If our discipleship methods don’t reach the whole person—spirit, soul, and body—it’s not discipleship according to Jesus. If we only train our brain without dealing with what’s going in our soul, we won’t experience the freedom Jesus came to give us.
What’s so subversive about this is that religion tries to attain righteousness by modifying outward behavior. Jesus says the opposite. Righteousness comes from the inner transformation of the soul. Dallas Willard talks about this New Testament term:
“It’s the inner life of the soul that we must aim to transform, and then behavior will naturally and easily follow. But not the reverse. A special term is used in the New Testament to mark the character of the inner life when it is as it should be. This is the term dikaiosynē.” (The Divine Conspiracy, p.144 *)
Righteousness, or dikaiosynē, according Jesus, is what it looks like to be fully human. He goes below the surface-level “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees,” probing the depths of our “iceberg” with surgical precision, marking out the underlying negative issues that shipwreck relationships and keep us from “loving our neighbor as ourselves.”
Again, the six relational root issues He deals with in Matthew chapter five are:
- Anger – vs. 21-26
- Sexual attraction (lust) – vs. 27-30
- Marital dissatisfaction – vs. 31-32
- Influence through manipulation (vows) – vs. 33-37
- Revenge – vs. 38-42
- Hating our enemies – vs. 43-48
These issues reveal a dehumanizing trajectory away from other-centered, self-giving love. Anger leads to murder; lust leads to adultery, and adultery leads to divorce. Revenge and enemy hatred are also on this same trajectory. They all involve the degradation and objectification of human life made in God’s image and who have infinite value to Him (Matt.13:45-46; John 3:16).
We looked at anger and adultery of the heart (lust) last time. What naturally follows this is marital dissatisfaction as it relates to divorce.
Marital dissatisfaction and divorce
What’s important to realize here is the context. Jesus is dealing with how divorce was used with regard to the Law, and how this relates to actual righteousness.
31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. (Matt.5:31-32 *)
I think you can see just how subversive Jesus’ statement is to our “no-fault divorce” culture today! To even quote Jesus here is to subject yourself to public ridicule or be accused of legalism.
But, again, context is the interpretative key here. Jesus has just established the trajectory of violence and sexual lust (vs.21-30). We also need to remember that Jesus’ standard of morality is not based on the deed but on the condition of the heart.
So, in this context, Jesus is interpreting the “spirit” of the Law as opposed to the letter (2 Cor.3:6). He’s saying to the Pharisees that their manipulation of the Law with regard to divorce doesn’t solve the problem. You still have an adulterous heart. And, until we let God deal with the heart problem, nothing actually changes.
There are legitimate reasons for divorce, including sexual immorality brought up here, and dangerously abusive behavior. It also takes two people to deal with their issues. Even if one is willing to do whatever it takes, the other may not be willing. Paul addresses this in 1 Cor.7:12-15. We are not to be put under legalistic bondage in these cases.
But regardless of the situation, Christians who’ve experienced divorce must see it as a failure on the part of one or both to follow Jesus (“hardness of heart” – Mark 10:2-12). Again, this is not to condemn us if we’ve had a divorce, but to reveal something not functioning properly in us that Jesus wants to heal if we will let Him.
There’s very few things more damaging to the human soul than going through a divorce because of how it shatters godly soul ties and brings such brokenness to everyone involved, especially the children.
My wife and I have counseled many Christian marriages, including those who ended up in divorce. In almost every case one or both walked away from the marriage because they refused to let go of their anger and/or let Jesus deal with their own brokenness. The problem is, the divorce didn’t solve the problem! It just compounded their brokenness.
Nonetheless, God’s grace brings total forgiveness and healing and wholeness. So, as Paul, said, we’re not in bondage to the letter of the Law. And there are cases where someone who has allowed Jesus to heal their wounded soul after a divorce finds a healthy spouse and their subsequent marriage is a happy one. God allows “do-overs,” even though there are still negative repercussions from the failed marriage.
This is why, no matter what our marital situation is, it’s always in our best interest to bring our brokenness to Jesus so we can be healed. This is especially important before entertaining a divorce. We should carefully consider these negative consequences, and reconcile, if possible.
We will look at manipulation and control next time.