Question: Dear Dr. Luginbill, I accepted Christ at a young age. As years went by I'd wander from obedience to living for Christ. I've been divorced, remarried, divorced again, and am now married again, am happy with my Christian wife. I'm concerned about my wives, children before God in eternity. I believe he hates divorce, saying those who marry in certain instances are fostering or committing adultery. I believe in grace, longsuffering, confession and restoration but can't really find the verses that say rock bottom, "Even though you've made a mess of other's lives and your own I forgive you. I'd like assurance and I'd like to serve in some capacity in the church, even pastoring if scripture permits. I love the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior because he first loved me. I love His word and promises found there too. I believe His gospel is the answer to burdened sinners and the Hope of the of all who'll claim Him. Yet I feel threatened. Any guidance you might give would be appreciated. Awaiting your reply,
Response: These are tough questions you ask, but one thing should be clear from the start: the fact that you are asking them is a very good sign, in my opinion. Not that I am counseling you to take any action other to continue to live the best Christian life you can (because I am definitely not), but it is clear to me from scripture that we are all imperfect, all sinners who have sinned and do sin, and, even more to the point of your e-mail, all sinners who have made mistakes in life which have produced consequences that continue up until the present day.
Now there may be Christians of which this is not true, and I am thrilled for them (I don't believe I've ever met any of them). Divorce and remarriage is a perfect example of this, but there are many others. All one has to do is tell a simple white lie, to take one example, and then watch it (as often happens) splash into the pool of life and send forth ripple after unanticipated ripple. And if this is true of small failures, what of the large ones?
As I say, the very fact that you continue to have a tender heart towards God on these matters is good – and very important. After all, the publican who beat his breast and could not even lift his eyes to heaven was the one who "went down justified before God" (Lk.18:14). Our God is a God of great mercy, and that mercy fits best with the contrite heart (Ps.51:17; Is.57:15; 66:2), so that your attitude and concern is absolutely correct. One has also to remember, however, that the publican "went down justified", that is, considered righteous by God, because of the forgiveness we all have in His Son, if only we ask Him for it (1Jn.1:9).
We do need to try and avoid sin (1Jn.2:1-2), we do need to try and avoid big mistakes that will have consequences far into the future; we do need to approach Him in humility and contrition for forgiveness of all our sins, big and small, and at the same time we also need to be convinced in the absolute firmest faith of His mercy, His forgiveness, His love, and His ability to restore us, refresh us, refit us, put us back on our feet, and back in action for Him (Prov.24:16). For if it were a case of "single elimination", no one, and I mean no one but our Lord, would ever have had a productive life for God. Let the example of David, who murdered a trusting fellow believer and loyal subordinate to cover up adultery with the man's wife suffice (no ethical ambiguity here at all): the consequences were horrendous for David, his own son tried to murder and replace him - but God delivered David through this storm of punishment (via 14 years of divine discipline), and David's words, words of God, are among the most inspiring in scripture, and God fulfilled all His promises to David even so.
So let's start with what we do know:
1) sin has consequences.
2) God forgives sin.
3) forgiveness is real, but it does not necessarily remove the consequences (or the full course of God's disciplining of us).
4) yet in spite of our failures and their consequences, in spite of His fatherly punishment of us, we can still serve God, not in limited capacity, but as far and as great as we are willing to take it (as David did).
So if we have sinned in any way, let us confess it contritely and make a point of avoiding such self-destructive behavior in the future, and let us have absolute confidence in the Lord, that He is greater than our failures (1Jn.3:19-21).
Moses failed, Elijah failed, David failed, Peter failed - this is pretty good company: they all went on to continue in service to God in ways you and I can only dream of. The bottom line is that today is today.
Today is the battle. We are still here on this battlefield, still here in the devil's world? Then it is because God still has things for us to do. We can regret our past mistakes - bad idea, it will only hold us back (better to move on: Phil.3:13). We can be pleased with our past successes - bad idea, it will only tempt us to suppose we've done enough already (better to keep moving on: 1Cor.4:4-5). The only safe course in this life is the steep and narrow way, ever moving forward in sanctification and spiritual growth, redeeming each day, one at a time, because the days of this world are all evil and pointless apart from our walk with God (Col.4:5; Eph.5:16).
As to the specific questions you ask about regarding divorce and remarriage, please see the following links which attempt to address these specifics in non-legalistic terms:
No Grounds for Divorce?
What does it mean in 1st Corinthians 7:14, "the unbelieving husband is sanctified"?
Divorce and Remarriage.
Feelings of Guilt about Remarriage
A Conversation about Divorce and Remarriage
Marriage of Believers and Unbelievers.
In the hope that all this is some help to you,
Yours in the mercy of Jesus Christ,