” ya know. While wives are beaten over the head with “submit more” “pray harder” “give more sex” “cook what he likes”

      The hypocrisy in it all is what makes me the maddest.

  8. betania142

    Our biggest arguments come whenever I try to speak about my feelings or a situation and my husband interrupts me to say that I am using the wrong tone of voice with him. Then I get defensive about whatever tone of voice I have, because I sure didn’t start the discussion with a bad attitude. It escalates from there.

    Basically it doesn’t matter to him if I am speaking the truth about a situation (or my perspective of a situation), it just matters the tone of voice. If I have a bad attitude (frustration or whatever), then, what I am trying to share with him does not get discussed. Just my tone of voice. So most days, I just try to keep my “truth” to myself. No discussion means no loud arguments. At least there is a semblance of peace in the house.

    After reading this article, it seems like I am gaslighting myself by not sharing my concerns with him. Or he is gaslighting me by not allowing me to share because I am not doing it the “right” way. There is no “winning” either way.

    Thanks for letting me vent. Sheila, I really appreciate your articles and all the responses on Facebook etc. Whenever I see you have posted something new, I always take the time to read it!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, this is what Emerson Eggerichs hypes so much in Love & Respect too. It doesn’t matter how serious the matter is that she brings up; if she does it with the wrong tone, he doesn’t need to listen.

    • Lisa Johns

      betania142, I am so with you in that. Hugs.
      In my case, add that I “can never let things go,” and I am “let the past be in the past.” I finally decided that if the past was irrelevant to where our relationship was in the present … well, I guess that includes our wedding vows.

  9. Kelly Mayer

    I used to love John Piper – but that was also when I was completely blind to what the Bible REALLY teaches about marriage, so…??? Now I feel like I’m in a nightmare reading this stuff. “Home is a beautiful place to be, but no home is perfect! Yes, your house is on fire, but you don’t need to worry. Just ignore the smoke that is making you sleepy and think lovely thoughts about home.” WHAT?! I wonder how people can so firmly claim the Name of Jesus, AND teach such unbiblical lies. 🙁

  10. Lisa Johns

    That statement, “He will increasingly see his sin, and *he will know what to do about it*” is probably the most heartbreaking thing a woman with a porn-addicted husband could ever hear. Men with addictions do NOT know what to do with their sin! This fact is why they got into the addiction to begin with — because they were self-medicating a problem they were unprepared to deal with! This is a half truth — yes, they increasingly see their sin, but NO, they do NOT know what to do with it! 🤦‍♀️

  11. Angela

    Sheila, great article as always. So thankful for you guys. But I just want to point out your use of the words “justice” and “mercy” at the beginning with typical modern evangelical meanings, which have zero to do with the scriptural meaning, which I only realized relatively recently. And I have checked this in the original languages and context and many scholars would back me up.

    “Justice” is not “justice against the criminal” amd “mercy” is not “mercy for the criminal” or synonymous with forgiveness (and see how that centers the criminal and not the victim?) In Hebraic thinking, “justice” is the restoration to the victim of what was taken, which is why “God as Judge” is a wonderful joyful thought they couldn’t wait for! He is going to restore what the wicked took from us! And “mercy” is about compassionate acts to help victims, the poor, the marginalized. See how these actually male restoring victims central? And no wonder that evangelicals routinely ignore victims in favor of “restoring” the fallen minister. Even the word “restoration” is corrupted now from what it should mean. Both mercy and justice in Hebrew mean more what we would today call social justice, and put the focus where it belongs–on the innocent. And remember that everyone whose ministry or message was recorded in the New Testament was a Hebrew thinker, whether they wrote in Greek or not. Let’s change the evangelical conversation about this as well! I think it will really make a difference. Our language controls our thought to a large extent.

    • Mara R

      Thank you so much for sharing this. This is wonderful info.

    • Melissa

      Thank you for sharing that info about justice and mercy. Funny how our modern thinking mucks up meanings!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So good! I’ve also heard that the Hebrew words for justice and righteousness are the same? I’m going to sit on that for a minute!

      • Lydia purple

        True. Tsedek צדק in Hebrew means justice and righteousness. It can simply mean to be right in an argument, in Hebrew to Hebrew definitions it’s described as “truth, integrity, morally right”

        In the Bible it’s often mentioned together with peace and/or truth. So I second that it definitely has a restorative implication for the victim – which is quite obvious in many of the laws that focus on repair of damage.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s so amazing!

  12. Taylor

    The first “truth” was so bad my mouth literally fell open. The second “truth” was really messed up, AND it seemed to counteract her first “truth.” At the first “lie,” I felt like my brain was being scrubbed on a cheese grater. The logical fallacies, and the total lack of honest observations was horrifying.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You described my response exactly!

  13. EOF

    This line you wrote really stuck out to me: “Our identity, once we are saved, is NOT as a sinner. It is as a saint.” I really want to sit on that for a while. My identity is in Christ, I’m created in the image of God. I matter.

    That is a key point in all of this. These “Christian” authors and teachers would have us believe we don’t have any value (worm theology!) and then, naturally, we’ll be easier to control.

    I’m halfway through Inspired by Rachel Held Evans after you wrote about it in another blog post. It’s so good! I love her point that we need to treat the Bible as what it IS, not what we want it to be. For instance, the epistles are letters written to an ancient audience who was living under the oppressive Roman household codes. The epistles were supposed to bring freedom. They pointed to Christ as the ultimate head of the house, and teaching men who were used to ruling with an iron fist to treat everyone with a Christlike love. They also taught oppressed wives and slaves to treat others well in light of Christ: be submissive not because you HAVE to, but because you honor Christ. The epistles were not highlight the Roman household codes for all people and all time. The writers were trying to break free from the codes! Yet here we are in 2023 with church leaders using those very verses to oppress women and children.

    I’m inspired to read the Bible with fresh eyes because of this book!

    Another interesting point I got from the book was this (and I’m not quoting it exactly): Those who see God as good will be good, but those who see God as harsh will be harsh. So, so true.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, i’m glad you picked it up! She was an amazing prophet. We lost her too early.

      • EOF

        Far too early!

  14. Angharad

    A bit off topic, but do you know anything about a course called ‘The Quest for Authentic Manhood’? My friend’s church is doing it, and I’m getting a bit concerned at some of the ways in which her family dynamic seems to be changing since her husband got involved with this. I’ve not been able to find out much about it, but one of the key teachings she’s shared with me is “Men were created by God to be social and spiritual leaders. When men abandon this pursuit or when it is taken away from them, CHAOS ENSUES.” I’m not getting a great vibe about this. Am I worrying unnecessarily?

    • Nessie

      I agree with Nathan below, though I don’t know anything of this course. When anything so stresses an outcome that doesn’t come from scripture, it gives me reason to worry. And I can’t think of a single scripture that calls men to be social leaders even in a misinterpreted manner… At best, it sounds scripturally wrong, making up it’s own version of scripture.

    • NL

      That’s a Gothard talking point. Copied by Vision Forum, et al. Totally worry.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Nope. Sounds really scary.

    • Wild Honey

      I was nosey and found the outline online:

      Now, I just looked at the slides that had to do with defining manhood and relationship with a wife and characteristics of “servant leadership.” My overall sense is it sounds soft-complementarian to me, as in, the wife’s input is actively solicited, but the husband has the final say. There were a lot of things to like in those particular sections, honestly, like taking the initiative in relationship building and making sure your wife has time for her own hobbies.

      My concern would be that it doesn’t address appropriate boundaries with any specificity (at least in the generic outline). It does quote the “don’t lord it over one another” passage, but doesn’t say what that looks like. Which means it is up to each individual man’s definition. So, a man who is of good and mature character will have a different definition than one of weak and immature character.

      Also, it encourages mentorship from other men. Yay! But doesn’t encourage, from what I could tell, feedback from women in general or one’s wife specifically (with the exception of asking her input for major financial decisions). “Iron sharpens iron” is not confined to one gender.

      It is also heavy on the “woman should stay home in the children’s formative years.” Which will work well for some couples (I say this as a SAHM), but not others.

      Also, it says that part of Biblical manhood is having a woman to love (or some such). And that’s just bologna sandwiches. Jesus and Paul weren’t married. And God does not promise ANY of us a spouse.

      • Angharad

        Oh help, I’ve just been reading through these powerpoints and it is seriously worrying. And the way so much scripture which applies to EVERYONE is taking as a proof text of what MEN are meant to do… I’m worried for my friend. And even more worried for her children. Thanks for sharing the link though – I’ve hunted round myself but everything I found was behind a pay wall. At least now I know what we’re up against, so I can pray specifically.

  15. Nathan

    You may not be worrying about it enough. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging men (and women) to be leaders, but when certain churches or ministries do this, they add the extra rules of “ONLY men are supposed to be leaders of EVERYTHING”, and that’s a red flag right there. Also, if anything like this (a course, a church, a teaching) is close-mouthed about what they believe except for insiders, that’s also a bad sign.

  16. Jo R

    Caveat: I did not read the original article, as the whole Desiring God website just makes me want to vomit, and I have enough chronic, incurable issues in that realm as it is.

    One huge issue that the DG author doesn’t seem to consider is that it’s extremely easy for people, and I’ll just go ahead and say it, for MEN to attend church for a time, get the lingo down, be able to spout off a verse or three, and REALLY, REALLY DIG THE IDEA OF ACQURING A WIFE WHO WILL BE ABSOLUTELY SERVILE TO HIM.

    He can easily put on a show for six months or a year, and his every stumble will simply be chalked up to the good ol’ “well, no one is perfect because we’re all sinners.”

    Meanwhile, he isn’t ACTUALLY A BELIEVER. But he can say all the right things and do all the right things, or at least enough of them, and thereby manage to, well, trap a woman into “marriage.”

    Someone had to say it, and I just don’t give a rip snort anymore, so I’LL say it.

    Hell, such a man might even wind up as a PASTOR. (Pretty sure some dude a long time ago talked about hired hands who didn’t really care about the sheep like a real shepherd.) 😳 🤯 🤬 😱

  17. Jen

    Fantastic article. I’ve been taught all four of these ideas, and the mosh-mash of I don’t have a right to complain. Sickening.

  18. AT

    THANK YOU FOR THIS. Honestly, all of them resonate with me. Even though our martial issues aren’t earth shattering, I am finally able to put into words what I have felt all these years and yet believed such feelings were WRONG!

    Tonight, I admitted to myself and God that no, I DON’T think my husband is growing. I don’t think he has actively sought real growth in Christ in a long time.

    I truly believe the Lord has spoken to me about His plan for our family, but I’ve been told again and again that God must speak to the man. Then when I ask “what if the man isn’t listening?” what I hear is “God can speak loud enough for him to hear.” But in the meantime, I must maintain silence so he doesn’t feel pressured?? Then there is the issue of freewill, which I am glad you validated. Yes, my husband is able to flat out disobey God.

    It has culminated over years with little change. My question is, now that I recognize these things, if he’s not open to communication or seeking to change, what other things can I do to continue to live in this situation without us growing apart spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and/or physically?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a really hard question, AT. I don’t think there’s really an answer. If your husband is growing away from God, and you are seeking God, you will naturally grow apart. There’s really very little you can do about that. You can work on spending time with him and having fun with him so that you keep up a relationship, but, no, you won’t be as close. That’s really, really hard though.

  19. Lindsey

    I wanted to comment on the quote from the woman who wrote the article when she says…”He may be tempted toward…” (laundry list follows). I am wondering if the word “tempted” is not being honed in on. For believers, we are a new creation in Christ and we are called to live differently, however, that does not imply that our temptations go away. Jesus, being both fully God and fully man was tempted in the desert during his time on earth. We should be accepting the reality that people are still tempted. Men and women alike, I have no doubt we can make our own laundry lists of temptations that we all have so we need to be aware that temptation doesn’t go away, our ability to deal with whatever temptation is what changes of those who are in Christ. I am sure there are those husbands who are actually engaging in those behaviors but then there are actually those who are not and are resisting temptations and we need to be aware of the differences that exist there and be able to point those out.

  20. esbee

    just out of curiosity is the the author of the article aware you are critiquing her article? and how do people like this react when they find out? do the respond back to defend their position or do they call you names and accuse you of heresy?

    the reason i ask is because i see a great divide among God’s people and it seems to pivot around the role of women in church and those few verses on women being under submission. And I find those who believe and practice pat/comp teachings are often harsh in their criticism towards those who believe that marriage partners are equal in all things even to the point of calling people who teach as you do false teachers.

  21. JK

    The DG author cited Ephesians 4:2, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
    Your post, however, reads like you set out to oppose all 4 points based primarily on the source…or rather, based on your oppositions to certain teachings of the founder of the ministry the author was writing for.
    If we start reading something based on an assumption about the person’s position, then that necessarily becomes the lens through which we see it all.
    Regarding the points of your post:

    Point 1 – You’re supposed to believe he’s a sinner –
    You have good comments about the identity of the believer as a Saint, and I would agree. And yes, Paul is reminding believers of our “former manner of life”. But he uses language like, “put off the old self and put on the new self.” While Paul would agree that sin does not have dominion over us anymore, he still exhorts the church to take action, to put away falsehood, do not be angry, do not steal, do not let corrupting talk come out of your mouths….Now, why would Paul say that to those who have the identity of saints, unless some of them (then and now) still are tempted toward those sins. And note that even the passage you cited from the author says “he may be TEMPTED…”

    Temptation is not the same as “indulging the sinful nature.” And to say that the list of temptations mentioned by the author (which parallel the ones Paul wrote in Ephesians) is just a means that addicts and abusers use to defend themselves, is an reductionist response. Sure, some may do that, but that is not the author’s point, and that was not Paul’s point.
    But that sounds more hyperbolic and helps make your case, which appears to be just to oppose something the author did not say.

    It is correct to say that our identity is in Christ as saints, and we are declared righteous. So we can ID as saints, but that does not mean that we will not still be tempted to sin, or that we cease from sin, as you rightly stated, “this doesn’t mean we never sin;…” So, while still sin, it should be something that the Spirit brings conviction about that leads to repentance.
    You state that the author’s conclusion is that, “if you accept that he’s a sinner, you’ll stop expecting anything else, and this will help address the problem.” If that is what someone believes, then I would agree that this is flawed. But that is not what the author said or implied at all. That makes your argument a straw man.
    Point 2 – in response to “you’re supposed to believe he’s growing.”

    I do not see any problem with this point she made. It would be unfair of me to say that your position is that wives should not believe he’s growing. Right? I’m pretty sure you would agree that we continue to grow in our faith and how it is revealed in our lives.

    While your argument is not fully articulated here, you seem to be arguing against something she is not saying. Further, to state that “people can choose to do the wrong thing and can choose not to listen to God…” would seem to oppose your position in Point 1, when you argue that we are saints and therefore should no longer be tempted. Which is it? “People can choose to do the wrong thing”, or we should no longer be tempted since we are saints? How can someone choose to do the wrong thing if they are not first tempted? (James 1:14)
    You said, “this post is written to women married to men who are difficult”. Yet, the author does not say that. Instead, she said, “If the gospel can accomplish these feats, it can surely transform ordinary men into husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the church, and it can surely transform ordinary women into wives who respect and submit to their husbands’ leadership.
    “…this article addresses wives. Wives who want to see their marriages transformed must stay in the light, where Christ himself shines on them, revealing truths and exposing lies that shape their expectations for marriage. In particular, light-seeking wives embrace two foundational truths and reject two persistent lies about their marriages.
    Who said anything about this being only for wives with men who are difficult? Your assumption as such, echoes that you believe she’s writing to women who have husbands who just nominally say they are Christians, but they are porn-addicted, lying abusers.

    Point 3. It seems clear to me that the author is encouraging wives to guard themselves and grow alongside their husbands in “detecting and killing sin.” And to not respond to their husbands sins with sins of their own.
    Your response is to create another straw man, that “it is simply untrue on its face to say that you can’t be more righteous than your husband.” Then your example is an abusive, porn addict husband.
    I agree. If a believing wife has a porn-addicted abusive husband, then she is “likely more righteous than he is”, but that is not what is said in the article you are responding to. Not even remotely hinted at.

    Point 4.
    This is a straw man again. The author began her article with “with all humility….” from Eph 4:2. This, like the other 3 points, is an encouragement to wives to humble themselves before the Lord, to walk in the light, be aware they may also have blind spots.

    She is not arguing that a Christian wife may not know best for her unbelieving, abusive, porn addict and now gambling addict husband. If that wife knows repentance and faith are best for him, then I agree with you.
    You say, “This idea that if your husband is in rampant sin you can’t say that you know better than him is rampantly false!” Again, I agree…but again that is not in the article.

    I feel that your post fed off itself and answered unasked questions that would be unrecognizable to the author if you were having a conversation with her. Sometimes, we respond better in writing, if we think about responding to that person in love and kindness, rather than thinking about how to burn the person we opposed.

    I wish you continued growth in delving into the deep things of Christ, and working out your identity in Him. Please be more faithful to the spirit of Ephesians 4:2, in commenting with all humility to others, especially those in Christ. We all do well to fully read and fully listen, even to someone we oppose. We can disagree on things that are non-essentials without being disagreeable. In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I normally don’t let comments through that are this long (if you want to write something as long as the post, please write it on your own blog and link to it!) but I’ll just note some quick things.

      1. You can’t say he is both a sinner and he is growing. These are contradictory. That is the point I was making. So, yes, my points contradict–because hers do.

      If this is a man who is prone to substance abuse, sexual immorality of all kinds, if he is harsh and selfish, then he is not displaying fruits of the Spirit, and there is absolutely no reason for a woman to believe that he is growing in Christ.

      Also, it is simply true that one can be more righteous than another. And, yes, this article is definitely hinting at someone being porn addicted. In our survey of men, over 80% of men who use porn intermittently say that they are “struggling with porn.” That is the exact language they use. She said that we should expect that our husbands will be tempted towards sexual immorality, and this is how men describe their porn habit.

      Not a straw man. Reality.

      If you choose to respond, please keep any future comments under 300 words or they will be deleted. But thank you for being kind and gracious and logical in your response and not name calling.

      • JK

        My apologies. I was unaware of the content limit.

        I agree with you that a man who is prone to substance abuse, sexual immorality, etc…. that there is “no reason to believe he is growing in Christ.”

        We would also agree that one can be more righteous than another in the scenarios you mentioned.

        We would agree that many people use the term “struggle” as a justification for perpetual sin, of many types.

        We all need justification. To the degree we do not find it in the finished work of Christ, we vainly attempt to justify ourselves.

        I don’t think it is “contradictory” to be “both a sinner and still growing”. Maybe this is just a labeling problem. As a “sinner” who is still growing still sins, but as you noted in your post, “sin does not have dominion over us anymore”.

        I think you mean sinners who are not growing are those in egregious sin patterns, living lives not marked by grace or the fruits of the Spirit.
        The examples you give proved YOUR point, by attacking points that the author did not make.

        That is why I called it a straw man argument. It is technically a straw man again, to say to me “Not a straw man. Reality.” Because that is not what I was saying. I agree that if a porn-addict, abusive husband is not repentant then it is possible that his wife is more righteous than he.

        My main point was that I felt you assumed an intent from the author based on the organization she was writing for. Then you created more extreme scenarios than what she said to make your point.
        May we be better to “bear with one another in love” and give grace to those with whom we disagree.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          It is not a matter of disagreeing, JK. 50% of married evangelical men are currently using porn. 20% of married evangelical women are victims of marital rape.

          To write an article like this and have it not apply to 50% of marriages? Nope.

          If you’re going to write about marriage, you need to remember what is actually going on in these marriages.

  22. Michelle

    Hi, great reflection. I read the article and I didn’t like it either. It’s kind of long to say a little. It is to general and the advice is ambiguos.
    However, the “we are sinners” issue has some biblical good arguments. In 1 John, for example it says we are still sinners. But preaching this it shouldn’t be an excuse to sin freely, helplessly, it should be a warning to grow in sanctification a little bit more every day, because we are still sinners, justified sinners if you want but we will need to come in repent every day until we die.

  23. Erik H.

    “The Jesus way is always Authenticity, not Image.”

    So, so good. Thank you SO much.

    And as for that laundry list of major sins that we men “may be tempted” with, you know full well, Sheila, that if a woman were being tempted by those very same things, that those men authors wouldn’t be so quick to defend her behavior. I’d imagine a lot of them would blame the man for “not leading,” just as too many of them blame the woman for “not submitting” when the man sins. Why should we have to be responsible for others’ personal maturity?

  24. Mermaid Scribbler

    “this idea that God is in control over everything, and God’s will is supreme, so if your husband is doing something bad, God must somehow be working out his will in a way that you just cannot understand.”

    Yes, how many times were we taught that God hates sin, but allows it for His purposes (instead of having sun framed as free will). That teaching is incredibly damaging. Thanks for the helpful article.

  25. Caitlin

    I absolutely agree with others’ comments that there is a distinction between someone who is human and sins vs. someone who is abusive, and that it is dangerous to conflate the two. But I think acknowledging sinfulness is part of the Christian life. My background is in Lutheranism, and I think it provides some helpful frameworks for approaching this: 1) the idea of “simul justus et peccator” (*simultaneously* saint and sinner) and 2) the idea of the Christian life being a continuous cycle of repentance and faith.

    Paul acknowledges himself as a sinner in the present tense in 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.” And this is the same Paul that said we are a new creation in Christ. So there is a saint/sinner tension there that we hold as Christians.

    A Christian is a sinner, yes, but a sinner who genuinely repents.

    In the cycle of repentance and faith, repentance comes out of the sinner part of the simul: an acknowledgement that wrong has been done. I am a sinner.

    And then the faith comes from the saint part of the simul. Faith grounds me in God’s promise of forgiveness for my sin, and my identity in Christ. I am a saint.

    And so I’m free to live without the shame or guilt of sin, and free from slavery to sin where I have no other option. God’s Spirit dwells in me and frees me to love my neighbor.


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