I am getting ready to teach in a couple of weeks what Jesus teaches about lust, marriage, and divorce because we will study Matthew 5:27-30. In this section of Matthew, Jesus reveals God's intention that his people lead a life of purity that begins in the heart and extends out to relationships with others. A life of purity is not just about avoiding external actions but also includes understanding the dangers of internal sinful desires.
Internal and External Sins Matter to God
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said... But I say to you..." Jesus points out that sin is not just defined by our external actions but is born in the sinful flesh found in our hearts and desires. God desires our desires and actions to be in alignment with the will of God. God does not celebrate and rejoice in hypocrisy that outwardly shows purity but internally rots us to the core.
God Offers Forgiveness
So the truth is that as much as I can for a time control my outward actions, my own heart's sins and struggles reveal the poverty of my spirit. I need my savior. Thankfully the Bible teaches that there is full and free forgiveness received by all who repent of their sins and put their trust in God's Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1; 1 John 1:8-9).
God Desires Purity in His Disciples
God desires purity inside the hearts and outside in actions. God prohibits divorce, with some exceptions that will be described below. God also prohibits sexual relationships outside of marriage.
Adultery and Abandonment
Scripture uses absolute language in regards to divorce. Divorce brings damage to a family that ripples through society. Jesus does allow for the possibility of divorce when adultery is committed. Jesus said in Matthew 19:9, "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." Jesus does not require divorce in this situation. In some cases through repentance and forgiveness couples are able to overcome immorality.
St. Paul also writes about divorce and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. St. Paul says that divorce may happen to a Christian whose unbelieving spouse leaves. In a fallen world adultery and abandonment happen, sinners are going to sin. We can try to mask our past sins and self-justify our actions, but the truth is that sin is damaging to what God has designed to be beneficial. Recently, I have discussed with many pastors about how we can understand St. Paul's words about abandonment in the context of domestic violence. A man or a woman that violates marital vows with threats and actions has abandoned the marriage.
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod also has published a document, Divorce and Remarriage: An Exegetical Study, which will be helpful to a person that wants to do more scriptural study on what the Bible has to say about divorce and people seeking remarriage.
What about Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence corrupts the intimacy and trust of relationships.
The LCMS Domestic Violence and Abuse Task Force has prepared helpful resources that should be utilized in congregations to make sure no one feels abandoned or alone or resigned to forever experience abuse. One of the documents prepared includes, When Homes are Heartless: An LCMS Perspective on Domestic Violence, in which there is recognition that abuse can irreparably harm a marriage.
So, while the Church can and should continually reach out with the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the abuser, it must do so with the recognition that this does not automatically and, frequently, may not ever result in marital reconciliation and restoration. As noted above, abuse may constitute a circumstance in which the Church acknowledges the tragic necessity of divorce. Christians can and should never glibly accept divorce and, indeed, must oppose our culture’s easy peace with it. Yet, wherever divorce occurs, those who suffer it are not to be driven away, but ever drawn toward Christ and His mercies. That is even more the case when one who has suffered divorce has done so rather than to suffer violence against her life.
Can a divorced person be forgiven and remarry?
Repentance and forgiveness is necessary when sin has broken a relationship. Divorce for unscriptural reasons, and remarriage involving such persons, is contrary to God's will. No matter how heinously a person has sinned, Jesus atoned for all sin, also for the sin of adultery. Where sin abounds, grace can abound even more (Romans 5:20).
Divorced persons and people seeking to remarry should demonstrate a contrite heart and a desire to receive forgiveness and restoration. As absolute as Scripture is about divorce, the Bible also confidently speaks about the power of Jesus to bring forgiveness and restoration into the kingdom of heaven. Where reconciliation and restoration of a broken marriage is not possible, remarriage becomes a possibility. These situations require unique pastoral care as we apply God's condemnations of sin and God's promise of delivering forgiveness of sins into the world through Jesus Christ.
More information about LCMS positions on family, marriage, and sexuality can be found on the FAQ page of the LCMS.