I get emails (heavily edited to be anonymous) —
My wife and I read your post but our case is different. We were raised to be Christians, and I was baptized before my first marriage. I was guilty of adultery and my first marriage failed. I’ve since remarried over 20 years ago, have great children, and my second wife and I have a great relationship. Is your answer different for us because we weren’t divorced and remarried before our baptisms?
It’s not. I find it easier to persuade people in the case of pre-conversion divorces. It’s an easier case to argue, especially in a denomination with a long history of very strict views on the subject.
But grace is in fact exactly the opposite. That is, the forgiveness available to the saved is greater than the grace available to those who will be saved only when they are later converted. We tend to think that baptism is special, magical sacrament that cleanses our record better and more completely than ever, but the truth is quite the opposite. Believe it or not, your baptism is the least powerful forgiveness a Christian ever receives.
Really? You doubt me? Ask Paul —
(Rom. 5:6-8 ESV) 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Before we were saved, we were “ungodly” (v. 6), sinners (v. 8), and even “enemies” of God (v. 10; see below). This is who we were when Christ died for us — and this is who we were as we went down into the baptismal waters.
Paul’s point, of course, is that it’s astonishing that Jesus would die for the likes of us. Few would die even for a righteous person, but Jesus died for us when we were most definitely not righteous. And yet God loved us so much, Jesus gave his life for us — while we were enemies of God.
(Rom. 5:9-11 ESV) 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
In v. 9, Paul says one of the most remarkable things in all of scripture. Having been justified (declared innocent or righteous) by the sacrifice of Jesus, we’ll now be “much more” saved. Indeed, if we were reconciled while God’s enemies, we’ll be “much more” reconciled now that we’re God’s children.
In baptism, we were saved by the death of Jesus. As reconciled children of God, we’re now saved through the life of Jesus.
Twice Paul says we are “much more” saved now that we’re saved than when we were first saved.
Think of salvation as like adoption, as Paul does. Imagine the love a couple feels as they visit an orphanage and one certain baby seems a little special. They take to the baby and the baby seems to take to them. They adopt her, and they love her with an indescribable love — even euphoric as the adoption goes through.
Now, five years later, she’s their daughter and they’re her mom and dad. They’ve changed a lot of diapers, read a lot of bedtime stories, and dealt with lots of nightmares. Tantrums and spankings, kisses and hugs. And they love her even more.
When they first adopted her, they couldn’t imagine being any happier, and now it’s different. Better. Deeper. She’s part of who they are. She’s formed them as people, and they’ve formed her as a person. They love her far more.
Why would God feel any less toward us? Why would he not love us more now that we’re adopted as sons and daughters, shared hours of prayers, cried and celebrated together, messed up and done well together? Of course, he loves us more.
But Paul’s point is not just about love. It’s about salvation. We’re much more saved. I mean, walking into the orphanage, would you take a bullet for a child you never met? Five years later, would you take a bullet for your daughter? The second question is just a whole lot easier than the first. Well, Jesus would die for us even as his enemies — but how much more would he die for us as his brothers and sisters?
The death of the Messiah on our behalf, when we were weak, helpless sinners (verses 6 and 8), demonstrates how much God loves us; and if he loves us that much, he can be trusted to rescue us from the coming day of judgment (verse 9). After all, God did the unthinkable thing in sending his son to die for us while there was nothing whatever to commend us to him, and indeed everything to make him revolted by us—when, in other words, we were his enemies (verse 10). Now that we are his friends, reconciled to him in the manner described in verses 1 and 2, God is not about to abandon us after all.
Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1: Chapters 1-8, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 87–88.
St. Chrysostom put it thus, “If God gave a great gift to enemies, will he give anything less to his friends?”
James R. Edwards, Romans, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 142.
So whatever grace we might receive at baptism, we receive much more times two every day afterwards. That may not be what your preacher preaches, but it’s what Paul teaches.
Now, some will consider this a dreadful outcome, because God’s children should be held to a higher standard. We Christians have access to God’s revealed will. We know more about what he wants of us — making us more accountable. Which is true — and a point Paul makes a few verses later. But then he says,
(Rom. 5:20-21 ESV) 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God’s solution to the greater sin that comes from greater knowledge of God’s will that produces greater accountability is … greater grace. Grace abounding! The Greek for “abounding” can be read as “having too much” or “super-abounding.” English doesn’t really have a word strong enough. Think: “overwhelmingly abundant grace.”
And yet we have preachers who dare sneer at their members and pound them with fear and damnation, as though God loves them less than his enemies and strangers. No! We are his children, and he is our Abba! And it matters.
There is, of course, a limit. A father can become so exasperated with his son that he disowns him. I do a little estate planning, and I’ve counseled parents who’ve disowned a child they dearly loved because he persistently rebelled and refused to honor his parents. But it only happened after years of tears and prayers and second and third chances. It happens. About 1 in a thousand times. It’s rare.
But disobedience by children is quite common. It’s a standard part of the package. It’s part of the learning process. It’s not okay. It’s not without consequences. And good parents who love their children discipline their children — so the children suffer a short punishment rather than a permanent disowning.
Just so, when we mess up and sin — and breaking a marriage covenant is sin — it hurts God, it’s wrong, and we pay the earthly consequences of emotional pain, difficult relationships, legal fees, alimony and child support — you know the high price of divorce even when it’s unavoidable.
But grace remains available — more grace for a Christian than a non-Christian — because we have God with us, filling us with his Spirit, and walking with us through the shame, and the pain, and misery. Even when he’s disappointed in us.