“I know an individual who left his wife for another woman, and then he married her. He was a Christian, but he was rebaptized because he said he wasn’t baptized with correct knowledge. I have been told that his adultery was therefore forgiven by this baptism and now his marriage is “sanctified”. Is this true?”
I do not know all the particulars of this gentleman’s situation; however, the scenario presented in the question is unfortunately one that I am hearing of more and more. We therefore suggest the following line of reasoning from the Scriptures. May it be of help to those concerned.
The Purpose of Baptism
Since the “opening day” of the Lord’s church in the first century A.D., as recorded in the book of Acts, baptism along with repentance was extended as the means for sinners to receive “the forgiveness of sins” (2.38). Submission to baptism as a response to the gospel is described as the moment man is saved by God and added to the church (Acts 2.47).
It is important to understand that baptism is to be done once; should the Christian need forgiveness for future sin, the Lord has prescribed prayer and confession of sin as the means of forgiveness (Acts 8.20-24). This highlights the continuous blessing of the blood of Jesus (1 John 1.6-7).
There is a grammatical point that must be acknowledged in Acts 2.38. The preposition “for” is the translation for the Greek word eis, which here carries the force of movement into the interior of a relationship; in other words, “in order to obtain”. This can be seen in similar passages where eis is used (Matt. 26.28, Rom. 10.10-11).
The point being, just as Jesus poured his blood “in order to obtain” forgiveness of sins for humanity; so too, submission to baptism is the means by which we are moved into a forgiven relationship with the Lord by His blood. As Peter affirms, baptism saves us (1 Pet. 3.21).
The Forgiveness of Sins
The “flagship” Greek term for “forgiveness” in the New Testament is aphesis, which means “cancellation” and “release”. For example, one may cancel a past debt, or one may release a prisoner from a sentence.
When the New Testament speaks of “forgiveness” or “remission” of sins, we are to understand that God has scratched off our sin-debt on his “past due” ledger; or, in another colorful way, God has released us from the guilt of our sins and are delivered from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1.10).
These are images of what forgiveness is; however, these images demonstrate that the focus of aphesis in the New Testament is upon “the guilt of the wrongdoer and not upon the wrongdoing itself”:
The event of wrongdoing is not undone, but the guilt resulting from such an event is pardoned. To forgive, therefore, means essentially to remove the guilt resulting from wrongdoing. (Semantic Lexicon 1.502)
Forgiveness does not make a wrong action right; biblical forgiveness assures the penitent that the guilt for these trespasses will never be used against them in the Divine court of judgment.
Nevertheless, should a forgiven person continue their sinful behavior, or return to their immoral lifestyle, judgment will resume for those more current sinful choices (Matt. 18:32, 34; Acts 8.20-24; 2 Pet. 1:9; 2:20-21).
The Rejection of Sinful Living
If baptism could, as in the question, “sanctify” an adulterous relationship, then the principle follows that this would apply to other immoral behaviors as well. Hence, according to this logic, “repent and be baptized… and do not change your life.” This ideology should be unconscionable for anyone who cares about the teaching of Scripture.
In fact, Paul argues the case that Christians live differently by appealing to baptism. Baptism is a benchmark in a person’s life. It identifies a person with the death of Jesus, His burial, and His resurrection (Rom. 6.1-10). As the new Christian emerges from the watery grave, a new life has begun: dead to sin, alive to God (6.11). We do not practice sin on purpose any longer (1 Pet. 4.1-2); read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6.9-11.
Divorce and Remarriage
The Lord Jesus taught that marriage is a life-long human covenant made by a man and a woman before God, the author of marriage. No person is to separate what God has bound into one shared human experience. This is the Divine ideal since the beginning of time (Gen. 2.23-25; Matt. 19.3-9).
Unfortunately, some couples implode and adultery enters the marriage. Adultery is the sexual sin of having an extra-marital relationship; it is a form of sexual immorality (Grk. porneia). In this connection, Jesus taught that if someone leaves their marriage and remarries, they are guilty of adultery (Matt. 5.32, 19.9). Despite its legal status, or the emotions of the new lovers, the Lord regards the new relationship as adultery.
The Lord further teaches that the spouse who has been cheated on may in fact remarry; on the other hand, their adulterous spouse has forfeited their privilege of marriage. Ideally, reconciliation should be reached before the two estranged spouses pass the point of no return (1 Cor. 7.10-11).
Briefly, when a person is baptized, they are released from the guilt of their sin and its spiritual consequences (Rom. 6.23). Yet, what was wrong before baptism is still wrong afterwards. The sin of adultery will be forgiven at baptism, but sin cannot be continued in. Those who advocate such have made shipwreck of the faith (1 Tim. 1.19-20)!