Bad Theology = Bad Marriage

by Mark Gungor

There is line of thinking that began in American culture during the hippy movement of the 1960s and has continued to grow in popularity until it proliferated even Christianity.  I’m referring to the concept of “unconditional love”.  Over and over we hear people talking about how we need to love others “unconditionally” and how others should love us “unconditionally”. It also has morphed into the idea that God’s love for us is “unconditional”.  What a bunch of horse manure! Nowhere in the bible does it say that love is to be without conditions…in fact, the phrase “unconditional love” isn’t even in the bible.  (Not to mention that the bible is clearly a list of conditions God has for his people.) Funny how Christians are so quick to make such unbiblical ideas and phrases in to pillars of the faith!

The other phrase that is repeated over and over again until it, too, has become accepted “doctrine” is “God loves you just the way you are.” Wrong!! God loves you in spite of the way you are!

He loves you when you are broken and in sin. He loves you when your life is a disaster, if you’ve committed adultery, are lost in addictions, or cheating and lying up a storm. It’s not that God doesn’t love you, he does… but he expects you to change.
We need to repent, to grow, to mature as Christians. But when people mistakenly say, “God loves you just the way you are”, what is either spoken or implied is the caveat that you don’t have to change.

Words have meaning and by using this oft-repeated phrase, we’ve created a generation of Christians who do nothing to please God, simply because they don’t think they have to. They think that God is there to please them.  Most think, “I said the prayer. I’m covered.” But they are still committing adultery, looking at porn, cheating, lying, and not going to church, or giving of their time or money.  After all, they believe, “It doesn’t matter what I do…God loves me unconditionally…just the way I am.”  It’s broken theology.

This maligned concept of Christianity is the very reason why so many marriages stink. Quite simply, people are taking their bad theology into their marriages, where they think there are no requirements, no consequences, and no conditions. They expect that the same “unconditional love” that they mistakenly believe God has for them applies in their marital relationship too.  The worst marriages on earth are those that one or both spouses buy into this broken thinking.

These are the marriages where women think they can have “boyfriends” and guys think they can have “girlfriends” that they hang out with, text message with, go to dinner with and they say, “No one can tell me who I can and can’t be friends with!”  The marriages where spouses will spend money, not pay their bills, not save for their kid’s college, because, “I want to buy a boat or spend it on a new wardrobe and nobody can tell me what I can and can’t do with my money.” These are the sort of people that stay out till all hours of the night and come home whenever they feel like it stating that, “No one is going to control me.” They demand that their spouse loves them without condition and are simply living out their broken theology in the home.

They reason that God loves them unconditionally, so the rest of the world must love them unconditionally, too. No matter how selfish and boorish they behave, there can be no conditions. Their spouse is to love them no matter what. They think they are passionate about God, they say they are growing in their faith when they are not. They are deceiving themselves.  All because they believe the lie that love is to be “unconditional”.

When we look at our marriages what we really see is a reflection of what our theology is and where our faith is. People think their marriage is a disaster despite their faith, but I argue it’s a disaster because of their faith.  Because their version of faith is “it’s all about me.” People like this think, “I want to be happy no matter what. God loves me no matter what. There are no conditions, I can do anything I want.”

Like the recent email I received about the guy who goes to church and praises God, but is mad his wife because she won’t let him have girlfriends. He was indignant that she would tell him who he could be friends with! How dare she do that! Why?  Because of his reasoning, “God loves me just the way I am.” Therefore, his wife should too.  Okay…you go with that, sir. Take that into eternity; see how that works for you. See if when you get up there God says, “I love you just the way you are, you don’t have to change.”

I’m afraid a lot of people are going to be in for a shock. Listen, I’m not being judgmental, I’m just telling you the truth. Your marriage reflects your theology and your faith. If you can’t live it at home, you can’t live it. If your relationship is suffering, if it stinks, check your thinking. It may be more about your bad theology than your bad marriage.

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    35 Responses to “Bad Theology = Bad Marriage”

    1. Lois Strange wrote:

      I was there on the debate in the chat room. I agree with what you say but with one difference. The word Love. God does Love us “unconditionally” just like we are commanded to Love our enemies, what conditions do they have to obey if they are our enemies? God loves us all, saved or unsaved. It does not mean that the unsaved will enter heaven or we can live as we please and expect to enter heaven, certainly not! It is not his Love that has conditions but His Grace, Forgiveness and Adoption into His family which are under conditions. We know what they are from reading the bible and becoming a disciplined follower of Christ. To receive His grace that condition is to accept that Jesus Christ is Lord and follow His Commandments. His greatest commandment is Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind and Love everyone as you love yourself. How then, if Love is conditional, can you ‘love everyone’ like Christ Himself commanded?

      I stress again that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is definitely conditional but that is set aside from his Love. It is His Love plus Grace Plus Forgiveness of sins combined that are conditional not Love alone. You will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven on Love alone but He still Loves you none the less and despite the way you are.

      I hope that makes sense.

      • Jane wrote:

        Lois, I think this is a fabulous answer and I agree with you completely.

      • Andrea Graham wrote:

        Yes, according to God’s own definition, his love is steadfast and unchanging and he is faithful to his promise even when we are not. However, according to the world’s definition of love, God’s love is anything but unconditional and nonjudgmental because he does have terms and conditions for being in right relationship with him and deliberate sin breaks that fellowship and damages our relationship with him. He judges whether our actions are right or wrong and wants to change us. In the world’s mind, that is not the behavior of unconditional love and I believe it is the world’s definition of it that Mr. Gungor had in mind in his post, people read God’s words in the bible through the lens of culture and misunderstand God’s intent.

    2. Marc wrote:

      I agree with Lois. The fact that the word unconditional doesn’t appear in the Bible doesn’t mean that unconditional love isn’t modeled and even commanded. Perhaps the most accurate statement would be, God loves who you are too much to let you stay that way.

    3. Ann wrote:

      Well, I simply love this article. I, too, agree that this “unbiblical,unconditional love” philosophy is just a handy excuse for people who don’t want to have to ever be stretched, to grow or be to change. I believe that our relationships are SUPPOSED to transform us, to be learning experiences, to get us out of our little, selfish, self-absorbed “boxes”. I think perhaps I’m one of a dying breed! I am one who actually WANTS to learn, grow and be challenged by others! That’s the good stuff!

    4. Ann wrote:

      P.S. I don’t think Mr. Gungor is saying God doesn’t love us if we don’t always “obey”. We are obviously sinners. He loves us, regardless. I think what he is saying here is that we have stopped challenging ourselves to do better in our relationship with God and with our relationship with others. Striving to obey God’s conditions strengthens our connection with HIM. This new namby-pamby, wishy-washy cultural notion of “I am who I am” or “I can’t (shouldn’t have to)change” keeps us stuck in spiritual and relational “sludge”. No one gets better; no one learns, no one gets to experience any consequences, which equals – no growth. For example, I may love my spouse but if he drinks in bars every night and doesn’t come home until 4 a.m., “unconditional” love goes out the window! Conditional love says, “I do love you, hubby, but until you get some help, you have to leave my home. I hope you care enough about yourself and me to do that so our relationship can be restored.” God doesn’t want us sitting around on our behinds. He cares enough about us to set conditions – much like the way we guide, teach and discipline our children so they strive to be the best people they can be. Now, THAT’S love!

    5. natasha wrote:

      I think this article was nothing but fantastic and I completely agree with you and have looked at things from this perspective for a long time, I ironically talk about it all the time. My husband shared this with me, he said I would really like it, and I absolutely do. I am going to foward this page now. Your article is great and I hope it can inspire people, who fall deaf to the comment’s of others.
      Thank you for writing this.

    6. Tammy wrote:

      I am recently divorced after 20 years of marriage. We were both Christians, but the last 5 or 6 years he fell away and we would split up and get back together. This went on for a while, but each time I took him back I was damaged even more and so was our marriage. This ultimately ended our marriage and now I live alone and would like to make sure when I do get involved again I don’t repeat the same things. I am seeing someone who is a strong christian man and he feels the same as I do. We want our relationship to be blessed of God even if we end up with someone else. Do you have something for someone like me?

    7. Tony wrote:

      One has to realize that our language doesn’t do the word love justice. Marriage involves ROMANTIC love. Romantic love is certainly conditional, and if I understand what scripture says, it’s reserved for your spouse.

      The examples Mark used, spouses who have inappropriate friendships or poor boundaries with respect to spending can destroy romantic love.

      I believe God calls us to love folks in the Agape sense of love.

      So what does that mean? It’s all those things spelled out in 1 Corinthians 13, but it’s also being honest about what constitutes sin. Not turning a blind eye. How many scriptures are there about God has rules for us, how God “punishes” us not because he’s upset with us, but because he loves us.

      The problem isn’t simply with the word unconditional, it’s also with how we define love. Romantic love is indeed conditional. If it wasn’t, the condition that we romantically love our spouse would not exist and we could romantically love anyone.

      Certainly romantic love has the biblical condition that we share that love ONLY with our spouse.

      So if anyone suggests unconditional romantic love, lovingly remind them that there are conditions, and the most obvious is that it’s reserved only for our spouse.

      • John wrote:

        God is not only a God that Loves but He is also a God of Justice. Only He can walk in all His attributes with integrity. May he have mercy on us as we try to step in greater agreement with Him!

    8. Jeff wrote:

      I agree that God’s love is unconditional even if the exact word is not used in the Bible. I also agree that Mark is talking about Grace not Love. Grace is clearly conditional and directly stated in scripture “God gives grace to the humble and oppose the proud” (it such an important concept that it is repeated three times). And, yes, unconditional grace is expected everywhere in our society – it is especially disturbing how often it is taught in our modern church. What about love? 1 Cor. 13 gives one definition of love, but what about “hard” love? While not defined in scripture, it certainly is exhibited in scripture. Jesus with the Pharisees and merchants in the temple, God’s on and off relationship with the Jews through Judges and Kings, Sodom & Gomorrah, Revelation, predestination of Judas to hang from a tree, commands to separate and leave the unrepented believer, etc. The concept of hard love is tough for most to swallow, but how could we truly appreciate God’s blessings without trials and learn lessons without consequences. How could God be just if He didn’t use hard love? God gives everyone plenty of opportunity to confess and repent – why should we not go to hell if we choose to rebel? It’s a perfect, balanced love by a perfect, balanced God.

    9. Juan wrote:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the article and the thoughts! My wife and I have been promoting this idea for some time in our seminars to young couples that are preparing for marriage. Is encouaraging to know there are like-minded people in the world.

      Bleassings!!!
      Juan/Lupita – Chicago
      p.s. sorry our website is in Spanish!

    10. Donna wrote:

      What a fabulous message, Mark, and thanks for being bold enough to share it. This is exactly why my husband and I, as pastors, have tried to caution people about the “seeker sensitive” movement. This “God loves me no matter what I do” mentality is exactly what has weakened the Church to its present ineffectual state. The question never has been “Does God love me?” Rather, “Do I love God enough to obey Him and live by/submit to HIS rules and ways of doing things?? Bravo, Mark for stating this so eloquently!!

    11. Bob Andersen wrote:

      Hi Mark- (re: November 22nd, 2011)

      (pardon me, a person from “perfect country”, an electrical engineer at that! This is not a criticism, rather an elaboration on your thoughts)

      People who would fly the “unconditional love” flag would pull that from Romans 9:7-8 -

      7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

      and John 3:16-21 -

      16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

      But, as you would point out …

      18 (Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

      So couldn’t we say his love is unconditional but the benefits of his love, salvation and eternal life, are clearly conditional. Love is an action, not a feeling. God acted out his devine love for us on the cross. We cannot receive a benefit if are unwilling to receive it. Reception of his love is conditioned by our actions and beliefs.

      We should love the sinner but hate the sin. If we have people in our lives who are unrepentent in their sin we then need to “let go, and let God” so we can be holy, but we need to cut them off from our lives until if and when they show conviction and repentance for their sins.

      1 Peter 1:16
      since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

      Perhaps your point could be paraphrased “don’t live in the pig sty.”

      • Gary wrote:

        I agree with you. I will point out Romans 8:38-39 – “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Yes. His love is unconditional in my book.

    12. Donna wrote:

      Bad Theology = Bad Marriage

      Hi Mark,
      I want to applaud and commend you for having the GUTS to bring this issue to light..I am now walking out the consequences of Bad Theology=Bad Marriage right now..I think that I am gonna print your article for discussion at our bible study??..Keep it coming Mark you are on the right track..Have a great Valentines..

    13. Josh Cotts wrote:

      Here’s my opinion…

      If you are going to say that God loves us even if we make mistakes, then please don’t say that God’s love is not unconditional. That is twisted and can lead someone who is not very well-versed in the word down the wrong path. God’s love is unconditional, says John 3:16. “For God so loved the world.” That means everyone, believers and unbelievers. I have no doubt that your doctrine is correct, but your communication of it seems to be in a whirlwind.

    14. Sheryl wrote:

      Perhaps we should consider the different types of “love”, more specifically philia and agape, when discussing Christian love. Americans have a narrow definition of”love”—If we consider universal interpretations, perhaps we’ll have a better understanding of God’s Love for us.

    15. Heather wrote:

      This is such a refreshing article. We agree with the thinking. As christians we often take on board just what someone else has told us. Very unhealthy. In our seminas that we run around the world we too talk the same talk. It revolutionises people when they are set free from misconceptions.

      Well Done Mark and thank you for standing up for us all.

    16. SA-anon wrote:

      My wife believes “friends” also includes any other woman I speak, e-mail or text, regardless of their role in my life. For instance, I am a part of several political movements, food prep groups, home school groups, and other such non-business related. Quite frankly, some of those outside-the-office activities I have chosen, can include business some times, including fund raisers, which I have engaged in communication with other women on this matter.

      The belief from my wife, is that none of this should take place. Unless I am required by business, where I get my paycheck, to converse with women, I am not ever allowed to speak, text or e-mail other women.

      I find this to be a poor example of Mark’s above description of “girlfriends”. To be honest, I have crossed the line a couple times, on purpose, because I was looking for information from the other party (women). So I know that “chatting” and making “girlfriend/boyfriend” type conversation, outside that of organization, business or interest can lead to problems. I still feel this is a far cry from an affair.

      I don’t believe this means that e-mailing an organizer of a group and being a part of an organization which has a part of its membership women, means I cannot be a part of it.

      What I believe, and something I should strive better at, is keeping a more open an honest communications path with my wife. It also means that my wife should understand that when I say I am going to such and such meeting, she doesn’t freak out and call me a cheater. Or when I have to e-mail another woman about some event coming up, its some cheating indiscretion.

      Do I have all the answers, no, but in order to keep up with organizations and events, both spouses don’t always have time time to attend or manage kids, or keep up with the information. What happens when I am an organizer of a group, perhaps meetup, or something more formal at an event hall, and other women show up to our event? What happens when they text, Facebook, tweet or e-mail me about the group? I don’t go out looking for groups that are all women for instance, but…

      Anyway, I think Mark certainly breached a great subject, and one with which I will be asking my therapist about for sure.

      What are your views?

      • Karen wrote:

        You mentioned you ‘crossed the line’ a couple of times for ‘information’. Is that flirting or something more? Crossing the boundaries of appropriateness for married people is never acceptable.

        That said, one of the differences between our culture and strict Islam is that men and women are allowed to socialize together. Sounds like you are a much more social person than your spouse. Some people are more inclined to want and need social interaction than others. Nothing wrong with that.

        On the other hand, is it the case that you are out and about while leaving your wife home with the kids? If so, she probably resents that. Why not get a sitter and include your wife in your social groups, instead of doing these things alone? Take her with you, include her in the group. Then, if she decides she doesn’t want to participate, at least she will be doing it from a position of making an informed choice. And if she does want to be included and continue, your marriage will be stronger because your life partner will be working by your side.

    17. JD (Green Bay) wrote:

      Interesting thoughts. I usually cringe when someone shares in the declarative, as it often seem like there is an assumption of expert of the topic. As far as Unconditional love, I remember about the word “Agápe” (ἀγάπη agápē[1]) means “love” (unconditional love) in modern day Greek, such as in the term s’agapo (Σ’αγαπώ), which means “I love you”. In Ancient Greek, it often refers to a general affection or deeper sense of “true love” rather than the attraction suggested by “eros”. Agape is used in the biblical passage known as the “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13, and is described there and throughout the New Testament as sacrificial love. Agape is also used in ancient texts to denote feelings for a good meal, one’s children, and the feelings for a spouse. It can also be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard. Agape was appropriated by Christians for use to express the unconditional love of God. Before agape love there was no other word to express such great love. (Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love)

      My marriage is not a disaster because of my faith, but rather my lack of true faith in GOD and spiritual connectivity.

      Sometimes I get confused with theology and spirituality. I used to be very theological …. had the knowledge, but was missing the spiritual connection to God. I am improving in that area of my life.

    18. Sheryl wrote:

      Well said. Marriage is about making us HOLY not happy. Holiness brings joy and peace. Happiness brings selfishness, anxiety and striving for the things of this world.

    19. Randl wrote:

      good stuff…going to share!

    20. Lorraine wrote:

      I appreciate your straight talk! Really do. Thank you for your courage and boldness as we have generations that have bought into the lies that is so unbibilical. God bless you Mark

    21. Karen wrote:

      I really enjoy your teaching, Mark. You are not afraid to tell it like it is. You are spot on about the ‘unconditional love’ thinking. To be honest,I’d never thought of it that way.

      But is unconditional love the real reason people behave so selfishly in relationships or is it just plain selfishness? We live in an ‘it’s all about me’ world. American kids score high in academic tests compared to the rest of the world in only one area- ‘self esteem’. Many parents believe if they hold their children accountable for their bad behavior, they will somehow damage their children irreparably and now we have a generation of kids who believe they are the greatest thing in the world.

      Problem is, that kind of ‘self esteem’ is false. It’s not earned. It’s rewards given without any real achievement tied to it. I predict this emerging generation of young adults will not only have an even higher divorce rate, they will not be able to compete in the real world when it comes to jobs, because so many of them have never had to put out any real effort to achieve anything. Our teaching our children to be overly confident and self absorbed will be the downfall of their generation.

      Your thoughts?

    22. Ravella wrote:

      I have grown up in this unconditional love idea, and you have a very good point. God loves us in spite of the way we are and there are a lot of conditions in the bible. The next time my husband tags conditions to family members regarding his love, I will try not to get so irritated. Although I truly believe that God will handle the inconsiderate people in our lives, in his own time and way.

    23. Dawna wrote:

      I have believed in this consept forever and it is hard to get my arms around this. I have witnessed to hundres of people giving them this theology. Now I wonder where they are with God. My marriage reflects this also. My spouse has no accountability to me, because he thinks I am trying to control. He acts like a single man, not having women but his time and our money. I have no right to see the checkbook. I get all the left over time. Which means when he is exhausted from all his activities. If i say no to a poker party at our home there is something wrong with me. I could go on and on because i know i play a part in this too. I will ponder bothe my part and what you have said. Thank you.

    24. Flea wrote:

      While I agree with you that marriages and theology are a mess, that much is broken, I do believe in unconditional love. I believe God when He says He loves the whole world. Yes, in spite of, not because of.

      Taking it back to my own marriage and friendships, knowing I do it far from perfectly, I loved my husband for years in spite of some awful things. I loved him as unconditionally as I could. The example moved him to love and trust God first, then to love and trust me. I treat my friends the same way, loving them. At the same time, I don’t put up with their crap. Loving unconditionally does not mean being abused. It does mean still loving in spite of abuse. Maybe even having to walk away for a time or enforce consequences. But not to stop loving.

      Hosea and Gomer are a good example. Maybe the word love is what needs to be called into question. What is love? Do we really know? Is real love conditional? I don’t think it is. I think we’re often mistaken when we use the word love.

    25. Karen wrote:

      I, only just now, had the opportunity to read your article and I couldn’t agree with you more!!! Two many Christians Hide behind the skirts of the Lord as an excuse to behave badly…then when they suffer the consequences of their bad behavior rather than accepting responsibility for their actions and developing a more mature attitude..(won’t do that again)..they simply fall back on God’s Beautiful Grace taking advantage of his trust and forgiveness then go right back out and commit the same sins….having learned nothing!! Many of your readers comments seem to reflect this “excuse” driven mentally. Thousands of excuses of why they are “right” to believe this skewed mantra and behave badly, rather than hearing your words and thinking, “Hey…maybe it’s….ME”!! GOD BLESS YOU!!!!

    26. Lichelle wrote:

      Just my thought…
      I see a lot of circular reasoning here…
      Funny how many here in this Discussion point out John 3:16 and argue that God’s love is unconditional! It’s not! There are many conditions!
      The verse goes like this: ”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
      Hmmm. See that right there? “whoever BELIEVES” in Him…”
      WOW! Sounds like a condition!
      The biggest one, John 14:15 If you love me, you will obey what I command. Oh oh!
      John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

      We can go on and on… God loves us purely and true despite of our sinful nature. His love is selfless and sacrificial. Agape love.

    27. Marc wrote:

      More food for thought…

      I too, believe that the root of our ‘whacked’ culture, and problems, is that very few people understand what love is, as the Bible & God define it. (Does anyone else’s definition matter?) Mark already talked about this.

      I believe that Jesus himself explained this Agape love concept to us in the parable of the Prodigal son(s).

      In the beginning, did the father love his son? Yes

      Did the son turn from his father, tell him he wished dad was dead (“give me my inheritance now”) and ‘do his own thing’? Yes, as we all seem to do at times.

      Did the son pursue sin? Yes

      Did the father still love his son while he was sinning? Did the father even know what the son was doing, yet continued to love him from afar? Yes

      While the son was far from his father, did the father lavish blessings on the son? No

      When the son finally came to his senses, truly repented, and humbly returned to the father, did the father still love him? Yes, as any parent would; he never stopped loving.

      When the son returned, he was welcomed back with open arms, a picture of God’s mercy (not getting the punishment he deserved)..

      He received a lavish party, a picture of God’s grace (unmerited favor).

      Yet, the father didn’t give the son more inheritance, because He is a just God. God is love; therefore, he can’t not love us. However, if we are to receive His blessings, mercy, and grace, we must choose to follow His commands & commandments.

      John 3:16 God demonstrates His love for us by sacrificing His only son. We receive the blessings of that sacrifice by believing in Him. if we want eternal life, then we must believe in Him.

      If I learn anything from these parables, it’s that as I love my spouse, I will demonstrate my love in certain (imperfect) ways. If I’m going to porn or chat rooms for my own selfish desires, I’m un-loving her, even if I say I do.
      If she’s going out with friends, getting drunk and hiding the booze, or hitting me when she’s angry, she’s un-loving me, regardless of what she says.
      I’m coming to understand that it’s these unloving (‘un’, as in removing or reversing) actions that we are to be intolerant of, and that we need to establish healthy boundaries. Since we are imperfect human beings, for us love is a choice every day, every minute, and we can choose to be loving or unloving moment by moment.

      Marc G.

    28. buli bevu wrote:

      Thanx how I wish all men cud buy into your school of ieology. Thanx

     
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