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Are we married in the eyes of God?

“But Pastor, we are married in the eyes of God.”

Over the years, I have heard this argument used to justify not getting legally married so that someone could keep their health benefits or even finagle the system to still receive assistance from an ex. I have heard young, dating, couples use it to explain why it is okay that they are sleeping together even though they both still live with their separate parents.

So the question is this: Is this a valid - for our purposes, biblical - question/argument?

Romans 13:1-7 states, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves… for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.”

Although laws vary from one location to another, the Scriptures clearly state that if you claim to be a follower of Jesus, then you need to submit to the government in all things. Before naysayers hop on board and start playing devil’s advocate, the only exception to this is in cases of submission that would require you to disobey God.

As a biblical example of this tension, we read in Acts 5, “After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, ‘Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? Look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’ Peter and the apostles replied, ‘We must obey God rather than people.’”

In this case, the governing authorities were commanding Peter and the apostles to disobey God. Peter’s allegiance is clear to God above the government is clear, as should be the allegiance of all believers. But, in situations where the laws of our government are not in opposition to the commands of Christ in the New Covenant (that is key for those of you who are running your brain through Old Testament laws, which Christ nullified), Christians have a biblical mandate to obey the law of the land.

That being said, if,  then, the government says that you must do certain things to be considered legally married, then you must do them!

Beyond this rather early argument, the marriage ceremony and the various signs related to marriage have deep meaning. If you were to say to your spouse, “I am deeply committed to you, but I just don’t want others to know about it,” everyone would say that you are deranged. This miscommunicates the nature of commitment and the depth of love.

Marriage, biblically, is more than a commitment, it is a covenant. Covenants are sort of like contracts, but much more. Often breaking them would cost someone their life! They are always coupled with a sign or a ceremony: rainbows, circumcision, the giving of the law, baptism, and communion are a few examples of signs given by God to his people to represent realities of covenants.

Marriage is a covenant and it carries great meaning and symbolism with it because it points to something deeper and truer - the marriage of Jesus with his bride, the church. In Ephesians 5, after discussing marriage and what it should look like, Paul ends with a surprising twist, “This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.”

Jesus is wholly committed to his bride, as a husband is called to be to his. He is not ashamed of her, but gave his blood publicly to make her pure and spotless. His marriage came at great cost to himself, and his reception is in glory at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

Since marriage on earth is meant to point to a deeper, spiritual reality, it is not to be taken with flippancy. It comes with pomp, circumstance, symbols, and ceremony. All of these things point to a deeper and truer reality of Jesus and his bride, the church.

So, what’s the point? Marriage is serious in both the eyes of God and the eyes of our government. No, you aren’t married in the eyes of God if you aren’t actually married!