With special recognition to David Servant[1] for his wisdom and counsel, fulfilling Scripture that says iron sharpens iron.

Introduction

Amy Grant, world-famous Christian singer, told her pastors she recognized that God hates divorce but she had come to know a more personal and freeing truth.  She apparently had gone through lots of marital counseling.  In August 1998 she went to her pastors and her husband and told them “I believe and trust that I’ve been released from this [marriage].  And I say that knowing that even the Bible says the heart is deceitful.”  She went on to explain how she knew this was God’s will, and “to the best of my level of peace, I had a very settled, unshakable feeling about the path that I was going to follow.”[2] 

Amy is representative of a surprising number of professing Christians who are divorcing.   No longer does divorce seem to have a stigma attached to it.  

The Barna Research Group found that professing Christians had moderately higher rates of divorce than the general population, including atheists and agnostics.  Looking at the statistics more closely shows even more surprising trends:  27% of those describing themselves as “born-again Christians” are previously or currently divorced compared to 24% of the general population.  But in the Baptist and nondenominational Protestant churches which dominate the Bible belt in the U.S., 29% and 35%, respectively, were divorced, more than any other Christian denomination.[3] 

A recent CNS News report dated January 21, 2002,  said, “Born-again Christians are just as likely to get divorced as anybody else in American society, and the vast majority of those identifying themselves as divorced and born-again actually got their divorces after converting to Christianity, according to a new book called The Divorce Reality.”

How can that be?  What could be the cause of such a significant change of attitude?  We’ll examine what Jesus had to say on the subject of marriage and divorce and probe the reasons for such a major shift of attitude within the ranks of professing Christians.  Finally we’ll see what those who have wrongfully divorced should do.  But first let’s see why God hates divorce.

Part I

God Knows Best – He Hates Divorce

As we shall see, God’s rules regarding divorce seem strict.  Let’s try to determine why God may have been so firm on this subject. 

First, let’s look at the people most intimately involved in a divorce.  Most involved are the husband and wife themselves.  Second, but sometimes even more affected by the divorce are the children of the marriage.  The effect is even broader, of course, going out like concentric rings, affecting other family members, friends, people in the workplace, and even those who have a financial stake in the stability of the marriage.  Perhaps God’s commands regarding divorce are because he knows the devastating effects upon those most affected by the divorce. 

 God may have revealed the keys to his hatred of divorce in Malachi 2:13-16.

 13 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.  14 You ask, “Why?”  It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the LORD made them one?  In flesh and spirit they are his.  And why one?  Because he was seeking godly offspring.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

16 “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel.  

In Malachi’s day, the people complained that God was ignoring them.  God said it was because of their breach of the marriage vow.  God said he made them one (in marriage).  They are his in flesh and spirit.   

Then he tells them why he made them one – he was seeking godly offspring.   

We know God has a special heart for children.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).  But Jesus also had a special warning concerning children:  “But, if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18: 6).  

We’ve learned that children imitate their parents later in life.  If a husband was a child and wife beater, his sons when adults often become child and wife beaters.  The sins of the fathers (and mothers) seem to be passed on to the offspring.  In the time leading up to divorce, often the children watch the parents engage in heated, sometimes vicious arguments.  In the worst case they may watch physical attacks by one upon the other.  We know that children often feel responsible for parents divorcing.  Somehow they feel they were the cause and feel guilt even though they had nothing whatsoever to do with the divorce.   

If these children were “little ones who believed in me,” what is the likelihood is that the anger, tension, fighting, arguing, and ultimately the divorce will cause these little ones to sin?  Let’s look next at what researchers have discovered about the effect of divorce on children.

The Effect of Divorce on Children

In his study on youth suicide,[4] Bill Muehlenberg shows repetitive evidence that children are greatly harmed by divorce.  He relates the comments of Dr. Armand Nicholi, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School: 

“The absence of a parent through death, divorce, or a time-demanding job contributes to the many forms of emotional disorder, especially the anger, rebelliousness, low self-esteem, depression, and antisocial behavior that characterizes those adolescents who take drugs, become pregnant out of wedlock, or commit suicide. 

“Other studies have found that children of divorce make up an estimated 60 percent of child patients in clinical treatment and 80 to 100 per cent of adolescents in in-patient mental hospital settings. 

“Research indicates clearly that a broken home with the resultant loss or absence of a parent predisposes a child to a variety of emotional disorders that manifest themselves immediately or later in the child’s life.”[5] 

Do you remember what Jesus warned, “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin . . .”?  If those children once believed in Jesus but through divorce were so disoriented and discouraged that they developed emotional disorders that led to taking drugs, getting pregnant out of wedlock, committing suicide, or a variety of other sins, according to Jesus the persons who caused the divorce are responsible for that.  

Mr. Muehlenberg relates that there is a statistically significant incidence of separation and divorce in the families of adolescents who attempt suicide as compared with control groups.  He says, “A 1988 study of 752 families found that youths who attempted suicide differed little in terms of age, income, race and religion, but were ‘more likely to live in non-intact family settings.'”  He reports that a Flinders University professor of social sciences reported that research shows a very close link between suicidal behaviour and parent-child relationships.[6]  He shows that a study of 14,000 Dutch adolescents between the ages of 12 to 19 found slightly more than 10 percent of the adolescents living in non-intact families reported having attempted suicide, compared to 5.3 percent of peers living in intact families.[7] 

Bruce Logan wrote:  “Recent surveys in Australia, New Zealand, and the USA have found that children from broken homes, when they become teenagers, have 2 to 3 times more behavioral and psychological problems than do children from intact homes.  Of juveniles and young adults serving in long-term correctional facilities, 70 percent did not live with both parents while growing up.  Broken-home backgrounds contribute to as many as 3 in 4 teenage suicides and 4 in 5 psychiatric admissions.[8] 

Some may argue that those negative results would only pertain to non-Christian families.  NOT SO!  Remember, the research showed the youths who attempted suicide “differed little in terms of age, income, race and religion.”  Who gets the highest percentage of divorces?  Professing Christians!  And it is professing Christians who are causing these little ones who believe in Jesus to sin!

The Effect of Divorce on Adults

How about the parties to the divorce themselves?  How do they fare after separation and divorce? 

Mr. Muehlenbergh looks at suicide rates for adults as affected by their marital status.  “Figures from a 1950-1964 study by the National Center for Health Statistics in the U.S. show that the suicide rate per 100,000 married men is 18.  But for men who never married, the rate is 33.2 and for men who are divorced or separated, it leaps to 69.4.[9]  That is 385% more than the suicides among married men! 

Researcher Stack found:  “Divorce, the indicator of the breaking down of ties to the family, is significantly related to suicide even after we control for the influence of [other] variables.”[10]  

Mr. Muehlenbergh’s study revealed that with each 1 per cent increase in the divorce rate there is a .54 per cent increase in the suicide rate and that divorced males aged between 35 and 44 are the most likely to take their own life in Australia, while married people are the least likely to suicide.[11] 

Obviously by the time the behavior culminates in suicide, the emotional disorders and pain have reached intolerable levels.  The effect of divorce on those who have not attempted or committed suicide may be terrible in many instances.  God wants to spare us all that pain by having us living together in stable, loving marriages for the duration of our natural lives. 

The cost in mental anguish, pain, uncertainty, fear, poverty, dislocation and severance of close relationships resulting from divorce is incalculable, extending far beyond the two persons divorcing.  Children, the extended family, parents, siblings, cousins, and friends are all wounded through divorce. 

Let’s examine next what God has commanded about marriage – Jesus’ rules for those who are in his Kingdom.  We will see that his rules, as the rest of his teachings, pertain to those who will be saved.

Part II

Jesus’ Teaching on Marriage

Jesus began his teaching on marriage and divorce in response to a question from the Pharisees.  Let’s see how this discussion developed. 

Some Pharisees came to him [Jesus] to test him.  They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?   So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:3-6; see also Genesis 1:27, 2:24).[12] 

Jesus simply stated the truth that we saw in Malachi, first given by God through Moses in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24.  What God has joined together, let man not separate!  The basic principle is that there should not be divorce among those God has joined together.

Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce

The Pharisees likely wanted an excuse to divorce and hoped Jesus would endorse the practices of the past.  They continued the dialogue: 

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:7-8). 

In the prior section we saw that Jesus reinstated the rules set forth by God in Genesis – the very early commands God gave to his people.  He said that before the law was given, it was not like that, i.e., a man could not give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away.  Having answered their question, Jesus then proceeded to tell them God’s view – the law of Christ – pertaining to divorce: 

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). 

There was no question in the minds of those who heard him that Jesus was saying it was sin for a man to divorce and marry another woman if there had not been marital unfaithfulness.  Everyone knew adultery was sin.  The penalty was death by stoning. 

In that one verse, Jesus established the only acceptable reason for a man to divorce his wife (or vice versa.  In the text, Jesus was speaking to men, the strict religious leaders of the Jews – the Pharisees).  Even in the secular world, God’s limitation on divorce was sometimes incorporated into law.  For many years the state of New York allowed divorce only if there was proven marital unfaithfulness.

Wrongful Divorce Defined

Throughout this discussion we will use the term “wrongful divorce” so it is necessary to define it.  A wrongful divorce will refer to any divorce that is not sanctioned by Jesus, i.e., any divorce that is not caused by marital unfaithfulness.  

It seems clear that God intends the marriage vow “until death do us part” to mean what it says.  He also expects the marriage to be two people joined together as one flesh.  That requires fidelity to one another until death.  When that vow is broken, it seems to be the same as a breach of contract in law.  It allows the innocent person to be released from the contract – the marriage vow.  But Jesus makes it clear there is only one breach in God’s eyes that will permit release from the marriage contract, i.e., marital unfaithfulness.

Committing Adultery Upon Remarriage

To me, the hardest part of what Jesus said is not that divorce and remarriage are acceptable only if the marriage partner has been unfaithful, but that the person who divorces for any other reason and remarries commits adultery

This becomes a very serious issue as many, perhaps most, of the professing Christians who wrongfully divorce remarry.  According to Jesus, if the divorce terminating their prior marriage relationship was not because of marital unfaithfulness, if they remarry, they commit adultery

Causing Others to Commit Adultery

If that had been the only thing Jesus said on this subject it might be easier to ignore, but he made sure we wouldn’t misunderstand.  Earlier in Matthew he said: 

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32).   

Not only does the person who wrongfully divorces another commit adultery upon remarriage, but he/she may cause his/her spouse to become an adulteress (or adulterer) upon remarriage. 

Friend Elmer Klassen informed me that in German the word divorce means breaking the marriage of the other person.  Perhaps that helps us understand that the wrongful divorce by a person can cause the spouse to become an adultresss. 

In the above verse Jesus extended the reach of the sin of wrongful divorce.  It appears to me this command presumes the man divorces his wife but does not remarry.  The woman, perhaps left with the children and unable to support herself, remarries.  Because God considers the original husband and wife still to be married – there was no marital unfaithfulness – the woman has committed adultery against her former husband.  The man who marries that woman is marrying a married woman (in God’s eyes) and thus he is committing adultery.  Paul corroborates this view: 

2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.  3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress.  But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man (Romans 7:2-3). 

How many of the wrongfully divorced men and women in our congregations who have remarried would like to be thought of as adulterers and adulteresses?  Yet, according to Paul, that is what they are.  

Lest anyone think that it is only the man divorcing the woman who is the subject of these commands, the Gospel of Mark records this additional teaching: 

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11). 

The above verses seem to apply to the scenario where the husband or wife found another person attractive and divorced their present husband/wife to marry the other person.  Note that Jesus first reiterated that the man wrongfully divorcing his wife and marrying another woman commits adultery against her!  Then he reverses the scenario and states the same is true of the woman who wrongfully divorces her husband.  God seems determined that we get the point!

God’s Perspective 

There are three situations in which Jesus says there is adultery after a wrongful divorce – (1) the man who wrongfully divorces his wife and remarries, (2) the wife who subsequently remarries, and (3) the man who marries her.  The 1st implies a fourth – the woman who marries the wrongfully divorced man.  

First let’s look at the definition of adultery:  Adultery is the act of a person who has unlawful sexual intercourse with the spouse of another.  

Jesus’ statements regarding divorce and subsequent adultery show that God does not recognize divorce, except for marital unfaithfulness.  God considers still married all others who divorce for other reasons.  To make that perfectly clear, even though a person has secured a legal secular divorce, that does not mean God considers that person divorced from his spouse.  The only legal grounds (according to the teachings of Jesus) are that there be marital unfaithfulness. 

Is this corroborated elsewhere in Scripture?  Of course it it.  We look again at Paul’s teaching.  Paul uses the following as an example about another issue, as if everyone understood the truth of what he was saying: 

2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.  3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress.  But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man (Romans 7:2-3). 

We can assume that because Paul was using this as an illustration for another point, he didn’t spell out the whole teaching of Jesus on the subject.  Nevertheless, Paul corroborated that a person is prohibited from divorcing and remarriage while that person’s spouse is still alive.  He said the woman who remarries while her husband is alive becomes an adulteress.  We have already seen that Jesus said the man who remarries after a wrongful divorce commits adultery, his spouse commits adultery (upon remarriage), and the person who marries that spouse commits adultery.  Not surprisingly, Paul’s teaching tracks exactly what Jesus said though Jesus added that remarriage is possible if one party has broken the marriage vow through marital unfaithfulness.  

The key to a proper understanding of God’s view of divorce from those scriptures is that God considers those he joined together to be one flesh.  In God’s eyes, according to his word, only death or unfaithfulness will break apart those God has joined together.  

In all three of the instances recited above (i.e., each of the wrongfully divorced parties and the person each marries), it is assumed that the people involved in marital relationships beginning after the wrongful divorce have sexual relations within their marriage.  Therefore, in God’s eyes

q       The man who wrongfully divorces and remarries is a married man having unlawful intercourse with another; he is committing adultery;

q       The wife who is wrongfully divorced and remarries is a married woman having unlawful intercourse with another; she is committing adultery;

q       The man who marries the wrongfully divorced woman is having unlawful intercourse with a married woman; he is committing adultery; and

q       The woman who marries the wrongfully divorced man is having unlawful intercourse with a married man; she is committing adultery.

When Is Remarriage Possible?

We have seen, by implication, that a man is lawfully able to remarry if he divorces his wife for marital unfaithfulness.  Likewise, a woman is lawfully able to remarry if the marriage terminated because of her husband’s marital unfaithfulness.  In each of these cases there is no adultery upon remarriage of either innocent spouse.  The spouse guilty of marital unfaithfulness is an adulterer(ess). 

If the husband wrongfully divorces his wife and remarries, he has now committed adultery against his first wife.  In that case, the marital unfaithfulness occurred after the divorce, not prior to it.  That should allow the innocent, first wife to lawfully (in God’s eyes) remarry and be released from the prior marriage – the same result as if he had committed adultery prior to the divorce.  If the marital unfaithfulness had occurred prior to the divorce, the wife would have had God’s lawful option of terminating the marriage for marital unfaithfulness.  In this instance, the husband secured a wrongful divorce, without marital unfaithfulness, but thereafter committed adultery against his first wife by remarrying, thus breaching the marriage contract (before God).  

If the husband secured a wrongful divorce but does not remarry, and thereafter the wife remarries, she becomes an adulteress (Romans 7:2-3); she committed adultery against her first husband (in God’s eyes).  However, Jesus says the husband caused her to become an adulteress (Matthew 5:32).  It appears God holds the husband responsible for his wife’s adultery.  Nevertheless, it is likely the marriage bond has been broken as there is now marital unfaithfulness, albeit after the divorce. 

Eternal Consequences of Adultery

If we were to base our conclusion on the frequency of wrongful divorce within the professing Christian community, we would likely conclude there must not be any eternal consequences resulting from wrongful divorce.  But we must look to Scripture as our guide and not whatever the prevailing attitude may be within the Christian community at a given moment. 

We have already seen that for those who cause little ones who believe in Jesus to sin it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  That is NOT comforting for those who opt for divorce without considering what may happen to their children, or, after considering the harm decide to divorce anyway. 

What does the Scripture say about adultery and adulterers?  Are there no consequences for such actions?  There is much said about this and what is said is not ambiguous.  

Consider Paul’s warning to the Corinthians: 

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). 

Please note that Paul specifically included adulterers even though they are also included under sexually immoral.  Then Paul reiterated the same to the Galatians: 

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).  

What does it mean that such people “will not inherit the kingdom of God”?  Jesus made sure we understood that when he reviewed for the Apostle John those who were condemned: 

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 21:8). 

Lest anyone minimize what the fiery lake of burning sulphur is, Scripture explains: 

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10). 

That is Scripture’s description of hell.  Scripture has taken pains to tell us that those who practice adultery will not inherit the kingdom of God but instead be thrown into hell – the fiery lake of burning sulphur. 

There is further corroboration from the writer to the Hebrews.  He reiterates God’s desire for marriage and the consequence for those who dishonor the marriage relationship: 

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4).   

This scripture sums up all we’ve already discussed.  God wishes the marriage relationship to be an honored one, respected by all.  There is to be no marital unfaithfulness.  God wants the marriage bed kept pure.  

Contrary to what many seem to think (judging by their actions), God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  

Can all be made right before God after wrongfully divorcing by simply repenting?  Will God simply forgive the deliberate, premeditated sins of divorce and subsequent adultery (upon remarriage)?  We’ll look at this issue in some depth a little later.

What If Separation is Necessary?

We can imagine many circumstances where separation is to be preferred over beatings, violence, marital rape, and where children are endangered or molested.  Scripture tells us God’s options for that situation. 

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). 

Paul makes it clear these commands are from the Lord, not him.  Note the command about separation is primarily directed toward the wife just as most of the commands regarding divorce seem primarily directed toward the man.  The basic command is not to separate.  Neither husband nor wife is to decide that it is too difficult and/or not fun enough together so they want to live alone.  Again the command, the husband must not divorce his wife, even though she has separated from him.  Paul later makes an exception to this, as we will see in the next section, for a spouse who is an unbeliever. 

In this passage, the Lord, through Paul, prohibits remarriage.  The wife who finds it necessary to separate from her husband has only two options – reconciliation or remaining unmarried so long as her husband is alive, assuming they are both true Christians.  Obviously, based on our prior study of Jesus’ commands, this presumes neither husband nor wife will be unfaithful to the other even though separated. 

What if they are not both true Christians?  If they are not, or if the action of the offending spouse is not consistent with a follower of Christ, the rules pertaining to life with an unbeliever (next two sections) apply.

What If the Offending Spouse Is Not a Believer?

It could have been confusing for the early church.  Paul taught that the believer must not be yoked together with an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).  Almost everyone then in the faith was a new believer.  Many could have been the only spouse in a marriage to come to the Lord.  Was Paul telling them they must separate from their spouse?  Or must they divorce so that they would not be unequally yoked?  That would have broken families, caused the children to be raised by only one parent, and likely would have caused poverty for many who then would have no breadwinner in the family, just like the results today from broken marriages.  Likely Paul countered those questions with the following instructions: 

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.  And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. . . . But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so.  A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.  How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?  Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). 

Paul’s admonition is consistent with God’s desire to protect children from divorce and bring the other spouse to a saving faith in the Lord. 

Even in the instance of an unbelieving spouse Paul forbids divorce unless the unbelieving spouse leaves.  However, Paul says, “if the unbeliever leaves, let him or her do so.”  Paul says the “believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.”  Paul appears to say that the believing spouse would be free to divorce and remarry another believer when legally able to do so, but the believing spouse may not secure the divorce so long as the unbelieving spouse is willing to live with him/her.  It should go without saying the believing spouse is not allowed to make life so difficult for the unbelieving spouse that he/she would virtually be forced to leave.  That would violate Paul’s argument that by living together the unbelieving spouse may come to the Lord.  It would also be a terrible example for the children. 

Paul appears to say that in this instance a believing spouse can be released from marriage with an unbelieving spouse without marital unfaithfulness.  What could be the reason for this difference?  I think it is because Jesus said, “what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6).  So they are no longer two, but one (Matthew 19:5-6).  We can rightfully assume that Jesus is speaking about marriages that God has joined together.  Paul wrote: 

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
(2 Corinthians 6:14-15). 

Would God participate in joining together (yoking) a believing person to an unbelieving one who enter into marriage in disobedience to his word?  I don’t think God would participate in the sin of being wrongfully joined together.  Or would God join two non-believers together who don’t know him and have no concern for his word?  I think not.  Consider extreme examples.  Would God join together a witch and warlock in marriage or two atheists who openly argue against the existence of God?  Would God join two men or two women in a same-sex marriage?   

If not, consider a less extreme question.  Is God joining together two unbelievers marrying in a secular service before a justice of the peace?  Finally, consider harder questions.  Does God join together two unbelievers who participate in a Christian wedding ceremony which invokes the blessing of God on the marriage?  Does God join together two professing Christians who really don’t have a saving faith?  Does God join together a true Christian and a professing Christian (one without a true, saving faith)?   

As we proceed, these questions may become important for some readers.  It is my belief that God’s commands and teachings are for those who are his people, his followers, and who are part of his kingdom.  Those who are not his people follow the god of this world.  I understand that from what Jesus told the Pharisees: 

44  “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). 

If it was true that the religious leaders of the Jews were not children of God but of the devil, then what can we expect of all those who are unbelievers?  Certainly they too are children of the god of this world and not of God Almighty, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 

I believe God does NOT join unbelievers together in marriage nor a believer and an unbeliever.  That is not to say he cannot bless their marriage and draw the unbelieving spouse to himself.  He did with me.  I was an unbelieving spouse that my wife – a professing Christian – married. 

If Paul’s opinion is correct, and we can assume it is (as God has permitted it in his word), likely God has not joined these people together and therefore Jesus’ requirement not to divorce, except for marital unfaithfulness, does not apply in the same way, as Jesus’ commands seem to be conditioned on the marriage being a relationship that God had joined together.  A believer and an unbeliever may be joined only by a secular legal bond – not in a relationship joined together by God.  Thus, when an unbeliever leaves, the believer would be free to legally divorce and remarry – but only to another believer – in a relationship joined together by God. 

Critical to this section is the question of whether a spouse is an unbeliever.  Is a person to be considered a believer just because he/she claims to be?  The next section will investigate this issue and show God’s view of how we are to evaluate whether a person is a believer.

Who Is An Unbeliever?

Is a person a “Christian” because he/she says so?  Sadly no.  The rule of Scripture is that the fruit of the person will tell the truth about them.  Jesus said this: 

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16-20). 

Jesus said the same thing another way in Mark:  

20 He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean'” (Mark 7:20-23). 

Did you notice that these are the same sins that we saw earlier will cause a person to not inherit the kingdom of God?  Jesus illustrated this same principle in a slightly different way: 

34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37). 

Is a man battering his wife?  Is he/she physically or verbally abusive toward his/her spouse?  Is there child abuse or molestation in the home?  Surely these are not the actions of a follower of the Lord Jesus who gave us the standard to love one another as he loved us.   

I am not speaking here of an isolated instance.  Regrettably, all of us who are believers may lapse into an occasional sin for which we are to immediately repent.  The passage refers to a course of action – a history of acting in a certain way – without repentance or change of heart and an unwillingness to accept the teaching of Scripture as to behavior that is unacceptable for a follower of the Lord Jesus.  

At the great white throne judgment described in Revelation 20, books were opened (verse 12).  Then it says, “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”  As if to make sure the point was not overlooked, in verse 13 the Apostle John again stated, ” . . . each person was judged according to what he had done.”  (See also Matthew 16:27, Revelation 22:12, and Romans 2:6-11).  God judges us by our fruit, just as he instructs us to recognize those who claim to be followers of Christ but who are not. 

If we observe a person who continues in a course of action (and words) that are prohibited for those who are followers of Jesus, we may reasonably conclude such a person is not a true believer, no matter that such a person may claim to be a Christian.

Actions and Claims in Conflict

Paul gave us another instruction that bears on this subject:  He said:  

I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).   

Here a person’s fruit is wicked, yet he claims to be a believer – a brother in the Lord.  What Paul is saying deals with discipline within the church.  But how does Paul’s command not to associate with such a person apply to the situation in a family where one of the spouses is acting wickedly?  Note that Paul calls anyone wicked who is sexually immoral, greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.  As before, this cannot speak of the isolated instance of moral failure for which there is immediate repentance.  Paul emphasizes the need to judge by their fruit (actions and words) the people who claim to be Christians.  

When the actions and words of a spouse are clearly not Christ-like – when actions are wicked and the spouse refuses to repent – the person should be treated as an unbeliever, notwithstanding his/her claim to be a brother/sister in the Lord.  

Does this give the believing spouse the right to expel the wicked spouse, to separate, and to divorce?  No!  That wicked person is an unbeliever, albeit one who is claiming to be a brother in the Lord.  The command, above, refers to the church as a body rejecting a professing Christian who clearly is not Christ-like in his actions.  The permissible actions for the believing spouse should be those of a spouse living with an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).  The command is not to divorce the unbeliever if he/she is willing to live with the believer, but if he leaves to let him go.

What If a “Christian” Spouse Deserts His/Her Family?

By now we know what God says about wrongful divorce and separation.  Neither is condoned by God; divorce is permitted only in the case of marital unfaithfulness.  So what about the spouse who simply decides the pressures of a family are too much and he/she leaves and abandons the family.  Many of us may know such instances where a young mother is left to care for young children and is impoverished when the breadwinner deserts them.  What is her status?  Is she allowed to divorce and remarry, or (assuming there is no unfaithfulness) is she bound in the marriage relationship notwithstanding the desertion? 

Though he was first speaking about caring for widows, the Apostle Paul may have had this situation in mind when he said:  

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). 

Is a married person who deserts his family a Christian believer?  No!  Paul would say he has denied the faith.  He is not a believer; he is worse than an unbeliever.  When an unbeliever leaves, the Apostle Paul said the believer who was deserted is not bound.  And so it surely must be here.   The innocent, deserted, believing spouse is freed from a relationship with an unbeliever and is free to marry when legally able to do so. 

When Paul wrote this, Gentiles were coming to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus for the first time.  They would likely sometimes become new believers together, as husband and wife.  When one later fell back from the faith into the world and deserted his family, the above scripture would apply to the deserting spouse – he had denied the faith – he was an unbeliever. 

What is Marital Unfaithfulness?

You may think the answer to that question is straightforward and it is.  It is a wrongful sexual relationship with anyone other than one’s spouse.  It is adultery! 

According to Jesus, in today’s society there may be other ways to commit adultery than having a physical sexual relationship with someone other than one’s spouse.  Jesus warned that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart  (Matthew 5:27-28).   What about the “Christian” men who lust after pornographic images of women over the internet, or through cable TV channels, or pornographic movies or magazines?  According to Jesus these men commit adultery with such women in their heart. 

A person addicted to pornography engages in the continuing sin of adultery.  Strong evidence shows that people addicted to pornography commit other wicked behavior.  God is concerned about the heart and a heart addicted to adultery is exceedingly wicked. 

The professing Christian who secretly watches pornography on his/her computer, TV, or in magazines is in rebellion against God and the teachings of Jesus.  Can such a person be said to be a true believer?  No.  Is that person a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus?  No. 

If such a person is confronted with his sin, repents, and turns from the sin, there should be a marked change in his/her life and he/she should be welcomed back into fellowship with believers and his/her  family.  But if the person denies or excuses the sin and refuses to repent, that person should be treated as an unbeliever.  If such a person leaves the marriage, the remaining innocent spouse should not be bound (as stated above with respect to living with an unbeliever).

Part III

Reasons Why Professing Christians Divorce

How is it possible that professing Christians have a higher divorce rate than non-Christians, even atheists and agnostics?  We’ve seen that Scripture shows that God requires the marriage relationship to be a lasting one.  

Christians, almost universally, believe in salvation by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But what kind of faith is it that allows professing Christians to do that which Jesus and Scripture condemn?  

Obviously the kind of “faith” taught in many churches today is not the biblical faith revealed in Scripture.  Jesus seemed to prophesy this when he asked, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).  The answer seems to be that already there is a lack of biblical faith throughout the earth.  Teachings of men have superceded the teachings of Scripture, just as the teachings of the Pharisees and teachers of the law superceded the Old Testament Law in Jesus’ day. 

False Doctrines

The Doctrine of Unconditional Eternal Security

The doctrine of unconditional eternal security is widely held throughout the Bible belt in America and in the Baptist and non-denominational churches that have the highest divorce rates.  For those churches that teach this doctrine, the doctrine seems to supercede Scripture.  

According to Dr. Charles Stanley, a leading proponent of the doctrine, the definition of unconditional eternal security is “eternal security is that work of God in which He guarantees that the gift of salvation once received is possessed forever and cannot be lost.”[13]  Those who hold this doctrine often teach that if a person has once made a sincere confession of faith by trusting Jesus as his Savior for the forgiveness of sin that person has salvation and can never lose that salvation. 

A reader unfamiliar with this doctrine may find it almost unbelievable that people would have created such a doctrine, recognizing immediately it is incompatible with the teachings of Scripture.  

I’ve chosen the teaching and writings of Dr. Charles Stanley to represent the unconditional eternal security doctrine as Dr. Stanley is certainly the best-known proponent of the doctrine.  His influence in the Christian church is immense.  He was twice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.  His international TV and radio program, “In Touch,” is broadcast throughout the world.  His book Eternal Security Can You Be Sure?[14] can be found in almost any Christian bookstore.

Sin

Let’s compare some teachings of the eternal security doctrine with scriptures that apply to our discussion of wrongful divorce and adultery.  Jesus and Paul listed various sins (including adultery) and said that those who do these sins will not inherit the kingdom of God and will be thrown in the lake of burning sulphur.  Dr. Stanley says:  

“It is not lying, cheating, stealing, raping, murdering, or being unfaithful that sends people to hell.”[15]   

Strange, isn’t it, that the Scriptures we looked at said the exact opposite.  The writer to the Hebrews said that God will judge the adulterer.  None of those Scriptures made any exceptions for those who claim to have once received the gift of salvation.  Nor does Paul’s warning to the Ephesians: 

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 man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient (Ephesians 5:3-6).   

Notice his warning at the end.  Let no one deceive you with empty words.  Who was Paul speaking to?  He tells us in Ephesians 1:1 – “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”  These were the Christians, and the real Christians – the saints, the faithful in Christ Jesus.  How could such people lose any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God?  They only could if the doctrine of unconditional eternal security were not true. 

Paul says it is because of such sins – immoral, impure, or greedy – that God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.  Is Dr. Stanley deceiving with empty words, just as Paul warned his readers?  Dr. Stanley’s assurances are the opposite of the repeated warnings of Scripture. 

If the eternal security proponents are right, why did Jesus give the following warning? 

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30). 

Jesus says that sin caused by your eye or your hand will indeed cause your whole body to be thrown into hell.  Jesus says it is better to cut off or gouge out the offending part of the body than to be thrown into hell.  He was giving this warning to his followers. 

However, Dr. Stanley writes: 

But if a man or woman who has been rescued once from a state of unforgiveness need not worry.  For once 100 percent of a man’s or woman’s sins have been forgiven, the potential for being unforgiven has been done away with.  The risk factor is zero.  There are no more fires from which the believer needs to be saved.[16] [Emphasis added.] 

As you see from the prior quotation, those who subscribe to the eternal security doctrine will assure you that nothing you thereafter do will affect your salvation if you are certain that you once were rescued from a state of unforgiveness.  According to Dr. Stanley, there are no sins that can affect your salvation, notwithstanding what Scripture says, no matter that Paul (who was writing to Christians) warned both the Corinthians and the Galatians about sins that would prevent those practicing them from inheriting the kingdom of God, and no matter that Jesus told the Apostle John about sins that would cause people to be condemned to hell.  According to Dr. Stanley, none of those scriptures can pertain to those who hold to the doctrine of eternal security if they once trusted in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and received the gift of salvation.

Apostasy

Dr. Stanley goes even further.  He wrote:  

“The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His People is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand.”[17]  On other occasions he taught, “Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy[18] and “. . . believers who lose or abandon their faith will retain their salvation . . . .”[19]  [Emphasis added.] 

What should we expect from people who have accepted the doctrine of unconditional eternal security?  Will they regard wrongful divorce as a spiritual problem?  Of course not.  Adultery?  How could it be?  According to Dr. Stanley, if a person once received the gift of salvation and once was forgiven 100% of his/her sins, then all future sins have also been forgiven and he/she cannot lose their salvation.  That too is false.  No scripture tells us our future sins are forgiven, but Peter explicitly says the past sins of believers have been forgiven: 

9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.  10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall,  11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:9). 

Who was Peter speaking to?  He addressed them as:  To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours (2 Peter 1:1).   Not only did he tell these believers they had been cleansed from past sins, he said if they do the things he had just enumerated, they will never fall.  They could only fall if the doctrine of eternal security is false! 

Is it any wonder why wrongful divorce is so rampant in churches that teach the eternal security doctrine?  There is no reason whatsoever to accept the teachings of Jesus on the subject of divorce because the eternal security proponents assure them that no sins will send people to hell if they once trusted in Jesus for forgiveness of sins.  It doesn’t matter if they live in continuing adultery.  According to the eternal security proponents, not inheriting the kingdom of God and being condemned to hell have nothing to do with the sins they commit.[20]

Perseverance

Dr. Stanley also claims: 

“. . . God does not require a constant attitude of faith in order to be saved – only an act of faith.”[21]  He says, “It [saving faith] is a singular moment in time wherein we take what God has offered.”[22]  He wrote:  “Faithful or not, every person who has at any time had saving faith is a permanent part of the body of Christ.”[23]  [Emphasis added.] 

Scripture, however, has quite a different message, emphasizing that it is continued faith and faithfulness that counts.  The idea of a one-time commitment that saves forever is false; it is without support in the Scriptures.  For example, consider Paul’s warning to the Corinthians: 

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, IF you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).   [Emphasis added.] 

This scripture is especially important.  Paul admits the Corinthians received the gospel, took their stand on it, and are saved IF they hold firmly to it.  What if they don’t hold firmly to it?  Paul warns they will have believed in vain.  

In like manner Paul warned the Colossians: 

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — IF  you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.  This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (Colossians 1:21-23.  See also James 1:12). 

The above is Paul’s summary of the Gospel, of which he became a servant.  All the good news of the Gospel is there, provided – the IF – you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.  Those who wrongfully divorced likely did not continue in the faith.  They were willing to rebel against the Lord Jesus and his commands so they could have their own way – so they could divorce.  God requires much more from those he delivers from the kingdom of darkness into his glorious light and their reward will be an inheritance in the kingdom of God instead of being cast into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. 

Jesus emphasized the need to persevere:  “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22) and “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12-13).

Fruit

Dr. Stanley also claims, ” . . . we are presented with a Christian who at no point in his entire life bore any eternal fruit. And yet his salvation is never jeopardized[24] and ” . . . there are Christians who show no evidence of their Christianity as well.”[25]  [Emphasis added.] 

Jesus anticipated and refuted such claims at John 15.  

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.   He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. . . . 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.   If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:1-2, 5-6.  See also Luke 13:6-7.)

Branches who bear no fruit are cut off from Christ by God the Father.  Did you notice that these branches were in Jesus.  But they bore no fruit.  What is done with branches that do not bear fruit?  They are thrown away and wither, then picked up and thrown into the fire and burned.   

God foreknew the false doctrine of eternal security and included still another parable to make sure future generations would not be misled: 

“A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.  7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down'” (Luke 13:6-9). 

God looks for fruit in our lives and graciously gives us time to grow as Christians and produce fruit.  But when he doesn’t find any after repeatedly looking for fruit, he commands the tree be cut down.  Jesus intercedes, asking for one more year, but agrees that if it doesn’t produce fruit then, it should be cut down. 

What man then dares to claim that fruit is not necessary in the life of the true believer who will have eternal life?  Obviously it is yet another false claim, doubtless leading many to eternal damnation. 

Jesus commanded his followers not to divorce, except for marital unfaithfulness.  Eternal security proponents say not to worry if your sins were ever forgiven through trust in Christ.  If you were contemplating divorce and attending a Bible belt church teaching eternal security, you might not want to divorce for other reasons, but you surely wouldn’t be worrying about sinning against God and jeopardizing your salvation.

Obedience

Jesus also said: 

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). 

And Scripture says:

“[Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9).

Is Jesus also the source of salvation for those who do not obey him?  That would seem an opposite conclusion from the text, wouldn’t it?  The person who divorces without marital unfaithfulness seems deliberately disobedient to the teachings and commands of Jesus.  It is deliberate disobedience because divorce does not take place in a moment, as does an impetuous act.  It usually requires months and sometimes years before the courts will make the divorce final.  It is worth noting that the term “obey” in Hebrews 5:9 (above) is in the continuous sense – for all those who continue to obey him.  Someone who has wrongfully divorced has seemingly engaged in premeditated sin.   

These days, however, there is a possibility that a wrongful divorce could be without knowledge and intent.  If a “Christian” is within the church and is taught wrong doctrine – a false faith – he/she may not know what Scripture teaches about divorce.  If that is combined with many people in the local church being divorced and not a word of condemnation heard about it, the person who is biblically ignorant could conclude there is nothing spiritually wrong with divorce.  If such a person wrongfully divorces he sins, and if he wrongfully remarries, he commits adultery.  But the blood of such persons (if they remain lost) will likely be on the heads of the leadership of the church that wrongly taught that person. 

Does the person who continues to disobey have salvation?  Consider what the Apostle John taught: 

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.  The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4). 

Once again, the verb “obey” is in the continuous sense, i.e., “if we [continue to] obey his commands.”  The person who thinks he/she can continue in sin and have or retain salvation seems to have a serious misunderstanding of biblical salvation.   

Paul actually answers the question of obedience and salvation more forcefully than did John.  Consider his teaching to the Thessalonians: 

He [Jesus] will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power . . . (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). 

Hopefully we all know that punishment with everlasting destruction is hell!  All those who are condemned to hell are shut out from the presence of the Lord. 

As we noted earlier, it was Jesus who said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).  What is the “will of my Father who is in heaven”?   Jesus said that everything he did and everything he said was just what the Father told him to do and say (John 8:28, 12:49-50, 14:10, 14:24, 14:31).  Thus everything Jesus said and did was the will of God.  Is it any wonder he is the source of salvation for all who obey him?  Or that he ended his great commission with the command to teach new disciples to obey all that he commanded them? (Matthew 28:20). 

The scriptures show that people are deluded who think they can live in sin and yet have salvation.  The Apostle John spoke to that issue as well: 

No one who lives in him keeps on sinningNo one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. . . . He who does what is sinful is of the devil . . . . No one who is born of God will continue to sin . . . (1 John 3:6, 8, 9). 

As we can see from numerous scriptures, there is an essential need for obedience to the teachings and commands of Jesus that accompanies biblical faith and salvation.  The proponents of eternal security who preach that once all sins were forgiven all future sins are also forgiven and that once the gift of salvation is received it can never be lost are teaching a false gospel that is contrary to Scripture. 

The person who is considering a wrongful divorce or who has secured a divorce (without marital unfaithfulness) has many more deficiencies in his/her professed Christianity.  Scripture tells us we are to die to self.  We are to think more highly of others than of ourselves.  When a person secures a wrongful divorce, who is he/she thinking of?  Isn’t it self?  Is there consideration for the devastation of children, of the spouse, of the extended family, of friends?  No, and there’s not even consideration for God’s hatred of divorce and commands not to divorce. 

Is it any wonder Scripture teaches “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Christians are to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).  Does contemplating (or securing) a divorce sound like the mind of Christ?   

God is loving, gracious and good.  He is also holy and just.  We are to fear him for his wrath and righteous judgment of those who refuse to obey him – those who continue in rebellion against him.  

Dr. Stanley’s divorce from his wife was final in June 1999.

Calvinism

Another false doctrine can contribute to the willingness of professing Christians to divorce.  It is the doctrine of Calvinism.  There are five points of Calvinism, often referred to as a tulip – a way of remembering the points.  They are:  (1) Total Depravity, (2) Unconditional Election, (3) Limited Atonement, (4) Irresistible Grace and (5) Perseverance of the Saints.  All of the five points are false.  

Perhaps the best-known point of Calvinism – Unconditional Election, more popularly known as the Doctrine of Predestination – is also the one which may cause the most problems.  Basically Calvinism states that God determined (predestined) before the foundation of the earth who would be saved and who would be damned.  They claim that is necessary because God is sovereign.  To see the arguments which depose these false beliefs, please check the website http://www.bereanpublishers.co.nz.  Look under False Doctrines.  There you will find several articles dismantling the false claims of Calvinism:  The Doctrine of Predestination; Foreknowledge:  Jacob and Esau; What a Sovereign Lord Cannot Do; and The Five Points of Calvinism Considered.

 It is easy to see why people who believe they cannot affect their own salvation by what they do – either good or bad – would have no reason not to wrongfully divorce.  According to Calvinism, whether they will be saved or not is totally independent of anything they do.  Though Calvinists likely don’t enjoy hearing this reasoning, the logical result of these doctrines is that a Calvinist can commit adultery, have a wrongful divorce, and do any other sin or crime and still be saved IF he was predestined by a sovereign God to be saved before the foundation of the world.  On the other hand, he could live the most righteous and holy life but still be damned to hell if God had predestined before the foundations of the earth to damn him. 

If you know Scripture it is understandable if this sounds totally foreign to you.  I believe Calvinism cannot be gained from Scripture.  It has to be taught.  It originated with Augustine, then Luther, and was made popular by Calvin who wrote extensively and created the five points of Calvinism. 

Let me make one caveat here.  Some of my best friends and the people I most admire in Christendom are part of churches that teach Calvinism and might consider themselves Calvinists.  However, these people live as if they don’t believe in it.  They are some of the most righteous, holiest, and most dedicated servants of the Lord Jesus that I know.

Easy Believism

Easy believism may be defined many different ways, perhaps according to the experience of the observers.  From my observations, I’ve noted that its requirement for salvation is simply to “accept Jesus as Savior” and/or to believe that he died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.  Hopefully you’re aware that neither of those are biblical requirements for salvation.  True biblical requirements will be discussed a little later under the heading “A Saving Faith Defined.” 

Another characteristic of easy believism, in my experience, is a very heavy emphasis on grace.  This may be a hangover from Calvinism that claims everything is by God’s grace, even to the point where his irresistible grace will compel those to believe who are predestined to salvation.  Easy believism seems to have the emphasis is on a loving God who saves and forgives by his grace.  There is not a balance of the just God who will punish those in rebellion against him, who requires that those who will have eternal life must do his will (Matthew 7:21).  There seems to be an attitude that sin isn’t good, but all we have to do is confess it and it is forgiven, even if we sin hundreds of times each day.  

With this kind of mindset and understanding of salvation and relationship with God, it is not hard to understand how such a person would not worry about securing a wrongful divorce and remarrying.  After all, it is just another sin to confess which God will readily forgive.  We’ll examine the truthfulness of that assertion in the next section. 

As with Calvinism, easy believism’s kind of thinking and understanding is foreign to Scripture.  However, when considering those who have wrongfully divorced, it is more understandable how they can be openly disobedient to the teachings of Scripture if they have embraced easy believism, Calvinism, or the doctrine of unconditional eternal security.

Can the Person Simply Repent?

Divorce (without marital unfaithfulness) is unlike many other sins.  Often sin in the life of a Christian is an impulsive act, perhaps in the heat of passion or anger.  Divorce, however, is not like that.  It is a considered act, though it may have begun in the heat of anger.  It is nurtured and considered, often taking years to consummate before a final decree of divorce (in many jurisdictions).  

The Christian who divorces is doing that which God hates.  He is rebelling against multiple commands of Jesus that say he/she cannot divorce unless there is marital unfaithfulness.  Since that is the case, how can there be more professing Christians who divorce than non-Christians?  Yet, unbelievably, more professing “born-again” Christians divorce than non-Christians.  Baptists and members of non-denominational churches in the Bible belt in America have even higher rates of divorce.  Doesn’t that seem almost impossible? 

As we saw earlier, a possible explanation are the erroneous “Christian” teachings reviewed above, perhaps particularly “easy-believism.”  On the subject of forgiveness of sins, this false doctrine basically says that when a person sins, he/she should simply follow the scripture which says:   “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  Under that belief system, a person could engage in the sin of divorce and be judged an adulter(er/ess) by God and believe all they have to do is confess their sin of divorce and adultery and they will be forgiven and purified from all unrighteousness. 

Is that true even when the sin is premeditated?  Many will say yes.  To understand better, let’s look first at what repentance means. 

Forgiveness of sin involves repentance.  Repentance is turning from sin and turning to God.  It involves seeing the awfulness of the sin as God sees it.   The Greek word means literally to perceive afterwards, implying change, hence signifies to change one’s mind or purpose for the better.  

Note the importance of the definition — to perceive afterwards.  That would mean a person would perceive afterward that what had been done was sin.  Recognizing that, the person would turn to God, asking forgiveness of the wrongful act of sin, and seek to not engage in that sin again.  

Divorce is not like that.  With divorce one knows ahead of time that it would be sin, but does it anyway in rebellion against God and the teachings of Jesus.   That doesn’t seem to fall under the definition of repentance.  If one confesses the sin of divorce and adultery (upon remarriage) after having intentionally planned over time to do exactly that, can there be sorrow for what has been done?  Can such a person see the sin as God sees it, having intentionally sinned with the intent of simply later asking God’s forgiveness?  It would appear such actions and intent are presuming upon God in a most grievous way. 

Friend Harvey Schneider suggests Paul considered himself able to be forgiven because what he did had been done in ignorance: 

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.  Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief (1 Timothy 1:12-13). 

Surely that can’t be said of the person who knows his conduct is wrong and does it anyway with the premeditated intent to simply confess it and be forgiven. 

The sin of divorce is a deliberate (intentional) sin that has continued for years as the thought of divorce matured into seeking counsel to divorce, engaging in the legal process of divorce, and finally enduring the waiting period until the divorce is final.  

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,  27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).  

There is a parallel passage in the Old Testament.  There God begins by instructing the Israelites about sacrifices they must make for unintentional sins: 

22 “‘Now if you unintentionally fail to keep any of these commands the LORD gave Moses—  23 any of the LORD’s commands to you through him, from the day the LORD gave them and continuing through the generations to come—  24 and if this is done unintentionally without the community being aware of it, then the whole community is to offer a young bull for a burnt offering as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, along with its prescribed grain offering and drink offering, and a male goat for a sin offering.  25 The priest is to make atonement for the whole Israelite community, and they will be forgiven, for it was not intentional and they have brought to the LORD for their wrong an offering made by fire and a sin offering.  26 The whole Israelite community and the aliens living among them will be forgiven, because all the people were involved in the unintentional wrong.

27 “‘But if just one person sins unintentionally, he must bring a year-old female goat for a sin offering.  28 The priest is to make atonement before the LORD for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made for him, he will be forgiven.  29 One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Israelite or an alien (Numbers 15:22-29). 

Immediately following, however, God speaks to the person who intentionally (defiantly) sins.  Look what he says: 

30 “‘But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people.  31 Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.'” (Numbers 15:30-31). 

God defined deliberate sin against God as blasphemy against the Lord.  That begins to sound like Jesus’ warning: 

31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). 

Another example that comes to mind is that of Ananias and Saphira.  They conspired to lie about the amount of money they received from the sale of property.  Like divorce, it was premeditated and took some time to carry out their evil intent.  How did Peter characterize the sin? 

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?  Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).  

Peter characterized the act as something Satan instigated.  He said Ananias lied to God.  Was there forgiveness by God?  No.  Ananias had no opportunity to even ask.  He fell down dead immediately.  When Saphira later repeated the lie, she also fell down dead. 

Are all professing Christians who have wrongfully divorced (and often remarried) beyond the pale of God’s forgiveness?  Have they only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God?  

I believe it is possible for true repentance and forgiveness by God if a person finally understands that all that he/she has done is wrong in God’s eyes, not only the divorce (and remarriage) but even more by planning to presume upon God’s grace by seeking forgiveness of premeditated sin.  The key would be “after we have received the knowledge of the truth” from Hebrews 10:26.  What of those millions who have been taught a false gospel (as reviewed above) which does not teach God’s view of sin and repentance? 

We will discuss that issue in the next section.

False Faith

I suspect a large majority of professing Christians who have wrongfully divorced also have a false faith and are not really Christians.  That’s why I’ve continued to characterize them as “professing” Christians.  They may be part of the Christian culture but not really true Christians.  

Often the same churches that teach the false doctrine of unconditional eternal security have lost their way and preach a false faith of easy believism.  The problem lies in the popular definition of the word “faith.”  Some churches seem to claim that saving faith is only mental assent – agreement that Jesus lived, died, and rose again from the dead.  Some claim that if we accept or receive or believe in Jesus as Savior we will have eternal life.  Others claim that if one believes that Jesus died on the cross for his/her sins that is sufficient for salvation.  Still others think that if we strongly believe that Jesus exists, that is sufficient faith for salvation.   Dr. Stanley writes:  “Salvation, as we have seen, occurs at a moment in time when we by faith accept God’s free gift.”[26]  He also wrote:  “Once a person places trust in Christ’s death as the payment for sin, he or she immediately becomes part of the body of Christ.”[27]  None of those claims are true or found in Scripture.  “Faith” based only on those claims is a false faith and will not yield salvation. 

A further and more comprehensive discussion can be found at http://www.bereanpublishers.co.nz.  Look under False Doctrines, then click on “Is the Believer Eternally Secure?”  You will find three other articles on the same subject.

Saving Faith

Scripture says a saving faith is much moreScripture requires those who would be saved to receive Jesus as their Lord (see Romans 10:9-10, 13, 14:9; Acts 16:31, Acts 20:21; 2 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 2:6-7; Acts 10:36, 5:14, 9:42, 11:21, 16:15, 18:8).  Obedience to Jesus’ teachings and commands is the natural and necessary evidence of our love for Jesus as we receive him as our Lord (see Matthew 7:21, Romans 1:5, 16:26, 1 John 5:3, Luke 6:46, John 14:15, 21, 23, Hebrews 5:9,  and Matthew 28:20).[28] 

For a review of what Scripture says about a saving faith, go to http://www.bereanpublishers.co.nz and look under “Book:  Saving Faith,” then click on chapters 1 and 2.  Chapter 1 will review with you the issues involved.  Chapter 2 will prove that Scripture requires that all who would be saved must receive Jesus Christ as their Lord.  An easy to way to remember is:  Jesus saves all those for whom he is Lord; Jesus is Lord of all those who will be saved.  Chapters 7-10 show that obedience, fruit, and good works do not save, but are necessary evidence of a saving faith.

A Saving Faith Defined

A saving faith is a persevering faith in Christ Jesus as our LORD, proved by the evidence of obedience to Jesus’ teachings and commands, by the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and by doing those works God prepared in advance for us to do.

Part IV

What Should Wrongfully Divorced Professing Christians Do?

Is it possible for a person who is a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ – a person with a saving faith – to wrongfully divorce and remarry, committing the deliberate and premeditated sins of divorce and adultery?

The Problem

I suspect it is almost impossible for a person who has a real, saving faith in the Lord Jesus to wrongfully divorce.  Why impossible?  Divorce without marital unfaithfulness, as we have seen, is disobedience to a direct command of Jesus – a sin!  Let’s look again at John’s warning:

“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John. 2:3, 4).

The above scripture is not for those who make no claim of faith in Christ.  From that Scripture we can conclude those who willfully disobey, such as professing Christians who divorce without marital unfaithfulness, are liars – they do not know him (the Lord Jesus) even though they profess to know him – and the truth is not in them. 

I suspect most professing Christians who have wrongfully divorced and remarried did not then have, and may never have had, a saving faith.  They likely attend fellowships that teach they can accept Jesus as their personal Savior and have salvation forever, which can never be lost.  As we saw earlier, there is no scripture that says there is salvation for those who only accept or believe or receive Jesus as Savior.  He must be received as one’s LORD!  And it is an oxymoron to claim Jesus as one’s Lord and not obey him.  

The very act of divorcing between believers, except for marital unfaithfulness, is disobedience to the teachings and commands of Jesus and the later commands of Paul.  Worse than that, it is an act of rebellion against the Lord Jesus and against his authority as one’s Lord.  If I choose to go my own way and refuse to obey the teachings and commands of Jesus I have dethroned him in my life and declared myself to be lord and no longer have a saving faith.  A saving faith is a continuing faith in Jesus Christ as one’s Lord.

The Good News!

Is it possible for those professing Christians who have never really had a saving faith, who have wrongfully divorced, remarried, and have now committed adultery, to have their sins of divorce, adultery, and all other sin forgiven?  Yes, thankfully, if they are willing to do things God’s way, not their own way, and not the false way they may have been taught that allowed/caused them to be in the situation they now find themselves.  

They must humble themselves, repent, and be willing to understand that salvation is only through receiving Jesus as their Lord.  In the past they have been wrongly taught and acted wickedly in accordance with the false teaching they have received.  Now they must come before the Lord, repent of their sins, ask Jesus to be the Lord of their lives, receive him as their Lord, and commit to obey him the rest of their lives.  That qualifies them for the good news Paul taught: 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  (2 Corinthians 5:17).

 

What is the old that has gone?  It is all their past sins, including the sins of divorce and adultery.  They are now new creatures in Christ.  They are starting afresh as citizens of God’s Kingdom.  They are indwelled by the presence of the Holy Spirit; they have the mind of Christ; and they are beginning the process of being conformed to the likeness of Jesus.  If both spouses received Jesus as their Lord, the new has come in their marriage – a marriage relationship under the lordship of Jesus.  

What if only one spouse repents and becomes a true believer?  Then the teaching of the Apostle Paul provides guidance: 

Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. . . . Keeping God’s commands is what counts.   Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him (1 Corinthians 7:17, 19-20).

 

As we have seen from prior scriptures, the believing spouse is called to live with a non-believing spouse so long as that spouse is willing to do so.  Paul’s command would also refer to those from cultures that permit polygamy to remain in a polygamous marriage.  However Paul prohibits a person with more than one wife being a deacon (1 Timothy 3:12).   Those who are married when they come to a saving faith should remain married and honor it as the holy relationship God intended.  

For those who come from an easy-believism, Calvinism, or an unconditional eternal security background with its inappropriate emphasis on grace, there is much to relearn.  They may have to change their church fellowship to come under true biblical teaching.  Above all, they should study the Bible (and principally the Gospels) for themselves.  Find out through study of the New Testament Scriptures how God commands his children to live.  Jesus commanded his church to teach all new disciples to obey all that he [Jesus] commanded them (Matthew 28:20). 

Part V

What Should the Church Do?

Is there a role for the church in the separation and divorce of its members?  What does Scripture call the church to do?

In Case of Divorce

Let’s look again at what Jesus taught: 

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).     “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32).  “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11). 

If a couple in the church plan to divorce, usually one of two situations is true: 

q       One of the spouses has been unfaithful in the marriage, or

q       The couple is preparing to sin by disobeying the command of Jesus against divorce (and subsequently to sin by committing adultery if/when either of them should subsequently remarry).  

If the couple has simply decided to call it quits and wrongfully divorce, the church’s responsibility is to make sure the couple are aware that God hates divorce and that to wrongfully divorce is to deliberately sin against God.  In addition they must be warned that if they wrongfully divorce neither will be able to marry while the other is still alive without committing adultery. 

If one of the spouses has been unfaithful in the marriage that is something the elders should know about so they can determine the spiritual condition of that person.  If the unfaithful spouse is contrite, repents of the sin, turns from it, and seeks reconciliation, surely the church should do what it can to help the couple reconcile. 

If the unfaithful spouse refuses counsel, still claims to be a Christian, but is unrepentant, the church should act under Paul’s command: 

I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).   

Shouldn’t this same discipline be taken against a couple who jointly decide to wrongfully divorce? 

When a person claims to be a believer but continues in sin, that person should be isolated.  The Amish and some other denominations call it “shunning” or “churched.”  In such an instance, the unrepentant, unfaithful spouse should be expelled from the local church and the church members should be instructed not to associate with that person.  There are several reasons this is important.  First, it is a lesson for those in the church that God does not tolerate sinful, unrepentant behavior.  Second, it is for the salvation of the person.  Paul ordered:  “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5).  Obviously Paul hoped the isolation and rejection by the church would lead the man to repentance and salvation.  Third, it may be necessary in order to release the innocent spouse from the marriage. 

What if one of the spouses comes to the church elders asking for help because their spouse is seeking a wrongful divorce?   The person seeking the wrongful divorce is sinning against the innocent spouse.  Jesus taught about that possibility: 

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). 

Likely the innocent spouse has tried to show the offending spouse his fault.  If not, that should be the first action to be accomplished.  After that, two or three elders of the church should go to the offending spouse and determine the truth of the problem.  If the offending spouse is seeking a wrongful divorce, that person should be counseled about the warnings of Scripture that neither spouse will be able to marry without committing adultery as long as the other is still living.  He should be reminded of Paul’s warning: 

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). 

It is not enough to provide child support and family support monies.  Children need a father and mother in the home.  Divorce does terrible things to children.  It is not providing for one’s family to secure a wrongful divorce.  The spouse should be counseled about Jesus’ warning about causing little ones who believe in him to sin. 

There may be reasons why spouses should separate, as discussed previously.  But, especially when there are children of the marriage, if the spouse is unrepentant and continues to demand a wrongful divorce, the person should be brought before the church.  Today “before the church” may mean before the board of elders if the church is too large to bring the matter before the entire church body.  If the person stubbornly refuses to repent, Paul commands the church to treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.  However, if the person continues to claim he/she is a believer, then it would be necessary to terminate all association with the person – to not even eat with such a person – and to expel the person from the church body and warn the church members not to associate with him/her. 

The action of the church is extremely important to the innocent spouse.  By exercising scriptural discipline, the church will determine if the offending spouse should be expelled and/or treated as a pagan (unbeliever).  If the elders determine the offending spouse does not have a saving faith, has left the home, is unrepentant, is declared to be a pagan, or is expelled from the church, the innocent spouse is not bound and should be free to remarry according to Paul (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).  It is then the case of an unbeliever leaving. 

In Case of Separation

Let’s look again at Paul’s command to the church: 

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). 

The same actions discussed above by the church should occur with separation as with divorce, but with some additional investigation.  

A spouse could wish to separate because of selfishness, anger, bitterness, or unforgiveness.  Those are all symptoms of a person without a saving faith.  If that is so, that spouse needs to be counseled to repent from such attitudes, to submit to the lordship of Jesus in his/her life, and be taught what Jesus taught about the life and actions of those who would be his followers.  

There is an increasing possibility that the separation may be desired because the separating spouse may be suffering physical or mental abuse.  There is also the possibility that the innocent spouse wishes to separate to protect the children from physical or sexual abuse.  The church should examine these issues carefully.  A person who abuses his/her spouse and/or the children of the marriage is far from living the Christian life.  The likelihood is high that such a person is not a true believer and needs to be counseled accordingly. 

In Both Separation and Divorce

Followers of the Lord Jesus are to be reconcilers (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  Surely the church should attempt first to reconcile the spouses so neither separation nor divorce happens. 

Whenever one or both spouses desire a wrongful separation or divorce, that in itself is evidence that one or both of the spouses may not really be believers.  As we have seen earlier, the spouses could be victims of false doctrines and false faith, resulting in a false assurance of salvation.  They may believe they can willfully disobey the teachings and commands of Jesus (by divorce, separation, and/or remarriage) and not compromise either their faith or their salvation. 

In such instances, the church is given the opportunity to bring one or both of the spouses to a saving faith.  The church must teach the spouses what a true and saving faith is and urge them both to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and to obey him, and ask Jesus to be Lord of their marriage and home.

Counsel Those Planning to Marry Not To Enter Marriage Lightly

We’ve learned that God has established marriage as a lasting relationship.  God intends it to last for life, that others respect it, and that the marriage bed be kept pure.  God forbids marital unfaithfulness.  When it occurs, he considers it an optional cancellation of the marriage contract by the innocent person whose spouse has been unfaithful. 

Simply deciding one made a mistake in marrying a person is not an acceptable reason to terminate a marriage through wrongful divorce.  But if one were to divorce for that reason, the only option is to remain unmarried, at least so long as your spouse is still living and hasn’t been guilty of marital unfaithfulness, unless you were not a true believer when you divorced.  Then the proper action is to receive Jesus as your Lord and live thereafter to please God and obey his commands.  Then you are freed from the sins of the past and are a new creature in Christ Jesus. 

One of the greatest problems is when believers and unbelievers marry.  Let’s look again at Paul’s warning against this: 

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?   What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?   What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). 

Paul’s observation is certainly true.  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  And that will become ever so much more obvious in case of a marriage.  The differences will become obvious in more and more areas of the marriage and often will seem increasingly difficult to tolerate.  Sadly, that is an example of a person making their bed and having to lie in it.  The “believer” chose to disobey and now suffers the consequences.  As we saw earlier, if a believer marries an unbeliever, Paul says the believer may not secure a divorce so long as the unbeliever is willing to live with them.  

Our youth, and all those contemplating marriage, should be counseled to carefully consider all these commands from Scripture.  Marriage is a wonderful relationship established by God when entered into thoughtfully, carefully seeking God’s will in the choice of one’s mate and in establishing the marital home. 

God’s Love, Grace, and Goodness

Some of the teachings and commands we’ve examined may seem harsh.  They may seem difficult and appear to require great sacrifice to obey.  That may be especially true for some who already are in difficult circumstances. 

Those who have experienced difficult times in a marital relationship already have an inkling of how bad that relationship can get when it is not done God’s way.  On the other hand, if you’ve survived difficult times and entered into a loving, giving, caring, godly relationship, you know that the marriage relationship can be the best of all relationships.  That is what God wants for all his children.  All these commands are given so that we can live joyful, peaceful lives and fully trust our spouses to care for us and be true to us no matter what may come into our lives, as our lives give glory to God. 

God is eager for us to model a loving home for our children who will watch our lives and will learn the pattern for their future marriages from how we treat each other in our marriage relationship.  What great blessings for those who have sown righteousness into their children’s lives!  How sweet it will be for them as parents and grandparents.  God wants this for his children and for our children!

My Own Circumstances

Some readers may think I have written without sufficient compassion for those in difficult marital circumstances and suspect I am not able to empathize and identify with those suffering hardship in their marital relationships. 

Please let me correct such thoughts.  Few could have greater compassion than I do; few could identify more readily than I can with those in difficult marital situations.  I have been divorced three times.  I have been married four times.  I’ve been married two times by civil authorities (Justices of the Peace) and two times in purported Christian ceremonies.  In all cases I was an unbeliever.  I have been scarred by the grief and misery of bad (non-Christian) marriage relationships.  

I am one who can most appreciate the grace and forgiveness of God for my grievous sins against him.  I have experienced for myself the loneliness and feeling of utter failure resulting from multiple divorces.  I’ve seen the result of my divorces on my children and ex-spouses and extended families.  Please know I have experienced grief over my own failures.  I am also most grateful for God’s grace in granting me a wonderful marital relationship for the past twenty-four years. 

It is my deep desire that all should come to a saving faith in our Lord Jesus, that all marriages will be filled with the love and peace and joy of the Lord, and that all those marriages bring up godly children to the praise and honor of God.


Footnotes


[1] David Servant is author of the important book, The Great Gospel Deception, published by Ethnos Press, available through www.Amazon.com.

[2] Glenn Stanton, “Divorce: Bible Belt Style,” Citizen Magazine (June, 2000), p. 18.

[3] Ibid, page 19.

[4] Muehlenberg, Bill, Youth Suicide, Cutting Edge, December 2000/January 2001 No. 50, page 19.

[5] Ibid, Nicholi, Armand, “The Impact Family Dissolution on the Emotional Health of Children and Dolescents” in Bryce Christensen, When Families Fail . . . The Social Costs. University Press of America, 1991.

[6] Ibid, Hughes, Peter, “Changes in the family linked to rise in teenage suicides,” The Age, 25 July 1990.

[7] Ibid, Garnefski, Nadia and Rene Kiekstra, “Adolescents from one parent, stepparent and intact families; emotional problems and suicide attempts,” Journal of Adolescence 20, 1997, pp. 201-208.

[8] Logan, Bruce, “Marriage, Do We Need It?”: Report for the New Zealand Education Development Foundation (1998), page 15.

[9] Supra, pgs 19-20, De Marco, Donald, Biotechnology and the Assult on Parenthood. San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, 1991.

[10] Ibid, Stack, S., “The Effects of Marital Dissolution on Suicide.” Journal of Marriage and the Family vol. 42, no. 1, February 1980.

[11] Ibid, page 20, Adelaide Advertiser, “Divorced males top suicide list,” Adelaide Advertiser, 12 October 1994.

[12] All scriptures are taken from the The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless otherwise stated.

[13] Stanley, Charles, “Eternal Security What Do We Have To Lose?, Tape #6, MI090.

[14] Stanley, Charles, Eternal Security Can You Be Sure? (Nashville , TN: Oliver Nelson, 1990),

[15] Ibid, p. 70.

[16] Ibid, pages 79-80.

[17] Ibid, page 74.

[18] Ibid, page 93.

[19] Ibid, page 94.

[20] For a more complete discussion refuting the doctrine of unconditional eternal security, see the website www.bereanpublishers.co.nz | See at False doctrines | “Is the Believer Eternally Secure?”

[21] Supra 6, p. 80

[22] Ibid, page 81.

[23] Ibid, page 94.

[24] Ibid, page 121.

[25] Ibid, page 71.

[26] Ibid, page 71.

[27] Ibid, page 94.

[28] For a more complete discussion of what constitutes a saving faith, visit the website: www.bereanpublishers.co.nz | Book:  Saving Faith, and Salvation Issues | Listening In.