Doctrinal Matters: Marriage and Family
Can a Person Live in Adultery?
Confusion exists in the mind of some concerning the status of those who commit the sin of adultery. It is generally recognized that a couple becomes guilty of adultery when they form a sexual relationship in violation of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 19:9. But what is a church to do when one or both of those marriage partners present themselves for church membership, expressing their regret for their sin, but their intention to continue their relationship? Some argue that the couple can be forgiven, if they say they are sorry, on the grounds that people cannot live in adultery. They were guilty of committing adultery when they first came together, but they cannot be guilty of living (in an ongoing state) in adultery, and so may continue their marriage without being guilty of further sin.
Meanwhile, the church tends to shy away from dealing with the matter, permitting the couple fellowship but, amid vague feelings of uncertainty, keeping them at arm’s length. In the midst of this inconsistency, the church unwittingly brings itself under the same indictment leveled at the churches in Pergamum (Revelation 2:14) and Thyatira (Revelation 2:20-22) for their unholy “tolerance.” We must permit God’s words to give us guidance rather than be influenced by our human inclinations, sympathies, or emotions. God’s Word speaks very clearly to this matter.
It is true that sin may be viewed as the practice of isolated acts that are contrary to God’s will. But it does not follow that individuals cannot live in sin. A “liar” is one who is involved in separate acts of lying. What makes him a liar, and therefore guilty of living a life of lying, is his refusal to cease telling lies. A person is a “murderer” if he has killed one or more persons and continues to entertain the possibility of repeating such behavior. A person is an “adulterer” because he has formed a sexual relationship which violates God’s law and refuses to cease that illicit relationship. Simply saying he is sorry for the existence of this adulterous union will not and cannot alter what, in God’s sight, is “not lawful” (Matthew 14:4). As long as that marriage is continued, the parties involved are adulterers (Romans 7:3). Only by terminating that relationship can the parties involved put an end to their adultery. Otherwise, they “continue to commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9—the present tense continuous action), “live in fornication” (Colossians 3:5-7), and “live in [sin]” (Romans 6:2). When Paul reminded Christians at Corinth of their conversion day, he noted that some had previously been fornicators, adulterers, and homosexuals (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Who could possibly doubt the fact that their salvation would have been impossible unless these sexual unions were terminated? Indeed, how could they “that are dead to sin, live any longer therein” (Romans 6:2)?