Legalism: Bondage to Dead Laws

An Example from the Marriage Law
God declares, “It is not good for man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18) and He created man and wife to be “united in the flesh” (Genesis 2:24). *  What happens, though, when one abandons their vow to give sexual love in marriage?  Let’s look at God’s word to learn about His heart, His plan and His law which protects His children against sexual deprivation in marriage.

God’s Heart
The following are three Biblical principles with supporting scriptural references concerning sex and marriage:

1.  Get married for sex.  “Since there is so much immorality, each man should have a wife and each woman a husband.”  (1 Corin. 7:2)    Though Paul says it’s better to remain single to concentrate on the affairs of the Lord, he advises us to get married solely on the basis of our need for sex. (1 Corin. 7:9)

2.  Sexual deprivation in marriage is sin.  “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time.” (1 Corin. 7:5)    “Let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.” (Proverbs 5:18-19)

3.  When deprived of sex in marriage, God permitted divorce.  God’s heart toward the neglected is given inExodus 21:10-11.  “If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights (sex).  If he does not provide her with these three things, she is free to go ….”


* Principles in matters referred to in this article apply both to men and women.  Man has generally been used throughout this article referring to mankind in an effort to curtail redundancy.

A God-given Need 

From Tim and Beverly LaHaye’s The Act of Marriage, men have deep physical and mental sexual needs … “fulfilling his manhood, enhancing his love for his spouse, reducing friction in the home, producing life’s most exciting experience.”    Clinical psychologist, marriage and family therapist and also Christian author Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr. notes in his book His Needs Her Needs that the number one need of a man in his marriage is sexual fulfillment.  Scientifically speaking, a normal and healthy male has a semen build-up every 42 to 78 hours that produces a pressure that needs to be released.  If unreleased, this can be harmful to his physical and mental well-being.

When a man chooses a wife, he promises to remain faithful to her for life, because he trusts her to be as sexually interested in and available to him as he is to her.  Unfortunately, in many marriages the man finds that putting his trust in this woman has turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of his life.  He has agreed to limit his sexual fulfillment to a wife who is unwilling to meet that vital need and is now left with his #1 martial right unfulfilled.

The Marriage Vow
The one thing that truly sets the marriage relationship apart from all other relationships is sex.  The vow in marriage is to love with sexual love.  The Biblical command is to not withhold sexual love … the marital right and duty:

 “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.  The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.  In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.  Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.  Then come together again….”  (1 Corin. 7:1-4)

Why Deprivation
Simply put, they are not interested in having sex with the person they are married to (their reasons vary).  No matter the reason, it is not difficult to know whether one wants to sexually be with you.   The bottom line is that although one can try to be physically attractive to their spouse, one cannot make someone sexually interested in them.  Unfortunately, meeting their emotional needs and hoping they will desire intimacy doesn’t always cut it.

Sexual Deprivation and Illness

In marriages where the spouse is ill, unless one is completely paralyzed or quadriplegic with lockjaw they cannot claim physical inability to give every form of sexual love.  If a man cannot have an erection or a woman says intercourse if painful, that excuse falls flat and short, for intercourse is certainly not the only expression of sexual affection, (i.e., kissing, touching with manual stimulation).

The Marriage Law
The empirical question here is whether breaking the vow to love one’s spouse sexually gives Biblical permission for divorce.   Let us examine the general marriage law:

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for fornication, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”  (Matthew 5:32)

God did not purpose this to be an all-inclusive statement as to the only Biblically-permissible reasons for divorce, for we also read in 1 Corin. 7:15 where,  “a brother or sister is not in bondage in such cases,” referring to one who is married to an unbeliever (when the unbeliever is not pleased to live with the believer, the believer is no longer bound to the marriage law.)   Thus, according to scripture itself, fornication and death are not the only instances where one is Biblically free to divorce and remarry; therefore, we must not conclude that they are and continue to search the scriptures.

Hardness of Heart
When Jesus said that it was because of hardness of heart that Moses allowed people to divorce for everyreason, He was not saying that every reason someone got divorced was because of the hardness of their heart.  The point Jesus was making was that people were divorcing for way too many frivolous reasons (like burning biscuits).  God Himself divorced Israel.  (Jeremiah 3:8)

Fornication Defined
Scripture teaches that adultery dissolves a marriage, and further enlightenment comes when one looks at the Biblical definition of the term fornication.  In Biblical times, fornication included not just intercourse, but all sexual sin (such as foreplay) and perversion.  Jesus taught that “if one looks at a woman lustfully, he has committed adultery” in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28), and God is serious enough about this message that he deemed it sexual sin instructing people to gouge out their eyes. (Matthew 5:29)

We must never interpret one scripture isolated from the rest of God’s word and again see the general marriage law further expanded upon by scripture.  Though one may argue that adultery must be the physical act, Jesus said it was a matter of the heart:  “For it is with the heart that you are justified” (Romans 10:10), and “the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man `unclean.’” (Matthew 15:18)   “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

Another expansion on the general marriage law comes from Numbers 30:3-5 where it is written that a daughter is not bound to the marriage law if her father did not approve of her marriage.

“When a young woman still living in her father’s house makes a vow to the LORD or obligates herself by a pledge and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand.   But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the LORD will release her because her father has forbidden her.

Deprivation and the Marriage Law
God gave permission for a spouse to go free when they were being deprived of their marital duties (sex) in Exodus 21:10-11 (see pg. 1 of this article).   Although this passage refers to slaves who had more than one wife, the humane principal of setting them free when sexually deprived demonstrated God’s personal position on this matter.    As we saw, according to the Bible, one was set free from the marriage law on the basis of any type of fornication as well as sexual deprivation, for both violate the very thing that consummates marriage.

Love:  The Fulfillment of the Law
Moreover, we are required to exercise law (including the marriage law with all of its exceptions) in light of the New Testament and in the context of the whole law: that is, love is the fulfillment of the law.  (Romans 13:10)  Now, all law must be exercised within the boundary of love.

Sentencing one to remain in a neglected marriage without sexual love or in an abusive marriage, or to remain alone the rest of their life is a cruel and merciless act.  Jesus said, “if they had known what these words mean, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” they would not have condemned the innocent. (Matthew 12:7 & 9:13)

Leadership who counsel people to remain in sexually deprived marriages fail to put into the equation God’s heartfelt position on this matter as He demonstrated it inExodus 21 when He freed the sexually deprived wife.  Blinded by the law, many modern day Christian leaders sentence the deprived and the abused to remain starved of love, inflicting upon them even further pain.   We understand God hates divorce, but I trust that what He hates more is the Pharisee-type mentality that would enforce the marriage law at the expense of love by requiring one to remain deprived of love … of sexual love … the most intimate expression of love God made.

Still, many Christians continue to argue that even those who were physically abused do not have the right to remarry.  What power can free a man from marital neglect or abuse so that he may receive love again?   Unfaithfulness (sin) and death have the power to free a man from his abusive marriage … but love, grace, mercy and justice have not power to free him?  Love fails to free him?

Freedom from the Law
Though we are not at liberty to disobey God’s law, we are under Christ’s law (1 Corin. 9:21) and are no longer under the supervision of the law (Gal. 3:25).  The Bible talks about us having freedom from the law in Romans 7, and the marriage law was used as the example in this passage. “So, my brothers, you also died to the law, that you might be married to Christ.” (Romans 7:4)   We are His bride.  (Isaiah 54:5)   We have been released from the law (Romans 7:7); are not under the law (Romans 6:14); all is permissible (1 Corin. 6:12 & 10:23); for Christ was the end of the law (Romans 10:4 & Gal. 3:19).

Is it a sin to divorce in all cases?  Although it was not in God’s original perfect plan to divorce, we are confident that it was within His will–which is perfect–for Him to divorce Israel.  God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), but it was not the divorce which was the sin (or else God would have sinned when He divorced); the sin was Israel’s acts that broke the marriage covenant.  We must settle once and for all that in this fallen world, divorce is God’s perfect law set up as His own pathway out of broken covenants.

Failure in “Christianity” to Properly Handle Sexual Deprivation

The Bible says if someone continually sins against you (and deprivation is sin), talk to them.  If they won’t change, take witnesses with you.  If they still won’t change, take the issue before the church; and, if they still won’t change, treat them as an unbeliever (Matthew 18:15-17) … to “come out from them and be separate.” (2 Corin. 7)   Note:  If one is married to an unbeliever, one may stay with the unbeliever if the unbeliever is “pleased” to stay with them, (1 Corin. 7:12); but, this does not mean that one should allow the unbeliever to remain if the unbeliever says they are merely willing to stay but in actuality are not pleased or happy staying there.  In the matter of deprivation, if they are unhappy because they do not wish to fulfill their marital duties, then they truly are not “pleased” to be married.

I’ve yet to see a ministry deal with the sin of sexual deprivation.  Usually they enforce the marriage law and leave the poor victim in the chronic state of neglect.  Their God-given need and right for love is denied them and then seemingly condoned by the helpless church who requires them to remain within the confines of a celibate marriage.  Many in the church have heretically failed here.  In a masochistic way, they require sacrifice and fail compassion … their hearts have become calloused like the Pharisees to the abused and the neglected, enforcing the law of marriage with their own abuse:  for requiring one to remain neglected or alone is abusive.  They’ve forgotten the most important matters of the law:  mercy and love (Matthew 23:23) (Luke 11:42) and are guilty of driving their own people to immorality by requiring them to remain with such heavy burden as to accept the life of celibacy in marriage.  “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry.” (Luke 11:46)   Jesus says,  “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”  (James 2:15-16)

Deprivation Leads to Affairs
So sad to see men and women seek refuge in affairs because their spouses have abandoned their marital duties.  What’s even more devastating is when the church requires them to remain married regardless of the broken vow and sentences them to a life of neglect … deprived of love, they have their first and most basic right and need in marriage denied.

There was a young minister … intelligent, hard working, well liked and respected.  On the outside, handsome and all seemed to be right, but hidden deep inside was buried pain.  The wife he had taken and trusted to fulfill her vows had sexually deprived him for years, completely withdrawing all forms of sexual affection from him saying intercourse was uncomfortable.  (See:  pg. 3 of this article on “Sexual Deprivation and Illness.”)

As he sought advice from his leadership, they counseled that he resolve to live a celibate life in his marriage.   After his many years of rejection as a young man, now he was sentenced in mid-life to be without for the rest of his life.  If he wanted to remain in his ministry there was no alternative, for divorcing his wife would cost him his ministry.  He suffered … not for the sake of the Gospel, but because of the sin of his wife and the mercilessness of his leadership.

Years later, while preaching, he met a Christian sister.  They fell in love.  They both loved the Lord, saw the injustice in his life, and like cool water rushing through parched desert, they drank from the cup of adultery.

The minister had never had an affair before and struggled immensely with the crashing of two worlds:  The woman he was committed to deprived him of love leaving him aching and empty, and now he received love from another.  More than anything, He wanted to please God.  He ended the affair and slid right back into his world of deprivation.  The affair was brief, but the pain that remained from having tasted love only to have it taken away left him hurting all the more.   His repentance came too late, though, because his leadership discovered the affair, and his ministry was also taken.

The preacher ended up being a liar, and the woman he deceived was me. He used his position in ministry to gain my patronage and then my funds based on lies. However, what Satan meant for evil, God used for the good. The study of the scriptures brought about this article, and this article will free many from the bondage of a dead marriage law.

God asks us to be obedient, but He does not ask us to be righteous from an empty cup.  God warns us that we are not to be deprived in marriages because of our human lack of self-control, (1 Corin. 7:5) for He has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:32)

Restoration From Affairs Brought on by Deprivation
Though David had the heart of God, we all remember how he fell into adultery (and he even had more than one wife already) (2 Sam. 2:2).    We know that a righteous man falls seven times (Proverbs 24:16) and that God’s gifts and callings are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29)  Just as God raised up King David, God will also raise up those who have been shoved aside in ministry after falling due to such inhumane requirements by “religious” institutions.

Instructed to “forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father,” (Genesis 50:17) many in Christian leadership seem to have the most difficult time with this command.  While airing some sort of moral superiority and self-righteous attitude believing only they are good enough for ministry, we know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Even Paul the apostle, who at the end of his ministry called himself “the worst of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15-16), had one of the greatest ministries ever (God used him to write more than half of the New Testament).   “Who are they to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4)

God knew of the deep sense of loss and pain in this minister’s life.  All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28); after having fallen into the affair from the sin of deprivation long committed by his wife and the injustice served him by leadership, one can only hope that his snuffed out pleas and cries will one day be met with mercy, grace and love.

Take Action
As far as it depends on us, we are expected to make the best effort to save our marriages.  With that said, if you are personally in this position, ask your spouse to go with you to see a Christian sex therapist, marriage counselor or someone who can help to try and restore sexual intimacy to the relationship.  If you encounter one who says you must stay in the marriage no matter the neglect (and you probably will), find another one and hand the counselor a copy of this article.  Christians need be mature enough to exercise the law within the context of love, and you need only surround yourself with those who love you, fleeing the evil legalism that dwells in those who exercise law without love, justice or mercy.

The purpose of this writing is not to advocate divorce, but to help shed light on the strangled interpretation of the marriage law in the matters of sexual deprivation and abuse … many in Christian leadership have failed love by enforcing their interpretation of the law over love and mercy.  One must be careful not to encourage anyone to make any kind of decision, but rather present them with the truth and love them.   All things considered, before making any move, one is well-advised to count the cost in advance with true friends and family who love you.

Remember this, my friend, God gave you the pain you feel because something is wrong … it is His sensor that leads you to seek change.  If your spouse is unwilling to get counsel, to change or give sexual love (to repent), God will not give you more than you can bear.   “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)   God has called us all to peace. (1 Corinthians 7:15)