Getting Confession Right The First Time

Edward J. Grant

It had been years since Sally felt the gut-wrenching, searing pain of betrayal that left her world shattered in countless broken pieces. ‘This can’t be happening all over again,’ she thought, ‘not after all we’ve been through.’ What should she do? Where should she go with the holidays around the corner? Was her marriage over and should she demand her husband leave the home immediately? How could she be so stupid to ever have trusted him again? She was in shock, not unlike the shock that accompanies the death of a loved one. Her feelings would surely intensify in the coming days and weeks as the reality of her husband’s treachery settled in.

It began with the discovery of a pornographic web site on the computer. She knew that none of her three children had visited it and prayed that they hadn’t found the graphic pictures. That discovery, painful enough in its own right, was just the beginning. He confessed that hadn’t been honest with her when he first confessed seven years ago, admitting to using only four or five prostitutes during their marriage. There had been many, many more, ‘countless’ in his words. Then she was willing to attempt to salvage their marriage. Since that time they had both worked hard to rebuild, spending thousands of dollars in the process. They attended weekly support group meetings, marriage counseling, cried tears by the bucketful, and endured the interminable tug-of-war between hope and hopelessness. She began to see relational change over the years as both took the first fearful, faltering steps towards genuine intimacy, eventually renewing their wedding vows when she came to trust him once more. Now she learned that he had never been sober; he had lied to everyone. He had indulged in a number of affairs and never ceased frequenting prostitutes.

Having recounted some of the moral and spiritual failures of Israel to the troubled congregation at Corinth St. Paul wrote, ’11These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’

As we reflect on one woman’s devastating experience caused by her husband’s sin let us consider several fatal flaws that contributed to his failure.

1. Confession needs to be complete. Whenever we try to do damage control by holding back important facts about our behaviors – often under the guise of ‘sparing her further pain’ – we are left with the relentless question: ‘If I had told her everything would she have stayed with me?’ Shame attends our incomplete confession and becomes the favorite target at which Satan hurls his accusations. King David was no stranger to the attempt to cover his sins instead of confessing them. He writes in Psalm 32, ‘3When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.’ Confession brought relief and healing in his heart and in his relationship with God: ‘5Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

2. Shame causes the intense pain that propels the addict into the predictable cycle of addiction. When some painful event in life accesses the well of shame hidden in the wounded heart the addict resorts to the familiar cycle of pre-occupation, ritual, and acting out, culminating with despair. The goal of acting out is a journey to the land of numb: no feeling is better than emotional pain. Loved ones are all too familiar with the emotional distance acting out causes between them and the addict.

3. Forgiveness comes from confessing our sins to God, but healing comes from confessing our sins to one another. James writes, ’16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’ The healing God intends comes from caring relationships with fellow pilgrims wherein the lies we believe about ourselves can be dispelled. The four core beliefs of the addict are:
1. I am a bad and worthless person.
2. If you really knew me, you wouldn’t love me
(ergo no one gets to know the real me).
3. Sex is my greatest need.
4. Only I can meet my needs.
As fellow strugglers share their failures, pain and encouragements with each other the truth of divine, unconditional love begins to sink in.

4. Radical commitment to honesty. Unless a person is willing to commit to honesty regardless of the consequences, true change and healing is not possible. Jesus said, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’ Walking in and living by God’s truth frees us from the weight of guilt, the arrows of shame and the accusations of Satan. Living by the truth is scary when you are accustomed to living a lie, but it is the only path on which we can find fellowship with God and the freedom He has promised.

Men struggling with sexual integrity, please see Every Man’s Battle.
If you are married to a man struggling with sexual integrity, please join us for our Every Heart Restored program at our next New Life Weekend.

Sexual Purity And The Gospel

Lance David

I have a confession to make. I don’t understand the gospel. That’s not to say I don’t know the nuts and bolts of it. However, I’m embarrassed to say, the gospel rarely captures my heart. Let me explain.

The other day, my wife made a confession to me. Our three-year-old daughter had slammed the front door on the fingers of our one-year-old daughter (and this slamming thing has been a problem without a good solution for a while now). In frustration and fear my wife shouted, ‘You stupid kid.’ Of course she wasn’t proud of this and had hoped it would blow over, thinking it was probably the first time that the little squirt had heard that word. However, the next day, the question came, ‘Mommy, what does stupid mean?’

Have you ever wished you could take something back? My wife never wanted anyone in the world to call our precious daughter stupid- and she had done it! To solidify that this was not merely going to blow over, the next day my wife and I both heard our three-year-old say to our one-year-old, ‘You stupid baby.’

It was after this that my wife told me what had happened.

Now, I love my wife. She is such a good gift to me. She is not perfect, but is my perfect match. And, I love my daughter- the coolest three-year old in the whole world. And my wife felt really bad for what she had said. But I was struggling. My head said, ‘It’s not the end of the world for your daughter. She knows her mother loves her. This is a really good thing that your wife told you and she’s hurting.’ But I was starting to feel the anger well up inside me. Things like, ‘I’m a counselor, for crying out loud! People come see me because their parents said emotionally abusive things like this to them! How dare she say that to MY daughter!’

Now, my wife can read me very well and needless to say, my judgmental attitude did not go over well with her. The whole thing was rapidly going somewhere in a hand basket when God stepped in. Somewhere deep inside my wife’s heart she knew God was saying, ‘I’ve taken your punishment for you. And I’ve taken your judgmental husband’s punishment too. Neither of you need to suffer for your sin because I already have.’ And then my wife spoke to me, ‘It’s ok if you judge me, Jesus took my penalty. And he’s taken yours as well.’

The truly amazing thing is that she said this without any hint of defensiveness. It wasn’t one of those Christianized versions of ‘sticks and stones can break my bones.’ Instead she related a calming, strengthening, life-giving reality. The effect on me was marvelous. Instantly I knew she was right and that I could let go of my desire to get justice by being angry at and demanding punishment of my wife.

The truth of the matter is that I did not readily offer my wife grace because I so rarely accept God’s grace. Again, I am trusting Christ alone to save me from my SIN. It’s just that so often I don’t accept God’s grace to save me from my individual, practical, all-too-often-occurring sins. You know the ones like my judgmental heart, my arrogant spirit, my lustful eyes.

If I get convicted of those kind of things I usually think, ‘Okay. I slipped up again. That was bad, though not as bad as some people I know. I won’t do it again. I’ll try harder from now on. It won’t happen again.’ Or if the situation fits I try to handle my sin is by shifting the blame to someone else. ‘It did that because she deserved it.’

But Jesus’ offer is that I shift the blame to him. The really good news of the gospel is that God doesn’t whitewash my sin. He sees it for the filth that it is and he says, ‘You don’t have to suffer for it because I already have. Go ahead, walk in freedom.’

I think that for many of us on the path to sexual purity we forget our desperate need for the gospel to impact us in the rubber-meets-the-road ordinary arenas of life. What do you suppose would be the fruit in terms of sexual purity if our hearts were more and more captivated by the gospel? I pray that would be more and more of a reality for both you and me.

For more help in the battle for purity see Every Man’s Battle.

The Cost of Forgiveness

Brad Stenberg

The wrong done by sexual sin and betrayal is a serious matter, but the forgiveness involved is more serious still. That’s because forgiveness can set in motion the healing of a relationship where truth replaces deception, and a future hope is birthed out of ashes. But there are certain costs involved.

To ask for forgiveness costs you having to bear the sting of humility and humiliation. You have to give up the defenses that protect your self-image from being morally wrong by openly admitting your failure and being exposed. It also costs you what status or power you may have had with your wife because you have to give up that position to the one you have wronged. And it costs you the uncertainty of knowing whether your wife will be willing and able to overcome the many impediments to forgiving you. This kind of betrayal can cause irreparable damage to a marriage.

As difficult as it seems for you, think what it costs your wife to forgive you.

First, she has to give up her claim to justice. She has to let go of her desire to see you get what you deserve for your sexual sin. While she experiences the painful agony of being betrayed, it seems to her that you are getting by without this pain. Instead, she has to trust and obey God’s instruction to not take vengeance or carry a grudge, but rather to love you in the Lord (Leviticus 19:18). This is not easy.

Second, the forgiving process costs your wife her sense of safety with you. The discovery of sexual unfaithfulness in one’s marriage is described by many women as being worse than having your body torn apart, or having open heart surgery without anesthesia. This kind of trauma often causes a wife to organize the entire relationship around the injury. The hurt can reemerge in an alive and intensely emotional manner, like a flashback that feels overwhelming. Though you sorrowfully admit and repent of your transgression, she finds it difficult to let it go because she never wants to be hurt like this again. So she naturally protects herself from being vulnerable.

Third, the occasion for forgiveness has cost her the loss of trust in you. You betrayed a trust that you promised to protect. Your wife now has to protect what little trust she has left. Even though she forgives you for what you did in the past, trusting you is about the future. It’s going to take some time for her to be able to trust and invest in you again. This is something you will have to earn through more than verbal reassurances. She needs to see your bold, concrete, and consistent actions over time. Feeling remorse is good, and verbal promises help, but it’s your overall attitude and actions that will win your wife’s trust back. She has to trust that you will not harm her again.

So, in most cases of sexual betrayal a wife has the heavier emotional load to carry. She has to control intrusive and obsessive thoughts about your behaviors. She has to calm the rage that screams from her pain of rejection. She has to grieve the loss of not having the marriage she thought she had. And she has to find a way to restore her lost sense of self. Meanwhile, she also has to find the strength to act in ways that are attractive to you, while risking being vulnerable and intimate again. And she has to do all this while dealing with the difficult issue of forgiving you. It’s necessary, but costly.

In contrast, you want it to be over. You’ve confessed or admitted your behavior (though perhaps only after having been caught). You’ve pledged your fidelity and commitment to be sexually pure. You feel relieved, cleansed, and ready to move on. You think it’s in your and her best interest to forgive, trust, and get over it. But it is not in your wife’s best interest to forgive and trust you too quickly because cheap grace does not produce the lasting change you both need.

It cost God His only Son to be able to say, I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me for I have redeemed you (Isaiah 44:22, NIV).

So know and accept that the forgiveness process you and your wife are involved in will cost you both something.

For help in experiencing forgiveness and healing, we strongly encourage you to attend the New Life Weekend with your spouse.