Bible Question:

A very close friend of mine who is active in the church did something really stupid! She was blackmailed into having a sexual relationship with a man for whom she worked. This only happened once but left her devastated. After a few months of this weighing on her, she confessed to the man's wife. She discovered that the man had already told his wife what he had done and put the blame on her. She spoke to her pastor and confessed had happened. Now she does not know if she should tell her husband. He was in prison when this happened. One pastor told her that as long as she had confessed it to God and the man's wife she did not need to admit it to her husband. Another pastor told her that although she confessed it to God, she needs to confess it to her husband before forgiveness is complete. Her husband is capable of extreme violence. He is also active in the church. What advice would you give? She is desperate and racked with guilt.

Bible Answer:

There are several things we want to consider. First, why is the guilt over sexual sins so difficult to deal with? Second, if we have committed adultery should we tell our spouses? Third, should we tell others too? Fourth, what are some practical considerations?

Sexual Sin Is Increasingly Acceptable

Any sin can be difficult for a man or woman to deal with. It depends on the person and his/her sensitivity to God. But God has told us that there is one sin among them all that is against our body. It is called sexual sin.

Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 (NASB)

Sexual sins include premarital sex, adultery, pornography, masturbation, bestiality, and homosexuality. God warned us in 1 Corinthians that sexual sin is both psychologically and physically damaging, but this truth is being rejected today because sex is considered wonderful by most people for it “feels so good.” Our world is aggressively pursuing sexual pleasure. The following passage from Jeremiah sounds like our times.

When I had fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the harlot’s house. They were well-fed lusty horses, each one neighing after his neighbor’s wife. Jeremiah 5:7-8 (NASB)

This is not a symptom of just one culture. It is the result of man’s sinfulness; and everywhere men and women are located, sexual sin will be present. Sexual sin is rapidly accelerating since it is an increasingly accepted behavior.

Sexual Sins Cause Great Guilt

It is not surprising that Christian men and women are struggling with guilt over sexual sin. Many professing Christians have wrongly accepted the world’s concept that sex before marriage and outside of marriage is okay. The effects last a long time for a Christian even after confession and repentance. Yes, Christians are forgiven but the memory never completely leaves. It only slowly dies. The memories are the result of sin. That is the message of the following passage.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things . . . For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.
(NASB) 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7

The damage can also be physical if STD diseases are involved.

Confess Sexual Sins To God

When Christians commit sexual sins, to whom should they confess? There are three answers. The first person is God because we have sinned against Him. That is why King David said the following after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.  Psalm 51:3-5 (NASB)

He admitted that he had sinned against God and He confessed his sin. When Christians confess their sins and express their sorrow to God, He forgives all of their sins because of Jesus Christ. Much of the grief and pain will disappear after we admit our wrong to Him and repent or turn from the sinful behavior.

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 (NASB)

Seek Holiness In Relationships

We also sin against men and women! In fact, anytime we cause someone else to sin or stumble, we sin against them.

And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:12 (NASB)

In the case of adultery, a person not only sins against God but against the one with whom he or she had sexual relations. When this occurs, should a Christian confess their sin of adultery to the person with whom he/she had sexual relations as well as to his/her spouse? The answer is found in two New Testament passages. The first passage tells us to go to anyone who is angry with us and seek reconciliation. The second passage tells us to confess our sins to others.

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Matthew 5:23-24 (NASB)

Therefore, confess your sins to one another . . . James 5:16 (NASB)

In the first passage, Jesus is saying that we are to seek to be holy in all of our relationships. If we know that someone has been offended by us, we are to seek their forgiveness. It is always possible the person may reject our admission of guilt and our request for forgiveness. If that occurs, at least you did what God commanded.

The second passage tells us to admit our sins to other Christians. We are to be open and seek their help to prevent future sin. Consequently, if we are supposed to confess our sins to other Christians, how much more to our own spouse?

Your Spouse Owns Your Body

God also tells husbands and wives that their bodies do not belong to themselves. Their bodies belong to their spouses. This is not a popular statement among many people today. But that is the message in the following verse.

But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 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 7:2-4 (NASB)

When it comes to sexual relations, a husband’s body belongs to his wife and the wife’s body belongs to her husband. When we marry, we are giving our bodies away. God does not mean that a person can abuse their spouse. That is not the message. The message is that God does not want spouses denying sexual relations with their husband or wife. This biblical principle also means that he or she does not have the right to commit adultery since your body is not your own in the marriage relationship. It belongs to your spouse. Did your spouse give you permission to do that with your body? If a husband or wife commits adultery, he or she has sinned against God, the person with whom they had the sexual encounter and their wife or husband. Should he or she tell their spouse? The answer is yes! In marriage a husband and wife are one flesh (Matthew 19:5). Therefore, shouldn’t we tell our spouse?

When Should Sexual Sin Be Public?

Jesus commanded us to practice church discipline when a person refuses to stop committing sin. Jesus also tells us to make the sin public. That is, under certain circumstances our friends and strangers should be told that we have sinned. Jesus tells us that if we see someone commit a serious sin (adultery, stealing, murder, etc.) or repeatedly commit a sin, then we must go to that person in private and encourage him or her to stop. If the person does not stop, then we are to include others in the confrontation.

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17 (NASB)

If the person continues in sin, we are to eventually include more people in an attempt to encourage him or her stop. God is concerned with “protecting our privacy” but not when we continue in sin. In 1 Corinthians we discover an example of where a man was having sex with his mother and the church did nothing. At that point the apostle Paul rebuked them publicly.

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you . . . that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present . . . REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. 1 Corinthians 5:1-3, 13 (NASB)

The principle of public disclosure even applies to leaders who continue in sin.

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 (NASB)

What is the conclusion? The New Testament teaches that if someone commits sexual sin, the sin should become public information only if he or she continues after being admonished to stop. But this does not mean that one’s spouse should not know.

Practical Considerations

Fear of violence is not a biblical reason for keeping it from a spouse. If we assume that one’s spouse will become violent if and when the spouse is told of the adultery, then we must ask, “Will the spouse’s anger be greater if he or she finds out about the adultery from someone else?” Are we sure that he or she will never find out? In the case of a wife who has committed adultery, the wife could include her pastor at the time she tells him. The pastor will then be a witness and a protection. He could also talk to her husband about follow-up counseling sessions. The pastor’s presence should help the husband control his anger.

Conclusion:

When a person commits adultery, he or she has sinned against God, against their own body, against his or her spouse and against the one with whom the adultery was committed. Confession or admission of sin needs to include everyone involved. Only then can peace occur in the heart. There will always be some pain. We cannot instantly erase our memories. I would encourage anyone in this situation to spend many hours in prayer and in reading the Bible. God will comfort us as we spend time with Him. We need to pray for anyone who is involved and ask for wisdom for the pastor involved. May God bless and comfort you.

Reference Links:

Does Matthew 5:31-32 say that even the non-adulterer is guilty of adultery?
Heart-Adultery!
Woman Caught In Adultery
Adultery in the Heart
Am I living in adultery, am I forgiven?