The horse will bolt if we don’t enforce the law

The horse will bolt if we don’t enforce the law

When discussing the issues of divorce and remarriage in a seminary class in W. Java, one of my students asked me the question: “Do you believe that after a person is divorced because of unfaithfulness, he/she can remarry?”  I answered, “Yes, this is what the Bible teaches, even though forgiveness and reconciliation is God’s higher purpose and preferred way.”

My student continued: “This may not be a problem in the west but if we would open the door to this possibility here in Indonesia, we would have a flood of Christians using their freedom to leave their husband or wife and remarry someone else.”

I discern a pattern of thinking that says, we (i.e. the church) need rules and regulations to prevent Christians from following their own heart’s desires.  In other words, Christians cannot be trusted to obey God.  It is therefore the responsibility of church leaders to keep them on the straight and narrow by setting up certain fences or boundaries to regulate the behaviour of their people.

Is this a biblical way of thinking?  What did Paul teach the early believers?  What “laws” did he enforce in the churches he planted?  What were Paul’s foundational thoughts on this matter?  Consider the contrasts between the old and new covenants in New Testament theology.

Old Covenant

New Covenant

Path to God via the law of Moses, revealed to His chosen people by a holy and gracious God Path to God via Jesus fulfilling the law perfectly in our stead
Focus: obeying the law of Moses in order to become righteous and acceptable in God’s sight Focus: believing in Jesus who is God’s Door and Way to become righteous, holy and acceptable in God’s sight
Laws written on scrolls Law written on the heart
A life circumscribed by laws A life rooted in love and freedom to obey God
Belonging to God’s holy nation by birth, assured of continued acceptance through obeying the Laws of Moses Belonging to God’s holy nation by rebirth and adoption into God’s eternal family
The Law as the joy of the true believer Jesus as the true believer’s greatest joy
Motivated to faithfulness and obedience by commands, promises, threats and warnings, but without the inner desire to obey Motivated to faithfulness and obedience by the promise and provision of Christ’s perfect obedience on his/her behalf


How can God’s servants guide God’s new covenant people in relation to such matters as divorce and remarriage?

  • Teach them from the very beginning that marriage is a life-long covenant, and that God hates divorce
  • Warn them against the dangers of going their own way and following their own lusts and desires – to go their own way is to sin and rebel against God and will inevitably bring upon themselves the “fruits” of disobedience and rebellion
  • Refuse to adopt a compromising view towards God’s Word – Christian leaders are responsible to lead God’s people according to God’s truth, not according to their own personal beliefs, traditions, feelings, inner compulsions etc.
  • Resist the temptation to follow the legalistic, pharisaic route, to circumscribe the life of God’s people with rules and regulations that go beyond the boundaries of God’s revealed truth, e.g. if God’s Word sets down just causes for divorce and remarriage, then to disallow divorce on other grounds is to act contrary to God’s Word
  • Remind each church member of their accountability to God for all their decisions, actions, words etc.  This means that when a married man or woman falls into sexual sin, this isn’t just a mere “slip” but an act for which he/she will one day give an accounting to God at His judgment seat
  • Pray for and entrust God’s people into God’s hands, asking Him to guard them from any real or imagined consequences in relation to the teachings of God’s Word.

Graham M. Roberts

26 July 2007

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