Is divorce and remarriage a sin?

Question:

I have two questions that I hope you can help me answer. 1.) Is divorce and remarriage a sin? It doesn’t seem to be uncommon in a lot of churches. Can people who divorce and remarry still get to heaven? 2.) If one must repent all sins before God to be saved, how can anyone possibly acknowledge and repent from every sin?

Answer:

First of all, I am not exactly an expert on the question of divorce and remarriage. However, the statements on the topic from Jesus and Paul seem to make the question fairly clear. We should, of course, begin with the statements of Jesus. These are found in Matthew 19:9 "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." I assume that this applies to women who divorce their husbands as well. The follower of Jesus cannot initiate divorce unless their spouse has broken the marriage vow by committing adultery.

At this point, it is reasonable to ask whether this applies to those who do not follow Jesus. My answer is that for those who are not saved, it is a sin to divorce, but this is not particularly relevant. For lost people, the problem is sin in general, not divorce in particular. These people simply need to repent, come to God, be baptized and they will be forgiven of their sins (including having had a previous divorce, I assume).

Paul spoke to the special case of a disciple of Jesus who becomes one after marriage and is now married to a non-Christian. This is addressed in 1 Cor 7:12-16. He tells us that if a Christian is married to a non-Christian, they are to remain married (except in the case of marital unfaithfulness, which Jesus already addressed). Paul tells the disciple married to a non-disciple that if the non-Christian spouse chooses to leave, then the Christian spouse is "not bound." In other words, if a non-Christian spouse divorces a Christian, then that Christian is not committing adultery if he or she remarries. The principle I see here is that Jesus is making laws (for lack of a better word) for his followers, not for those who do not follow him. To summarize, if a Christian marries another Christian or if a married couple both get baptized, then for them divorce is a sin. If adultery occurs, then the offended party has the right to divorce and remarry, but the offending party does not have this right.

The fact that divorce and remarriage is common in many churches does not justify the practice. It is sinful and completely unacceptable in God’s church.

The next question: What if a Christian chooses, despite the command, to divorce and remarry? Clearly that is a sin in God’s sight. Does this mean that this person is then condemned to hell for this sin? I say that it is not my place to make such a judgment. That is for God to decide. I know that I have sinned many times since being baptized. I am not going to throw the first stone at this person. What I can say is that he or she must repent and accept responsibility for their sin. Does this mean that a consummated marriage must now be annulled or the person will go to hell? I think not, but it is not my place to decide. God did not give a direct answer to this question. I do know that God is willing to forgive sin which we commit after we are saved. It is continued, willful sin which endangers our salvation (Heb 10:26-31). Whether or not remaining in a technically adulterous relationship through the scenario described (was married to a Christian, decided to divorce anyway, then remarried and later came to senses and wants to repent) above meets this criterion. My response is that I do not want to try God on this. As a Christian church we must not allow divorce and remarriage in the church (except for the exceptions listed above).

Repentance is a state of mind which leads to a change of action. It is possible to repent of "all sin" in the sense that God has in mind, without specifically recalling and specifically repenting of every single sin ever committed. I would not personally say that we must repent of all sin. I never see this expression in the scripture. I prefer to say, as did Jesus, that we must repent.

John Oakes


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