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TEXT: John 4:1-17; 39-42
SUBJECT: The Gospel Changes Everything #4: Divorce
The Gospel changes everything. This is what we've been talking about on Sunday afternoons, and the Bible verse we're leaning on most is Romans 1:17-
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
God saves us-Paul says-by His Gospel. On this point all Christian agree, but what does he mean by salvation? Most of us think, 'conversion'-God converts us by His Gospel, in other words, makes us Christians. Is this right? It is. No one is converted apart from the Gospel. But is this all Paul means by salvation? It is not. Read the whole book of Romans, and you'll see most of it is not about
'becoming a Christian'; it's about 'being a Christian'-living as disciples of Jesus.
How do we do this? Paul tells us, it is not by the Law, for the Law, though holy and true is also powerless to effect change. All it can do is command obedience, bless the obedient, and curse the disobedient. What it cannot do is make us obedient. Only the Gospel can do that. Only it is God's power for salvation.
In one way, this makes the Christian life a lot harder. It's easier to find the rules and resolve to keep them. The problem is, we don't keep the rules! When we're honest enough to know we don't, we fall into despair. When we think we do keep them, we fall into pride-both of which are serious breaches of the Law!
The Law that does not save us in the life to come is no more effective in fixing what's wrong with us in the life we now have. We are saved by the Gospel or not at all.
To grow in grace, we have to believe the Gospel, and to do that, we have to see how it applies to the challenges of life. This takes wisdom, which God will give to anyone who wants it enough to ask for it in faith.
Does anyone remember what last week's topic was? It was How the Gospel Changes Marriage. In a word, what it does for husbands and wives is give us the three things we need most to live with each other decently. They are-
Faith, hope, and charity.
This is how the Gospel fixes our marriages. But what about marriages that are not fixed? And what if the not being fixed is so bad the marriage ends in divorce? Does the Gospel say anything to divorced people?
WHAT THE GOSPEL DOES NOT SAY TO THE DIVORCED
What it says is not what Christians so often say. The Gospel does not say, Serves you right! No wonder she left you! Nobody could live with you! The Gospel is good news, not scolding.
It also doesn't say what most secular people say, It's not your fault. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You did everything humanly possible. Nobody could live with that man!
The Gospel does not say these things, and we know it doesn't because neither solves anything. How does wallowing in guilt for the rest of his life make a divorced man a better disciple? How does shifting all of her own blame to her ex-husband make a divorced woman a better disciple?
If this is what the Gospel does, whatever else it changes, it does not change divorce.
But it does change divorce. Or, rather divorced people.
HOW THE GOSPEL CHANGES DIVORCED PEOPLE
How? A lot can be said here, but I thought of five main points.
In the first place, The Gospel takes away the guilt of divorce.
Divorce is a great evil. Since God joins husband and wife together, to break faith with your spouse is to break faith with God. Divorce causes terrible suffering. My old pastor was devastated by his parents' divorce. And he was nearly fifty years old at the time! It is much harder on young children who sometimes feel they caused daddy to move out. So, please don't take what I say to mean or insinuate that divorce is 'not that bad'. It is that bad-and usually 'worse'.
The Gospel doesn't come to sinners and say, 'Cheer up: You're not as bad as you think you are'. What it says is, 'You're worse than you think you are, but Jesus Christ carried your guilt to the cross, and now you're forgiven'.
Being forgiven-and knowing it-provides the freedom we need to live active and God-honoring lives. Even when you're the one to blame for your divorce.
In the second place, the Gospel qualifies you to serve God no matter what you've done (or not done) in the past.
The rate of divorce has skyrocketed since I was a boy, and God only knows how much pain and chaos it has brought into the world. There is, however, one benefit. Forty years ago, divorce was the next thing to unpardonable sin. If you were divorced, the Christians (I knew) had no respect for you, and as for doing anything in the church? Forget it. Now, of course, you could ignore your wife or yell at her, or even rough her up a little, and that would be overlooked and forgiven. But, if you divorced her, you were sunk in the eyes of the church.
Thankfully, a divorced Christian is not sunk in the eyes of God or disqualified from serving Him in the church. Now, if the sins that led up to the divorce are not repented of, and if the divorced person is wallowing in bitterness, or holding himself up as the (nearly) sinless victim, that's different. He's not fit for service of any kind-until he repents.
But, if he has fessed up to his sins and wants to live for Christ now (whatever he did in the past), his broken marriage does not disqualify him from serving God or His church.
Knowing 'God is not through with him' makes the divorced person thankful, cheerful, and eager to serve.
In the third place, by justifying you, the Gospel takes away the need to justify yourself.
Divorced Christians are often very scornful of the ex-spouses. Rather than saying they were sinners, they're made into devils, and blamed for every bad thing that happened over the course of their marriage. It was his meanness, his neglect, his roving eye, and never anything I did or didn't do.
What makes a person talk this way? Secular people would say it's her pain that's talking-and they're right, she is in pain. More religious people might call it bitterness and an unforgiving spirit-and they're also right.
But I wonder if there's something else going on? Maybe she's saying all this about her ex-husband because she feels the need to justify herself-to prove to her friends (and herself) that she's a good person?
What she's doing badly, God does well. God justifies the ungodly. Not by telling us, 'You're not ungodly', but by declaring us righteous for Christ's sake.
And so, if God justifies me for Christ's sake-and I know He does-I don't need to go around telling everyone what a witch my ex-wife is and how 'no one could have been a more loving, devoted husband than I was!'
In the fourth place, The Gospel causes us to forgive the ones who have done us wrong, including former spouses.
Nothing is surer to poison your life and put your soul at risk than a grudge-not forgiving people who have hurt you. The Law can tell you to do it all day long, but you won't do it until you know you're as guilty as the one who hurt you and God has forgiven you.
Best of all, The Gospel changes divorced Christians by telling them-
Neither death nor life nor angel nor principality nor power nor things present nor things to come not height nor depth nor any created things shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A CASE STUDY
A few minutes ago we read of our Lord's meeting with the Samaritan woman in John 4.
The woman was a divorcee-four times over! When Jesus met her, He did not say the life she had lived was a good one, or that she was not to blame for going from man to man. She was to blame! Her life was a bad one!
Until Jesus forgave her and put her into His service telling others what He had done for her, and would do for them and the world.
The woman did not need the Law condemning her; she did not need 'understanding' her and saying it wasn't her fault. What she needed was the Gospel, and that's what changed her.
John recorded this wonderful meeting, and I have to wonder if he had it in mind when he wrote his First Epistle, which in chapter 2, verses 1-2, says-
My little children, these things I write to you that you do not sin. But if any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the world.
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