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Mable came from an abusive and dysfunctional family. As I listened to her story, I was holding back tears. She talked about the anger and chaos that she experienced as a child. Initially, she hoped her parents would change. After a while, she began thinking about a future without them. By the time she was thirteen, she walked through her “door of opportunity.” Her body was changing, and with it came unexpected attention from boys.
She dismissed her impure motives because her desires for love and acceptance were stronger than any imagined consequences of stepping into the “sensual arena” with the opposite sex. A guy’s gaze woke up things in her heart that she had never felt before. To be loved and fought over was a radical departure from how her family treated her. And Mable was a quick study.
It didn’t take long to figure out how to draw attention from the boys. She became a flirtatious teenager. That was the beginning of the end for her. Mable started marking the days until her knight in shining armor showed up. This future hope of “true love” was what kept her motivated. She never perceived how her natural beauty would set her up for future failure.
Mable’s longings for a better life and anger toward her parents blended and blinded her from the wisdom that she needed to know what a “better life” could be like for her. Cravings for affection and security mixed with a heart of anger overpowered sound judgment. She was justified in her mind and stubborn in her attitude.
It was only a matter of time before she would “jump from the frying pan into the fire.” By the time she was eighteen, she had slept with six guys. Sex was the bait that she used to manipulate love (lust) from guys. It was all she knew.
Mable’s cousin introduced her to Biff. He seemed different from the other guys that she had met. He was sweet, considerate, and patient. Mable particularly liked the fact Biff opened the car door for her. The clincher was how different he was from her dad. He was the perfect catch.
It did not register with her that sleeping together was a definite warning sign. Mable’s craving for love shielded her from seeing a trail of future tears that would lead to so much conflict in her marriage. She was smitten immediately.
Within nine months, they were married. They received little guidance about their courtship. Their pre-marriage counseling was three sessions and a personality test. It felt right. Mable could not imagine her relationship with Biff being anything like her childhood. Besides, he loved her.
Mable’s parents were thankful that she met a “nice guy.” Her daddy was more excited about the wedding because he did not have to provide for her any longer. But he did grumble about coughing up two grand for the wedding.
Their marriage was in trouble from the beginning. Two selfish, needy people who had no template for a biblical marriage joined each other. The disappointment was on its way. Within six months of marriage, Mable learned her knight had tarnished armor. Biff had an ongoing texting relationship with an ex-flame. Mable was devastated. And livid. She felt betrayed.
Mable hoped Biff would rescue her from her horrid past. Biff was her ticket to a better life. What Mable did not factor into her plan was the fallenness of her husband. Though she tacitly agreed that all humans are sinners, it did not matter as long as it was not Biff’s fallenness interfering with her dreams.
Mable was not interested in what God was writing into her life. She was writing her story according to her deepest longings. The title of her story was, Somebody Will Love Me the Way I Want Love. When she found out about Biff’s escapades with an ex-flame, she felt deep anguish and desperation. She was also unwilling to forgive him.
In her mind, Biff could not commit a worse sin. Her daddy defrauded her, as well as her teenage “lovers.” Now her husband is a fraud. She went to great lengths to find the perfect man. Her “need for love” was the reason why she “played the field.” It was ironic that she did not see her sin in the same light as she judged her husband’s sin.
Whenever a person has an idol in their life, they will never be able to see things biblically. Mable’s lust for love blinded her from seeing what she needed to see. She was on dangerous ground. Mable saw gradations of sin, especially when she thought about what Biff did. Though sinfulness can be different consequentially, it is also the same because any sin will put Christ on Adam’s tree.
Mable would not allow herself to see herself as the same as Biff—another human in need of grace. Her deficient thinking was because she did not care about how God viewed her or the marriage. She primarily cared about what she was not able to get from her husband.
There is no biblical warrant to look down on another individual as though one person is better. When you or I do this, it’s unmitigated self-righteousness. God will not bless this thinking no matter how justified we want to think ourselves to be. Only a correct view of the gospel can keep our hearts aligned and humble before God and others.
Few discipling situations are more challenging than a sinning victim. Mable was a sinner, and Biff sinned against her, which made her a sinner-victim. As a discipler, you want to carefully understand her angst while empathetically listening to the anger, hurt, and fear that comes from a person like Mable. It is real, painful, and dark.
Mable does have a point: Biff is a jerk. You want to give her appropriate time and space to weep and work through some of the worst news that she could ever hear. But then comes the “discipler’s tension.”
While you must give her space to emote, cry, and process the pain, you also want to bring her heart back in line with the gospel, which means addressing her sin. Whether she wants to receive it or not, there is grace for what she is going through, and God is at work in their lives. You begin by positioning her heart to receive God’s help in her time of anguish. Paul said it this way:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (Romans 8:31-32)?
Mable must know that the Father was not off in a corner, utterly oblivious to what was going on in her marriage. She needs to know that God is for her and that He has something better planned for their marriage. Mable needs to know that there is no problem that God’s grace is rendered inadequate to repair.
Mable will have to simultaneously grieve while taking her soul to the task of realigning herself with His gospel. If she does not do this, her mind will go to places that will not profit her or glorify the Father, even to the point of looking for affection from another man.
How do you do this? I’m not sure; there is no cookie-cutter methodology here. It is a “Spirit thing.” You will have to listen and respond to the way God is guiding you while trusting Him through the process of restoring Mable’s heart to the Father and Biff.
Biff needs God’s forgiveness for what he did. He also needs his wife’s forgiveness—assuming he’s repentant (which he is for this article). Biff needs the power of the cross actively working in his life to keep him from falling back into his same old sin pattern. He needs the cross to empower him to care for his wife correctly and to become the man that God wants him to be.
Mable needs the gospel as well, but differently than how Biff does. There are three primary things she needs to know and apply to her life as it pertains to the gospel:
The Lord “graded” His Son on the cross and His Son had a perfect score. The glory of the gospel is that the Father fully approved the work of Jesus. Because Mable and Biff are “in Christ,” they are now utterly perfect in Him. Neither their good practices nor their wicked actions enhance or diminish their relationship with God. They need to think and respond to each other similarly.
Mable will need to understand and apply this gospel truth to her life. It will be hard for her. While no one justifies or condones anyone’s sin, it is unbiblical to hold a person’s sin against them when they have repented and are seeking to restore what they damaged. Biff repented of his sin and is trying to walk out his repentance before God and his wife. He will not do this correctly, but Mable will have to forgive him, as God has forgiven her for her past sins.
Forgiveness is the only way this marriage will experience restoration. The way I try to think about such things as this is to remind myself that no person has ever sinned against me the way that I have sinned against the Father. If my sin against the Father is worse than any other that anyone has committed against Him, then most assuredly, I can forgive anything that anyone has done to me.
Mable will have to forgive Biff, and they will have to begin the long process of restoring their marriage. The only way they will be able to restore their marriage successfully is to start that process with the gospel clearly in view.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).