Adulterous Marriages Must Be Ended

By Johnny Stringer

Marriage is to be permanent. Unless one puts away his mate for the cause of fornication, he is bound to his spouse for as long as they both live; consequently, if he contracts a second marriage while the first mate is still alive, the second marriage is adulterous (Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39; Matt. 19:3-9; Lk. 16:18).

Forgiveness Conditioned On Repentance

Like all sins, adultery can be forgiven. Forgiveness for any sin, however, is conditional: there can be no forgiveness apart from repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22). This means that one cannot continue impenitently in any sin and be forgiven. A liar must quit his lying; a thief must quit his stealing; and an adulterer must quit committing adultery. One who is involved in an adulterous relationship must sever that relationship.

The important point to remember is that one who is divorced continues to be bound to his first spouse (Rom. 7:2-3). Since he is bound to his first spouse, he commits adultery every time he has intercourse with his second spouse. He must quit if he is to be forgiven. He cannot continue to sleep with one mate while he is bound by God’s law to another.

Even If It Preceded Baptism

Some think that since one is forgiven of his sins at baptism, he can continue living with whatever mate he has at the time of his baptism, even though the marriage is adulterous according to Jesus’ teaching. Baptism does not bring forgiveness, however, unless there is repentance (Acts 2:38). If the relationship is adulterous, one must quit it.

Furthermore, while the penitent believer is forgiven of all the sins that were committed before baptism, his baptism does not bring the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. If, for example, one is a liar, he will be forgiven of all his past lies when he is baptized (if he is a penitent believer); but he cannot tell lies after his baptism and expect them to be forgiven because of his baptism. The same is true of adultery. God will forgive the penitent believer of all his past acts of adultery when he is baptized, but he cannot continue to commit adultery with the same person after his baptism and expect these continued acts of adultery to be forgiven because of his baptism.

Some seemingly believe that when one is baptized, the second marriage is somehow made legitimate. No, if it is wrong to sleep with a person before baptism, it is wrong to do the same thing afterwards. The reason the second marriage is adulterous is that the divorced person is still bound to the first spouse (Rom. 7:2-3). Baptism does not change that. One is still bound to the first spouse after baptism, just as much as he was before baptism. Baptism does not erase the first marriage. Since one continues to be bound to his first spouse, his relationship with the second spouse is still adulterous, and he must quit committing adultery, just as he must quit any other sin.

Sometimes men invoke 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 to prove that one is not to sever the marriage relationship he is in at the time he becomes a Christian. Paul does in these verses teach that the Christian is not to think his baptism warrants a renunciation of his earthly status and the legitimate relationships he sustains. It should not even have to be mentioned, however, that this passage has reference only to relationships which are legitimate. Paul had been discussing the marriage of believers and unbelievers, and he had shown such marriages to be legitimate. If this passage is not limited to legitimate relationships, but is to be pressed to mean that adulterous marriages are to be continued, then it must also be pressed to mean that one who becomes a Christian is not to sever a homosexual marriage if he sustains one at the time of his baptism!

A Difficult Duty

The extreme difficulty of ending an adulterous marriage cannot be denied. Whether one is willing to do so is a real test of his dedication and devotion to Christ. It demonstrates whether he really loves Christ above everyone and everything else (Lk. 14:26, 33). The one who is truly converted will stand the test and quit his adultery.

Sometimes one will say that he loves his mate too much to end his relationship with her. In the first place, he should not love his mate more than he does the Lord. In the second place, if he really loves his mate, he will not want to see her lost, and he will be willing to sacrifice his relationship with her for the sake of her soul. Does one really love his mate when he continues in a relationship with her which will damn her soul for eternity? You see, then, that whether one is willing to fulfill this duty is not only a test of his love for the Lord; it is also a test of his love for his mate! Love is sacrificial. To refuse to sacrifice his relationship with his mate for the sake of his mate’s soul is in fact an act of selfishness, not love.

Surely it is hard to give up the pleasure that the adulterous relationship brings. One must remember, however, that the brief period of pleasure that such a relationship may bring on earth is not worth an eternity of agony in Hell.

It is especially difficult to end an adulterous marriage when there are children involved. Parents in an adulterous marriage are concerned about the bad effect it will have on their children if they end their marriage. There is not denying that the action will have a bad effect on the children. The fact, however, that there will be a bad effect on the children whether the marriage is ended or not. Consider the bad effect it will have on the children to grow up and lean that their parents are living in adultery! Which will have the better effect on the children: learning that their parents had such little regard for the word of God that they openly defied it and lived without shame in an adulterous relationship, or seeing that their parents are so devoted to the God of Heaven that they were willing to make an extreme and agonizing sacrifice in order to please Him and reach Heaven? Indeed, the children will be hurt whichever course is taken; but we must never think that it will be better for the children if we do wrong than it will be if we do right.

It is an agonizing thing for me to teach this difficult duty. You could not pay me enough money to say what I have said in this article.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 6, pp. 170, 180
March 21, 1985