Far too often the person who has gone through a marriage failure, deals with horrible guilt and the feeling that they are personal failures and that they are somehow blocked from God and his church.  Marriages fail for numerous reasons.  It is certainly true that God wants all marriages to be for the life of the people who get married.  It is true that divorce can be done too often and too quick and that many marriages could be saved if the people were more committed to the covenant they have made between each other and with God.  It is certainly true that Jesus said that frivolous divorces are wrong.  He declared that “What God has joined together let no man separate.”  And when questioned he declared “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery” in Matthew 19:6-9.  So, divorce for just any cause involves sin.  But, that doesn’t mean that it is a sin that cannot be forgiven.

I fully realize that many believe that since the phrase “commits adultery” is present tense in the Greek language that it means that this sin cannot be forgiven without one remains single or gets back with the original partner.  I sincerely believe this is a mistaken view.  Present tense doesn’t necessarily mean continued action.  The context determines whether it is to be taken as an on-going action.  Notice what Jesus said, was that the one who divorced his partner and married another commits adultery.  It doesn’t say that he that divorces and marries another and has sex with her commits adultery.  It is the action of marrying another that breaks the covenant of companionship that had been made to the partner when they married each other.  But the notion that it is some kind of unforgivable sin goes way too far.  The blood of Jesus was effective in forgiving the people who crucified him in Acts 2.  It was sufficient to forgive Saul of Tarsus who had held the garments and encouraged the stoning of Stephen to death and then terrorized the church in Jerusalem and areas around it.  He declared of himself that he was the worst of sinners, yet God forgave him so that he might demonstrate his amazing grace.  Are we to think that God forgives one like Saul and even calls him to become the great apostle Paul that would lead multitudes to Jesus and wrote much of our New Testament but one who divorces and remarries can’t be forgiven unless they stay single for the remainder of their life?  What in the world happened to God’s declaration that it isn’t good for a man to be alone?

Jesus came into this world as the Word become flesh.  He didn’t just speak to us the word of God. He was God’s message or word.  He came to show us the Father.  So when we read what he said, we need to also look closely at his actions while he was on earth.  Remember, John 4 when he came to Samaria and met the woman from Samaria at the well.  Remember he offered her the water of life that would flow in her so she would never thirst again.  Yet this woman had been married five times and was now living with a man who had never married.  What is amazing is that Jesus forgave her and even sent her to town as a missionary to tell others about him, without ever telling her that she needed to go home and get rid of the man that wasn’t her husband.  I don’t think he was sanctioning the relationship, but he trusted that her salvation would lead to her doing what was the right thing to do.  When Christians act like one who has been divorced and remarried are somehow unclean and can’t come into the church family, it is a whole world away from Jesus own actions.  I think he is the one we are trying to be like, isn’t it?

It seems totally amazing to me that anyone would think that when 3,000 people came to Christ and were added to the church in Acts two that not a single one of them were divorced and remarried for the wrong reasons.  Also, the answer Jesus gave was to the Pharisees was in a very definite situation.  Should it then become the one passage on the topic that determines our whole thinking on the subject?  Think of the young lady that comes in to meet with the preacher for premarital counseling with her husband to be.  She hears of how she is to always submit and to make the marriage work, then marries the young man only to then learn that he is unable to control his anger and abuses her horribly.  Does any sane person believe that she should remain in that situation even under such abuse?  I’ve met with far too many women who stayed in horrible marriages who were being abused because they thought since he wasn’t an adulterer they had no right to divorce.  What about the woman who marries a man only to learn that he is addicted to pornography and gets more pleasure from watching filth and abuse that having sex with his wife, does she have the right to get out of that marriage?  He is lusting. The ones who lusts over and over again and is totally unable to think of sex with his own wife with any kind of pure thoughts, may not commit the act of immorality.  But he is totally unfaithful to his wife in what he is doing.

The point is there are lots of situations that are going on in our day that were not being considered when Jesus made the statements about divorce and adultery.  In I Corinthians 7 when Paul referred to the things Jesus had said he said it related to the marriage of a Christian to a Christian, but that he went on to say there were situations that needed to be dealt with that Jesus hadn’t talked about during his ministry.  Jesus said that he had many more things to say to us that they weren’t ready for.  The Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth.  This very principle should inform us that we don’t try to strain everything said in the letters through what was said in the gospels, but the things said in the gospels are explained in more detail in the letters.  Paul took the things Jesus said on divorce and remarriage and took the principles further in I Corinthians 7.  This came right after declaring that the immoral, the idolaters and adulterers and many other such things,  that some of them had lived that way, but were now washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of our God.

In following posts I will go further into I Corinthians 7.  But notice for certain that the immoral and adulterer could be washed, sanctified and justified.  The kingdom of God is to be a place of grace, of forgiveness and hope for those who have terribly failed in life.  The gospel is about redemption for all people.  The doors of God’s church is open for anyone that is willing to turn from their sin through faith in Jesus.  The longing of every church should be that the worst of sinners would come in and would be loved, accepted and treated with respect and grace so that they might hear the gospel that is God’s power to save and be moved by it to turn from their sins to God and be saved.

About leoninlittlerock

Preaching minister for Central church of Christ in Little Rock. Author of over 20 books including: When a Loved one Dies, Spiritual Development, Skid Marks on the Family Drive, Challenges in the church, To Know Christ and A Drink of Living Water.
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  1. Mike Woodham says:

    Forgiveness, though, requires conviction, confession and repentance. How can one repent and intentionally remain in the condition or continue the activity that they have just acknowledged to be sin?


    • Mike you asked a great question. If the relationship were the adultery it would be a valid point. But the statement Jesus made is that he that puts away his wife, except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery. Think about this question. If a couple divorced for something other than sexual immorality and married someone else, and didn’t ever have sexual relations would they still commit adultery? If not then Jesus statement wasn’t actually correct. If it is adultery to marry another as Jesus said, then it isn’t the relationship that is sinful but the act of divorcing and remarrying, which breaks the covenant of companionship described in Malachi 2. Think of all the marriages in the life of David and Solomon that they had that God blessed, inspite of the fact it wasn’t ever what he wanted for people. His plan had always been that a man would marry a woman for life as described in Genesis 2. Is it really reasonable to think that God was more merciful and graceful during the age of law than the age of grace and truth that came through Jesus?


  2. Patti Cook says:

    Thank you Leon. Your teaching on this subject helped me so much almost 30 years ago when I was faced with divorce. It helped me with forgiveness of my husband and myself. Such a logical way to interpret the scriptures,makes you wonder why so many people thought adultry was an unforgivable sin. Must be the same folks who thought they were the only ones going to heaven. Love you,Patti Cook


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