“Is Lust Justification for Divorce?”

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I have a question. In Matthew 5:27ff. Jesus says that if a man lusts after a woman he has already committed adultery in his heart. Then, in v. 32 Jesus indicates that sexual immorality is the only justification for divorce. Is, then, lust justification for divorce? If so, what degree of lust is justification for divorce? Or, if it is not Jesus’ intention to allow divorce for lust, please substantiate this position. Thanks.

Good question!

The bottom line answer to your question is no, lust is not grounds for divorce.

If you look at the context of the Lord Jesus’ remarks about lust in Matthew 5, what you see is that He is “pulling back the rug,” so to speak, on outward sins to expose the underlying problem, which is sin in the heart. Murder doesn’t start with murder; it starts with sinful anger in the heart (vv. 21-22). Don’t be as concerned about the proper words in taking an oath; be people of such integrity that your simple word alone will suffice and no oath is necessary (vv. 33-37). Instead of carefully measuring the retaliatory consequences of an offense against you, give in and don’t fight back (vv. 38-42). Instead of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy, love your enemies and pray for them (vv. 43-44).

The main point to all of these illustrations in the Sermon on the Mount is that a sinful heart lurks behind every offensive action. By shining the light of His perfection on our dark hearts, the Lord very effectively makes us aware of how short we fall of God’s standard of righteousness. That’s why we need to receive Christ’s righteousness, since we have none of our own.

So the point about lust is made to expose the sinful motives of the heart, showing that even before one actually enters into an adulterous relationship, there’s a heart problem that’s just as serious in God’s eyes as acting on it.

But if the Lord had meant to set lust as an acceptable ground for divorce, He would have said so. He doesn’t play games with us to keep us guessing about what pleases Him. Personally, this makes sense to me, since a person can fall into the sin of lust for another person, and repent and receive forgiveness, without his/her spouse ever getting hurt. They don’t ever need to know about it; it’s a internal war of the one struggling with lust. As sinful creatures, we are going to struggle with various sins all our lives. But there’s still a big difference in consequence between fighting the internal battle against the sin nature and going out and acting on it.

Furthermore, engaging in sexual immorality is an external act that can be proven by witnesses and/or testimony. Experiencing lust is internal, and can only be judged by another without any proof. Only God can know whether someone truly lusts or not. Kind of hard to hold up in a court of law!

I hope this helps.

Sue Bohlin
Probe Ministries

Sue Bohlin

Sue Bohlin is an associate speaker/writer and webmistress for Probe Ministries. She attended the University of Illinois, and has been a Bible teacher and conference speaker for over 40 years. She is a frequent speaker for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Connections), and serves on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered outreach to those dealing with unwanted homosexuality. Sue is on the Bible.org Women's Leadership Team and is a regular contributor to Bible.org's Engage Blog. In addition to being a professional calligrapher, she is the wife of Probe's Dr. Ray Bohlin and the mother of their two grown sons. Her personal website is suebohlin.com.

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3 Comments
  1. Valerie 4 months ago

    To add to the question if lust is grounds for divorce….I want to ask this…..if watching pornography a few times here and there and masturbating to it grounds for divorce. It was lust and by what you said at the end of your advice you said can someone see it happen or by testimony. What if the person is alone in their room …(a spouse) and no one knows. He repents to God but doesn’t tell his wife.

    • Sue Bohlin Author
      Sue Bohlin 4 months ago

      We need to go back to God’s intention for marriage, to see the big picture.

      In Genesis 2:23-24, Adam reacts to God’s gift of a perfect helpmate, saying,

      “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

      The one (Adam) becomes two (Adam and Eve), and in marriage, the two become one again. This oneness is a mystery, which Paul reveals to us in Ephesians 5 is a reflection of the union of Christ and His bride, the church:

      This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

      So there is a deep spiritual meaning to earthly marriage that points us to the eternal marriage of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and His wife, the church (see Revelation 21). That’s a big reason why God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Another is because He hates to see people hurt, and divorce always wounds people.

      So does lust justify divorce? When there is sin in a marriage, as in any relationship, God’s intention is always going to be confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

      So to answer your question, no matter how many “what ifs,” the answer is going to be no.

      Hope this is helpful.

      • Valerie 4 months ago

        Yes! It’s helpful. Really is.

        I have asked for a face to face talk with him and he has yet to make an effort or inclination that he will come clean with everything. So that we can get things in the open, be accountable, forgive, get counseling, recocile. He keeps saying he is doing what’s best for me to leave me alone. When just before I discovered his watch History and have some evidence and him admittied to some things, I know there is more.

        Unfortunately, and sadly, I said all needs to be told and he is someone I’m finding that unless confronted with the exact thing, he will not offer his culpability. He doesn’t know what I know and therefore he seems resigned to just avoiding ….

        I won’t move forward without the cleansing. Just before I discovered this, he was so happy and we were seemingly so close and making plans. And now he is off limits.

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