Remarried and Happy at Last!
January 7, 1993
This question is for those who are married: When was the last time you sat down with your husband or wife and told the story of how you met and fell in love? How long has it been since you remembered your first kiss? The way you got engaged? The story of your wedding day? The crazy things that happened on your honeymoon? When was the last time you sat down and told that story in great detail? Has it been awhile? Has it been so long that you can’t remember the last time you told the story?
Here’s an application at the very beginning of this message. I challenge you to tell your story to someone else in the next week. Tell it in great mushy detail. Don’t leave any of the good parts out. The mushier, the better.
I don’t know of anything better for a marriage relationship than simply repeating again the story of how you met, fell in love and got married. It will do your relationship a world of good.
I know that’s true because I had a chance to tell our story last Friday night. We had some friends over for supper and somehow in the course of the evening, we began trading stories of how we met and fell in love. The other couple—some years younger than we are—told us their story. It was good but, frankly, they didn’t include enough mushy detail for me. I like to hear a story that sounds like it came out of True Confessions, not Popular Mechanics. So after they finished, I said, “Okay, now I’ll tell you our story.” About 45 minutes later, I was finished.
Marriage is an Eye-Opener
It’s funny how when you tell the story of your relationship, long-forgotten details will pop into your mind. It was a hot night in Phoenix when we got married 19 years ago. (All nights in Phoenix in August are hot.) I think it was 97 degrees when the ceremony started at 7 P.M. We had a small wedding—maybe 80 or 90 people were there. Our wedding was the shortest I’ve ever attended. It lasted 15 minutes. We started at 7 and were walking out the door by 7:15. It was short and sweet but we got the essential work done.
At the reception lots of older people were giving us advice. Do this, don’t do this. They offered pearls of wisdom, maxims, sayings, adages, old wives’ tales, rumors, and anything else they could think of. An elderly minister named Arthur Woods attended our wedding. Over the years he had helped many young couples launch their ships on the sea of matrimonial bliss. During the reception he pulled me aside and gave me this nugget of truth: “Young man, love is blind but marriage is an eye-opener.”
Over the years I’ve discovered the truth of those words. Love is blind and marriage is an eye-opener. No marriage is perfect, and even the happiest spouses sometimes wonder “what if?” “What if I had married someone else?” “What if I had stayed single?” Then there is the big “what if”: “What would I do if I found myself single again? Would I get married again or would I decide once was enough?” The following dialogue comes from a scene in the Cosby show. Cliff and Clare Huxtable are having a nice conversation when suddenly Clare asks Cliff a question that every wife asks her husband sooner or later: “If I died, would you marry again?” To which Cliff replies, “We’ll talk about it when it happens.”
Let’s Talk About Remarriage
This message today is about marriage, but it is really about remarriage. It’s more about what is involved in remarriage than about getting married the first time. But it’s really about Romans 7:1-6. If that doesn’t make sense, stay tuned. On one hand, this passage is about the law, about freedom from the law, about the power of the Holy Spirit and so on. That part sounds familiar to those of you who have been studying Romans up until this point. However, plopped down in the middle of our text is a very interesting statement about marriage and remarriage. You might be tempted to just pass it by but that would be a mistake because this is one of the few passages in the New Testament that directly addresses the question of remarriage.
If you know the Bible, that shouldn’t surprise you because the biblical authors often turned to marriage as a useful illustration of the relationship between God and his people. When they reached for figures of speech that
would explain what it means to have a relationship with God, the illustration they used more often than any other was marriage.
We all know that marriage involves a huge personal commitment. In fact, marriage involves at least five major commitments:
A Personal Commitment—”I, John, take you, Sally”
An Unconditional Commitment—”For better or for worse”
An Exclusive Commitment—”Forsaking all others”
A Life-long Commitment—”As long as we both shall live”
A Fruitful Commitment—”The children God may give us”
When you take those five commitments and bring them over into the spiritual realm, you find that each one fits perfectly. Coming to Christ involves a commitment that is personal, unconditional, exclusive, life-long and fruitful. You come to Jesus, you come without conditions, you come to him alone, you come pledging your life to him, you come expecting that your life will be different.
It all fits. That’s why the Bible writers so often used marriage to illustrate spiritual truth. And that’s why, when the Bible writers were stretching to illustrate a difficult truth, they reached for the common illustration of marriage. Marriage is the pre-eminent illustration of what it means to have a living, vital relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
And that’s what is happening in Romans 7:1-6. Paul uses the marriage relationship—especially the truths surrounding remarriage—to illustrate the power of Jesus Christ to change the human heart. If you want a general theme for this text, you might say it this way: Coming to Jesus Christ is like getting married all over again. It’s like leaving a bad marriage for a good one.
With that as background, let’s jump into the text.
I. The Principle: Death cancels all contracts
“Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?”
This is not difficult to understand. Let’s say you hire a man to personally paint your portrait. If he dies before he finishes, you can’t force him to finish the painting. Once he’s dead, his obligation to you has ended. Someone else will have to finish the painting. Or let’s say you hire a man to drive you to Seattle. What if he dies in Yellowstone National Park? You can’t make him drive you the rest of the way. His work is done the moment he dies. Or suppose a man promises to eat lunch with you next Thursday at the Olive Garden. But he dies on Wednesday night. You can cancel the lunch date or you can eat alone, but your friend isn’t going to join you.
You can’t enforce a contract on a dead man. Once he’s dead, he is freed from all personal obligation to you. (We aren’t talking about his heirs, or his estate, or his business. We’re talking about the man personally. You can’t make a dead man do anything. If he owes you $10,000, you may get some money from his family or from his estate, but you won’t get a dime from him personally. Dead men don’t pay off their debts.)
II. The Illustration: Remarriage permitted after the death of the spouse
“For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.”
In order to simplify this text, let’s arrange it in a series of statements:
A wife is bound by law to stay married as long as her husband is alive.
If her husband dies, she is no longer married to him.
If she remarries while her husband is alive, she is an adulteress.
If she remarries after his death, she is not an adulteress.
Remarriage is not permitted while the husband is alive.
Remarriage is permitted after her husband is dead.
A man and a woman get married, intending to spend their life together. He dies. Since she is no longer married, she is free to remarry if she chooses. But if she divorces him and remarries while he is alive, she is an adulteress.
The one clear principle at work here is the principle of verse 1: Death cancels all contracts. In this case, death cancels the marriage contract. Most wedding vows include the words “till death do us part” or “as long as we both shall live.” Those phrases recognize the fact that marriage ends at the moment one partner dies.
Please note: Paul is not giving a complete theology of marriage. In order to understand the full biblical teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage, we would have to consider Matthew 5, Matthew 19, I Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5, and many other passages.
But there is one important truth here: Marriage is for life. Any other commitment is not Christian marriage. Too many people—including some Christians—go into marriage thinking that if it doesn’t work out, they can always get a divorce. That “back door” mentality often leads to the break-up of the marriage. The only way to stay married is for both parties to believe that “divorce is not an option.”
That’s why we say things like the following in a wedding ceremony:
Lester, do you take Julie, whose hand you hold, to be your lawfully wedded wife? And do you promise before God and these witnesses that you will love, honor and cherish her, and that forsaking all others for her alone, you will be a true and faithful husband, so long as you both shall live?
That’s a biblical view of marriage. When you get married, it’s for life.
But our text is pointing out that remarriage is permitted after the death of the spouse precisely because “marriage is for life.” Once your spouse is dead, you are free before God to marry again if you so choose.
III. The Application: Through union with Christ believers are set free to serve God in the power of the Holy Spirit
Now this is where the passage gets interesting—and a bit confusing. Paul takes the principle of verse 1 and the illustration of verses 2-3 and applies them both to our relationship with Jesus Christ.
“So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the written code.”
Let me give you two statements that go to the heart of Paul’s application:
We died to the law.
We are now married to Christ.
His point in this passage is not just that we traded husbands—the law for Christ. His real point is that we have traded a bad marriage for a good one. When we were under the law, we were in a relationship that could never satisfy us. It’s like being married to the most demanding husband in the world. Nothing you do pleases him.
Nothing is ever good enough. Nothing is ever clean enough. You work all day to fix a nice meal—and because it’s not perfect, he doesn’t like it. You iron his shirts, but because he finds a wrinkle in the collar, he gets mad at you. You lose weight to make him happy, but when you gain part of it back, he’s on your case day and night. He wakes up every morning with a list of things you need to do today. And no matter how hard you work, you can never finish the list to his satisfaction. He’s picky, he’s demanding, he’s a perfectionist, he’s critical, and to top it all off, he’s right all the time. And he knows it and doesn’t mind telling you about it.
That’s what it was like living under the law. You know the law is good. It’s “right all the time.” You do your best to live up to the Ten Commandments, but “nobody’s perfect.” But perfection is what the law demands. God doesn’t grade on a curve. It’s not good enough to keep most of the commandments most of the time. That will only condemn you. It can never save you.
The point is, living under the law is like living with a “perfect” husband. You end up beaten down, discouraged, frustrated, feeling like a failure all the time. You can never be good enough no matter how much you try.
Trading a Loser for a Winner
But now we died to the law. That ended our “marriage” to the law because death ends all contracts. Having died to the law, we are now “married” to Jesus Christ. That’s like trading in a demanding husband for one who is always loving, always forgiving, always encouraging, always accepting. He’s the exact opposite of the first husband. He’s everything the first man wasn’t. The amazing thing is, he’s also perfect. In fact, he’s the Son of God. But he never makes you feel bad about your lack of perfection. He takes you just the way you are and joins himself to you so that as you spend time with him, he actually turns you into a better and nicer person.
Before you came to Christ, you were in a losing relationship to the law. But now you have entered into a winning relationship with Jesus. The law made you a loser. It actually aroused sinful passions within you. It said, “Do this,” so you did the exact opposite. It said “Don’t,” so you did it anyway. The result was a kind of inner spiritual death. You died a little bit more every day. But now through Jesus, you have entered a relationship where you actually want to do right. Because you are joined to Jesus (“married” to him), because you now have a vital, living relationship with him, he now lives his life through you—and the places in your life that were once marked with failure are now the scenes of great personal triumph.
From one “marriage” to another.
From death to life.
From defeat to victory.
From fruit for death to fruit for God.
From the law to Christ.
By the way, did you notice the fact that in verse 4, you are the one who died? Paul turns the illustration on its head by supposing that you—not your husband—dies. You die, then you are brought back to life, then you marry a second husband. It’s not that the law died to us, but we died to the law. It no longer has any controlling power over us. Therefore, we are now free to “marry” Jesus Christ—to enter into a new fruitful relationship with him.
Verse 6 explains the result of our “death” and “remarriage” to Jesus.
We died to the law.
We therefore are released from the law.
We no longer serve in slavish obedience to the written code.
We now serve God in the “new way of the Spirit.”
IV. Seven Abiding Truths
In order to help us understand this unusual passage, let’s consider seven summary statements. These help us see what Paul is saying in Romans 7:1-6.
1. A change of partners means a change of desires.
Those who have been remarried know what this means. The second marriage is never the same. You aren’t the same person and you aren’t married to the same person. Life isn’t the same. Your new husband doesn’t react the way the old one did. He doesn’t think or talk or act like your first husband. And you aren’t the same person either. Even if you bring in a set of assumptions from your first marriage, those assumptions will soon be challenged and changed because you find yourself in a new situation. You used to sleep in on Saturdays, but now you get up at the crack of dawn because your sweetheart loves to go out for an early Saturday breakfast. You change because you’ve changed partners.
What makes the difference? Love makes the difference. Before you come to Christ, you are on a continual performance standard, trying to do more in order to win God’s approval. But through Christ you discover that God loves you in spite of your failure. He doesn’t put you on a performance standard. The perfection of Christ is credited to your account. What happens? When the love of Jesus Christ floods into your heart, your desires are changed.
We can illustrate this from another realm of life. If you’ve ever raised boys, you know that when they are young, they are allergic to soap. Won’t go near the stuff. Will go for days without a shower. Don’t care how they look or smell. Will wash off only under great protest. You say, “You stink.” They say, “So what?”
But the day comes when life begins to change. They begin to change from the inside out. They begin to notice girls for the first time. Eventually an attraction develops, then a relationship. What, then? You can’t get him out of the bathroom. He stays in there for hours—washing, scrubbing, shampooing, shaving, brushing, spraying, primping, posing, trying to look his best.
What happened to that boy who wouldn’t take a shower? He’s gone forever, replaced by a young man who spends hours getting ready for a date. What made the great transformation? Love made the difference. What he once hated to do, he now gladly does. He’s been changed from the inside out.
Something like that happens when you come to Jesus. Your frustration and failure is replaced by a new desire to please God. Love makes the difference.
2. The more we try to keep the law, the more we fail, resulting in deep inner frustration.
Verse 5 speaks of the “sinful passions aroused by the law.” There is something about saying “Don’t” that makes us want to “Do.” There is something about saying “Do” that makes us want to “Not Do.” We all by nature instinctively rebel inwardly against rules and regulations.
—The sign says, “Wet Paint. Do not touch.” What do you do? You touch it.
—The law says, “55 Miles Per Hour.” How fast are the cars going? 58 MPH! Even when the police are around, something in us makes us want to go 56 miles per hour—just to prove we can do it.
—Your parents say, “Be home by 11:30 P.M.” So you manage to walk in the front door by 11:38 P.M.—Just late enough to send a message but not so late as to be punished.
The law sets a limit—and something in us makes us push the limit to see how far we can go and how much we can get away with. All of which means that even when we sincerely try to keep the law, we fail because there is something on the inside that makes us want to break the law instead of keeping it.
3. Demanding husbands produce unhappy wives.
This point is for the husbands. Do you have your wife on a performance standard? Does she have to do certain things in order to win your approval? Or does your wife know that you love her just the way she is?
When will we learn this great truth?
—You can’t be saved by the law.
—You can’t be kept by the law.
—You can’t be sanctified by the law.
—You can’t build a happy marriage by the law.
4. Becoming a Christian is like saying “I do” to Jesus.
The marriage vows provide a beautiful picture of how we come to Christ:
“I, Jesus, take thee, Sinner, to become a member of my forever family. I do promise to love, keep and protect you forever and ever, and to take< you to heaven when you die.”
“I, Sinner, take thee, Jesus, to be my Savior and Lord. I trust you to forgive me of all my sins. I promise to be loyal to you till the end of my life. And I trust you to take me to heaven when I die.”
5. Our marriage to Jesus should lead to the fruit of a brand-new life.
Verse 4 speaks of bearing “fruit for God.” In this context, the “fruit” is the product or the “offspring” that flows out of a happy relationship with Jesus. There are three kinds of “fruit” every Christian should produce. First is the fruit of character—a life reflecting the qualities of Jesus. These would include holiness, righteousness, love, compassion, honor, dignity, patience, fidelity, piety and zeal. Second is the fruit of conduct—a life that is changed from the inside out. This touches your speech,your relationships, your habits, your associations, your hobbies, your way of handling problems, your marriage, your children, your commitment to your job. All that should change once Jesus comes into your life. Third is the fruit of converts—people coming to know Christ as a result of your witness. When you get to heaven, how many people will be there because of you? Are you planning to go to heaven alone or are you planning to take others with you?
6. Such “fruit” is possible when we serve God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 6 declares that now we “serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” The “old way” was the way of the law—”Do, do, do. Work harder, keep on trying, push harder.” That never worked because no one could ever do enough, work enough or push enough. You were bound to fail. The law guaranteed it.
What’s the “new way?” It’s the way of the Spirit. It’s an inner change wrought in your heart by the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:5 speaks of God “pouring out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” The new way is love. We serve God now out of love and gratitude, not out of fear or guilt.
7. Not law, but love is the secret of a good marriage and a happy Christian life.
Is this message about marriage or about salvation? It’s about both, because the faith commitment that leads to salvation is the same kind of faith commitment that leads to a happy marriage. And the same motivation for serving Christ is the same motivation for a happy marriage.
Remember this: In your marriage and in your Christian life, it’s not law but love that matters:
The law says, “You must.”
Love says, “I want to.”
Our problem is this: Without Jesus Christ, although we know what God wants, either we don’t want to do it or we want to do it but we can’t fulfill it. Either way we end up frustrated.
The Bible says that Jacob loved Rachel. So Laban said, “You can have her, but you must work seven years before you can have her.” Genesis 29:20 reveals the heart of true love: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” If you don’t understand that, it’s because you’ve never really been in love. Jacob’s love made the seven years pass as if they were only a few days.
Laban said, “You must.”
Jacob said, “I want to.”
If you want a performance-based marriage, you can have it. But you won’t have a great marriage. If you want a great marriage, you’ve got to build it on love. Love begins where the law ends. Love does what the law can never do—it changes people from the inside out.
Where the Truth Hits Home
Let me probe in three very personal areas of your life for a moment. Let’s make this message both personal and practical.
1. In the area of your motivation. Do you have your spouse on a performance standard? Many who claim to be living under grace are actually living under the law. Our idea of marital happiness is giving our spouse a “To do” list every day. We feel good if we can measure our partner by how much he or she has completed that day (or week or month or year). No wonder our marriages suffer. No wonder they lose their sparkle. No wonder so many husbands and wives secretly dream about being single again. But that’s what happens with performance-based acceptance. It produces angry, hostile, discouraged, depressed, frustrated, dejected spouses. How much better to say, “You’re not perfect, but I love you for what you are and what you someday will be. Together we’re going to keep growing and going and glowing. I love you so much that I’m never going to leave you. You can count on me.” In that atmosphere of love, real change is possible. You can make a “To do” list a mile long, but that list can never do what unconditional love can do.
You may be scared that if you try love instead of law-keeping, someone will take advantage of you. You’re right, they will. But people will take advantage of you no matter what you do. The greater point is this: Living by performance-based acceptance will not work in any relationship.
Love works even when someone takes advantage of you. You can say, “You hurt me. It was wrong and I’ll be smarter next time, but I’m going to love you anyway. I may not let you take advantage of me, but I’m still going to love you.”
That’s what I mean by moving away from performance-based acceptance toward the unconditional love of God.
It will revolutionize your marriage,
It will revolutionize your family,
It will revolutionize all your personal relationships.
Where are you living as a Christian—under the law or under grace?
2. In the area of your spiritual fruit. What is your life producing for God? If your life is a garden, what kind of fruit do people find there? Do they find the fruit of love, joy, peace, holiness, gentleness, forgiveness and patience? Or do they find the weeds of bitterness, anger, lust, backbiting, gossip, disobedience, slander, arrogance, pride and unbelief? What fruit would we find in your garden this week?
3. In the area of your relationship to Jesus Christ. You may still be stuck in your “first marriage” spiritually. You may still be living in a performance-based acceptance with God. You’re still trying to please God enough so that he’ll forgive your sins. It’s not working, is it? You’re frustrated, aren’t you? God seems far away, doesn’t he?
I’ve got good news. If you are ready to die, you can have a new relationship with Jesus. You’ve got to die first. That means giving up any hope of ever pleasing God on your own merits. That means turning away from your dream of being good enough to go to heaven. If you are willing to die to those fantasies, you can be quite literally born again into a brand-new life.
Are you ready to die? If the answer is yes, then through Jesus Christ you can begin to live.