Repentance and God’s Marriage Law

By Connie W. Adams

It is argued by some that if people in unscriptural marriages must sever that relationship upon obeying the gospel, that penance is being exacted rather than repentance. Brother Homer Hailey holds this view and has stated it clearly. I believe he is wrong about this.

The Catholic doctrine of penance imposes some penalty which must be carried out in expiation for sin and that is tied together with the doctrine of absolution granted by a priest who is thought to fulfill the extended role of an apostle in forgiving sin. The intricacies of this doctrine are not taught in the Bible and the attempts to defend it rest upon a misuse of the Scripture.

But the Bible does teach repentance. The word metanoeo, translated repent, literally means to perceive afterwards, implying change. It denotes a change of mind which results in amendment of character and conduct. John preached “Bring forth therefore fruit meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). On Pentecost those who had been guilty of the blood of the Son of God were told to “repent and be baptized” “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Scriptural baptism was contingent upon genuine repentance. They could not undo what had been done, but they could resolve in their change of heart, not to be guilty of such a thing again. On Solomon’s porch Peter told his audience to “repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Notice that the blotting out of sin was conditioned upon repentance. On Mars Hill, Paul made it clear that repentance is a universal mandate of God who “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Peter said God would have “all men to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

The doctrine that an alien sinner is not subject to the law of Christ and that therefore in baptism all previous marriages are forgiven so that the one baptized may now remain with his present marriage partner, regardless of the cause of all previous divorces, is fatally flawed in that it nullifies repentance. In fact, if the doctrine is true, then the previous marriage state was not sinful anyhow, for sin is not imputed where there is no law. If no law, then there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15).

It is contended further that there is no such thing as “living in adultery.” But Paul wrote the Colossians and listed “fornication” along with other sins and then said, “in the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them” (Col. 3:5-7). In that same context he listed “inordinate affection” or unlawful lusts, a reference to homosexuality. Some had “lived” in that sin. In Colossians 2:11-12 Paul showed that these sins of the flesh bad been removed by the “circumcision of Christ” when they were buried with him in baptism. Question: Was it required that these change their practice? Or did baptism purify the state in which they lived so that they could continue in it? What did repentance demand?

This doctrine raises all sorts of questions. If the alien sinner is not amenable to the law of Christ, then should he be a polygamist, upon what ground could it be argued that he must give up all his wives, but one, upon obedience to the gospel? Polygamy was tolerated under the law of Moses and under the “moral law” under which it is argued that alien sinners still operate until they obey the gospel. If a man can keep wife number three when his first two marriages ended in divorce without the cause of fornication, then why could not a polygamist keep three wives upon obeying the gospel? Where would repentance be in all of this? Would it be penance for the polygamist to give up these extra wives? Or would repentance demand it? I believe this is a fair question.

The gospel invitation is offered to every kind of sinner. Jesus came to “seek and save that which is lost” (Lk. 19:10). They that are sick need the Great Physician. Such passages as Colossians 3:5-7 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 treat a wide range of sinful conduct on the part of those described before they became Christians. The blood of Christ was able to cleanse every sin. It still is. But, baptism does not sanctify any sinful action or relationship. Murder is still murder whether before or after baptism. Drunkenness is sinful, before or after baptism. Homosexuality is sinful before or after baptism. Polygamy is wrong before or after baptism. Violation of God’s law on divorce and remarriage is wrong be f ore and after baptism. Baptism does not wash away wives!

Baptism is for those who have truly repented of their sins. What good does it do to baptize a man who is a thief who has no intention of giving up thievery as a way of life? What good would it do to baptize a murderer who is totally impenitent? What good would it do to baptize a p olygamist who has three wives and fully intends to keep them all? What good will it do to baptize a woman who has her third husband when the first two were not put away for adultery when she fully intends to remain in that condition? Ther e may be times when we do not know all the circumstances in the lives of those who present themselves for baptism. All we can do is be sure they know what God requires of a sinner for the remission of sins. I once refused to baptize a man who came forward during a gospel meeting in Richmond, Virginia and told me he wanted to be baptized. Why? Because he was clearly intoxicated. We talked with him after the services and offered to be of whatever help we could, but when he sobered up we saw no more of him.

Brethren, we have placed great stress on scriptural baptism and for that none of us should apologize. But there is a great need to stress Bible repentance. This is a prer~equisite to Bible baptism. Without it, baptism is invalid. I freely admit that we have to accept the word of those who say they understand what the will of the Lord is and that they are acting accordingly. But we have too many who are counted among the saints who have never made any change in life. Some have been converted to baptism but not to the Lord. True conversion involves a change of heart which is manifested in a changed life.

When James D. Bales wrote his book, Not Under Bondage, I wrote him that one of the errors of his position was that it denied repentance its fruit. That is the same error our brother Hailey has made and that is made by those who stand with him in arguing that the alien sinner is not subject to the law of Christ and that God’s marriage law only applies to those who enter the kingdom. No earthly priest can forgive sin, as is taught in Catholicism in relation to the notion of penance. But there is a high priest in Heaven who does forgive sin and when he forgives, he treats the forgiven sinner as if he had not sinned. But never forget that he forgives the genuinely penitent who have resolved to stop doing whatever is offensive to God. “Shall we continue insin that grace may abound? God forbid!

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 9, pp. 272, 276
May 2, 1991