Unfortunately, far too many Christian couples find themselves forced to figure out how to deal with infidelity Biblically. We have entered into the covenant of marriage fully intending to cling to our spouse “till death do us part,” but now find we’re having to answer questions we never dreamed would have to be asked.
Most of the time, the betrayed spouse desperately wants to see the marriage healed and restored, but finds she is only half of the equation. Very often, we also really want to honor God in our response, but find so much conflicting information as to what is expected of us that we get helplessly confused and begin to feel there is no hope.
How can we honor God in a situation that is SO dishonoring to Him? It seems impossible.
At the same time, the betraying spouse is often wrestling through much more than just the sin of adultery. The problems that led to this infidelity go back far, and reach deep! He often wants desperately to find his way back to God, but feels he’s fallen too far. Rebellion has taken such a strong hold, he feels he’ll never be free of it.
Precious friends, if I have just described your situation, I want you to know, there IS hope! The Bible has answers. We have stood where you stand, and we have found freedom, healing, and restoration. You can too.
Step one in learning how to deal with infidelity Biblically is to understand what marriage is in the first place and how adultery impacts that bond. Marriage is a covenant instituted and designed by God from the beginning of time. Covenants bind two parties together as they promise themselves to the parameters of the agreement.
Hebrews 6:16-18 – Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without question that oath is binding. God also bound Himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that He would never change His mind. So God has given both His promise and His oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie.
The covenant of marriage is an oath made before God, and He is the one who set its parameters in the garden. He designed it to be a “coming together” of two people who enter into a sacred and solemn agreement bound by their physical union.
Genesis 2:24 – This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.
Sex within marriage is a sacred act which seals the covenant and unites husband and wife in a way that is unmatched in any other relationship. They become part of each other. One flesh. It is beautiful, and precious, and a gift from God. But just as God has told us what seals the covenant of marriage, He has also clearly defined what breaks it.
Malachi 2:13-16 – Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord’s alter with tears, weeping and groaning because He pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows [covenant (ESV)].
Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are His. And what does He want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cuelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”
Infidelity breaks the covenant of marriage in the eyes of God. It’s done. Divorce is assumed because the binding agreement that was made has been severed as the physical union that sealed it is given to another. And in the Bible, God says He hates it!
Of course, this doesn’t mean the covenant can’t be restored or remade… but there is no getting around the fact that the original covenant is broken.
In the book of Jeremiah, we get a startling picture of how God responded to Israel when she repeatedly and unrepentantly broke her covenant with Him. Long story short, He divorced her.
Now we know that God will not and cannot break a covenant (see the verse above from Hebrews). So if He divorced Israel, acknowledging the end of the covenant relationship He had with her, we can conclude that it was not God, but Israel, who broke the covenant, even though God is the one who divorced Israel.
So Is Divorce How to Deal with Infidelity Biblically?
So if God divorced Israel, does that mean we must divorce our unfaithful spouse when seeking how to deal with infidelity Biblically?
No, I don’t believe divorce is our only Biblical option in the face of adultery. And let me add, it is NOT the choice I made in our marriage. I hope you hear me when I say, we don’t want any marriage to end in divorce, and I don’t believe it’s what God wants either. The Bible makes it pretty clear that He puts great value on marriage.
If reconciliation is possible, it is always the better option, and we’ll get more into what that looks like in a bit.
But I think it’s important that both spouses recognize how very strong the Bible stands on the importance of fidelity in marriage, and how final unfaithfulness is to the breaking of the covenant. To divorce an unfaithful spouse is not to break the covenant, but to publicly acknowledge that the covenant has already been broken.
There has been a whole lot of bad teaching on this issue within the church, teaching that seems to be based more on tradition than what the Bible says. (Kinda reminds me of the Pharisees.) Before we can know how to deal with infidelity Biblically, we have to examine Scripture for ourselves and discover what it actually teaches. Don’t take my word for it. Open it up, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you to truth.
Divorce in the Bible
The fact is, divorce is the understood response to infidelity in the Bible. (Look at the verses above from Malachi 2.) It is assumed that divorce will follow unfaithfulness.
To choose to reconcile is an act of grace (undeserved favor). Every time.
When Joseph, who the Bible describes as a just man, discovered Mary was pregnant, He had in mind to divorce her quietly. Unless the angel Gabriel had intervened, Joseph would have continued to believe Mary had been unfaithful to him, and his “just” response was divorce.
Even Jesus, when teaching on divorce, acknowledged and affirmed the assumed response of divorce to marital unfaithfulness.
Matthew 19:8 – Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery – unless his wife has been unfaithful.
Matthew 5:31 – You have heard the law that says, “A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce. But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.
To Divorce or Not to Divorce?
So how are we to know if we should seek out divorce, or choose reconciliation? How do we know how to deal with infidelity Biblically in our own, individual situations?
I believe the answer has everything to do with repentance. Look at what God said to Israel after He divorced her:
Jeremiah 3:12-13 – Therefore, go and give this message to Israel. This is what the Lord says:
“O Israel, my faithless people, come home to me again, for I am merciful.
I will not be angry with you forever. Only acknowledge your guilt.
Admit that you rebelled against the Lord your God and committed adultery against Him by worshiping idols under every green tree.
Confess that you refused to listen to my voice. I, the Lord, have spoken!”
God was willing to reconcile Himself to Israel if she would only repent and turn back to Him. If we want to know how to deal with infidelity Biblically, I believe we’ll do the same.
Yes, to reconcile after infidelity is an act of grace, but our God lavishes grace upon us every day, and as His people, we are called to live gracious lives.
If there is true, genuine, and complete repentance on the part of the betrayer, God can restore what has been broken. A new covenant can be made. If, however, there is no repentance, then I believe 1 Corinthians 5 tells us what we must do.
Willingness to Forgive
The sad truth is, though, there will be times when there is genuine repentance on the part of the betrayer, but the marriage will still end in divorce. Sometimes the betrayed spouse is not willing to do the hard work of recovery. This is unfortunate and I don’t personally believe it is an example of how to deal with infidelity Biblically.
As followers of God, we are called to live our lives in obedience to the principles of Scripture, and one thing Scripture teaches is that we are called to forgive others in the same way God has forgiven us.
Ephesians 4:31-32 – Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
When we repent, God forgives us, and our broken relationship with Him is restored. When we do not repent, He does not forgive us, and the relationship remains eternally severed. Plain and simple. If we are going to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, this is our model.
Luke 24: 46-47 – And He (Jesus) said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’“
Acts 3:19 -20 – Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and He will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah.
Acts 2:38 – Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 13:3 & 5 – …And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God… I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish too.
Romans 2:5 – But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s judgement will be revealed.
2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
His forgiveness has been made available to all, and His part in forgiveness is done. He doesn’t need to do anything else for forgiveness to happen. But unless we repent, His forgiveness is not applied to us. I believe the same is asked of us.
We are expected to do the work of forgiveness for anyone who has offended us. In other words, there should be no malice or bitterness in our hearts, so that if they were to repent, forgiveness could be applied immediately and completely. However, if repentance never happens, then forgiveness is never applied, and the relationship remains fractured. Just as the unrepentant sinner will forever be separated from God.
Let me reiterate, just to be perfectly clear. It is never okay for us to harbor bitterness and malice in our hearts. NEVER. Repentance or no repentance, we are called to do the work of forgiveness in every single situation. (Matthew 18:21-35) We are called to release the situation to God and allow His justice to handle it. However, the restoration of the relationship – reconciliation – or the application of forgiveness is reserved for those who repent.
Of course, we’re not God, and while His forgiveness is perfect and complete, we are going to have to continually surrender our will to Him and plead with Him to help us as we work toward the ability to forgive. We can’t do it on our own, friends, but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can forgive.
How Can I Know if there is True Repentance?
Of course, we can’t see the heart of another, so how can we ever really know if there is repentance or not? How are we supposed to figure out how to deal with infidelity Biblically if we can’t ever know for sure if we’re still being lied to or manipulated?
These are hard questions to answer, but the Bible gives us some pretty great advice on the matter. The first thing we need to understand is that while we can’t see anyone else’s heart, God can. He not only knows what is going on in our spouse’s heart right now, but He knows what was going on in there yesterday, and what will be going on in there tomorrow. We can trust Him to lead us into all truth.
God promises that if we need wisdom on any matter, we need only ask, and He will help us. (James 1:5-8) The Bible also teaches us that we’re not supposed to depend on our own understanding of any situation, but to trust in the Lord with all our heart, acknowledge Him in everything we do, and wait for Him to show us which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Finally, we find in Scripture that there is something called fruit of the Spirit. These are measurable by-products of a Holy-Spirit filled life. The fruit of the Spirit includes things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and stands in sharp contrast to the fruit of the flesh. (Galatians 5)
A person who has humbled himself before God in repentance will live a life which bears out the fruit of the Spirit. It cannot be faked, not consistently or for any significant length of time anyhow. If we see within the life of our spouse the consistent fruit of the flesh, it is unlikely that repentance has taken place. If, however, we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control becoming a bigger and bigger part of his life, we can trust that this is a result of the active work of the Holy Spirit, and it only happens in a repentant heart.
A Few Signs of a Repentant Heart in the Area of Infidelity
Adultery is first and foremost a rebellion against God. If you are the betrayer, and you want to know how to deal with infidelity Biblically, you must fall on your face before Him before you do anything else. With a broken and contrite heart, you must confess your sins to Him, and in humility ask Him to help you turn from them.
As you heal, here are some things that will become a part of your life:
- Repentance takes full responsibility for sin without blaming anyone or anything else.
- A repentant heart won’t minimize, justify, or manipulate away past wrongs, let alone new mistakes.
- One who has repented will have empathy towards the people who have been hurt by his sin and sorrow over the pain caused.
- A repentant heart does not pretend to be the victim of his own sin. He will not try and turn conversations around to make himself out to be the one who was hurt.
- One who has truly repented is willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes in order to earn back the trust that was lost as a result of his sin. He does not believe he is owed anything, but sees every opportunity toward reconciliation as an act of grace that he does not deserve.
How to Deal with Infidelity Biblically with a Separation
Here’s the thing, figuring all of this out is going to take time. That’s okay. I know you feel like you have to figure out how you’re going to deal with this situation right now, but that is just the enemy trying to rush you into acting on your feelings instead of waiting on God.
If there is true repentance, it is going to take time for the fruit of that repentance to become obvious. You both need time to work through this mess with God and allow Him to guide your next steps.
Did you know there is an example in the Bible about the reconciliation of a marriage after infidelity? It can be found in the book of Hosea, and I think it’s a great place to look when seeking guidance on how to deal with infidelity Biblically!
God instructed Hosea to bring his unfaithful wife, Gomer, back into his house, but before the marriage would be restored, they were to spend a time (many days) in total abstinence. (There’s some pretty cool stuff in there about God and His relationship with Israel too! Check out the whole chapter of Hosea 3, or better yet, the whole book of Hosea! )
Hosea 3:1-3 – Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover… So I bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and five bushels of barley and a measure of wine. Then I said to her, “You must live in my house for many days and stop your prostitution. During this time, you will not have sexual relations with anyone, not even with me.”
This is why we strongly recommend a time of separation after infidelity. It offers both of you a little space to figure out next steps from a place of safety. Use the time to fall on your face before God and plead with Him for help. Ask Him to show you the way forward. I promise you, my friend, He will!
Deal with Infidelity Biblically by Digging Into Scripture
I know this has been long, and there’s a lot here. Figuring out how to deal with infidelity Biblically is a terrible thing to have to face. It’s confusing. But I hope you’ve found a starting place here.
The truth is, the best way to deal with any situation Biblically is simply to dig into Scripture and ask God to show you what to do. If you are a believer, then you have the Holy Spirit of the living God inside of you friend! You don’t need me or anyone else to tell you what He is asking you to do. You have the infallible Word of God at your fingertips and it is living and active!
The Bible has the power to divide out what is true and what is not. It can show us what path to take. It can teach us and rebuke us and train us in righteousness.
Never underestimate the power of the Word of God combined with the Holy Spirit of God in your life. It is all we need! Dig in, and find your answers!