Q: If two professing Christians live together, declare they are married and wear wedding rings, but they have not been married by a minister or public officiant….are they living in sin? Is a marriage license really important? Isn’t it just a piece of paper?
A: The big issue here is the main issue everyone has: they want to be God. They are trying to make the rules instead of submitting to the God of the universe. Ultimately, only bowing the knee to Jesus by trusting the Gospel and turning away from sin to follow Him is the answer for this couple. They need the Gospel and how it applies to this situation. If one of the individuals is truly following Jesus, he or she should separate from the unbeliever if they are not legally married and the partner doesn’t wish to follow Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
To help share some of what Jesus as Lord would say to this couple as they live together, we can look at Romans 13:1-7, particularly verses 1-2: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” This is true even for corrupt governments, as Jesus Himself paid taxes to the Roman Empire during his earthly ministry, and they used some of those tax dollars to crucify Jews and subjugate peoples. Whether a marriage license is just a piece of paper or not, we must submit to the process of obtaining one if we are to obey Jesus as the Lord of the government which is asking us to do so in order to call ourselves “married.” It’s submission to Jesus, which all of us commit to if we say we want to receive Him, be saved, get to heaven, or have eternal life. We can only “have” Jesus and all the life He gives if we have Him as Lord of all.
Ultimately, if this couple loves one another, each will seek the highest good for the other, and show this commitment by sealing their commitment legally, before God and witnesses. After all, marriage is a gift from God to be celebrated!