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Unbelieving Spouse by Phillip A Ross

We know that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). We also know that the Holy Spirit is not awakened in God’s people until they hear the Master’s voice (John 5:25, 10:3, 10:27). So, salvation is a matter of hearing the voice of the Lord, of hearing the gospel correctly preached (read or spoken). If it is not correctly understood by the preacher, it is not likely to be correctly communicated. And if it is not preached in its wholeness, in its fullness, then it is not God’s message and cannot be correctly heard by slumbering saints.Paul is saying that if either spouse is a Christian, the whole family will at some point have the gospel spoken in their hearing (presented to them). Not all will hear it efficaciously, of course, but at some point in such a family the gospel will be spoken in their hearing. And the speaking of the Word of God is sufficient to awaken God’s people. Thus, a believing husband or wife is a sufficient means for the sanctification — or we could say evangelization — of his or her family.

And yet, there is another sense in which the believing spouse will sanctify his or her family. As we have talked about before, salvation is not merely a matter of entering into a personal relationship with Jesus, but is a matter of entering into a covenantal relationship with God, and with His people. Our covenantal relationships are a legal relationships by definition. A covenant is always a legal arrangement.

God’s law was violated by Adam at the Fall and restitution was made by Jesus at the cross. Sin is not a matter of metaphysics or of being. It is not some physical, mental or intellectual lack. Adam lacked nothing physical, mental or intellectual that kept him from living in obedience to God’s Word. Rather, sin is a moral issue. It is a matter of the will and of the spirit, which means that salvation does not impart anything physical, mental or intellectual that turns an unbeliever into a believer.

Rather, salvation is a matter of the change of one’s will, one’s heart, one’s spirit, from a spirit of willful rebellion against God’s Word — God’s law — to a spirit of willing obedience. Sin is a matter of being legally defined by God as a criminal because of Adam’s sin and our willing complicity in the cause and continuation of sin. And salvation is a matter of being legally restored to full citizenship in God’s Kingdom by the propitiation of Christ on the cross and our willing complicity in the cause of Christ, which is to bring honor and glory to God and to His Word.

The issue with regard to the legality of the covenant pertains to the legal status of ownership and the authority and comprehensiveness of God’s covenant. God’s covenant applies to all of life, every thought is to be held captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), every tongue is to confess and every knee is to bow to Jesus Christ (Romans 14:11).

We have already seen that the husband owns the wife and the wife owns the husband, and both are owned by God. The ownership of each spouse by the other implies that each is subsumed under the legal ownership of the other. God’s covenant applies to everything a person owns. Thus, the ownership of the husband by the wife (as Paul notes in this verse) brings the husband under the authority structure of God’s covenant. The same applies to the children of the marriage. The issue is not whether the spouse and children recognize that they are under God’s covenant. The issue is the efficacy of the covenant, the power of God to apply His covenant to people whether or not they acknowledge or even recognize it. The issue is God’s power and sovereignty.

Paul goes on in verse 15, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.” In essence Paul is saying that if the unbelieving partner walks away from a marriage because the other person has become a Christian, then the one who walked away is not rejecting the believing spouse, but he or she is rejecting God. The rejecting spouse may argue that the believing spouse has changed since becoming a Christian, that the believing spouse is no longer the same person that he or she married — and we hope that that would be true! Nonetheless, it is a rejection of Christ and Christianity, not a personal rejection of the believing spouse.

Having rejected God, then, the unbelieving spouse who chooses to end the marriage should be allowed to do so. And the believing spouse should be at peace with the situation because it is God’s will that irredeemable people not be yoked to believers. Let it be so. God has called believers to be at peace about it.

Verse 16 affirms that we cannot read the hearts of other people. We don’t know whether our efforts will contribute to the salvation of a person or not. Salvation belongs to the Lord. So we must be at peace with providence, trusting in the sovereignty and wisdom of God in all things. Verses 17-24 conclude this thought with a general rule that Paul applied to all people in all churches. Because this applies to all Christians in all churches it is important.

“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

About the Author

Phillip A. Ross has been a pastor for over 25 years and is the author of many Christian books. He founded in 1998, which is loaded with information about historic Christianity. Demonstrating the Apostle Paul’s opposition to worldly Christianity, he published an exposition First Corinthians in 2008. Arsy Varsy — Reclaiming the Gospel in First Corinthians, Ross’s book, shows how Paul turned the world upside down.

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