Can Christians Get Divorced?
“Marriage should be honored by all”
See Hebrews 13:4
“Mom, last night, Dad came into my room and touched me there again. He said he wouldn’t do that to me anymore. Why won’t he stop? It hurts me. Please do something.”
This isn’t the first time he’s molested his daughter, and this isn’t the first time she’s come to her mom for help. Yet he continues to sexually abuse her because he knows his wife will never divorce him–because she’s not allowed. “The Bible says so.” So he rapes his own child repeatedly with no plans to quit because his spouse’s religion won’t enforce any boundaries.
“I don’t know what to do, Mom. He hit me again. I guess I should’ve watched what I said and not made him so mad. I’ll just keep quiet the next time he’s drinking and stay out of his way. I have to submit, that’s what the Bible says. So I’ll keep serving him. I need to be obedient to God and His holy Word.”
The physical abuse and alcoholism has been going on since the second year of their marriage. Five years into her vows, she never knew her husband would treat her so badly–and use the Bible as his back-up. “Sit down, shut up, and submit!” No signs of heavy drinking or abuse happened when they dated, he was very loving. But now, cursing loudly at her, calling her disgusting names, and slamming doors–all in front of the kids–she feels trapped. But her devout church-going mother gives the same advice each time, “You’ll never enter into the kingdom of God as an adulterer. That’s exactly what you’ll be if you divorce him. He’s the head of your household–do what he says. It’s better you suffer now, than to go to hell later.”
“Pastor, this is the sixth time she’s cheated on me. All of her affairs started on social media with so-called friends. I found the messages on Facebook, I saw the Snapchats on her phone on her nightstand, in the middle of the night; I even pulled our phone records. The texts and phone calls to these men were numerous. But when I confronted her she became enraged and told me to not be so jealous. She said these are her friends and I have no right to control her. Now it’s happening again. This is how her cheating always starts out–on social media. The pain I feel runs so deep! I hurt knowing she’s slept with other men with no remorse. She’s had an excuse each time. She’s never said sorry and I keep forgiving her. This pain is as if I have something sitting on my chest, literally. She’s had sex with people in our own home! I don’t want to feel this way anymore! But she won’t quit and refuses to be faithful to me.”
A committed husband sits in the office of his pastor, sobbing in his hands. His wife has no respect for boundaries whatsoever, nor does she take her vows as of any importance. She lives as if she’s never even heard the word honor. Her emotional cheating has led to physical cheating multiple times and this man is asking a church leader for advice.
“God hates divorce,” the pastor says. “But, you’re allowed to divorce her because of her adultery. I wouldn’t take the chance though. There’s no guarantee you’ll stay saved. After the divorce you might fall out of God’s will for your own life and be in danger of the fires of hell. Hang in there, lest you fall too.”
“Dad, she won’t stop spending all we have. The bounced check fees alone are killing me. Our credit cards are maxed, she refuses to work, and I can’t seem to catch up. Her shopping, trips, eating out, and giving our money to her family whenever they ask for it is ruining us. She won’t even attempt to keep our home clean, it’s a pigpen. I’d gladly clean it but I don’t have time because I’m working so much. She stays up late every night watching trash on TV and Netflix, and she’s severely addicted to her phone. She won’t contribute to our family in any way. She’s crushing us, Dad, and I’m miserable. I don’t know what else to do. I’ve begged her to go to counseling and I want to talk and work things out, but she gives me the silent treatment for months and won’t communicate. We haven’t even had sex since last year.”
Reaching out for wise counsel from his “godly” father, who’s a deacon at his church so he’s supposed to know more, his dad replies, “Son, I’d say you need to get a divorce but I’d hate to see you not make it to heaven. No matter what, the Bible says you can’t divorce her unless she commits adultery. The misery you’re in is not worse than the misery you’ll feel while burning in hell. You don’t want to lose your salvation over losing a marriage. Deal with it and carry your cross.”
All of these people giving advice are wrong. They might mean well but biblically they’re incorrect.
There are countless circumstances of marital strife and tragic situations where a spouse just does not care anymore, but the threat of becoming a second-class Christian–or banished from heaven completely–because of divorce, is a lie. God does not judge us based on our marital status but on our supernatural identity. However, when Scripture is twisted out of context, there are only two reasons to “justify” a divorce: adultery or death.
Let’s go over both based on the truth of the New Covenant to prove these are fallacies. The truth always sets us free and error always binds us–in our minds.
Satan has ruined many lives by making people think divorce is unpardonable without adultery or death. The truth is there’s no New Covenant “law” against divorce. This is completely absent from all New Testament text when the text is read in the proper context. If this weren’t the case then the New Covenant would be more stringent than the Old Covenant. Why? Because even in the Old, divorce was legal without adultery and without death (see Deuteronomy 24:1-5).
So where are we getting this theology? That divorce is an unforgivable sin without someone cheating or dying? Several places in the New Testament but only when Scripture is taken out of context. Satan loves out-of-context biblical exegesis. He even tried to pull this card on Christ Himself (see Matthew 4:1-11). But each time he contorted Scripture, Jesus straightened it out contextually. We should do the same.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus is asked about divorce as well as taught on it. Each time He was asked it was by a legalist who wanted to find an excuse to rid themselves of their wife or to trap Jesus in His own words. Each time He taught about divorce it was to enforce the impossibly of living according the Law so the hearer would turn from the Law and repent toward faith in Him alone. Over a dozen times divorce is referenced in these four letters and not once was He teaching a believer how to be married (see chapters: Matthew 5, 19, Mark 10, Luke 16, John 8).
Therefore, using Jesus’ teachings as grounds to stay married if adultery or death has not occurred is wrong. Remember, anytime Jesus was asked a Law-based question He gave a Law-based answer. Anytime He wanted to bury a legalistic crowd in their own hypocrisy He would teach the true standards of the Law. The very Law they failed at following perfectly–which is required if you want to follow it (see Matthew 5:48, Deuteronomy 4:2).
We Christians are not under the Law, but under grace (see Romans 6:14, 10:4). So none of these marriage passages in the gospels are for us. Sting as it might, this is the truth.
Their spouse’s adultery was always the justification behind a Law-lover’s excuse to kick their significant other to the curve. This is so prevalent in these four books, Covenant-mixing theology is taught in our churches ad nauseam today. So much so, some Christians want their spouse to cheat so that they can “biblically rationalize” a divorce.
“I wish you would cheat so I could call up my lawyer! Go ahead! You are free to sleep around!”
Therefore, to answer the title of this devotional: Can Christians get divorced? Yes.
“Matt, you’re a liar! You’re just telling people they can get a divorce whenever they feel like it! How dare you! You’re telling people to run away from their problems and never commit! You don’t respect marriage!
Friend, no. That’s not my opinion at all. Here’s what I’m saying about marriage:
Do everything possible to save your marriage. Do whatever the crisis demands. Feel the pain, and forgive. Feel the pain, and forgive. Feel the pain, and forgive. Never stop doing this. Set boundaries and enforce them with love and respect. Sacrifice your time, sleep, energy, reputation, and finances to save your marriage. FIGHT HARD FOR YOUR MARRIAGE. FIGHT! Do everything possible ON YOUR PART to save it. Say sorry when you want to give excuses–THEN DO IT AGAIN. AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN! See their side, their point of view, and their needs as extremely important. Serve them with all your heart. Get counseling. Get more counseling. Get MORE counseling–but make sure it’s Christian counseling. Reach out to advocates. Ask for advice. Look for those who have successful marriages and ask them to pray for you and your spouse. PRAY HARD. THEN, WHEN YOU’RE FINISHED. PRAY HARDER. SCREAM AND CRY AT THE FOOT OF YOUR BED AND BEG GOD FOR HELP. Fight. FIGHT! Fight FOR your marriage as if your life depends on it! Get counseling for yourself too, without your spouse, repeatedly. Go without sex. Go without respect. Go without validation. Deal with the debilitating loneliness and lean into the comfort of Christ. CRY. Feel your pain. Don’t turn to addictions or lovers or porn. Don’t post about it. Don’t tweet about it, DM, or IG. Just cry. Be sad. It’s okay to be sad. Never numb your pain–feel it, and ask God for solace. Tell your spouse how much you love them and how you want to save your marriage. Tell them how important they are to you. Educate them, kindly, on the healthy changes which must be made, but that you’re still there for them and you care. If you lose your cool forgive yourself and start over the next day. Don’t believe the names they call you. Don’t scramble trying to defend yourself to the people they lie to about you. Overcome evil with good and hateful remarks with love. Don’t get even. Don’t think God is getting even FOR you–He loves them too. Their attitude toward you does not mean they are no longer saved. Tell them you don’t want a divorce, repeatedly. Get a legal separation if you have to, but don’t file just yet. Give it time. BE KIND. HOLD YOUR TONGUE. BE PATIENT. When you are tired don’t text or talk about anything serious, go to bed. Be cordial to those who are trying to rip your marriage apart. Tell your spouse a divorce is NOT what you want, but healthy changes must be made. Don’t tell them what to do, tell them what YOUR boundaries are. Boundaries are not ultimatums. They are see-through fences, not walls. They are meant to let people in, and out, and also for taking our own trash out. Tell them how much you love them every day, even if they go months without saying it back. DON’T get a divorce if you can help it. As far as it depends on YOU fight tooth and nail for your marriage and trust God with your actions and attitudes.
But sometimes, even after your best efforts, it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes, even after you’ve done everything you possibly could do, they still left, or they still refused to make the healthy changes your family needed…so you had no other choice. Life doesn’t end in those ashes. Lamenting won’t last forever and Jesus Christ is still there, with you, friend. He feels your pain on a deeper level than even you do–He knows. He knows. He was there the entire time and He held you every moment. He saw your effort. He saw the changes you made to save your marriage. He saw you stand up to unacceptable behavior properly, with gentleness and respect. His arms were wrapped around you every lonely night. You were never really alone…ever.
Just give it time. Just give it truth. Life will go on and happiness will happen again.
God will use this pain for a greater good, somehow, someway. Using pain for purpose is His specialty. Just look at the Cross. The darkest day in history turned out to be the brightest.
Your heartache and tears will not be wasted.
Sadly, in Romans 7, some grace-confused Christians see verses 1-3 as a law in which we are bound to our spouse until they die. If divorce happens and our ex-spouse is still alive, we’re adulterers until they croak. Let’s clear this up to ease your mind. Here’s the Scripture:
“Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the Law—that the Law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.” (Romans 7:1-3)
THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MARRIAGE ADVICE. If I could type that sentence in a larger font I would. The two words I’ve underlined–For example–gives the context. If something is an example we must look to what the topic is and not solely the example. What’s the topic? This passage is Paul explaining to the Jews their relationship with the Mosaic Law.
- “for I am speaking to those who know the Law” — and who knew the Law? Only the Jews, not us Gentiles.
- “the Law has authority over someone only as long as they live” — so the Law is the context, not marriage.
- “a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him” — He’s explaining a Jewish person’s relationship with the Law. They have died to the Law so they can be joined to Christ. This is backed up in verse four, which I’ll get to shortly.
Sexual relations is mentioned as an example of “intimacy with the Law,” juxtapose, “intimacy with Christ.” Not literal sex but oneness and being legally bound to. He’s saying, “Pick one. Be joined to the Law or Jesus. You must divorce the Law if you want to be married to Christ.”
Just look at the following passage for context. You’ll see this has no instruction for marriage, but instead, it’s about a Hebrew person’s relationship with the 613 commandments given by Moses, the Law:
“Therefore, my brethren (anytime Paul says brethren he’s referring to his Jewish race), you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God…But now we have been released from the Law (just like a woman is released from her husband if he dies) having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (the letter is the Law).” (Romans 7:4,6, my notes added)
This section of Scripture should never be used in the context of marital counsel. It should be used in teaching people they have no relationship with the Law because they’ve died to it in order to be able to join Christ’s Spirit.
We are released from the Law so that we can be bound to Jesus. Truth be told, unless we’re Jewish, we were never given the Law to begin with (see Ephesians 2:12, Matthew 15:24).
Jesus won’t share you with Moses so you must cut that relationship off. When we “try” to follow any of Moses’ commands–ten of which are the Ten Commandments–we are committing adultery, spiritually.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. The Law has not died but we’ve died to the Law. It has no authority over us because of our faith which joined us to Christ. I want to stay on track here, but briefly, look at it this way:
If you’re on trial for a crime but you die during that trial, you’ve died to the law which has the ability to convict you. Therefore that law now has no authority to convict you. You’re dead. The trial is over. Based on that law you can no longer be found guilty. Now, when you died did the law die? No. It’s still there, ready to convict the next person who breaks it who’s under it. Same with us and the Law of Moses. Our spirits have died to the Law from the moment of our salvation. We were crucified, buried, and rose again, forever connected to Jesus’ Spirit (see Romans 6:6-11, Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Colossians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 6:17).
In Romans 7, that’s Paul’s point. Not scaring divorced people.
The Bible also says no adulterer will enter the kingdom of heaven, in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 10, and in Galatians 5:19-21. Many will compound these passages with Romans 7:1-3, by shouting, “If your ex-spouse is still alive and you’ve been remarried, you’re an adulterer and so is your new spouse!”
So tell me, if this were the truth, what should they do? Should they divorce their new spouse and go back to the previous one? That would mean they’d be divorced again. Would this cancel out their second divorce if they go back to their first marriage? And what if the previous spouse doesn’t want anything to do with them because they’ve moved on?
Do you see the stupidity in such a creed?
The truth is, in both 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5–in the not inheriting the kingdom verses–Paul is referring to the identity of non-believers, not Christians. He’s speaking about contrasts of nature–not actions and attitudes in order to identify someone. Again, context is key and behavior-focused teaching is to blame. If we read the following passage in 1 Corinthians 6, right after Paul’s sin-filled laundry list, he explains:
“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)
Past tense. This is not who they now are, but who they were, by nature.
“Yeah right, Matt! If they didn’t repent of their sins they are still in them!”
No, that’s wrong. If this were the case we’d all still be in our sins because we all have sins we’ve not repented of perfectly. If we say this isn’t true, we’re lying, therefore we’ve not repented of lying and no unrepentant sin can enter heaven–according to this falsity. We are saved by repentance of unbelief in Jesus as our Savior. This happens once. We are not saved by continual repentance of sinful actions and attitudes. Again, why not? Because we all go to our grave with unrepentant sinful actions and attitudes. If you say you don’t have unrepentant sin, I would doubt my salvation if I were you. It sounds as if you’ve never fully trusted Christ.
Do you see it? The demonic mantra of “You’re only forgiven if you repent!” makes no sense at all. It spits on the Cross. It says, “Jesus only forgives you of sin when you stop sinning.” Satan loves this because it takes our focus off Christ’s finished work and puts the emphasis on what we start or stop. He’ll even make you think it’s too late to repent of certain sins. The legalists call these sins of omission.
“That ship has sailed! It’s all your fault! You had your chance and now it’s too late! You’re doomed! You might as well ignore God because He hates you and is disappointed in everything you do!”
Changing our immature actions and attitudes is healthy but such cannot forgive us because this would negate the Cross. Repent, yes, every single time you sin, but not to be forgiven. Instead, to be yourself.
Paul is speaking about their spirits. Not actions. Not attitudes. But who they were. We’ve been taken out of sin and placed into the Spirit of Jesus Christ (see Romans 6:3-14, 8:9). No Christian is in sin because we are in Christ. We might be sinning but we aren’t in sin. Understanding this supernatural epiphany causes us to act sinful a whole lot less because we know it’s an act.
We are holy. We are blameless. We are righteous. We are children of God (see Colossians 1:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21, John 1:12,13, 1 John 3:1). Sinning will never make sense to us permanently. Just try it out and you’ll see. A bottle-rocket of thrills might happen but after we realize that short-lived sin-spurt was dumb and unsatisfying.
Let’s go over one last passage about divorce.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul seems to go back and forth on his view of marriage. In essence, saying, “If you’re married, don’t seek to get a divorce. If you’re unmarried don’t seek to get married–but then again, if you can’t control your sexual urges, go ahead and get married.”
Out of context, this chapter can seem strange, but Paul says something which is key and explains his wishy-washy writing:
“Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.” (See 1 Corinthians 7:17)
In whatever situation. Paul is giving advice for living a peaceful life in whatever situation a person is currently in. This is not doctrine for marriage, but a kind mentor saying, “Don’t seek greener pastures. Be content with your present circumstances. Whatever happens, happens, but be satisfied with where God has placed you.”
Paul was always preaching to himself as well; he traveled relentlessly to teach the gospel. He knew such a dangerous lifestyle would be hard on a wife, so he stayed single. He also knew he was free to marry if he so chose (see 1 Corinthians 9:5-10). 1 Corinthians 7 is not Paul being nutty about marriage and divorce. His heart is saying, “Think about how your decisions will impact those whom you love, and yourself, based on your surroundings. Then move forward with caution. Make good choices.”
So today, my friends, know this: Approximately 50% of non-Christian marriages end in divorce. Approximately 40% of Christian marriages end in divorce. Does this mean 40% of those who claim to be Christians won’t enter heaven? Does this mean they are perpetual adulterers? And if we’re free does this mean we should throw up our hands at the drop of a hat and look for a new spouse? No, no, and no. It means don’t find your identity in your marriage but in Christ. If we’re looking to our marriage for identity, when that identity is threatened or not what we wanted it to be, we will fall apart. Our identity is in Christ, and nothing else. We are secure. Let your marriage reflect your security and live in love. When you understand this your spouse will benefit greatly and you’ll enjoy your marriage on the deepest level possible. But no matter what, divorce will never define you, and neither will your marriage. God defines you.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you for giving me your Spirit in Christ. You’ve completed me. I’ve learned so much from you, and marriage has been a great lesson. Thank you for MY marriage, and for being with Jennifer and me these 15 years. Keep guiding us and teaching us more about you, and about us. I’m so grateful for the wife you’ve given me. Thank you. Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of these dear readers have been divorced and they feel like you don’t love them any longer. Ease their minds today in knowing you don’t love them because of their marriage, or lack-thereof, but because they’re your child. What kind of a parent would give up on their children because a marriage didn’t work out? A bad one–and YOU are a good, good Father. You never give up on us, no matter what happens in our lives.
And Dad, for those who are on the brink of a divorce–maybe they’ve filed the papers, maybe they’ve believed the lies of their ungodly divorced friends, or loved ones who hate their spouse and never respected their marriage–I’M ASKING FOR A SUPERNATURAL INTERVENTION, RIGHT NOW! Don’t let them give up! Infuse them with the strength they need to fight! By your grace, their marriage can be saved! By your grace, new boundaries can be set, and wholeness can come! CHANGE CAN HAPPEN! They can leave a legacy for their children and break the cycle of divorce by saying, “I didn’t give up. I stuck it out and God came through for us.” Teach them more about how to enforce healthy changes! Teach them more about who YOU are! Send new people into their lives–advocates who care for both them and their spouse! REMOVE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE DESTROYING THEIR FAMILY! Open up the eyes of the spouse who has hardened their soul and won’t talk! Save their marriage, God, please. I rebuke Satan from their home and thought life–right now! In the name of JESUS, help them! Keep them together! Teach them both how to love one another and how to forgive just as you’ve done for them in Christ. In His name I pray–please, USE this difficult time for a greater good. We trust you. We love you. Amen.
This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 2. Check out my other bestselling books here!