In an age when the true biblical meaning and value of everything declared in God’s Word, including marriage, is lost in the valley of human corrupted philosophies and speculations, this is a serious and heavy question that imposes itself on many souls who suddenly realize the error in which those philosophies have made them fall when they got divorced and remarried. Many confused voices rise, some to quiet (against God’s Will) the voice of conscience in such people who are waking up , and others to make them feel more guilty without any hope of repentance and to lead them to take additional wrong steps towards the pit… And yet God’s Word is very clear about this issue.
In a previous article, Marriage and divorce, we have seen the very important principle behind marriage (the main image of the relation of God with His people, the main image of all what is human in us, i.e. the fact that we are made in the image of God). Marriage is final, and divorce is out of question, because it is adultery in case there was not the cause of fornication, and it is a proof of man’s hardened heart and his lack of love in all cases, whether there was the cause of fornication or not. And we have seen also that remarriage is not even to be thought about! We have seen how divorce is adultery, and how remarriage also is adultery. And we have seen that only the one born of God can truly understand what is said here.
But is adultery the “unforgivable sin”?… If not — and it is not — then how can we be forgiven the sin of divorce and remarriage? Actually, how is any sin forgiven according to God’s Word? Under guilt, people who have committed the sin of divorce and remarriage ask: “Are we damned forever?… Should I return to my former or first husband?… Is my present marriage recognized by God? Is it not a sin again to divorce my present husband?”
As you see, these questions express a big confusion that rules in these days, especially a confusion concerning the place of the Law and of the Gospel. We will study these things in this article.
Now, let’s first read together in God’s Word the passage of the Law that treats the case which is under our consideration now, the case of divorce and remarriage. We know that God has not left us without revelation about the truth, and His Word treats every aspect of our lives in relation with our Salvation and His Glory. Let’s read the passage together:
“When a man taketh a wife, and marrieth her, it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some unseemly thing in her, that he shall write her a letter of divorce, and give it into her hand, and send her out of his house. And she shall depart out of his house, and go away, and may become another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a letter of divorce, and give it into her hand, and send her out of his house; or if the latter husband die who took her as his wife; her first husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for it is an abomination before Jehovah; and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
This text in God’s Word confirms again the truth that divorce and remarriage are adultery, as it clearly says that the divorced woman is defiled when she’s divorced and married again. That is a defilement, a sin. Let’s see together what this text says concerning the one who is divorced and remarried.
First, this text clearly says that he/she has committed a sin, as we have seen above and in the article Marriage and divorce. This text also clearly says that in order for a woman (or for a man, of course) to get remarried as allowed by God because of man’s hatred, there should be an official letter of divorce. But if the remarried woman is divorced again or her second husband dies, she cannot return to her first husband; this shows that the second marriage is recognized by God as official and true, because His Law allowed it. If she’s remarried to a third man, the same principles apply again, of course.
But does this text contradict the fact that God does not command or commend divorce, and that the only way the one body of marriage is separated is death? Of course not! Nowhere in this text do we read that God commands or commends divorce and remarriage. “Why then did Moses command to give a letter of divorce and to send [her] away?” (Matthew 19:7) The Lord Jesus answers this question: “Moses, in view of your hardheartedness, allowed you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not thus.” (Matthew 19:8) So this commandment of the Law was given in a way of allowance, and not in a way of commanding or commending divorce and remarriage. It was given because of our hardheartedness, as God knows our fallen nature, the flesh, and knows that divorce will happen because of our sin, and also remarriage will happen because of the same reason. So God wanted all things to be done properly in a way to serve His good purpose concerning marriage, even when man sins and divorces and remarries. God is Sovereign, and He can use even evil to bring out what is good and according to His good and perfect purpose. He did the same thing with polygamy in the Old Testament time, although He didn’t commend polygamy. So it is true that, as the Lord Jesus explained the Law, divorce is adultery and remarriage also, but it is also true that turning back to the former husband is also sinful. As you notice, God’s purpose in all this is to safeguard the value and principle of marriage: His Will is to keep the holiness of marriage. If one is married, he should not divorce and remarry. If he fell in the sin of divorce and remarriage, he should not return to his/her former spouse, because in this case also the value of marriage is not respected. But let no one seek to find a justification for his/her divorce and remarriage in the Law! Impossible! The Law reveals and condemns our sin, and no one can be justified before God by the works of the Law, i.e. no one can say he is perfect in himself before God because he kept the whole Law perfectly.
Let’s summarize the truths that we have seen thus far, as this will be helpful for many readers in order to follow better what is being said:
1. No man can separate what God has joined. Divorce is impossible for man; it is an adultery; and remarriage also is an adultery, because divorce is impossible for man.
2. Yet sinful humans will still divorce and remarry as long as we are on earth, as humans are in rebellion against the Will of God. The one who divorces and remarries disobeys God’s Law, the whole Law, as disobeying one commandment is like disobeying the whole (see James 2:10). None of us can say that he has kept the whole Law perfectly and has not sinned and is not guilty before God.
3. So God has also given a clear commandment concerning those who are remarried in order to show further the sinfulness of man, as the Law always reveals our sinfulness and condemns our sin. Those who disobey this commandment show how rebellious their flesh is against God’s Law. This commandment makes it clear that the second marriage after divorce is recognized by God as a true marriage which needs another letter of divorce to be stopped, and which makes it impossible for the woman to return to her former husband.
Now, the attitude of the flesh towards God’s Law is clear: to keep disobeying God’s Law, and yet to try to be justified by the works of the Law! What a contradiction! Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (see Romans 8:5-8), yet they seek to be justified before God by the works of the Law which they cannot keep perfectly! This is true concerning any sin, as it is about sin in general, sin in singular, i.e. the flesh, the fallen human nature, with all its deeds which are sins in plural. Divorce and remarriage are as sinful sins as any other sin. Take the example of adultery or murder: you can’t undo the sin that you have done (at least we have the example of a believer like David who committed this sin and could not undo it), so you can’t receive forgiveness for that sin by keeping the commandment of the Law that forbids that sin! If we could keep that commandment perfectly, we would not have sinned against it! So we can’t receive forgiveness by undoing the committed sin. The sin was committed; you can’t change it. It is true that a child of God would not divorce and remarry, as he doesn’t walk in sin, i.e. he doesn’t keep disobeying God’s Law. Yet if he fell in that sin for any reason (for example for the reason of ignorance about what we are studying in this article, which by the way is not a justification for his sin either), his reaction will neither be to keep disobeying God’s Law, nor to “undo” the divorce (i.e. to go back to the former husband, which the Law forbids), because that also is a deed of the flesh! That reveals the fact that the flesh seeks to be justified before God by keeping the Law which in this case is the Law that says that we should not divorce and remarry, and that divorce is adultery. The one who is born of God will confess his sin and leave it. We have seen the details of this truth in our article A true Christian is a saint — Perfection in Christ. Read that article before you continue reading this one, as it contains some very important clarifications concerning how the child of God obeys God’s Law and deals with sin, including divorce and remarriage if they happen (God forbid!). The child of God will not try to be justified before God by undoing divorce and remarriage, trying by that to boast in the flesh with the idea that he has thus kept the Law. The child of God will not keep disobeying God’s Law, but on the contrary he will obey God’s Law by the Spirit by faith. Let me explain this in more details.
Divorce and remarriage are sins similar to any other sin. Let’s take the example of adultery. Just as adultery is committed only when you do the act or you look to a woman with lust for her in your heart, in the same way divorce and remarriage are committed when the acts are done, i.e. when you divorce and when you remarry. What comes after that sin will show whether you live in sin and self-righteousness or you repent and walk in God’s Righteousness. If you keep committing adultery again and again as a pattern, then you are an adulterous man or woman and you live in sin; this will happen as you justify your sin (i.e. adultery) instead of justifying God’s verdict on your sin and agreeing with God against your sin; this justification of your sin against God is self-righteousness. In the same way, if you divorce and remarry again, then you are an adulterous man or woman and you live in adultery as divorce and remarriage are adultery; this will happen as you justify divorce and remarriage instead of justifying God’s verdict on your divorce and remarriage and agreeing with God against those sins. Your present attitude towards your sin and towards God is what matters for God, and not a past decision or failure. The living faith is not past tense, but present continuous. If you are truly in Christ, then you are not under Law, but under Grace. Grace does not mean lawlessness. The Law’s role is to reveal and condemn sin, while the Gospel’s role is to bring for us Grace, forgiveness, and God’s Righteousness. We can’t be justified by keeping the Law; we are justified and sanctified and glorified freely by the Grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
You notice how those who judge you and command you to return to your former husband/wife are actually encouraging you to commit the sin of divorce and remarriage again; and even worse: to return to your former husband after you got remarried, something which God clearly forbids in His Law.
But note it well: it is not because you are not divorcing again and you are not remarrying again that you are justified! You are justified only because of the redemption which is in Jesus Christ by faith in His blood. Your hatred of divorce and remarriage are not the cause of your justification, but its result. You will hate divorce and remarriage just as God hates them; you will love your husband/wife and you will be faithful to him/her to the end, as now you have God’s Righteousness and forgiveness. You have repented of the sin of divorce and remarriage, just as you repent of any sin in your life: you don’t rely on the flesh, but on the Righteousness of Christ alone. But note it well also: if you do not repent the way it was explained in God’s Word (and in this article), then whether you stay with your present husband/wife, or you divorce again, or you return to your former husband/wife, in all cases you commit adultery! You’re living in sin; you’re living in adultery. God’s verdict on you is: GUILTY! You need God’s Righteousness, as we have seen.
Finally, if you got divorced yet were not remarried, then seek to return to your husband/wife, unless returning to him/her is impossible for a reason which is related to God’s Glory. If so, then stay as you are, fasting and praying that the Lord may make your returning possible again. Each case is a separate case, and the Lord will not leave any of His faithful: “Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose.” (Psalm 25:12)
Disciple of Jesus Christ