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

Confess past sins to my wife? What does the Bible really say?

Dr. Newman, Should I confess past sins to my wife? I have a question regarding confessing sins to one another. Obviously James tells us to confess our sins one to another, another verse that confuses me is the one that says that there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. My back story is this. About a year ago I had been wrestling with whether to tell my now wife of previous things I had done while we were engaged. I did! It was a disaster. She threatened divorce. All in all she did not divorce me. I confessed to her that I had been a very sinful man in the past, I confessed I had cheated on her while we were dating, I told her I lied to her and I told her I flirted with other women. I did not tell her the exacts. I did not tell her the extent of the lies, the exact details. Now I am wrestling with the thought of should I go back to her and give her all the nasty details, based on the above versus I feel obligated to do so. Or, am I taking those versus out of context? I know my wife and I know these confessions would upset her very much! I love my family very much! I don't want to lose her or my two boys, but I also want to obey God, as I am truly trying to live for Christ. Please help me to understand this more thoroughly. Please pray for me. I do want you to know that I did decide to donate to your ministry and very soon after I did, I received a very good financial blessing.


 I am so glad you wrote me back with this letter. It illustrates perfectly what happens when Bible verses are not applied with wisdom, and when one spouse tells all their secrets (sins) to the other. When people read this, they have a real life example, rather than me making up illustrations, or telling of real life situations I have encountered. (Don’t worry, your name and address will never be disclosed, and your issue is one of the most common questions I get.)

I also want to thank you for donating to the ministry. I’m glad God gave you a financial blessing. Another thing: I applaud you for your genuine desire to follow Christ. I can’t say how truly proud I am of you. You are very bright and sincere in your faith. Now to the question.

 The short answer first, then I will explain in detail. STOP!! KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!! Look at it this way. You are asking that if in order to be pleasing to God, He would want you to provoke a divorce and destroy your family. Let me assure you: absolutely NOT would God want you to do such a thing. Let me start with some general principles, then I will get to your verses.

1. OK. Let me break this down. By your description you were deeply into sin before you returned to Christ. Many times when people are in your situation, they drag with them an enormous amount of guilt. Their conscious is jumping all over the place, like a grasshopper on a hot skillet, not knowing what is right or wrong. It is being rewritten. In the world of psychology it is called “cognitive dissonance.”

It means that when you bring into your mind new ideas that clash with the old ideas, they collide and cause tension, stress, and confusion. What I am saying is that you should expect clashing confusion when you mirror your old life with the Bible. You are normal. The great part of your experience is you are determined to rewrite your conscience, and the Holy Spirit is working overtime in your life.  Bravo!

 2. I think you are trying to live the Christian life by law rather than grace. It is called legalism – a big and jagged trap. You will be miserable the rest of your life, because there will always be some law or sin you break or commit. The great part is that all the penalty for all your sins for all time have been completely blotted out – forever.

It is well to read those wonderful verses, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time…For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:10, 12, 14). Don’t you think that is amazing good news?

 In other words, you don’t find favor with God by trying to keep every little law or rule you stumble across in the Bible. In fact, you cannot keep every little law you trip over in the Bible. The Christian life is a very personal, real, loving relationship with Jesus Christ. Place your focus on Christ, get occupied with, and fall in love with Him.

The Great Commandment says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

 Your sin is done with. Christ paid all the penalty some 2,000 years ago. There is nothing else to carry guilt for. Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies” (Romans 8:1, 33).

There is no need to try to make sure you have done everything you need to do to pay for any trace of sin that might be lurking around in your life. We live by grace, never by keeping the law.

3. Let me look at grace for a moment. Grace means undeserved favor bestowed upon those who already stand convicted, are guilty, sentenced, and will be punished. Let me illustrate. You are found guilty of murder. Your trial is over, you have been convicted and are headed to prison with a life sentence. It doesn’t matter if you murdered one person or twenty. It doesn’t matter if you promise to never murder another person. When the cell door clangs closed, your fate is doomed forever.

Now, suppose another person appealed to the court, and said to the judge, “Your honor, let him go free, because I volunteer to take the man’s place in prison. I have committed no crime, but I will take the guilty man’s sentence. Let him go free.”

This is an act of grace. This is exactly what Jesus did for you and me, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ saved us not by any good works of ours, but totally because of His grace. Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

We are saved totally, fully, and only by grace through faith; we live our life totally, fully, and only by grace through faith. The law only condemns us; grace through faith saves and maintains us.

Consider the boys you mention, and how you love them. Your love for them is peanuts compared to the love God has for you. Read this, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15-17).

Think of it. Our new station or position in the universe has changed from being a convicted criminal and enemy of God to one of being His child. That is no small thing. Christ has completed the entire transaction by His work on the Cross. Now, the next time you look at your boys with deep love in your heart, remember that is the way God sees and loves you. That is grace.

4.  Now let me talk about another real part of life. We commit sins in our Christian life, in the same way your boys misbehave. However, you cannot ever make your boys not be your boys. It is genetically impossible. Likewise, we are permanently children of God. Your boys do, however, sometimes disappoint you. It is the same with God, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 1:8, 9; 2:2).

That big word, “propitiation,” means satisfied. God was fully satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Let me illustrate with a story. We have in our heart a “sin factory.” It is the old sin nature we inherited from Adam, and which our children inherit from us. That sin factory never shuts down. The assembly line never stops. That awful factory just keeps rolling out various sins in our lives. It also has a great marketing department that constantly tempts us to try out its new model of sins, which are really old sins wrapped in a new package. The marketers lie to us. They deceive. The sins are poison. That sin factory will never shut down in this life. It is what it is.

Now, we also have a new factory God has placed in our heart…it is on the same street as the sin factory. The Bible refers this action to being “born again,” or being “made alive” (John 2:3; Ephesians 2:1, 5). It is where the Holy Spirit acts directly upon our spirit, and that implants a new nature that consists of, among other things, eternal life. Someday our old sin factory will fall down and cease to exist, but the new factory lives on forever. God will bulldoze that sin factory into the dump at the end of our life on this earth.

The Christian life is taking more and more of our business down to the new factory, and bypassing the old sin factory.  The more we are occupied with Christ, the more we gradually grow to like Him better, and our relationship to Him grows stronger. We don’t forget, however, that the sin factory keeps churning out great advertisements, their bill boards are huge, well lighted, and glossy.

Down at the new factory we establish our relationship through faith, soaking in the Bible, prayer, being involved in Christian service, being in a Bible believing Christ centered local church, and hanging out with the workers in the new factory (Christians). Our life is grounded in the Great Commandment, and our mission in life is the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20).

5. Ok. Now I finally come back to your question. The basic issue is who do I confess my sins to, and do I confess all my dark secrets to my wife (spouse). When we confess and turn aside from our sins, we confess them to God. The offense is between us and Him (1 John 1:9; Proverbs 28:13; Ezra 9:5-15; 10:11; Genesis 39:9; Hebrews 7:25; Luke 22:31, 32).

Consider David’s example when he committed adultery and murdered his lover’s husband. The records states, “And David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have done very foolishly” (1 Chronicles 21:8; cf. Psalm 32:5; 66:18). He did not confess to his lover, or to his other wives, but to God.

If, however, our sins damage and bring harm to another person, and they know it, then we need to bring restitution to the person we have harmed – UNLESS- in bringing it to awareness causes even greater harm to the person or people involved. Let me give an extreme example to make my point. Consider if I cheat with a married woman, but the affair breaks off and after a few years, I feel guilty and go to that woman and her husband, and confess the affair and ask forgiveness.  For me to do that would probably break up that marriage and family.

I might feel better and forgiven for confessing my sin, but to the woman and her family I caused misery and heartache. That would be very selfish of me. I would have broken up a family just so I might feel better, and thought I had done God a favor by my strict adherence to a Bible verse.

Ok. How about sharing all my secrets with my wife. Don’t do it. Why should I dump all my burdens, sins, and struggles on my wife? It will simply rile her up and cause her needless agitation, fear or discouragement. Let me illustrate. If at work, I have conflict with an incompetent boss. The place is a mess. The boss unfairly gets on my case. Then if I bring my work problems home and dump my frustration and anger on my wife, then she will be frustrated and angry. In fact, she might go tell my boss off and he would fire me.

We may need to get things off our chest sometimes, but we can take them to God in prayer, vent by writing our thoughts down on a piece of paper, or take them to a trusted, competent friend who will not gossip about my problems.

6. I believe you have answered your own question about detailing your past sins to your wife. You said when you told your wife of your past sins, it crushed her and she almost left you with your boys. One would assume she would do the same thing as the last time, only now your revelations may be the straw that broke the camel’s back and she splits along with your boys. What good is there in breaking up your family? You are right: it would be a disaster, only greater.

Put your sins in the past, and forget about them. Christ has taken care of them. In fact, I would challenge you to read Psalm 103 (to yourself) every morning and evening. Develop your love relationship with Christ, and be the best dad and husband that you can. Get on with life. Get in service to Christ. Because of your past, God will put others in your path who have had the same struggles. Since you have similar experiences, you will be able to relate to that person and help turn them to Christ. God has a job for you.

 As to James, he was referring to a person committing sins such as they brought sickness up themselves. You are not sick, so it doesn’t mean you should go dredge up past sins (that Christ has already forgiven), confess them to your wife and break up your family. The section refers to transparency within a Christian group.

I am not sure which verse you refer to about everything will be revealed. There will be a judgment for Christians and also for the unsaved. The Judgment seat of Christ is for Christians, has nothing to do with salvation, but is where rewards will be given (2 Corinthians 5:10). Perhaps this is the verse you refer to, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise with come to him from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

The judgment for the unsaved is described in Revelation 20:10-15. There the judgment will not offer a second chance to be saved, but only what the final sentence will be for individuals. The trial is over, and that is the sentencing phase.

Even though our deeds are known by God, and someday be revealed, that does not lead to the idea that if you confess your sins to your wife they will somehow not be revealed. Whatever God wants to do, let Him do it however He wants. Your forgiveness and life is in Christ. Enjoy it, and live for Christ.

To help you grow in Christ, I encourage you to avail yourself to the free materials on our website. Start with Christian Foundations, which is free. There are also several books available on the website. Again, thank you for your gracious gift to the ministry. We never take a salary, but the funds all go to ministry expense, which involves humanitarian efforts, and Bible schools in Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria, and India. Actually, we have a free online Bible school.

 All the best to you, and may God continue to bless,

Dr. Newman

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