“It Is Not Lawful”

Joe R. Price

John was in prison because of the message he preached. It was pointed, provocative, and unyielding in its application. “For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. For John said unto Herod, ‘It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife’” (Mark 6:17-18).

Some advocate that we should not discuss the marital situation of conversion prospects when we are teaching them the gospel to save their souls. This, we are told, can wait until after their conversion. Several obvious scriptural problems arise for the person who attempts this approach to converting the lost.

First, it ignores the scriptural fact that God’s marriage law applies to all men and women who enter marriage. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” has application to every legitimate marriage (Matt. 19:4-6, 9; cf. Heb. 13:4). “It is not lawful” to marry another man’s “wife” as Herod had married Herodias, the wife of Philip (Mk. 6:17-18). Their sin was adultery (cf. Rom. 7:2-3). Please note that John thought it crucial to rebuke the sinners’ sin if there was ever to be a chance they would reform their lives through their obedience to the truth. How can we ignore the unlawful marriages of the lost while at the same time trying to win those souls to Christ? You cannot save the lost by ignoring the sin which causes them to be lost!

Next, the very concept of repentance is at stake if we ignore or redefine the sin of adultery in the lives of gospel prospects. Since repentance of sin must come before being baptized into the name of the Lord (Acts 2:37-38), we dare not say “we won’t address certain sin (or potential sin) which is present before baptizing the sinner. He (she, they) can deal with that afterwards if need be.” Would we take the same approach with the suspected thief? Or the child molester? Or the rapist? To not address sin with the gospel in the lives of potential converts is to not expose them to the true plan of salvation. We are kidding ourselves to think otherwise (2 Tim. 4:2; Lk. 13:3; Acts 17:30; 2 Cor. 7:10).

Finally, by baptizing a person who has not repented of his sins we join hands with the Pharisees who compassed sea and land to make a disciple, yet because of their tradition-bound doctrines succeeded only in making another son of hell (Matt. 23:15). We are to be about the business of making “sons of God” by teaching and urging obedience to the gospel (Gal. 3:26-27). Instead of trying to find loopholes to fit the sinner into, let us follow the example of John the Baptist. When a marriage is not lawful before God we must try to persuade sinners to repent. Will we succeed? Sometimes, but not always (Matt. 7:13-14). John lost his life for telling the truth to sinners. Can we do any less and consider ourselves faithful to Jesus?