Legal Marriage Vs. God’s Institution of Marriage

Marital union in the United States is not necessarily the same as marital union from a biblical point of view; one is merely legal in nature and the other is both spiritual and legal. When a man and a women desire to marry one another they will go to the state in which they reside and apply for a marriage license. In order to receive this license they must meet certain criteria. Examples would include: neither can be currently legally married to someone else, both must have identification proving their identity, they must be one male and one female (no longer a criteria for many states) and they must pay a licensing fee and then wait a short period of time while these facts are verified. Marriage in this fashion represents the legal aspects of a marital union. Being legally married in the United States endows one with over 1,000 benefits not afforded to the unwed. For example, they may file joint returns on their income tax forms, they may hold property together and it automatically passes to the survivor in the event of death, they have access to one another’s health records, they may receive social security benefits from their spouses income, and on and on.
Marriage predates civil governments. The first covenant in the history of man is the Covenant of Creation (God’s Covenant of Redemption is the first covenant, which predates creation including humanity). Marriage is part of the Creation Covenant. God instituted marriage when He said that Adam needed a suitable mate, so He created woman from the rib of Adam indicating that a women is suppose to come alongside of a man and be his helpmate—ideally for life. A spiritual marriage is also legal under God’s law, which is not recognized by all men even though all men will be held accountable to God. Therefore, it is possible to marry spiritually without being civilly married in one of the fifty states–after all people have been getting married for thousands of years without a license from the state of California.
Consider a couple of biblical examples: In Genesis chapter 29 Laban tricked Jacob into becoming married to Leah when it was actually Rachel that he intended to marry. Laban’s deception could not have worked if they would have had civil ceremonies prior to the spiritual union that takes place when a man and women become one through sexual union. A week later we learn from verse 30 that Rachel also became Jacob’s wife, and all that was necessary to make their seven years of love a marriage was for them to join in sexual intercourse—“So Jacob went in to Rachel also…”
A generation earlier Isaac married Rebekah by having sexual relations with her the same day that he met her. Genesis 24:67 says, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” These spiritual marriages were not preceded by civil ceremonies nor did these patriarchs obtain a marriage license of any kind.

Let it be very clearly stated that these examples are not biblical evidence advocating sexual relations early in a relationship.  Rebekah was brought to Isaac for the express purpose of becoming his wife.  He had already agreed to the process and she had agreed to the process that God was using to bring them together as husband and wife.  They did not have physical relations on their first date; they came together in order to become husband and wife.  Their commitment to marriage preceded their sexual union, which consummated the marital covenant.  Sexual relations outside of marriage is fornication or adultery and must not be committed by the children of God.

To 501(c)(3) or not to 501(c)(3) That Is the Question.
Today in the United States of America many would likely argue that believers in Christ Jesus cannot be “Spiritually Married” without being legally married by the laws of one of the fifty states. The reality is that a marriage in the eyes of God does not require a license from man. If a man and a woman unite themselves one to another first by commitment and then by sexual relations they are in fact married in the eyes of God. They should be welcomed into the family of God for worship, fellowship and for sharing in the work of the church.
Just as individuals may obtain marriage licenses from states, in the same way, churches in America get what is called a 501(c)(3) that allows them to be tax-exempt religious organizations (sadly most church leaders seem to be ignorant of the fact that churches are automatically exempt and do not need to file an application with the government). The purpose of getting a 501(c)(3) is not so that a body of believers can be a church. A group of believers who form a church without a 501(c)(3) are considered just as much a church (some argue a more pure church) as ones that do, but the only difference is that the 501(c)(3) designation allows churches to own property and to receive contributions without paying taxes to the state and federal governments (again, this is necessary for charities, para-church organizations and nonprofits, but most churches wrongly think that it is required of them as well) . The benefits of being tax exempt are tremendous as are the benefits to being legally married.  It is almost unheard of to marry in the United States without first getting a marriage license because of the over 1,000 state and federal benefits enticing the utilization of state licenses.  In fact, those benefits are so coveted that homosexuals are waging very successful battles to win the right to be legally married in the United States (though the prize they most cherish is total cultural acceptance of homosexuality [including morally] as a normative lifestyle).
Note: the very same churches and individual believers that will not recognize a spiritual marriage between a man and a woman if their marriage has not also been made official with a state sanctioned license will reject a marriage between two homosexuals in spite of the fact that they have obtained the very same state license. This alone should demonstrate the obvious fact that spiritual marriage in the eyes of God and state sanctioned marriages are, in fact, two separate entities—one instituted by God and the other observed by the nations. The fact that they are currently almost always obtained together must not cause believers to lose sight of the fact that they may also be obtained separately.  We must be careful whenever we comingle that which is holy with that which is secular and often profane.

Christians should feel free to enter into God’s institution of marriage without a state license, and homosexuals are gleefully helping themselves to state sanctioned marriages without the blessing of the body of Christ. This relationship is identical to the one facing upstart churches. As homosexual marriages are now often legal many churches have 501c nonprofit designations yet in no way represent the body of Christ.  And genuine local bodies of Christ must ask themselves the following question, “To 501(c)(3) or not to 501(c)(3), that is the question”. Just as a genuine body of believers does not need a 501(c)(3) to form a legitimate church neither does a godly man and woman need a marriage license to form a legitimate marriage partnership.

As individual states continue a rapid declension into morally corrupt entities, Christians may one day no longer go to them for licenses to marry. It is not God’s institution of marriage that is being profaned by the inclusion of homosexual marriages into their marital statutes, but it is the moral goodness of the state that is being profaned. When the day comes that the states begin to drop all marital benefits or more likely extend them to everyone (effectively ending the demand for legal marriage) because they need the tax dollars, or when marital statutes are so profane that Christians can no longer enter into them, the very Christians who claim legal marriage is necessary will at that time make our argument and they will do so using God’s word as their source of truth (as we do now). Legal marriages in the United States have been so expedient for believers and unbelievers alike that believers never bothered to consider the possibility that the secular governments would become unrighteous in their dealings with God’s ancient institution. Sadly, they have failed to see this because they have failed to see the need. It appears that is changing.

The Supreme Court took the gay marriage issue out of the hands of the states by legalizing it in all 50 states on June 26, 2015.

Post Script:

Do not misunderstand our meaning in this article.  The state, like marriage, was instituted by God.  Members of the body of Christ must submit themselves to the authority of the state unless its laws encourage or demand breaking God’s law.  One of the critical functions of the state is to protect, uphold and support the institution of marriage.  This includes making laws governing marriage and its dissolution.  We believe that although the state makes laws governing marriage it is nonetheless
God who instituted it; therefore, a man and a woman may enter into the marriage covenant in accordance with God’s laws with or without the cooperation of the state.  Once married they must submit themselves to the laws of the state regarding marriage and its dissolution, but they are bound first by God’s laws regarding marriage and its dissolution.  Thus they must first have biblical grounds for divorce before they get divorced.  Merely getting a divorce under the laws of the state does not free the believer from God’s laws governing marriage and divorce.  The result of a legal divorce without biblical grounds would be a legally divorced person who is still married to their spouse in the eyes of God, which is why Jesus said those who get a divorce will be guilty of adultery.  On the other hand, a believer can be caught up in a legal marriage while spiritually divorced from their spouse.  Clearly in the later case the believer will be treated by the state as though they were still married, and they will need to abide by the state’s laws regarding marriage.  Therefore, believers who become spiritually divorced should pursue legal divorce as soon as it is made available for them to do so.


About Joe Porter

By the abundant lovingkindness and grace of God I have been in Christ for nearly 40 years. I live to love and serve God in whatever capacity He has in mind. And can do no other but to follow my conscience as scripture and reason guide me threw the shadow lands. I raised 5 children one of whom now sees clearly as he walks on streets of gold. God has blessed me after all these years with a godly, prudent wife. I cannot imagine a greater gift on the earth. I have a Masters of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. I own a business in Nebraska, but I live to serve God. I have preached in three different churches for a period of 10 years. I love preaching God's word. Because of my divorce I am not currently serving in any official capacity, but I know that the Lord has a ministry for me. My goal is to write a book on the topic of divorce when unequally yoked, and this blog is a step in that direction. No brother or sister in Christ should divorce their spouse solely upon the advice they find here or anywhere else for that matter. Immerse yourself in God's word, and go before the Lord--wait upon Him and He will make it clear when the time comes that you are called to repent of your unequally yoked marriage. Christ's continued blessings, Joe View all posts by Joe Porter

2 responses to “Legal Marriage Vs. God’s Institution of Marriage

  • Kari

    Very well written. I had not thought of the comparison between a church obtaining a 501c3 and a believing couple obtaining a marriage license.

    Let the world operate on it’s terms and let true believers operate on God’s.

    The recent country wide flood of gay marriage acceptance has only served to further establish me in my biblical conviction that only God is able to say what marriage is and who is married in reality.

    Not everyone with a marriage license is married in God’s eyes.

    It is my understanding that a church still has ALL the benefits of tax exemption that a church with a 501c3 status has.

    The church without the government status cannot be controlled or manipulated by the government.

    That is the ultimate benefit.

  • Joe

    Please go to the bottom of this blog and click on comment as I would love to hear from you. Joe Porter

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