Many Christians are familiar with God’s expectations and instructions regarding marriage. Likewise, we also understand the joys and blessings that God intends to impart on us through the good gift of marriage.
Yet, not all of us were following Jesus before we were married. And even if we were, not all of us avoided every temptation placed before us. Should we expect failure and trouble in marriages that didn’t begin in a Godly way? Or can God bless a marriage that started in sin?
God can bless any marriage and use it for His glory. No matter where we have been, if we repent and surrender to the Holy Spirit, God will provide a path that blesses us and brings Him glory.
Jesus’ Family Tree
As Christians, many of us are familiar with God’s promise to work out all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). We see how this promise plays out in Paul’s life, where suffering presents new opportunities to share the gospel.
And the story of Joseph exemplifies God’s promise, as the Lord uses a series of setbacks, injustices, and challenges to bless Joseph and his brothers—who had engineered Joseph’s misfortune by their betrayal (Genesis 50:19-21).
But perhaps the best place to find blessings emerging from sin and failure is in the genealogy of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 1. In this list of names, we see heroes of faith alongside some ungodly and sin-riddled kings. A few of them even bring some troublesome marriage baggage into the family, and we will explore their stories in a moment.
As we do, let us keep in mind that God used all of these men and women in some fashion to further His plan that culminated in the arrival of Jesus.
In Genesis 29, we read of Jacob’s love-at-first-sight response to meeting Rachel. When he asked Laban to marry Rachel, Laban agreed. But when it came time for the wedding, Laban gave Jacob Rachel’s older sister, Leah.
Jacob had no love for Leah, so he worked another seven years to take Rachel as his wife as well. Even though the deception was engineered by Laban, Jacob still bore the consequence of a loveless marriage to Leah, which he tried to bypass by giving his attention to Rachel.
In His providence, God allowed only Leah to bear children for a time, despite Jacob’s desire to have children with Rachel. The third son that Jacob had by Leah was Judah. It was from his line that David’s royal line—and eventually Jesus—would be born.
Despite Jacob’s rejection of his first wife, that was the marriage that God used to establish a lasting blessing.
Judah and Tamar
Technically, Judah and Tamar never married, but this is still a story of God working a blessing in spite of sexual sins and marriage troubles, which we find in Genesis 38.
Tamar had been married to Judah’s oldest son, who died before having children. Tamar then became the wife of Judah’s second son, who refused to have children by Tamar (because under the law, they would be counted as his brother’s offspring), and was struck dead by the Lord.
Judah sent Tamar off to live as a widow to avoid his obligation to give her in marriage to his third son.
Years later, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and tricked Judah into sleeping with her, and she became pregnant. Judah was humbled when his sin with Tamar was revealed, but God used this messy string of marital indiscretions and shortcomings to bring the world another step closer to Jesus’ arrival.
David and Bathsheba
This is perhaps the most famous marriage-with-a-sinful-start in all of scripture. 2 Samuel 11 tells us that when David first met and slept with Bathsheba, she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. When she became pregnant, David tried to fraudulently pass the child off as Uriah’s by summoning him home from battle to be with Bathsheba.
Yet, Uriah refused (for honorable reasons) to sleep with his wife, so David had Uriah killed in battle to cover up his adulterous act. With Uriah gone, Bathsheba became David’s wife, but the son born of their indiscretion died.
Still, God wasn’t done with them, and he gave them another son, Solomon, who would go on to become the wisest and most prosperous of all of the kings of Israel and Judah.
Redemption, not Do-Overs
Each of these stories is unique, and in each of them, sin manifests in different ways. But the universal lesson in them is that when we are faced with past sin and its consequences, the only way to deal with it is to repent and move forward. Trying to bypass our failures or go back and undo them only adds more sin, failure, and complication to an already messy situation.
This is true for each of us, too—especially for our marriages. If you are struggling to come to terms with a marriage that started with an adulterous entanglement, premarital sex, or just plain lovelessness, God can work from where you are right now.
Dealing with the Past
Depending on your particular situation, you and your spouse might always carry some earthly consequence of past sins. You may have parental responsibilities or financial obligations to honor. You may have a need to confess and apologize to others who have been hurt.
But regardless of what past journey has brought you to this point, the marriage that you are in now is the marriage that you must turn over to God. Consider one more example from scripture:
The Woman at the Well
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, he knew that she had a troublesome history of questionable marriages. In the course of their conversation, Jesus brought this truth to light, but he did not instruct the woman to reverse any of the sins that she had committed. Instead, he invited her to receive the living water of salvation and eternity now, in her current circumstance, and move forward:
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.John 4:13-21
We don’t know the outcome of this woman’s marriage. But John tells us the outcome of her encounter with Jesus. And it was Jesus’ confrontation of her marital indiscretions that compelled both her belief and her testimony about Jesus:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:39-42
Jesus extends the same invitation to each of us, wherever we are on our journeys. We don’t get to go back and correct our past sins and mistakes. But Jesus doesn’t want us to remain stuck in guilt and shame, so he offers us forgiveness to start new from where we are.
When we turn to Jesus and give the journey to him, he establishes a new straight path for us as we move forward:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.Proverbs 3:5-6