THE DIVORCED AND REMARRIED WHO WOULD COME TO GODJoe R. Price
The following question was asked of us this week: "Can a person become a Christian if that person has been divorced and remarried?"
Any person can become a Christian who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, confesses that faith before men and repents of past sin and being baptized into Christ for the remission of sins (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-38, 41; 8:35-38; 17:30; 22:16; Rom. 6:1-4; 10:9-10; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
If one's divorce and remarriage violates the word of Christ, then one must repent of that sin, too. So there are two issues here: (1) What is Bible repentance?, and (2) Was the divorce and remarriage scriptural in the sight of God? Let's take a Biblical look at those items in order.
What is Repentance?
The word "repent" means "to change." To repent of one's past sins means to change one's mind about his sin (Lk. 13:3, 5). Repentance is produced by godly sorrow and leads to a changed life (2 Cor. 7:10).
For instance, when John the Baptist preached repentance, part of his message was that people were to "bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Lk. 3:8). It is not enough to just say "I repent of my sins" -- One must also stop sinning!
Matthew 21:29 shows us the change which occurs when one repents. Before the son was not going and working in the vineyard, he repents, and now he is going and working in the vineyard. Repentance means doing the opposite of what, in sin, was being done before repentance.
The gospel teaches that sinners "should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance" (Acts 26:20). When a person becomes a Christian he is "washed," "sanctified" and "justified" (1 Cor. 6:9-11). As a "new creature" in Christ the Christian cannot continue to commit sin and please God (Rom. 6:1-2, 12-18).
An example of repentance and its fruit is found in Acts 19:18-19. In Ephesus there were many people who were practicing magical arts associated with idolatrous and pagan superstitions (see Acts 19:11-17). When they believed and obeyed the gospel of Christ they were saved from their past sins. To make sure they would not continue to sin they burned the books they had previously used when they transgressed the will of God! Like them, the fruit of repentance we must bear when becoming a Christian is to cease practicing our previous sins (cf. Romans 6:1-2 and Revelation 9:20-21).
Baptism Does Not Redefine Sin
That which is sin before baptism is also sin after baptism. We understand that the polygamist must give up his additional wives when he repents of his sin of adultery and is baptized into Christ. He cannot continue practicing the sin of multiple wives. Likewise, that which is adultery before baptism is also adultery after baptism.
When one violates Christ's revealed will on divorce and remarriage the result is adultery (Matt. 19:9; 5:32). To repent of adultery (in order to become a Christian, Acts 2:38) one must stop committing adultery (just as the pagans of Ephesus stopped practicing their magical arts). This would involve getting out of the sinful relationship in which one is living. An example of God commanding His people to get out of unholy marriages can be found in Ezra 9-10.
We need to be plain: If a polygamist becomes a Christian, the gospel teaches that person to stop practicing polygamy. Repentance demands it. If a homosexual becomes a Christian, the gospel teaches that person to stop practicing homosexuality. Repentance demands it. Likewise, if an adulterer (due to an unscriptural remarriage) becomes a Christian, the gospel teaches that person to stop practicing adultery. Repentance demands it. If the adultery is due to an unscriptural remarriage, then one must get out of the unholy relationship. Repentance demands it. To repent of the adultery of an unscriptural remarriage, one must get out of the adulterous marriage. This is what "doing works worthy of repentance" means (Acts 26:20). Thus repenting, one is prepared to be baptized into Christ for the remission of his sins (Acts 2:38).
What is Christ's Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage?
Who has the right to divorce and remarry with His approval? Who may remarry without committing adultery by doing so? Marriage is to be honored by all men, and the marriage bed is to remain pure and undefiled by sin (Heb. 13:4). God's will for human beings who enter marriage is this: one man and one woman for life (Gen. 2:21-24; Matt. 19:4-6). When Christ's marriage law is violated by divorce and remarriage, marriage is dishonored and adultery occurs (Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:2-3).
Jesus established one exception to this rule. The exception He made is found in Matthew 19:9: "And I say unto you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (fornication, JRP), and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." So, when a person divorces his or her mate because the mate was sexually unfaithful, the "innocent" party is given the right to remarry (that person's remarriage is not adultery). Jesus did not give the so-called "guilty party" (the person who is divorced because he committed sexual sin) the right to remarry.
And, please note that if the reason for the divorce was something other than "sexual immorality" (fornication, KJV) any subsequent remarriage by either party is adultery (Matt. 19:9).
What About Alien Sinners and Christians: Isn't There A Difference?
No. Marriage is for all of mankind, instituted by God for humanity when He created man and woman (Gen. 2:21-24; Matt. 19:4-6). All are called upon to honor marriage by obeying God's will concerning it (Heb. 13:4).
Consider the following to help us see that God is no respecter of persons in this matter. Can a child of God who leaves his wife and marries another (in violation of Matt. 19:6, 9) and then wants to repent be accepted of God? Yes, but what does repentance demand of him in order to be forgiven and accepted by God? May he simply "repent" and keep his second wife? Or, must he terminate his adulterous marriage? If, as some brethren teach, the alien can "repent" and be baptized and keep his unscriptural mate, why could not the child of God "repent" in the same fashion and keep his unscriptural mate?
In truth, whether one is an alien sinner or a child of God, the demands of repentance equally apply -- as do God's truth about marriage, divorce and remarriage.
So, one who is divorced and remarried must assess his present standing before God to determine if repentance is in order. Did he divorce his first mate because the mate was sexually unfaithful? If so, Christ gives the innocent person the right to remarry anyone who also has a right to marry (see Matt. 5:32; 19:9). The guilty party cannot remarry with Christ's approval (Matt. 19:9). If one's divorce was for any other reason it does not meet Christ's exception. Their remarriage is adultery.
To repent of adultery one must get out of the marriage in which adultery is being committed. Repentance demands it. Christ will accept nothing less. "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Rom. 6:2)