Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Adultery - should I tell my spouse?

QUESTION:

Dr. Newman

In one of your answers you state that one should not confess adultery to the spouse if he/she knows nothing about it. It makes sense to me that confession should not make more harm. But what about the argument, that my body belongs to my spouse and I broke the covenant with my spouse? Didn't I clearly sin against my spouse? Is it really enough to only repent to God and sin no more?

Perhaps you can base your insight on more scriptures? I have read a lot about it, but the opinions seems to diverge a lot. I know that one can always find the answer which one wants to hear.

In this case I wish your statement was true... but what if the other Christians and marriage counselors are right, which say that you MUST confess to the spouse?

 In other cases I would rather repent too much than too little - but confessing in this case would bring so much harm to my lovely family... and I am only willing to confess this to my husband, if God's Word tells me to do so. Does God really leave this up to men's "feeling of what is right and wrong"?

May God lead you in giving the right answer.

H

ANSWER:

Dear H., 

I truly sympathize with your stricken heart. It appears you have a great deal of grief, regret, and fear. Your struggle, and the consequences of any decision you make, is intense. Let me add some more to what I wrote in the last answer – although, I think what I wrote there is Scriptural. In addition, if you are reading this for the first time, I refer you to the other answer I wrote, “Is confessing to God enough, or should I disclose sins to those who have no knowledge of, or involvement in it?”

1. First, I want to make clear that adultery is very serious; it is a sin with harsh consequences. It causes grave damage to the guilty party, the spouse, family, church and community. Even the secular world views adultery as wrong. For example, we have just witnessed in the United States the demise of one presidential candidate’s chances based on the scandal of just “alleged” marital infidelity. 

Adultery cannot be condoned from Scripture under any circumstances. It must be stopped, and the conditions that brought it on treated effectively and promptly. However, adultery sometimes happens, and then what? Does life stop? Are adulterers to be banished from society with no chance of redemption? Is the lack of confession itself a sin? Alternatively, are forgiveness, treatment, and reconciliation available through Christ? 

Or, more to your point, should we run the extremely probably risk of breaking up a family and/or career just so we can say we have confessed – as if a confession is some magical, ritualistic, required act of atonement needed for forgiveness? 

The practical consequences are that if it is not treated privately, then the confession likely is tantamount to a public announcement of the act. Someone will tell, and then the gossip spreads like wildfire. The gossip itself becomes sin.  

H., with this in mind, let me try to expand on your question.

Indeed, confession is part of the treatment process. Let me address the meaning, purpose, and process of confession. I start with John, who wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9; cf. Psalm 103). 

Let me add David’s confession, which involved both adultery and murder, “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). 

David gives us more insight in another place, “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, and blameless when Thou dost judge” (Psalm 51:1-4). 

From this data, we learn that David’s confession was directly to God, because it was against God alone that David sinned when he committed adultery and murder. The content of David’s confession was to honestly acknowledge, fully admit, and take complete responsibility for his sin. He called his sin, “evil.” He blamed no one but himself. His appeal was to God’s lovingkindness and compassion. David’s request was for forgiveness and cleansing from the pollution of his sin. Based upon this confession, God forgave David.

In another place, David teaches, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities…As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10, 12). It would be good for you to read (and even memorize) all of Psalm 103. This psalm spells out in more detail what forgiveness means.

By example, we can copy David in our confession of sins to God. John explains to us more in depth how a just and holy God can forgive sin. In other words, on what basis can He forgive and cleanse us from our sins. John wrote, “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1, 2).

In other words, God can forgive us because Christ satisfied the entire penalty and guilt of all of our sins for all time (Cf. Hebrews 10:10-14). Christ took care of all the punishment due our sin, and God is satisfied with Christ’s work on the cross. 

The forgiveness involved in the Scriptures I have quoted deals with family fellowship and forgiveness – not our salvation. Both David and John were saved; consequently, they were talking about how Christians are to deal with sin that has broken fellowship with God.

2. The second part of our restoration deals with our heart attitude toward God, and our lifestyle, or behavior. The proverb states, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. How blessed is the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity” (Proverbs 28:13, 14).

This means that the opposite of confession is to conceal or try to hide from God – like Adam and Eve did. It is to harden our heart toward God, and shut him out of our lives. So, in the case of adultery, we need not only to confess like David, but also to turn away from the affair. Our heart condition and lifestyle before God in the present is what matters to Him. Confession and forsaking is a constant, daily process. We are all sinners by nature, and must carefully cultivate a continuing openhearted and obedient relationship with God through Christ. 

3. The third issue deals with how to “forsake.” In other words, how can one stop the affair – or adultery? This is difficult once it has started. In a practical sense, affairs start at the end of a marriage relationship. I cannot conceive of anyone in a happy marriage waking up in the morning and saying to themselves, “Oh, I think I will go have an affair today.” 

No, affairs usually come at the end of a marriage that has for some time been spiraling downward to disaster. The usual steps to a dissolving marriage descend from criticism to contempt to blaming and defensiveness to “feet hardened in concrete” deadlock, and finally to finding that person of the opposite sex who will intimately console the troubled spouse. The intimacy then turns to being the “soul mate” kind of relationship that soon gives way to sex. Once the cheating has started, rarely can one salvage the marital relationship. Passion toward the new soul mate is hard to turn off.

The “forsaking” starts before the marriage relationship starts to disintegrate. Briefly, it involves praise and encouragement, respect, taking responsibility, love, and the ability to talk through the difficulties. 

We are to be gentle, loving, respectful, submissive, understanding, tolerant, forgiving, kindhearted, humble, and not bitter toward each other (Cf. 1 Peter 3:1-9; Colossians 3:18, 19; Ephesians 5:18-33). These key verses deal directly with the marriage relationship, and give us a gold mine of how to establish the right dynamics to engrain and enhance our marriages. Please note that spouses are not called to confess any past infidelities to each other. 

4. I now take up the argument you refer to, “my body belongs to my spouse and I broke the covenant with my spouse? Didn't I clearly sin against my spouse?” According to David, his adultery (sin) was against God. Certainly, adultery is a betrayal of trust that will probably kill a marriage, but sin is something we do against God.

Again, to repeat, David said, “Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight.”

I hope that I am not splitting hairs too much here, but based on David’s confession, he was asking for forgiveness. The request for forgiveness of his sin was implied or assumed in the confession. However, only God has the authority to forgive sin. The request for forgiveness of an offense against another human being is valid, but to give another person the power to forgive sin goes too far.  

There is another problematic assumption in the argument under question: my body belongs to my spouse.” What does “belong,” mean? I think there are two verses that might be used to establish the “my body belongs to my spouse” dogma. 

The first would be Paul’s injunction, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). However, Paul has set up a metaphor or figure of speech to illustrate the degree of love we need for our wives. He does not mention any kind of ownership. 

The other verse would be, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:4). However, the context here is sexual relations. Paul is saying to not punish or deprive one’s spouse of sex. 

It is too much to read into these verses the idea of some kind of ownership that requires that spouses “MUST” confess deeds of adultery to the other. I fail to see the logic.

5. Now, I come to another principle: the greater of two evils. I have written a rather long article dealing with this principle, entitled, “Polygamy or divorce? Which is right?” I refer you to that article for the details. 

6.  Another thing one must consider is that when we sin, we feel a huge amount of guilt, because we are guilty! Sometimes the need to confess comes out of a desire to find relief from the burden of guilt. Confessing does gives a certain degree of relief, even if momentary. However, while confessing may give you relief, consider how the truth would devastate your spouse!

The idea is that when faced with a choice between two evils, or wrong choices, choose the higher good. In other words, avoid the choice that brings the worse consequences. 

For example, consider the Hebrew midwives at the time of the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt. It was at a time when the Hebrews began to over populate Egypt. This put fear in the heart of Pharaoh, because he was getting out numbered.

Here is what happened, Pharaoh commanded the midwives to kill all the male Hebrew children at birth, but let the girls live (Exodus 1:15, 16). 

This put the midwives into a terrible moral conflict: shall they obey God and preserve life, or commit murder at the command of the Pharaoh? What did they do? They disobeyed the King’s command (state law), and lied to Pharaoh. Two sins they committed, but they preserved the lives of the male children, which was the higher good. 

In other words, it was more important to save lives than to lie. In the end, God rewarded the midwives for their right choice – which caused the least damage (Exodus 1:20, 21).

Let me bring this principle to the problem you bring up: should a spouse confess adultery to their partner, which will bring great trouble to the marriage, if not destroy it? In other words, which causes the least amount of harsh consequences: a spouse that keeps a secret, or a confession that will probably cause divorce, or at least bring a huge amount of trouble to the marriage - and swamp a family with grief and shame? 

In your question, even you accurately stated the consequences of a confession that “would bring so much harm to my lovely family.” Why in the world would you want to harm your family just to satisfy some legalistic counselor who insists that you do something that the Bible does not require? Or, worse yet, why would you want to break up and humiliate your family to do something that, based on the moral conflict issue I just explained, the Bible forbids?

I must make a qualification here. I assume that the affair is in the past and finished. Based on your statements of love for and desire to follow God, I assume that you are walking with God. You have confessed and forsaken. I also assume that the fling has not gone public. In that case, the situation will collapse into a cauldron of chaos, confusion, and conflict. 

H., let dead things stay dead and buried. Instead, focus on the joys of your, “lovely family.” God has removed your sin from you as “far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). Don’t go trying to find it again. Accept His forgiveness, walk with Him, love Him, serve Him, obey Him, and trust Him. If God has forgiven you, what more do you want from Him? Why offend Him by refusing His forgiveness? Concentrate on becoming like Jesus Christ; don’t enslave yourself to various lists of rules made up by well meaning people. 

I hope this helps. All the best, and may God bless.

Dr. Newman

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