I just recently became a Christian. Both my husband and I are divorced and remarried. So, according to Matthew 5:31-32, are we living in sin—committing adultery? Somehow I find it hard to believe that God would want us to divorce each other and return to our previous spouses. And in any case, we can't—they're each remarried. I so want to please God … but this really concerns me.
—Name withheld, via email
Over the years, there's been a lot of controversy about how to interpret biblical teaching on the subject of divorce. Some seem to completely ignore the grace of God—and the wisdom and guidance of all the other Scriptures in the Bible—for an extreme form of legalism. Others seem to go to great lengths to find ways to dismiss what the Bible teaches, explaining it away as though it's no longer relevant. Both approaches are dangerous.
Scripture is clear that God hates divorce, that he considers the marriage vow a sacred covenant. But there are certain circumstances in which divorce is permitted, and in which remarriage is not frowned upon (for example, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Matthew 19:3-12). From what we can tell, a lot depends on the circumstances and the attitudes of those involved. The Scriptures seem to say those who take marriage lightly, divorcing for frivolous reasons (such as to pursue unbridled passion) will be held accountable.
Even so, there is a distinction between the way Scripture treats the sins of unbelievers and the sins of Christians. There's a difference between sins we unknowingly committed before we met Christ (which can't be undone and are covered by the blood of Jesus), and sins we knowingly commit after we become Christians (which are certainly still covered by the blood of Jesus but may indicate a need for spiritual correction or discipline and accountability).1