MDR: A Question from a Reader

I get emails —

Hi Jay,

While on a CofC discussion board regarding the subject, I happened onto a link to your article, “But If I Do Remarry…” I wanted to share my personal situation with you and ask you to prayerfully give me your counsel.

Although I was baptized while very young and always attended church services, while I was a teenager I began a relationship with a young man separated from his wife.  Of course looking back now, I see what a terrible sin that was, and to be honest, I really knew it at the time.  But my walk was with the world and not God at that time.  They divorced, she remarried, and he and I were married.

After I had children, I very much wanted to be restored to God and since then have grown substantially in my Christian walk. (Although my husband attends church services, he has never obeyed the gospel.) Having said that, I still struggle with whether or not I am forgiven since we are still married.  I have spoken with several church leaders, who have said they believe I am forgiven.  But for some reason, I cannot get past it.  I very much want to be a good wife and mother, and I also very much want to be within God’s will, and it is frightening to me that in the end, I may find that I wasn’t.

I would very much appreciate it if you would pray for the correct counsel to offer me.  Thank you so very much for your time.

You are unquestionably forgiven — and the last thing you should do is divorce your current husband.

God expects Christians to continue in their faith in Jesus and to be penitent. Tragically, some church leaders have horribly misunderstood this teaching, concluding that one cannot repent without making “restitution.” Therefore, a divorced and remarried person must divorce her current spouse and seek to re-marry her first spouse — even if this means breaking up a Godly family and bringing untold heartache to her husband and children — and even if her first husband is a wife beater. Yes, I’ve seen it taught.

Anyone who teaches such a thing is far removed from the heart of God.

(Psa 51:10-17)  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

When David sinned with Bathsheba, God forgave him. Even though their relationship was born in sin, they married and their second son was named Solomon. God did not consider Solomon illegitimate. Rather, God himself chose Solomon to be king after David.

If God required sinful relationships to be healed by ending that relationship, David would have cast Bathsheba out of the palace as a condition to being forgiven. But our God is a God of mercy and compassion. He forgave David and healed that relationship.

(Of course, David suffered very severe penalties for his sin in this life, including the death of his firstborn by Bathsheba. And anyone who has been through a divorce understands that there are often penalties to be suffered in this life.)

The way you repent from covenant breaking is by no longer breaking covenants. What God wants from you is not misery and a broken home. God wants a changed heart — a broken and contrite heart. And this sacrifice is enough. You honor God by being a good wife to your current husband and a good mother for your children. You honor God by letting the grace he’s given you transform you into a woman filled with his Spirit.

You see, another lesson from Ps 51 is that you pray to God for a pure heart and a steadfast spirit. You aren’t alone: the God who created the Universe is working in you and in your life to transform you —

(Eph 5:8)  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light …

Through his Spirit, God has already washed your sins away, and he is at work in you remaking you. Indeed, when you finally realize that you are forgiven it will be by God’s Spirit that you understand —

(Eph 3:16-19)  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

This is grace — a grace so great that we need supernatural power to grasp it. But it’s grace for a purpose — grace that compels you to greater obedience and service to the Lord who forgives those who love him.

This calls for a song —

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About Jay Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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32 Responses to MDR: A Question from a Reader

  1. CarolinaGirl says:

    Well said.

  2. Alan says:

    The way you repent from covenant breaking is by no longer breaking covenants.

    Amen!

  3. Jerry Starling says:

    How strange it is that people still teach the the way to honor God is by divorcing one (when God said He hates divorce) to remarry the first spouse (which Moses said is an abomination)!

    Those who teach such make the way back to God under grace more legalistic than it was under law! If God, because of the hardness of men's hearts, permitted divorce under law, then by what right do we say He can no longer permit it under grace when hearts are still hard – until they are softened and broken by penitence?

    I have heard it said, "If a man steals another man's mule, he must return the mule to show repentance; so if a man steals another man's wife, he must return the wife to repent." Since when is it legitimate to equate a wife to a mule???? We might as well say that if we have murdered someone we must resurrect him to show repentance! Restoring a broken marriage after remarriage would be about as hard as resurrecting the dead!

  4. Jbo says:

    Amen and well said.

  5. John H says:

    Jay, a great response. If your questioner wants more material on this issue, I recommend Al Maxey's book "Down But Not Out."

  6. coreydavis says:

    Let me give you an example and a question:

    Two men are "married" in one of the states that allows for such. They adopt a child. After some study, they desire to become Christians.

    Should they dissolve their "marriage" or should they stay in it to avoid being "covenant-breakers"?

  7. Anonymous says:

    coreydavis, This discussion is about Biblical marriage. The Bible never speaks about two men being married, the example you gave is not a Biblical marriage.

  8. coreydavis says:

    The Bible is also clear that some heterosexual "marriages", while lawful in the eyes of the world are not so in the eyes of God (Matthew 14: 4).

  9. Anonymous says:

    coreydavis, So you believe a person is condemned who has divorced whatever the reason. You believe that God doesn't give them any mercy?

  10. coreydavis says:

    So you believe a person is condemned who has divorced whatever the reason

    That isn't what I said at all. Jesus does give a reason for divorce in Matthew 19, and the only reason He gave was for fornication.

    If a person was divorced for some other reason and remarries, that new "marriage" is unlawful in the eyes of God (see Matthew 14:4 again). It would be perpetual adultery. This is no different from the homosexual couple that I gave as an example. Becoming a Christian involves repentance. If the hypothetical homosexual couple must separate in order to repent, then so must the heterosexual couple. Both relationships are unlawful.

    Adultery is unlawful. Homosexuality is unlawful. Both must come out of their relationships. What Jay & others here refuse to acknowledge is that God doesn't accept the covenant made by those who were divorced for some reason other than fornication any more than He accepts the covenant made by the homosexual couple.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I believe when a person confesses to God their sins He is faithful to forgive them (1 John 1:8-9).

  12. coreydavis says:

    I believe that as well. I also believe that we are called to repent, lest we perish.

    As much as we are able, we must repent. Now, a murderer can only do so much (like be willing to go to prison or whatever is required), but repentance for a thief is different – if he doesn't give back what he stole, he didn't repent. If one is in a homosexual relationship, to repent they must end that relationship. If one is in an adulterous "marriage", to repent they must end that relationship.

    This is hard to accept, but it is true. I think some need to consider the response to Jesus' teaching on MDR in Matthew 19:

    The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." (verse 10).

    They understood the difficult nature of His teaching. It seems many today do not.

  13. Anonymous says:

    When God forgives He forgives never remembering the sin. The person should try not to make the same mistake again.

  14. coreydavis says:

    Hebrews 10:26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

    If you refuse to repent and just live in the sin, God indeed remembers your sins.

  15. Larry Short says:

    Corey Davis, thanks for making us think. The only problem in all the examples is it is just couples, not a family. Do you leave new (even adulterous) kids to cure a past sin? Malachi wrote "I hate divorce" which is followed by because wanting righteous children. Perhaps the kids, if any change the senario.
    One other thought. Perhaps the severe wording of the leaving sin in the sermon on the mount "if you eye offends, pluck it out" relates to this. If you can't do marriage (and sex) right, take it out of your life. Celibacy is just as honorable as marriage.

  16. Terry says:

    I think I understand the feelings of the woman who e-mailed you, Jay. Unless I'm mistaken, she wants to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (as John the Baptist would say). She recognizes her sin against God, her husband, and her husband's ex-wife. She feels horrible that she has sinned against all of them. She wants to make things right, but does not know what to do. She is in a difficult situation.

    I would recommend that she confess her sins to God, her husband, and her husband's ex-wife. Then ask each for forgiveness. It will be difficult (especially with the ex-wife), but it could bring relief and reconciliation. Restitution may not be possible, but perhaps forgiveness is. This would seem to be in keeping with the spirit of Jesus' instructions to seek reconciliation with those whom we have offended.

  17. coreydavis says:

    Larry,

    Actually, in the first example I gave, I mentioned that the hypothetical homosexual couple had adopted a child.

    When children are involved things get even harder and emotions run high. However, we can look to the OT which was written for our learning to see that God indeed has asked people to leave unlawful marriages in which there were children to be pleasing to Him. In Ezra 10 the Israelites were commanded to leave their pagan wives to gain good-standing with the Lord. Verse 44 makes it clear that they had children by these wives. I don't think that verse is there by chance – it is there to show that their repentance meant doing something that few today would accept.

    Your mention of celibacy is very appropriate since Jesus mentioned that some would have to do so "for the kingdom's sake" in His teaching on MDR in Matthew 19. It is a high price to pay in this life, but worth it in the next.

  18. Alan says:

    I predict a long and contentious thread 😉

    coreydavis wrote:

    What Jay & others here refuse to acknowledge is that God doesn’t accept the covenant made by those who were divorced for some reason other than fornication any more than He accepts the covenant made by the homosexual couple.

    God accepted the covenant between the Israelites and the Gibeonites (Joshua 9), even though he had specifically commanded them not to enter into it. In fact, he punished the Israelites when they subsequently broke that covenant (2 Sam 21).

  19. Jay Guin says:

    coreydavis,

    As the homosexual couple are not married, they cannot dissolve their marriage.

    Some time ago, I wrote an e-book laying out what I think the Bible teaches on MDR: But If You Do Marry … http://oneinjesus.info/books-by-jay-guin/but-if-y

    I used those materials as the source for a series of posts on MDR: http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/m… This has the advantage of having comments pro and con and my responses, but is essentially the same material as in the e-book.

    The reader said that she'd read the e-book, and so I didn't make any effort to repeat the arguments made there. Rather, I chose to explain the heart of God in the context of a marriage made in sin. Ps 51 is, I think, a powerful declaration of the grace of God.

    My most recent post was not intended to be a complete exposition of the theology. That will be found in the e-book or series from several months ago.

    Sadly, our traditional teaching is so far removed from I think the Bible teaches that it's just not very easy to explain the errors in the traditional view briefly.

  20. coreydavis says:

    Alan wrote:
    I predict a long and contentious thread

    I have no desire to be contentious. I do wish to discuss this issue though, since I see error being taught.

    You said:
    God accepted the covenant between the Israelites and the Gibeonites (Joshua 9), even though he had specifically commanded them not to enter into it. In fact, he punished the Israelites when they subsequently broke that covenant (2 Sam 21).

    Where did God specifically command them to not enter into that covenant? I'm not saying that He didn't…I just don't see it in the context of Joshua 9.

    Regardless, I don't believe we're discussing the same thing. This was a covenant between nations. From what I see, the Israelites didn't consult with God before making the covenant (verse 14). God's punishment for not consulting Him first was to bind them to their foolish oath. Had they asked Him first, they would have known they were being deceived. This is a tough connection to make with MDR, in my opinion.

    Jay wrote:
    As the homosexual couple are not married, they cannot dissolve their marriage.

    Says who? We have states that would in fact recognize their "marriage". They took a legal oath that would be legally upheld in the state where they live.

    Now, does God recognize their "marriage"? No. And in order to repent, they would have to dissolve that union. Does God recognize the "marriage" of those who are in an adulterous union? Again, no, and they too must come out of that unlawful relationship to repent.

    I have limited time to discuss this here, much less to read lengthy manuscripts that define your position. If there is some issue on which you can show me, via the word of God, where I am in error, please feel free to post it here so I can examine myself. I once held the same position as you, but the scriptures have convinced me that position is erroneous. If you could show otherwise, I would welcome it.

  21. Alan says:

    Where did God specifically command them to not enter into that covenant? I’m not saying that He didn’t…I just don’t see it in the context of Joshua 9.

    Not wanting to be too harsh… but as someone not familiar enough with the scriptures to know the answer to something as simple as this, you seem overly confident of your qualification to teach us about something far more complex. Consider the following:

    Deu 7:1 When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations–the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you-
    Deu 7:2 and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

    And in case you might question whether that command applied to the Gibeonites, the following demonstrates that the Gibeonites were Hivites:

    Jos 11:19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle.

  22. coreydavis says:

    Not wanting to be too harsh… but as someone not familiar enough with the scriptures to know the answer to something as simple as this, you seem overly confident of your qualification to teach us about something far more complex.

    I'm sure you were just as harsh as you wanted to be.

    You can attack my "qualification" if you'd like, but that doesn't take away from my point – that applying a treaty between nations to the marriage covenant is a stretch at best. Even if you assert that my connection between Ezra 10 and Matthew 19 is a stretch, Matthew 19 will stand on its own quite well.

    To say that the teachings on MDR are "far more complex" isn't really true. The only complexities are when we bring emotion to the table and refuse to let what is actually a fairly straight-forward passage say what it says.

  23. coreydavis says:

    What scripture would you use to justify your distinction between covenants involving individuals, and covenants involving groups of people?

    If we're going to apply examples from the OT, why not use one that directly relates to the subject at hand? What about Ezra 10 where there were marriages that God had forbidden that the people had to end in order to repent and be restored?

  24. Alan says:

    …applying a treaty between nations to the marriage covenant is a stretch at best.

    What scripture would you use to justify your distinction between covenants involving individuals, and covenants involving groups of people?

    MDR becomes complex when you include all the passages which address the subject. Sure, it’s simpler if you just pick one of those passages. But that’s not sound exegesis.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Is there anyone who is not a sinner? Is there anyone who doesn’t need God’s grace and mercy?

    God knows each of our imperfections better than anyone else does, adultery, addiction, lying, selfishness, envy, hate, pride, arrogance, etc.

    Our actions show some of what is in our hearts to others, but others don’t always see the hurt and despair people hold inside. God knows what’s going on inside each of us He knows our struggles, our pain, our fears, and our anxieties, He sees our heart. A person can say, I’m glad I’m not as bad a sinner as that person is. They don’t know all that person is struggling with, they don’t see that person’s heart.

    We are called to be fishers of men, not to clean the fish bowl.

  26. Alan says:

    What about Ezra 10 where there were marriages that God had forbidden that the people had to end in order to repent and be restored?

    So, we have one instance (Josh 9) where God clearly held the people to a covenant made in violation of a command, and another instance (Ezra 10) in which the people decided to violate covenants made in violation of a command. What conclusion can we draw from these cases? Certainly we cannot logically conclude that God always demands that we break a covenant made contrary to his command. We have a clear counterexample.

  27. Jay Guin says:

    coreydavis,

    Take a look at 1 Cor 7:27-28 —

    27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (NASB)

    The passage plainly says that those "released" from a wife should not seek a wife but have not sinned if they remarry. "Released" means divorced as explained at http://oneinjesus.info/2008/09/14/mdr-1-corinthia….

    The mistake you are making is to assume that marriages that are wrongly entered into are not entered into at all; that is, that Jesus teaches that those married contrary to his instructions aren't married at all, but he simply doesn't say that. Rather, that bit of logic comes from the Council of Trent.

    There are circumstances where remarriage is sinful (particularly when you divorce your spouse in order to marry another). But the remarriage is, in fact, a marriage. The making of the marriage might be a sin, but the marriage is still a marriage. This is plainly proven by the words of Jesus himself —

    (Mat 5:32) But 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.

    Jesus plainly says that the man who marries her marries her.

    (Mat 19:6) So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

    Again, while it is sin to separate (put asunder), we teach it's impossible — so that the marriage actually continues. That is a gloss on the scripture that's simply not there. What Jesus says is don't do it. We say, you can't do it!

    Now, the thoughtful expositor has to wrestle these problems to the ground. Paul says what he says and Jesus says what he says. How do we reconcile them? Where is the truth of the matter? Well, quite plainly, those who contradict Paul and put words in Jesus' mouth are in error — as more than adequately shown by their predeliction for breaking up families and marriages.

    The solution, I think, is to give Paul full credit for having understood Jesus perfectly well and go from there — and my ebook But If You Do Marry ... http://oneinjesus.info/books-by-jay-guin/but-if-y… is my effort at that.

    PS — While I understand that it takes a great deal of time and effort to read books on this subject, I did not take a position until I'd read several books on both sides of the issue. And there are some good ones out there, particularly David Instone-Brewer's Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible — a monumental work in this field. No one has to read the literature, but anyone who wants to be a teacher on the subject needs to spend a few hours curled up with the important books on the subject.

  28. nick gill says:

    Jesus did *not* say "some would have to 'for the kingdom's sake.'" He said some would *choose* to do so for the kingdom's sake. FAR cry from "have to."

  29. nick gill says:

    "Not so fast, my friend!" Let's take another glance at some of these examples you've fired at us, Corey.

    Ezra the Torah scholar and Malachi the prophet minister at approximately the same time in exilic/post-exilic Israel. Malachi discovers Israelite men divorcing their first wives in order to marry other women, and delivers the oracles, "God hates divorce" and "Be faithful to the wife of your youth."

    Ezra discovers Israelite men recaptiulating the sin of Solomon and marrying women who have maintained their pagan idolatrous spirituality. As part of his requirement in the revival of Torah, he demands that they reject these pagan intermarriages, and Shecaniah demands that Ezra ensure it is done according to the Law.

    Finally, there is a clear and specific context surrounding the answers Jesus gives about divorce: that context is DIVORCE. Not marriage and divorce, not divorce and remarriage, not marriage and remarriage, and certainly not MDR. He is asked specifically about divorce, and answers specifically about divorce. How do we know this? Because there was absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind about who was eligible for remarriage following a divorce — the divorce certificate clearly stated that they were free to marry anyone in Israel.

    In HIS love,
    nick

    PS – adultery = covenant violation, period. The issue is not sexual activity, but disloyalty to the promise. Once the promise is broken, it is broken until both parties reaffirm it. There is no such thing as "continually" committing adultery.

  30. Alan says:

    Great points, Nick. The women were permitted to remarry because the law required that they be given certificates of divorce, which explicitly permitted them to remarry.

    Consider also that there was no Mosaic law prohibiting men from having multiple wives, so remarriage was not an issue under the Law for the men either.

  31. walkinginlove says:

    Alan , while I don't agree with Corey's view of this issue, we clearly have been told by Jesus who stated a man shall leave his parents it does not say he will leave his first wife to pick up a second or third.

    The issues I have with Ezra 10 are many, first there is no direct quote of the scripture by the Apostles as they did with other scriptures, thus it appears they did not apply this situation to the New Covenant, secondly Ezra 10 is about racial and religious purity, both of these issues are clearly talked about in that the gentile and jew are equals and that religious purity should take a second seat to winning the lost husband or wife, thus both issues that brought about Ezra 10's application are null and void in the NT.

    Finally if you are going to apply Ezra 10 you would actually have to call on all people who are married to non-believers to divorce period end of sentance, anything less is not proper replication of that scriptures events.

    There appears to be a catch 22, if a couple divorce and remarry they have fornicated because they broke covenant without the proper reasons involved yet the moment they consummate the next marriage they are indeed meeting the reasons that divorce is allowed.

    One other thing about the word adultery my Greek translation of moichao and it's various forms seems to be clearly talking about sexual actions, now I will concede that when Jesus said you can commit adultery in your heart that this may have something to do with lust and the heart instead of the physical.

    Also God clearly stated in Deu 24 that you can not return to a previous spouse, thus to require someone to return to a previous partner may be a serious sin in itself!

    Finally there is Jesus with the woman at the well calling her 5 former partners husbands, only the last who appears to be a live in lover is not labeled husband. So how is it that Jesus can call 4 men husband when according to Corey they are not legal husbands? Also Jesus was in a clear situation to clear this matter up by telling the woman to return to her first husband but he does not. How can that be and Ezra 10 be in effect?

    The only logical try would be to argue that the 5 men who were called husband are all dead and they died while in marriage, yet I would think that something would have been said if that were the case and it was not.

    So forcing people to divorce to fix divorce appears to be driven by the need to have an answer for a subject that is not clearly dealt with in the NT, that is what happens in a second marriage.

    God Bless,

    WIL

  32. Alan says:

    So forcing people to divorce to fix divorce appears to be driven by the need to have an answer for a subject that is not clearly dealt with in the NT, that is what happens in a second marriage.

    I completely agree. God had his reasons for giving us the various scriptures we have on this subject. There is a dizzying array of scenarios in MDR. This requires good judgment based on biblical principles — not a one-size-fits-all rule.

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