Speaking the Truth in Love

Divorce and Remarriage Questions

A permissive attitude concerning divorce and remarriage has beaten the American family to its knees. Adults bounce from one disastrous marriage to another, and innocent children suffer the consequent instability and abandonment. The church must guard against contributing to the confusion and hold firmly to the biblical principles that govern marriage. Below are two common divorce questions and scriptural (but unpopular) answers:

If I divorce my spouse because we don’t get along, remarry, and then obey the Gospel, does conversion to Christ sanctify my adulterous marriage?

Repentance, which is essential to salvation, is turning “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). Those who repent “perform deeds worthy of their repentance” (v. 20).

Obedience to the Gospel brings a cleansing of all sins—including the sins of adultery and adulterous remarriage. But the Bible says that grace must never be viewed as a license to sin: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2).

The easiest way to illustrate this principle is to consider same-gender marriage. Suppose that two lesbians marry and bear two children via in vitro fertilization. They live together for several years and then come to Christ in faith. Are they forgiven of their homosexuality? Yes. Can they continue living together and still please Christ? No. Are we to have one standard for homosexuals and another for heterosexuals?

If my unbelieving spouse leaves me for irreconcilable religious differences, am I then free to remarry?

Paul says that “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15, ESV). “Enslaved” is the correct rendering here. Paul uses a different verb when referring to the marriage bond (cf. vs. 27, 39; Rom. 7:2).

What were Christians to do if their spouses refused to embrace the new faith? They were to remain married and hope that their example would bring the unbelieving partners to salvation. But what if the unbelievers refused to stay in marriages now distasteful to them? Were the Christians to cling slavishly to the pagan spouses? No, says Paul. Let them go. Live in peace.

Does this mean that the abandoned Christian is now free to remarry? No. Paul has already answered that question in the preceding paragraph: “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)—and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10). If an unbeliever leaves, the abandoned spouse has two scriptural choices. He or she can remain single or be reunited with the departed partner.

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