God has made allowances for marital divorce, and the greater portion of the church throughout its history has restricted divorce to the saints where God’s Word has offered liberty. Since this is out of character for godly men it must be asked: Why has this happened? Interpretive errors of this sort take place when biblical interpreters begin to think about the process of applying the truth of God’s Word to God’s people before they first receive the pure message of the truth from God’s Word. Stated differently, occasions arise when the leadership of the body of Christ is more untrusting of their flocks than they are trusting of the Great Sheppard. Whatever the cause, the interpretation of scripture is susceptible to such negative influences, which bring about human errors. Additionally, as each generation passes without correction it becomes more difficult to go against the tide of church history. Two examples in the following paragraphs should be considered.
One of the great debates over scriptural interpretation is found in Romans’ seventh chapter. Some argue that this passage describes a believer continuing to struggle with sin, while others say the person of whom Paul speaks could not possibly be a believer because he is still enslaved to sin. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in teaching on Romans chapters 6-8 clearly and deliberately points out that the great apostle Paul is teaching that it is the spirit of a man that is justified and saved while the body remains in sin. Understanding this dichotomy makes it obvious that the person being described in chapter 7 is a believer whose holy and redeemed spirit is warring with his “body of death”. The interpretive problem is no longer necessary if all the saints simply understood the dichotomy between the spirit and the body for those who have been justified. God revealed this truth so that the saints could more effectively win the war against the flesh, so it is to every believer’s great benefit that they properly comprehend the condition in which all the saints find themselves.
Nevertheless, virtually none in the church have seen and expressed what Lloyd-Jones so clearly saw. Why? It is likely because they feared this biblical teaching would push people in the direction of Gnosticism. The core of Gnosticism was that the material world is bad, that the God described in the Old Testament is not the God and Father of Jesus Christ, and that salvation is obtained not by atonement but by means of “secret knowledge”. It seems likely that the healthy fear of heresy pushed the saints away from Lloyd-Jones’ proper interpretation of scripture. The fear that believers would see the body as bad no matter what and that only their spirit had been redeemed would push them into an admixture of Gnosticism and antinomianism. This would cause them to think of themselves as spiritually holy while allowing for all kinds of debauchery in the flesh.
However, it is not the prerogative of the saints to fail in teaching the whole word of God because of a fear that some will abuse certain truths. Such a fear demonstrates a lack of faith in God. Scripture demonstrates that the Holy Spirit does not allow the saints to transgress for long—it is His work to draw them back into obedience. Only the tares amongst the wheat would take such opportunisms to sin freely and they would do it regardless. Paul’s intended meaning in Romans 6-8 (overlooked by so many of the saints) is plainly stated in Romans 8:10, “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones stood nearly alone by proclaiming this very edifying biblical doctrine while most seemingly shun its teaching because of a fear of Gnosticism—what an awful shame.
This is not the only instance of a shunning of the true meaning of biblical passages by the church at large. A similar misapprehension of scripture is commonplace when it comes to the biblical doctrine of divorce for those unequally yoked in marriage. The word of God indubitably makes provision for divorce for the unequally yoked believer, yet the church has hobbled together, from a few misinterpreted passages, a prohibition against such divorces. Why? What would motivate otherwise godly saints to misapprehend clear passages of scripture in this way? It seems apparent that churchmen have feared wide scale abuse of God’s loving provisions of liberty for His beloved in such marriages. They feared that making allowance for those who truly warranted a divorce would open up the floodgates for those who would avail themselves of the same liberty without warrant. So then, these fears created a presupposition, which in turn prevented churchmen from apprehending God’s original intent on the doctrine of divorce for those unequally yoked in marriage. That is it. That is what the Church has done.
For this reason the saints have, through the ages, misapprehended certain teachings clearly found in the pages of holy writ. Unquestionably it is an egregious error made by these saints to question God and His Word. God gave us these truths because they are in the best interest of the saints. God knows best. The saints will be safer and more joyful standing with Him even when it means we stand alone in the church as Martyn Lloyd-Jones often did.
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Listen for yourself to Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the spirit and the body. Prepare to be blessed by a great man of God who is now rejoicing with the Lord in heaven.