Does God's Law apply to Non-Christians?

Discussing marriage, divorce and remarriage can quickly lead to journeys into the Greek text and far-out hypothetical situations. Yet, for most Christians this is not an abstract discussion. The bottom line for many is, "What do I tell my neighbor who has been married several times, and never divorced for fornication? Does he have a right to his present mate?" What does God say about the marriage relationships of those outside the body of Christ?

A correct answer depends on understanding Christ's authority. Authority is the right to rule, the right to command. Does Jesus have the right to rule non-Christian marriages? How much authority does He have? Jesus answers, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18). Jesus possesses sovereignty over all men, both those who rebel and those who submit and serve. Every person is responsible for obeying what the King of Kings commands in every facet of life, including marriage (Acts 10:36). Those who deny Jesus' jurisdiction over the non-saint's marrying and divorcing must decide how He can have all authority without having all authority!

Note as well that the Gospel is addressed to all men. "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Understand that the Gospel and the Law of Christ are one and the same (compare Romans 1:16 and 8:2). That non-Christians are subject to the Law of Christ, the Gospel, becomes evident from Romans 8:2, for they must obey the "Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" in order to become Christians. Those who argue that non-Christians do not have to obey Christ's law on marriage must explain how non-saints are amenable to part of Christ's law (for salvation) but not all of it (marriage and divorce). How can such be?

Thus the Law of Christ, the Gospel, rules over every man's life and every one is responsible to obey it. Indeed, it is this law that will serve as the standard in final judgement: "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him; the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). All who fail to do as Jesus instructs will be eternally punished for their failure to obey (2 Thess. 1:8). There can be no doubt that all men are subject to the Law of Christ.

The truth of this regarding marriage is apparent from even a cursory look at Matthew 19. How many Christians were present when Jesus gave this part of His law? None! How then can some conceive that this is "covenant law," only for those who have been baptized? No such people existed when this law was spoken. Further, Jesus tells us that His law is designed to restore God's original plan for marriage as given in the Garden (vv. 4-6). Thus Jesus' law reinstates what God wanted for all men, long before there were ever Jew and Gentile, covenant people and non-covenant people, and even before there was sin! Jesus' law is for all.

If worldly people are not subject to Christ's law we would ask, "What law are they under?" This is important for the Bible convicts all men of sin (Romans 3:23), yet without law no man can sin (Romans 4:15). So if all men are sinners, all men must be under some sort of law. What law would this be, and what passage tells us about it? Some have replied that man is under civil law, but 1 Corinthians 5:10 speaks of the sins of idolatry and coveting as being prevalent in "the world." Civil law in Paul's day mandated idolatry and did not prohibit coveting, yet Paul says the world sins (i.e., violates law) by doing these things. Obviously, the world's transgressions were against something other than civil law. Again we ask: what law are non-Christians under if it is not Christ's law?

The truth is that Jesus clearly says, "whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9). The term "whoever" is universal, meaning everybody. This is the meaning we place upon it in Romans 10:11 ("Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame"). By what right do some restrict Jesus' "whoever" and not any other?

What then does God say about the marriages and divorces of those who are not Christians? His word is the very same as for those who are Christians, for both Christians and non-Christians are under the authority of Christ. What should you tell your divorced neighbor who is showing an interest in the Gospel? Can there be a better course than to let Jesus tell him? Read Matthew 19:9 with him. He will understand that Jesus is here defining adultery (divorcing for a cause other than fornication and remarrying). Do not lie to him, telling him that this is for Christians only, and that once he is baptized he must remain with his present mate. Such will only cause his soul and yours to be forever joined in hell. Let the Word do the work, and do not deny the work it does with some theory of men! But above all, do not leave your friend helplessly lost in the grasp of sin. Let the Master speak words of eternal life, so that in faith he can turn from sin (repent) and be baptized to wash away every sin in his life (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Such does not turn adultery into righteousness, nor give him the right to remain in an unlawful marriage. It does, however, begin a relationship far more precious than any sinful relationship that must be dissolved. Let the Word do the work-the pure of heart will be ready to make the necessary sacrifices to stand right with the Righteous Judge.