Bible Answer

How do we reconcile God’s will with man’s free will?

My husband recently confessed to having an affair. With God's strength I was able to forgive him, however he has still chosen to walk away from our marriage. Throughout this period, I believe God gave me some verses that has made me believe He will restore my marriage (Mark 5:34, 36). But how do I reconcile God's will and plan for my marriage, with my husband's free will to disobey God?

We are very sorry to hear of your marriage situation. While we are unable to offer personal counseling advice, we can offer a response to your questions regarding God’s sovereignty and the passage from Mark. 

First, the term “free will” doesn’t appear in the Bible, and neither is it a biblically-correct concept (at least not in this context). Mankind is not free in the way most people use the term. The Bible says that prior to faith in Jesus Christ we are all slaves to our sin nature, but by faith in Christ we may become slaves to righteousness. 

In other words, we either possess a nature to sin or a nature to obey God. One nature we inherited at birth (sin), while the other nature is given to us when we’re born again by faith in Jesus Christ (righteousness). So what we call “free will” is merely personal preferences in life, and those preferences fall in line with our nature. Sinners will always prefer sin, and believers will always prefer righteousness (though we do not always choose to obey due to the negative influence of our sinful flesh). We cannot operate outside our nature.

Paul sums up this truth in Romans 6:

Rom. 6:17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,
Rom. 6:18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
Rom. 6:19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
Rom. 6:20  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Rom. 6:21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.
Rom. 6:22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.

True believers in Christ will desire for godliness because the Spirit living in us has given us a new heart, Paul says. Nevertheless, believers may still commit sin because our sinful, fleshly bodies remain opposed to God, which is why one day our body will be replaced with a glorified, eternal body. Our current physical body is literally incapable of obeying God. Therefore, even though our spirit has been freed from sin, we are still captives of our sinful bodies. Which is why Paul tells believers not to obey the desires of our flesh:

Rom. 6:12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,
Rom. 6:13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Turning to your husband’s situation (assuming your husband is truly a believer), he has allowed his flesh to control him and he has given into its lusts. His situation is not a result of his upbringing or the complexities of his personal life or even your mistakes in the marriage. The Bible says your husband committed adultery for the same reasons everyone sins – because his flesh lusted after another woman, and he gave into those desires. As James says:

James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
James 1:15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
James 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

Your husband has been deceived by his flesh and the enemy. As a result of his sin, he is feeling the conviction of the Spirit, which God uses as discipline to encourage repentance and future godliness. Instead, your husband appears to be running from that conviction and now he’s entertaining a new round of sin (i.e., divorce). 

Your husband’s behavior is a pattern indicative of an immature Christian; living in the flesh rather than walking in the Spirit. He is treating the discipline of the Lord lightly, and as a result he’s likely to sin more in the future. There are eternal consequences for a believer who sins in this way, and he ought to be made aware of the dangers. You can hear more about these consequences in our Hebrews Bible study, especially in Chapter 6, 10 and 12.

Regarding your conviction from Mark 5, we regret to inform you that you are not using the Bible properly. The word of God is not a collection of promises to individual Christians. Proper biblical interpretation does not permit us to take a single, isolated verse and “claim it” for ourselves, as if God were speaking to us directly about our particular situation.  

Jesus’ words in Mark 5 were spoken to a synagogue official some 2,000 years ago, and not to you directly. Jesus made a promise to that one individual, not to you. You are using the text incorrectly, which may lead you to future confusion and doubt in God’s word. For example, if God does not repair your marriage in the end, how would your incorrect use of this scripture influence your view of God’s faithfulness in that day? Wouldn’t you be inclined to judge God as unfaithful to that “promise” you presumed He gave you in Mark 5? This example shows the dangers of misusing the text of scripture by taking verses out of context.   

Please read Do Bible verses apply to every Christian personally? for more teaching on this important point.

Nevertheless, the story in Mark was recorded in scripture to help believers understand how God operates and what He desires from His followers (i.e., blind faith). So we encourage you to take that lesson and apply it to your situation in the correct way; namely that you should maintain a faith in God’s goodness and His faithfulness to you…regardless of whether or not your marriage is repaired in the end. 

Whether the Lord will reconcile your marriage in the end, we cannot say. If you believe the Lord has spoken to your heart by His Spirit promising you a reconciliation will happen, then rest in this assurance and work for reconciliation with your husband. The key to a successful walk with the Lord is knowing and living the word of God correctly. Your husband appears to neither know the word of God nor is he endeavoring to live it out.

If the opportunity arises, spend time studying the word of God with your husband in a diligent and methodical fashion, and allow the Lord to use His word to repair your marriage and grow you both in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.