Perhaps the most compelling insight about the nature of apostasy lies in the fact that one of the Greek words – apostasion – is translated “divorce” and “certificate of divorce” in the New Testament.

The conversation went like this:

“Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing him and asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?’ And he answered and said, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.’” (Matthew 19:3-8 NAS)

How does it happen that a husband and wife divorce?

It doesn’t happen accidentally or without the knowledge of the couple. You don’t wake up one day, surprised to discover that you’re divorced. Divorce is the result of a choice or series of choices that destroy the marriage relationship. Jesus said divorce happens because one spouse’s heart has become hard toward the other.

Now, one partner in a marriage may not want the divorce, but that doesn’t prevent it from happening. The groom may have sworn he would never forsake his bride, but if she doesn’t guard her heart, she may be captivated by another love. Her unfaithfulness isn’t the same as divorce, but continued, willful unfaithfulness eventually will result in a divorce. If she doesn’t turn back, it’s only a matter of time before divorce becomes a reality.

Apostasy is never an accident. It doesn’t happen without the full knowledge of the Bride and her Groom. It requires an act of will – a choice or series of choices – on the Bride’s part. Like the decision to accept Christ as Savior and Lord, apostasy is a choice to “stand apart” from him. Just as we choose to begin the journey along the narrow road that leads to the small gate, we also can choose to leave that road for the broad way that leads to destruction.

Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39) The Lord himself promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) But like Esau who sold his birthright and then regretted it, the one who divorces herself from Christ finds no place for repentance. She is rejected, even though she tearfully seeks forgiveness. (Hebrews 12:16-17)

I don’t intend to be unfaithful to my wife, but I know full well I am capable of it. I don’t want our marriage to end in divorce, but I know it isn’t impossible.

I also know I am capable of being unfaithful to the one who died to set me free; I can point to any number of instances to prove it. And as much as it terrifies me, I have no doubt I could allow myself to be seduced into choices that would harden my heart and destroy my relationship with Christ.

If I found myself in that awful situation, it wouldn’t be because of God’s unwillingness or inability to keep me. I would have no one but myself to blame.

The Lord God of Israel made his position crystal clear: “I hate divorce …. Be careful not to be unfaithful.” (Malachi 2:16 GW)

And Jesus allowed divorce for one reason – unfaithfulness. (Matthew 5:32)

Next installment

Chapter 19
More than unrighteous living

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