A middle-aged couple sat across from me in my office. They were pillars of our church, but their marriage had hit a rocky time. After some small talk, the real reason for their visit emerged.

He wanted me to change her. She wanted me to change him.

We looked at Matthew 7:3–5 together, and I asked if these verses might apply to their situation. Were both missing the plank in their own eyes while trying to remove the speck from the other’s?

The room grew quiet. They had never considered this verse applied to their marriage. Though they’d been Christians for many years, there was a disconnect between the Scriptures they heard on Sunday and their actions at home.

Like many others, this couple failed to grasp a principle taught throughout Scripture but often overlooked in seminaries and churches: The first place we live out the gospel is in our homes.

Home Is the Front Lines

My first field of service is my home. My wife and children are my nearest neighbors, and Jesus commands me to love my neighbor. Home is the first place I’m called to display the love of Christ. How I act there matters to God. The Bible’s qualifications for elders state this explicitly:

[An elder] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Tim. 3:4–5)

For deacons, too:

The husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. (1 Tim. 3:12).

These qualities are not limited to “super saints,” but are intended for all God’s people. In his well-known “Farewell Sermon,” Jonathan Edwards linked home, church, and gospel: “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ and wholly influenced and governed by his rules.”

Home Exposes the Heart

If we’re honest, however, home is often the most challenging place to live out the gospel’s implications. We say things to our children that we would never say to anyone else. We express anger to our spouses that we hide from others. Laziness others don’t see is obvious to them. Family relationships, which God intended to be a blessing, can become a war zone.

In his grace, God is using those close quarters to shine a floodlight on my own idols. He is revealing my true heart condition in order to mold me into the image of his Son.

How are you obeying the following verses in your home?

  • “Love is patient and kind . . . it is not rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” (1 Cor. 13:4–5)
  • “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up others.” (Eph. 4:29)
  • “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20)

In both my actions and my reactions, I see my true self.

Home Trains the Heart

But God doesn’t leave us merely aware of our sin. In addition to granting forgiveness, the gospel empowers holiness. The Spirit helps us put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh (Col. 3:12–14). Parents can walk in the Spirit, crucifying self-indulgence and serving our families well. The Spirit empowers us to be patient and kind, expecting nothing in return.

God is using the daily grind and my micro-choices to train my heart to love him, to love my nearest neighbor, and to deny myself. In the original Karate Kid, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate. Surprisingly, Miyagi assigns Daniel mundane work like waxing his collection of antique cars, painting his fence, and sanding his floor. When the exhausted Daniel vents his complaint, Miyagi reveals how each mundane chore was preparing him for karate greatness. “Wax on, wax off” was forming Daniel in ways he could not then foresee.

Martin Luther agreed. “Marriage is a better school for the character than any monastery,” he observed, “for it is here that your corners are rubbed off.”

Living out the gospel’s implications at home does not guarantee an idyllic family life. Far from it. Following Christ may mean confronting a sinning family member or enduring faithfully through a difficult situation. It could even mean a family split (Matt. 10:34–37).

Five Steps

Here are five practical steps to adorn the gospel at home:

1. Receive your children and spouse as God-given instruments to shape you into Christlikeness.

Trust that God is working in small (or large) family trials to conform you to Jesus. Trust that although “she’s not perfect, she’s perfect for me.”

2. Slow down and observe your own actions and reactions.

When our families are running from event to event, it’s easy to minimize self-reflection. Blowups are quickly forgotten. Slowing your pace of life allows for deeper self-reflection.

3. Stop excusing your sin.

It is easy to blame our reactions on others. But we must realize no one causes us to sin. How we treat our families exposes our “real” selves and how much we love God (1 John 4:20). Even when we’re sinned against, we can still learn to please our heavenly Father (1 Pet. 2:23; 3:9).

4. Search the Scriptures.

The Bible speaks to the issues you’re facing at home. Simply reading James 1 with your family in mind, for example, will remind you that you need wisdom, as well as the need to remain steadfast in trial, to be slow to speak, to be a doer of the Word, and to bridle your tongue.

5. Know your children are watching.

Hypocrisy from spiritual leaders—including parents—is the number one reason prodigals give for leaving the faith. Our children are watching how we act under the pressures of home to see if our Savior makes a real difference in our lives.

Theater for Grace

When the couple walked out of my office that day, they had new resolve. They would slow down, reflect on their actions, repent as needed, and trust their Savior was conforming them into his image.

Home is the first—and maybe hardest—place we live in light of God’s grace.