Divorce and Remarriage
The Amazing Truth!
Divorce and Remarriage! Many of us have come to think of divorce as being common and of no surprise. And, in most cases, remarriage come right along after the divorce. But what does God think of this all-too-common experience?
One of the hallmarks of contemporary life is the rampant divorce rate. But divorce is not the only problem. The vast majority of those who divorce their mates or are divorced by their mates will eventually marry again. This is especially true for those divorced in their younger years. Therefore, when we speak of divorce, we must generally think also of remarriage.
Most of those who divorce their spouses or are divorced by them do experience a degree of pain. This is especially true of those who do not want the divorce but whose spouse forces this action, perhaps with the intention of remarriage. Yet even most of these will subsequently enter a second marriage.
God, of course, is the One who created us and He is also the One who “invented” marriage! (See Genesis 1-2.) We know that He has much to say about this blessed relationship. But has He also spoke about the breakup of a marriage through divorce? Has He revealed His will in regard to a second marriage? Indeed He has! Much could be written about these serious themes, however let us confine our words to several very simple and plain passages of Scripture. Above all, we wish to be very simple in our discussion of this subject so that every reader will be able to understand the verses we examine. We admit that there are some very complex issues that pertain to divorce and others that relate to remarriage, and these we will avoid in the present study.
A LOOK AT THE SCRIPTURES
Let us open the Scriptures and examine briefly what they say about the issue of divorce and remarriage. We begin by noticing the words of the Lord at Mark 10:11-12:
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
Let us now just form a simple equation that will make the will of the Lord plain for us:
DIVORCE + REMARRIAGE = ADULTERY
In order to make sure that we are reading the Lord’s will correctly in this, let us examine another passage, Luke 16:18. This verse says:
“Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”
From the first part of this verse, we again see the Jesus speaks of the same equation that we saw above:
DIVORCE + REMARRIAGE = ADULTERY
However, in this passage something else is added. In this case, the one who may be marrying for the first time but is marrying a woman who was divorced (or put away) from a husband also commits adultery. It seems like Jesus is quite concerned about the breaking of the marriage bond, the general occurrence of remarriage and the subsequent adulterous relationship!
Let us consider a further passage in which Jesus addressed this important theme, Matthew 5:32:
“Every one who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
The wording of our Lord’s statement in this place is somewhat different than the earlier ones. Here we see that the man who divorces his wife “makes” her commit adultery. Why? Because she will probably remarry after she is divorced. If the husband divorces his wife for the cause of “unchastity” (fornication), technically he does not “make her commit adultery” since she is already an adulteress. Jesus further states that one who marries a divorced woman commits adultery—whether or not he himself is marrying for the first or second time. Once again we can see that Jesus seemed to be very, very concerned about the matter of adultery that is committed when one of the partners to the new marriage has been formerly married.
One final passage containing the words of Jesus on this subject is Matthew 19:9. Let us examine it for a moment:
“Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”
Basically, Jesus is saying the same thing that He says in the other places we have read:
DIVORCE + REMARRIAGE = ADULTERY
The difference here is that if he divorces his wife “for immorality” (for fornication), he does not commit adultery. There are a number of different views as to what “fornication” here means: (a) sexual activity during the Jewish engagement period unknown to the husband at the time of the marriage; (b) divorce upon the grounds that the marriage has taken place with one who is near of kin; (c) adultery upon the part of the other marriage partner. We need not concern ourselves here with all of the arguments supporting or denying these possibilities for our main concern is simply to establish how important the marriage relationship is and how serious it is to violate the marriage bond.
If we combine all of the above verses into a single account, we would read this:
Every one who divorces his wife,
except for the cause of immorality,
and marries another woman
commits adultery against her [the wife],
[and] makes her commit adultery;
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
We may summarize all of the Scriptural passages that we have examined thus far in the following way:
Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality. . .
- The Divorcer: (a) and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9)
- The Divorced: (b) makes her commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32)
- Third Party: (c) whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matthew 5:32); he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery (Luke 16:18)
Before we leave this present point of linking remarriage with adultery, let us notice Romans 7:2-3:
“The married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
“So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man.”
Although this is of a different character than Jesus’ own words, Paul’s own inspired instruction is also important. Notice another passage that correlates with the one above:
“A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).
With these two passages in mind, we may form something of an equation in this way:
MARRIAGE + JOINING (TO ANOTHER) =ADULTERY
On the other hand, since death cancels the marital relationship, we may also form this equation:
JOINING TO ANOTHER + DEATH = NO ADULTERY
We would conclude that if there has been a divorce of the nature we have been examining, one should avoid remarriage and wait until the death of the spouse in order to prevent adultery.
HOW SERIOUS IS ADULTERY?
The Lord Jesus said a lot about adultery in relationship to remarriage. In our day most people seem to confine the concept of adultery to “cheating on one’s spouse” or “having an affair” while married. Of course, this kind of sexual unfaithfulness while in a marriage is adultery, but Jesus used the term to refer to a remarriage after a wrongful divorce. Few people seem to give much attention to this aspect of adultery in our day. They assume that if a man divorces his wife, perhaps on grounds such as “incompatibility” or “desertion,” he is free to marry again–no strings attached! They think that if a woman divorces her husband, perhaps on grounds of alcoholism, mental cruelty, or physical cruelty, she may remarry without guilt. We have already observed that Jesus Christ disallows such “grounds” or “causes” for divorce. He simply says that if one divorces his spouse and marries another person, he commits adultery.
If this second marriage is an adulterous relationship, just how important is this? In other words, how does God look upon adultery? First, notice Paul’s inspired words at 1 Corinthians 1:9-10:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor ADULTERERS . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
This shows us that God looks upon sin very, very seriously. In fact, he says that those whose lives are characterized by fornication (sex before marriage), idolatry (placing something or someone before God), and adultery, simply will not inherit God’s coming Kingdom! “I never knew that living in adultery was that much of a problem!” you may exclaim. Yes, God looks upon the current casual sexual relationships, casual marriages, and casual linking up with a second (or third!) partners as a very serious matter! In fact, unless one repents of adultery and other such sins, he will be forbidden from entering the kingdom of God! Let us put it this way:
(UNREPENTANT) ADULTERY = NO KINGDOM OF GOD
Let us examine another passage that is equally as serious in its implications:
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”
There is little to say about this verse. It is very plain and should not be misunderstood. Although God holds pure and legitimate marriage in high regard and desires that we should hold this kind of relationship in honor, He seriously condemns all sexual activity that is not within an honorable marriage. That is, he condemns sexual activity outside of marriage (fornication), and he also condemns sexual activity with someone who is not a God-approved marital partner. We have already observed that if one enters a second marriage after a wrongful divorce, he commits adultery. Paul said that one who is involved in an adulterous relationship is called an adulterer (the man) or an adulteress (the woman). And in the passage above we can see that God will “judge” or condemn those who commit fornication or adultery and refuse to repent and turn from such sins.
Shall we look at several other passages? The Scriptures often use the Greek term porneia to refer to all kinds of sinful sexual activity. Sometimes it simply refers to sex outside of marriage (as in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and Hebrews 13:4), but generally it refers to ALL sinful sexual activity, such as homosexuality (Jude 7), incest (1 Cor. 5:1), and adultery. Therefore, let us notice how serious it is to commit porneia, which is generally translated, “fornication” or “immorality” or “sexual immorality.”
Paul says that true Christians should inwardly put to death “fornication,” then he says these sobering words: “It is on account of these things [like fornication] that the wrath of God will come” (Colossians 3:5-6). Ephesians 5:5-6 is even more shocking:
“You know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person . . . has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
How plain! Those who are immoral (the word comes from porneia)–including those who are living in adultery–does not have an inheritance in the Kingdom of God! If one does not enter Christ’s coming Kingdom, how utterly horrible will be the person’s lot! Paul continues by saying that “the wrath of God” will come upon those who are guilty of adultery and refuse to repent and turn from it. Now we can construct another little equation:
ADULTERY = WRATH (ANGER) OF GOD
In another sobering passage Paul shows us how serious it is to remain in many different sins (he lists fifteen of them). In part, this is what Paul says in Galatians 5:19-21:
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: IMMORALITY, impurity, sensuality, . . . of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Can you see how clearly Paul says that those who are guilty of immorality (porneia), which includes adultery, shall not inherit the Kingdom of God! Let us examine a further passage, and this one shows how serious it is to be characterized by immorality in relation to one’s destiny:
“But for the . . . IMMORAL PERSONS . . . their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
This verse, Revelation 21:8, shows us that those who are “immoral” (from porneia), including those guilty of adultery, will forever be in the “lake of fire” (see also Rev. 20:14-15). We are prepared for another equation to get the truth before us clearly:
ADULTERY = LAKE OF FIRE
Later, in the next chapter, we also see that those guilty of sexual immorality will not enter into the beautiful, heavenly City of God (see Rev. 22:14,15; cf. 21:1-2). In short, we read, “Outside [the city] are . . . the immoral persons” (v. 15). Let us also make an equation of this:
ADULTERY = NO CITY OF GOD
Are we finally seeing in clear and unmistakable terms that God considers adultery very, very serious? In fact, those guilty of adultery and who refuse to repent of this sin simply cannot be saved. They will not inherit the Kingdom of God nor enter the City of God. Instead, they will face the Judgment of God, endure the wrath of God, and be consigned to the eternal lake of fire. How sobering! How utterly sobering!
We are now prepared to express a fuller equation in light of all that we have learned to this point:
DIVORCE + REMARRIAGE = ADULTERY + HELL
If this were all that Scripture said about adultery and the eternal destiny of adulterers, it would be a shocking and serious truth, wouldn’t it? But, thanks to the Lord, there is a further truth that provides us with some sorely needed GOOD NEWS!
WHAT IS THE GOOD NEWS?
In one sense, we know that the “good news” or gospel is the fact that God sent His only beloved Son to this earth with the express purpose of dying for out sins. Christ came and took upon Himself all of our sins–including the deadly sin of adultery–and suffered for those sins on the cross. Scripture says that “He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” and “Christ . . . [has] been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:26,28). Peter echoed the same truth: “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Such passages could be multiplied many times over. They remind us of the fact that the Lord Jesus took the sin of adultery and every other sin that we mortals have committed, then He died for all of this sin on the cross. Since He died for them already, two thousand years ago, we need not die for them or be sent to hell to be punished for them. This indeed is good news!
You know, of course, that not everyone is forgiven of his or her sins. In fact, very, very few people receive the forgiveness of their sins–even though God has made provision for this forgiveness through the death of Christ. The reason for this is that few people are willing to humble themselves and seek this forgiveness. In order to be forgiven, we must believe in God and place our faith in Christ and in His saving death for us. Peter proclaimed, “Through His [Christ’s] name every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). The believer is forgiven of which sins? All of them–including the sin of adultery!
Yet this saving faith must be coupled with genuine repentance. Peter also said these welcome words: “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19; cf. 2:38; Luke 24:47). The repentance would issue in the “wiping away” of which sins? All sins–including the sin of adultery!
Those who come to Christ initially must express this faith and repentance in baptism (that is, an immersion, which is a lowering into water and a rising from the water). Peter likewise explains the place of baptism in one’s response to God through Christ Jesus: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In this case, what sins would be forgiven when one repents of them and is baptized into Christ? All of them–including the sin of adultery!
Isn’t this truly good news! We have spoken much about the sin of divorce on these pages. We have also discussed the sin of remarriage. And we have pointed out that this brings the sin of adultery. It is so good to know that this adultery can be forgiven! The adulterer and the adulteress can have the adultery wiped away!
THE ADULTEROUS “BROTHER” OR “SISTER”
There may be those who sometime in the past turned to God through Christ for salvation. They became “new creatures” and the old things passed away and new things came (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). However, they became involved with the ways of the world and turned away from the life in Christ that they once knew. During this time of rebellion they may have married–and the marriage turned out bad. They may have sinfully divorced their companion and married another partner. Or they may have been cruelly divorced by their partner then they found another partner to marry. In other words, even after knowing the way of the Lord and how seriously God wants His people to walk, some turned away from the light and the truth, choosing to enter a second marriage. The result, of course, is that they entered an adulterous relationship. They are not committing adultery.
What is the solution to this sinful but lamentable situation? The answer is also good news! These people can be forgiven of their sin of divorce, their sin of remarriage, and their present sin of adultery! How can they be forgiven? Peter told Ananias (who had earlier believed in the Lord and was baptized), “REPENT of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22; see. v. 12-13). This sinful person could be forgiven if he was willing to repent of his sin. The same answer is given to one today who turns to the Lord and later enters an adulterous relationship with someone who is not his rightful husband or wife. God says that such a person must REPENT of his or her sins! The person must repent of the sin of adultery!
What is the meaning of repentance? This means that one must have a change of heart in regard to sin and in regard to God. He must purpose never to sin again and must choose to henceforth live a holy life for God. This means that repentance does not stay in the mind or heart. It is expressed outwardly. Scripture shows this relationship between the inward and the outward in these words:
- “Bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance” (Matt. 3:8).
- ” They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20).
This “fruit” and these “deeds” show that repentance is genuine. For instance, let us say that you would steal my car then a week later came to me and ask, “Will you please forgive me for stealing your car?” If you really repented of taking my car, you would return the car that was not rightfully yours. This would be a “deed appropriate to repentance.” If you refused to return the car, this would be evidence that you actually did not repent of the sin of stealing.
Likewise, we must see adultery in the very same way. If one wrongfully divorces his wife, then remarries another woman, what is the result? We have seen that such a person commits adultery. In fact, every time the man (the adulterer) goes to bed and has sexual relations with his second partner, he is committing adultery with her. Night after night he commits adultery. Beyond this, he no doubt continually commits adultery in his mind for he surely has sexual thoughts in regard to this second partner and has sexual imaginations at times other than in bed. We speak plainly here since we have learned that many simply do not understand either the fact of adultery or the extent of this sin–both in thought and in act.
In order for this sinful “brother” to be forgiven of this sin of adultery, he must repent of the adultery. We have seen this sufficiently already. And this adultery must be coupled with fruit or deeds. It must make a decisive change in his life. He must not continue to practice this sin again. He must renounce this sin of adultery and choose never to commit it even one more time. Paul puts it this way:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)
We are never justified in continuing to practice sin. In the case of adultery, let us say that each night the adulterer commits adultery with his second partner (the person involved in the second marriage). When he repents, he must renounce this adultery and purpose never to commit adultery again. He must never, ever have sexual relations with this person again. He must choose to immediately leave this adulterous relationship and choose to live in purity the remainder of his life. If he chooses to repent and turn from this sin (and all other sin), God promises that He will forgive the adulterer:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).
According to Isaiah, the repentant person must “forsake his way.” In our context, this means that the adulterer must “forsake” his adultery and choose to remain pure in the future. Notice another beautiful promise:
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.
This passage, from Proverbs 28:13, shows that God will pour out His compassion or mercy upon the one who not only “confesses” his sins but who also “forsakes” his sins. In our context, this means that the adulterer must not only confess his adultery, but he must also “forsake” this sin so that God will show him compassion and forgiveness. Let us put this in the form of an equation:
ADULTERY + REPENTANCE + FORSAKING = FORGIVENESS
The New Testament says the same thing. Peter puts it this way in Acts 3:26:
“For you first, God raised up His Servant [Jesus], and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”
God calls upon the adulterer to “turn from” his adultery, to renounce the adultery of thought and act, and to henceforth live a life of purity.
PURITY FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Some reader may wonder how it is possible to live a pure life without sexual expression. Since we live in such a sexual society, where lust and sinful sex is so much a part of our culture, one may wonder how a person can live without sexual activity. Beyond this, marriage (including remarriage) involves much more than the sex act itself. There is closeness, intimacy, sharing, tenderness, and caressing and so much more. Is it possible to forego these expressions of sexuality and still live a worthwhile life? Indeed, it is possible, and God gives the power and strength to do it!
Christ envisioned that there would be some who would choose to renounce sexuality so that they might enter the Kingdom of God. He put it this way:
“There are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12a).
Because the Kingdom of God is so desirable and the will of God is so precious, there are some who choose to remain in celibacy (live without sexual expression) “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” This is the only choice for one who wants to repent of his adulterous relationship in a second marriage and desires to enter the wonderful Kingdom of heaven.
It Is it worth this awesome sacrifice? Indeed it is! Nothing is worth losing out on the Kingdom of God and the City of God! Nothing is worth the prospect of the wrath of Almighty God and the eternal lake of fire! Besides these considerations, we would also emphasize that nothing can compare with the joy and peace of a good conscience that comes from turning away from sin and living in purity before God and others. With sins forgiven, the repentant former adulterer can live a life of joy in sweet fellowship with God–which is far better than the fellowship of an adulterous companion.
Much has been left unsaid. What about the “exception clause” of Matthew 19:9? What about pre-conversion relationships? What about children from a second marriage? What about the hardships, the financial pressures, and the emotional upheaval? We cannot deal with every possible problem or ramification at this time. In fact, there are numerous difficulties regarding this matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. There are issues and arguments beyond us at this time. For now, our counsel is simply to step out and do what you know God would want you to do. Be willing to take Him at His Word, believe in Him, and commit yourself to His promises. Adultery through remarriage simply is not worth throwing away your eternal blessedness with God!