Does Christian remarriage effect eternal salvation?


Last year I wrote a post showing why becoming a believer and follower of Jesus Christ frees people to remarry without being adulterous. That post led to a natural question; can a believing Christian who was born again before her divorce remarry without being adulterous?

In this post I will consider how believers glorify God by being sanctified. What does sanctification look like in marriage and how can divorced Christians be sanctified for God’s glory? To answer this I look at the relationship between the law of God on adultery, the justice of God for sin in the death of Christ and the wisdom of God in marriage relationships in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. To see how these three relate in our thinking see eight biblical personality types.

The law of God on adultery.

The term adultery has a wide semantic range in scripture:
- God’s covenant people are adulterous when worshipping other gods (Jer 3:6-9).
- in the same way, adultery on a human level is to have extra-marital sex whilst in a covenantal marriage relationship (John 8:3-4).
- Jesus goes further in the sermon on the mount and applies the term adultery to sexual union and remarriage after divorce (Matt 5:31-32)
- In the same sermon, Jesus extends the term adultery to lust in our hearts (Matt 5:27-30)

How are we to make sense of this with respect to remarriage? Is adultery only when we have sex outside marriage? Is it adultery when Christian divorcees remarry? What about the fact that all men are adulterers, as there is no man who has kept his thoughts perfectly pure since his wedding day?

The way Paul uses the term adultery in 1 Corinthians 6 is in relation to extra marital sex. “Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband and they should both satisfy the others needs sexually (1 Corinthians 7:2ff)” The baby Corinthian Christians were engaged in all forms of actual sexual depravity with multiple partners. Paul’s argument against this sexual sin sets two groups of people in contrast to each other. First, non-Christians who sin in various ways because they have no knowledge of Christ (the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, two kinds of male homosexual practitioners and so on 1 Cor 6:9-10) and who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Second, Christians who have been washed, sanctified, justified, made right before God in Christ (1 Cor 6:11). Christians are to behave differently from others because they have been made clean and pure in God’s sight through sanctifying faith in Christ. Believers are pure and so they should want to remain pure (for a fuller explanation of this see 25 benefits of faith union with Christ and my post on how and why Christians can avoid the use of pornography: For men only). The believer’s motivation for sexual purity begins with his status as one made pure and clean by Christ’s death for sin.

The justice of God and the death of Christ on the cross.

For the believer, there is no sin which can undo the work of Christ. Can remarriage effect eternal salvation? No! Jesus died for all sins! The question about remarriage must be confined to the sanctification of the believer which leads ultimately to the glory of God.

The question which arises from this is therefore: does remarriage after divorce make a Christian impure? On the one hand, no, nothing can make us impure in a why which affects our eternal salvation. Christ has already sanctified the one who knows their flawed sinfulness and has found Christ as Saviour. Christ’s death for our sin even takes the pressure off being correct in difficult areas of theology. To think that remarriage will put my eternal salvation at risk undermines the completed work of Christ on the cross and makes salvation dependent on my theological and legal performance. We must confess that the theological conclusion we come to after serious thought, study, prayer and consultation might be wrong but being wrong does not nullify salvation. The Corinthians had grasped this truth with both hands, justification by faith in Christ without works means my eternity is secure, it was their conclusion for the present that was wrong when they said “all things are lawful for me” 1 Cor 6:12.
The question of remarriage after divorce is not an eternal issue for the born again believer but a question of present sanctification or purity. (see my post on sanctification – spot the difference?). So, does remarrying as a divorced born again believer reduce my present sanctification or not? Will remarriage lead to God being glorified or not?

On the one hand there is the law of God on adultery. On the other hand the wisdom of God as we live for his glory.

The law of God on adultery.

At this point, I think we need to be careful not to conflate what Jesus says in Matthew 5 and Mark 9 and 10 with what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians. The laws set out by Christ show the legal standards of God are beyond reach for salvation. No man can have a perfectly pure thought life. Impure thoughts condemn us before God as adulterers. We need a Saviour. We can only be saved from hell through faith in Christ. In both Mark’s gospel and Matthew, the sections on Jesus’ teaching on the law, which is impossible to keep by sinful humans, are immediately followed by events where Christ as held out as Saviour (the faith of the centurion and the rich man “what is impossible for men is possible for God.”)

We should attain to the standards which Christ sets out, not for our salvation but for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). So, if remarriage after divorce for a believing Christian is not an issue of eternal salvation, then how can the divorcee glorify God? Is it by keeping a law on remarriage or by wisdom or both?

When Paul discusses marriage in 1 Corinthians 6 ans 7 and tells the church that “Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband and they should both satisfy the others needs sexually (1 Corinthians 7:2ff)” does he mean one man and one woman for life, as Jesus teaches in Mark 10 from the creation ordinance or one man and one woman at a time (i.e. if sin destroys a marriage can the Christian remarry?)

It is clear that Paul’s primary concern is to ensure that whatever we do as Christians brings glory to God:

  • 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31 whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

The motivation for glorifying God is that others will come to know Christ as Saviour:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved

Paul chose to be single and celibate so that he might glorify God and focus all his energy on mission but he recognises that not everyone has the same gift as he does (1 Cor 7:1-7). So, how do we glorify God as a Christian in areas of sexual morality? Is this a legal requirement or wisdom issue? Do we obey a law on remarriage or act wisely with respect unbelievers? There is a further consideration, which is the strength of faith, weak believers and strong believers might respond differently when faced with the same ethic (i.e. food sacrificed to idols).

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul goes onto list various ways in which different sorts of people can be wise. If you are someone who cannot be self-controlled, marry (v9); if you are married as Christians, you should not separate (subjunctive), but if you do (presumably because although you are Christians seeking to overcome sin, sometimes in the intimacy of marriage sin wins) the only three imperatives in this section of Paul’s letter is for the wife who separates from her husband to remain single or to reconcile and for the husband not to divorce his wife (continue to support her financially?) (v11).

Paul overarching theology of marriage is that mission is more important. If you can’t reconcile, then don’t remarry, but focus your energy on mission (1 Cor 7:1-2). In a society like Corinth (and the West today) where sexual promiscuity is rife and purity is rare, how can Christians glorify God? By living joyfully for Christ and by being pure. The charge (paraggellow) not to remarry (1 Cor 10) is from God but the language here is softer than a command (epitaghay – 1 Cor 6). All these charges on marriage are situational “I think in view of the present distress that… (1 Cor 7:26ff) ”

In essence, will what I do in staying single or being married bring glory to God in the situation in which I exist? That’s a big question which only each believer can answer. 1 Corinthians 7:17 “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.”

The decision to remarry will will depend on lots of questions all concerning the glory of God:
- am I a strong believer whose focus is like Paul’s on mission above all things?
- do my passions to be married burn so strongly that it affects my witness?
- is the person I intend to marry someone who will help me glorify God or not?
- will I make the same mistakes as last time which led to separation and divorce, and so undo God’s glory again?
- am I able to relate well in marriage to the glory of God or am I relationally weak and so likely to fail to glorify God?
- how will my new marriage glorify God in the eyes of my ex, my family, my church, my neighbours?
- what attitudes exist in my culture toward sex and marriage? How will what I do challenge wrongly held assumptions?
- am I doing this selfishly, primarily for my own happiness, of for the glory of God?
- am I doing this foolishly (read Proverbs)?

This list of questions is not exhaustive and lots of serious though must be given to how, as believers, we glorify God our Saviour.

I am tentative about this answer because it focuses only on the believer’s justification (by faith without works), sanctification (eternal in Christ and present by life) and the glory of God. I have avoided discussing the nature of marriage as a covenant or unbreakable spiritual union, because they don’t appear in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7. Paul does not address either of those concepts here and I have avoided conflating Jesus’ teaching with Paul’s.

I welcome comments and discussion to help sharpen this piece of blunt iron.

With love, Neil

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23 Responses to Does Christian remarriage effect eternal salvation?

  1. traci dickerson says:

    Hi Neil, thanks so much.I have been struggling so long with this issue. Please tell me if you know why does John Piper disagree. He says one spouse for life. Pleas help.

  2. In regard to holy spirit miracles for divorced couples or broken, unhappily married homes.. if we look at the saints in the old and new testament we generally find no example of this where unhappily married persons were made happy again.. can you name one example? we find many examples of troubled marriages though.. just for a start King David’s, Job’s, Samson, etc., and why was that when so many evangelists, preachers now today claim the opposite.. if you accept Christ as Lord your home, marriage will be better… but for sure this not what Jesus had said..

    “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. (Mat 10:36 KJV)

    Few persons here seem to tell the truth.. The truth that Happiness in marriage is not life’s end or goal.. serving Jesus always is.

    You cannot live someone else”s life for them, or have them be what you want them to be, each person tends to live his own life and will give his own account as well for it..

    (Luke 12:15 KJV) And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

    And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (Mat 10:38 KJV)

    Jesus is the source of our life, happiness, desire and not anyone else, a house, or material things.. admit it or not, like it or not.. in Him is our life.

    Now in real life I have seen many persons preach their own views while they lived, until many of them next faced death and where they saw the error of their false teachings often too late.

    What peeves me of is that the number one prayer request or complaint that I have heard for the last 50 years is I am unhappy with my marriage or I am still looking for a good soul mate.. firstly are you really a good person though yourself?

    http://cityocean.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/gifted-by-the-holy-spirit-god-and-jesus/

  3. Ask a divorced Christian (about 50% of the church) how it was for them going through the pain, judgement, by fellow Christians, ignomony and torment, trying to understand Gods word and the numerous and various, some judgemental views of the church. The law is fulfilled in Christ alone, man looks upon the outward appearance God looks upon the heart. When we search our hearts and know His grace abounds in real life situations each divorcee will know that each day is a new day to start afresh and follow Him, married remarried, single, divorced or reconciled. His love His grace and His free gift of salvation abounds!

    • cydney says:

      Why did you leave out widows??

      The Bible is the only place that talks about widows. The churches are just like the world; forget about the widows and orphans.

  4. shashi2009 says:

    The very fact this practice is so common now, I feel refrain to comment.God has blessed me to remain faithful.It is hard to understand another’s pain & agony. But it will be sinful for me to dilute the Word of God or make more strict. The stage was observed by BBC survey team in late 80′s –”Parents see so much on the media & are not able advice children to divide Right from Wrong.”

  5. marinn says:

    I left my husband of 6 years to be with another man I thought I was doing the right thing since a wasn’t in love anymore with my husband . Since living with the guy I left my husband for I met my the next door neighbor she talked to me about god n I recently became a Christian I did know that divorce was in the bible I was thinking about getting a divorce n remerrying but now a don’t know what to do! My question is should I go back to my husband because its seems like I’m living in sin!! Please help me! If a remarry will I be in sin all of my life I sure don’t want to go to hell.

    • marinn says:

      Sorry I didn’t know divorce was in the bible. If I had only what the bible says about marriage I wouldn’t have done what a did :(

    • Gina Bradnam says:

      Marrin, this is what you do honey, first, give your whole life and heart to Jesus, repent, and ask forgiveness of anything you have done wrong (coz all have fallen short of the Glory of God) THEN EXACTLY at that point of your prayer, Jesus wil come into your heart and life and He will make ALL THINGS NEW! He says He forgives our sins as far as the east is from the west, which means YOU may have a brand new fresh start in you life! OK! :) God bless xx PS Let Jesus continue to work in your life for the rest of your life..that is the key <3

  6. catstack says:

    Thank you so much for clarifying this issue. My husband and I were both divorced before remarrying to one another. My husband’s ex wife left him and lived with another man in sin unrepentent for years before he legally divorced her or met and married me. I was defrauded by my ex who pretended to be a believer until I married him and then never walked with God or went to church our whole marriage. He kicked me out, stalked me, and dated other women before I divorced him. After my current husband and I were married for many years our town spread rumors about us that we left our spouses to commit adultery with eachother and get married. That is a lie. Then we were slandered in the church because of the town rumors and the slander followed us church to church so our kids could not even have a church home no matter how hard we look for a place to fellowship. The same person slandered us in my kid’s homeschool group so they could not make any friends in their social clubs or groups. Anyhow what concerned me is there are denominations teaching that if a believer is divorced and remarried they are in an unrepentent state of adultery unless they separate and they will not be saved. I was never taught this in church in any denomination. So I was concerned when I read about it. But the thought of separating and hurting our younger children (as my older kids were hurt in my past divorce) broke my heart. So thank you for clarifying this issue for me. My husband and I are both believers and are happily married and know and love God and want to stay together for life so our children would have a good home and to glorify God. I agree that either you believe we are saved by grace or you don’t. Sadly much of the church does not believe the grace of God covers ALL our sin. There are those who think divorce and remarriage is a worse offense than murder and you disqualify to serve God if you ever did this. This is grievous. What is worse is how it hurts my children.

  7. Ginny says:

    I dont understand any of this :(

  8. Mike says:

    For those of you who are confused, this is actually very easy to understand. Though divorce is a horrible thing and remarriage is the breaking of the marriage covenant from the first marriage, to believe that you would go to hell if remarried undermines the fact that Jesus died once and for all to sanctify all sin.

    Nobody is pure. Only through Christ are we pure. Those who are divorced need to seek purification through Christ the same way a thief, a liar, a murderer, or even someone who drives their car faster than the posted speed limit needs. All of these things are sinful, because we are sinful.

    The sanctification through Christ purifies the believer and can actually use the remarriage for good, rather than condemning it and its participants.

    Divorce and remarriage will NOT send you to Hell. Only disbelief in Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross and lack of accepting His sacrifice will send you to Hell.

    Thanks for clarifying this, Neil. I struggled with this for a long time as I am my wife’s second husband and Jesus told the Pharisees that the divorced person and the new spouse are both committing adultery.

    It is a beautiful thing to know that I can use this remarriage to glorify God and that the only people attempting to condemn us to Hell are the “Pharisees” in the churches today. That God is still in control and continuing to sanctify us through the blood of Christ and using us for His glory is a beautiful thing. For that, my life and my heart belong to Him in love and gratitude for the rest of my days. I have never loved Jesus more than I do now. You don’t truly love Jesus until you realize how much you need Him and how much He loved you before you even knew Him.

  9. Christine says:

    What about the covenant?. The bible says that if you are both believers, and you divorce your husband/wife and remarry then you both (the new spouse and yourself) will be in adultery. You can’t wake up in the morning and repent of your sin as you are in a covenant which is binding. I am talking about a couple who may just not love each other any more and get divorced, not necessarily for sexual immoral reasons. The covenant will place you in permanent adultery which cant be forgiven as it is binding every day. Repentance means turning away. You cant turn away from the covenant you are in. Adulterous acts can be forgiven if the marriage stays together but getting divorced and remarrying will place that believer in permanent adultery. The bible teaches that all adulterers will go to hell so how do we get around that ? Especially seeing as you cant repent for this adultery as it is a covenant.

    • Mike says:

      “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.” -Matthew 12:31. Now I ask you to repeat your main point. You can’t repent for WHAT?

      You can absolutely repent for adultery and you will be forgiven. Where does it say in the Bible that a broken covenant makes you bound for Hell? It doesn’t. You’ve been fed hogwash.

      Do you also realize that you contradicted yourself too? “Adulterous acts can be forgiven” was then followed by “all adulterers will go to hell.” Which one is true? They can’t both be true.

      Nobody is arguing in favor of divorce. We all agree it is a horrible thing… but it is not the end of the world. It isn’t enabling a sinful nature. It’s giving hope to those that you are otherwise trying to render hopeless.

      Show me a scripture that says that remarriage places you in permanent adultery. It’s not there. A sin is not continuous. It happens ONCE and then it is over.

      In fact, I challenge you to show me ONE scripture that indicates any of the following:

      1. Remarriage is unforgivable. (Hint: There isn’t one.)
      2. Adultery is a permanent state of sinfulness. (Hint: There isn’t one. It’s a solitary act which breaks a marriage covenant ONCE.)
      3. Adultery is unforgivable. (Hint: There isn’t one.)
      4. Marriage covenants are forever binding no matter the actions of its participants. (Hint: There isn’t one. There are verses that lament the breaking of marriage vows, but that’s all. In fact, the Bible teaches multiple ways in which marriage covenants are broken.)

      Just curious: are you Catholic or Lutheran? I’ve never heard such hateful, condemning teachings except from those places.

      It’s Christians like you that cause the world to hate us and refuse the word of God. You’re not teaching His love. You’re teaching a false version of His condemnation. Shame on you. If we taught the acceptance and forgiveness of Christ and the “come as you are” mentality (which is Biblical, mind you…) more people would want to experience the love of Christ. Instead, you teach anger and condemnation, something that Christ is not about. No wonder we have so many lost souls today. I pray that one day you let God show you His love and not His anger and condemnation.

      • Rod says:

        Interesting Mike……you just went hard on Christine for basically voicing an opinion. we are all hear to discuss and learn, there will be varying opinions and interpretations of the word.. YOU should show more love and patience as a Christian. For the record, I saw no contradiction in the statement made relating to repenting for Adultery by cheating in a relationship vs Adultery by remarrying. There is a difference in “committing a sin” and “living in sin”. My question is this, If covenants can be broken, can God break a covenant with us?

      • Tamara says:

        Sorry Rod, I cannot understand that if the divorce re-marry, and then commit adultery in doing so? Then doesn’t that mean they live in sin? or just can’t participate in the kingdom of god?
        And isn’t that why many married couples put up with crap/violence etc. and don’t get divorced re to not lose out on the kingdom? But you can’t punch your way into heaven, so everyone transgresses! No forgiveness in Blaspheming the holy spirit = isn’t that when people don’t believe the things the holy spirit is saying, even to the temples (meaning us who have received).
        Eg. So if someone tells you that the holy spirit is prompting them to say to you, to Leave! And you don’t! That tells me Esau could not have had the blessing reversed, even though he sought it out with tears. Blaspheme of the Holy Spirit is the crack in our foundations.
        Where I get confused is do antonyms process a legal 33? So, if a legal 33 lives through life in the Father’s name by submission, antonyms have a hard time processing the factors of scripture because how can they. Ezekiel 33. The word is the seed, budded in, flowering growing to produce it’s fruit, who can remove one from the Lord’s hands?

    • cydney says:

      I am widowed. I have never been divorced. I had many troubles in my marriage, I never stopped loving my husband,

      I do not understand what people are talking about, when they say, “I don’t love you anymore”. Or, “couples stop loving each other”. This generation of people have extremely hardened hearts,and selfish hearts, just like Jesus told us.

      How can you be married to someone and decide you don’t love them anymore? I just don’t understand this mindset, and I am 58 years old. I grew up in the sixties.

  10. Rod says:

    Sorry for the mispelled word

  11. Yan says:

    Hi Neil & all , thanks for your sharing.
    * Can anyone help me on the below remarriage problem??*
    I have a problem which people may feel funny but I have been struggling so long on that.
    In the past, when I was young, I asked my ex-boyfriend to call me wife. I and he then has called each other “husband” and “wife” when we were dating in the past. And, at that time , I really considered him as husband. But, we never seriously talked about marriage.
    In God’s eyes, was we classified as couple already?
    I am worried because I has already married other man.
    Please kindly advise.
    Many thank ^^

    • Tamara says:

      Yan in the old testament, Abraham and Sarah were brought together by God? And did they have a legal marriage?
      When Isaac sent out his servant who prayed on the way, later meeting Rebecca was that the Holy Spirit’s doing? Was the party before or later?
      God is my witness!

  12. Tamara's Pledge says:

    I am so sorry, I am having quite an amount of trouble with this. Since my divorce I have been proposed to three times and I accepted thrice! Yet one thing or another, the laws of nature, like winds, trees etc. keep pulling these men away from me. Worse still, when these men propose -the words they say to me are then followed by the same words my ex-husband used to threaten me with? It is the same spirit. It’s like my ex is using them. And then my ex-husband says he has tools, what is this mortal tools?
    One way, because my ex said he doesn’t want me to ever remarry, or have more children, when I was married to him, I prayed that he gets everything he wants! Stuck.
    Since then, I entered the kingdom as a little girl, and Lord Jesus has a voice and I have to wait for Him because he said, and I quote: “He is not who he says he is. Be ready!”
    I am scared and helpless on this remarriage thing;
    1. John the Baptist said to Herod, that his wife was Herod’s brother’s wife and he had to give her up.
    2. Jesus says to stop sinning or something worse may happen. Not a letter will by any means be deleted or exchanged of the law, and least are those in the kingdom who teach others to do so.

  13. Jon says:

    Okay here is my situation. 19 years ago I married a woman, and it was a second marriage for both of us. both of our first marriage partners had committed adultery against us so we felt that we were freed biblically and it was okay for us to get married. here we are 19 years later and I have moved out 10 months ago we haven’t even slept in the same bed room for 5 months before that. Our marriage has been a shambles for years I never seem to be able to do what she wants me to have tried and tried she wants me to be the head of the house but she won’t allow me to be we argue constantly the children have grown up in this the two oldest have already moved out and our daughter is months away from being 18. my children have even asked me why I continue to stay with the way that I was treated. I finally decided I had lived in the torment long enough and left. I know I had my issues within our marriage just like she did I’m not laying all the blame on her. I even continue to go to the same church until it was so awkward being around her that I was not able to receive anything from the sermons.I finally told the pastor I had to leave there was no way I could stay. I now and just waiting for her to just sign the divorce papers so we can both move on. a month ago at the new church I have been attending I met a woman and we are interested in each other. she knows my divorce is not final yet and we are going to wait until it is before going further in our relationship. my question is since there was no adultery to end this second marriage but there was years of what I would call a mental abuse, we are concerned about the basis our relationship would be built on if it progresses. my soon to be ex and myself are both Christians we just could not find a resolution to our issues becauseshe feels I should conform to what she thinks and I refuse to stay in a situation that could potentially be the same or worse.ever since I have moved out everyone says that I seem to be happier less stressed and more like the person that I used to be. I don’t feel any ties or connection to her anymore. I just want to go on with my life and want to feel that I’m not going to be living in a perpetual state of adultery with anyone in the future that I May have A relationship with. I know there is no reconciliation for my second marriage. I just want to get back to being active in a church and serving like I used to.

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hi Jon

      I’ve approved your post, as you chose to make it public, and I think it will help people to see the sort of situations people like you are in. As with all previous personal posts like yours, I will not reply in public but send you an email.

      Neil

    • Angel says:

      I have been struggling with the question of divorce ever since I was married two years ago. first of all I was not in my right state of mind when I decided to marry my husband because my mom had just died of cancer and I was dealing with other serious issues which caused me to feel serious depression. I got married on a whim , neither one of us were ready in fact w were married in my pastors office we had no rings and I said that I would do my best. I never promised till death do us part. I said that I will do my best and than the pastor asked me if I will trust God for the marriage and I said that I would. I didn’t feel peace in my heart about getting married in the first place. In fact I never even changed my last name or ever registered as being married. me and my husband have really bad communication and hardly any understanding of how to relate to each other. I made a huge mistake. I’m scared to get divorced. I don’t want to go to hell. Someone please help me with this.

      Thank you
      Angel

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