I preached an entire sermon on this heartbreaking subject as part of our series on the Ten Commandments. The seventh commandment states: “You shall not commit adultery.” As I prepared for the sermon, nearly every single one of the small mountain of books and commentaries I read dealt entirely with the theological issues and skipped the painful, practical, and pastoral ones. This big blog post on adultery is intended to help fill that gap both for those who are suffering from this sin, and those who are helping those who are hurting.
For starters, consider this fact: almost half of all marriages (41%) will be tarnished by the sin of adultery. That doesn’t include the secret porn habits of who knows how many more otherwise “faithful” spouses. It also doesn’t fully account for the adulterous desires harbored by the majority of all married men (74%) and women (68%) who would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught.
Admittedly, it’s hard to find consistent statistics on infidelity. If anything, however, the numbers are low for two reasons in particular: 1) some people would rather lie than admit to adultery; and 2) there’s no consensus on the definition of adultery up until extramarital intercourse.
The precise degree to which adultery exists, however, does not change the indisputable fact that it is pervasive—in marriages, in entertainment, in politics, in the workplace—and it ruins marriages, devastates families, and in the most visceral sense violates our relationship with God.
Now, consider how serious adultery is. In the Old Covenant you could be put to death for adultery (Levi. 20:10). In the New Covenant, you can get divorced for adultery (Matt. 5:32, 19:9). And, if not repented of, adultery can result in eternal damnation (1 Cor. 6:9–10). All sin is equally damnable, but not all sin is equally devastating. The implications of adultery are far reaching, legacy altering, and covenant damaging.
With that in mind, here is a comprehensive list of resources and information for you to use as bullets for attacking adultery.
10-point battle plan
Here are tactics and reminders that I included in my sermon about adultery:
- Fornicating while single is an internship for adulterating in marriage. Singles, sleeping around before you marry is not a way to prepare for fidelity in marriage.
- Married couples must fight for fidelity with freedom and frequency. Real Marriage and Celebration of Sex could be helpful books on this issue.
- Before you cheat on your spouse you have to cheat on God first. You can’t break commandment #7 without first breaking commandments #1 and #2: worship only God and you will not worship sex instead.
- Sexual sin starts with your eyes, which then recruit your hands. Jesus says, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
- To conquer your biology, stop seeing people sexually and start seeing them as family. The Bible invites Christians to treat men like brothers and women like sisters, which is a loving, healthy framework for appropriate friendship with members of the opposite sex (1 Tim. 5:1–2).
- Sexual purity requires both a passionate “want-to” and plan for “how-to.” Legalism is when we impose on others a bunch of rules that aren’t in the Bible. Not good. Personal legalism is when we impose certain boundaries on ourselves because we know our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The Bible doesn’t condemn HBO or require Covenant Eyes, but it’s unwise to order premium channels and/or not have an Internet filter if you struggle with pornography and sexual sin.
- Men: your manhood is not best expressed by conquering ladies, but rather by conquering lusts. We are not animals. What we do with our bodies is worship that either honors God or dishonors God.
- Ladies: men are indeed a problem, but they are only half the problem.
- Define your life forward then live it backward. A marriage filled with joy, kids and grandkids doesn’t happen by accident. Determine what a godly life looks like in the end, and then do what you’re supposed to do (and don’t do what you’re not supposed to do) in order to get there—by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Come clean before you get caught.
Questions to ask after adultery
Pastor Phil Smidt leads our marriage ministry at Mars Hill Church Ballard. He has developed the following outline for our pastors to use as a guide when counseling couples dealing with adultery. The Biblical Counseling Coalition provides a similar list as well.
1. Ask, “What happened?”
- Get specifics about the adultery, as the details will matter in how you walk with the couple toward forgiveness and restoration. Find out the following:
- Was it an ongoing, secretive affair or a one-night stand? This matters a great deal. With a secret, long lasting relationship, there will be an emotional entanglement and an ongoing pattern of lying that will need to be addressed. The offender will have “feelings” for the person he or she has been with and usually for their spouse too, regardless of how irrational that seems. There are many reasons why a one-night stand may have occurred that will be sinful, but there will not be the emotional entanglement and relationship that needs to end.
- Was it with the same sex or opposite sex? You cannot assume to know the answer to this question. If it was with the same sex, that does not make it anymore sinful than if the adultery would have been with the opposite sex. But there will be different implications if the couple moves toward reconciliation, as the same sex attraction will need to be addressed.
- Was it illegal? Did it involve under age sex, prostitution, or any other form of illegal sexual activity?
- Was the adultery emotional or physical? Never downplay an emotional affair. There is a clear difference between men and women on this issue. Studies have shown if a wife commits adultery, 70% of husbands will hope it was emotional and not physical. Conversely, if the husband commits adultery, 60% of women will hope it was physical and not emotional.
- Have you both been tested for sexually transmitted diseases? This needs to be a health and safety requirement for both the offender and the offended.
- Have all forms of communication ended between the offender and the other person? This may be very difficult if it has been an ongoing, secretive affair. If it was a one-night stand, this will be much easier. As leaders, we need to insist all communication ends. If the offender is truly repentant, they will agree to this. If not, it will give you a clearer idea of where their heart is.
- Is there anything else to confess or have you admitted everything? Give the offender ample opportunity for full disclosure and confession.
2. Ask, “What led to the adultery? What was your marriage like?”
This will provide you with a better understanding of the marital dynamic before the adultery occurred.
3. Assess the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation and always present that as a redemptive outcome.
The offender may or may not want to reconcile. They may be repentant or unrepentant. They may want to see things made right but have no idea where to start or what to do. The offended will need to forgive, but not want to or realize the cost and difficulty involved with forgiveness. The offended might be bitter, caustic, hateful, resentful, and not open to considering forgiveness. The offended might be hurt, sad, and suffering, but open to forgiving and moving toward reconciliation. These questions may help assess the heart condition of both the offended and offender:
- What do you want to do?
- What are you willing and open to do?
- What would bring God most glory?
- What does God want you to do?
4. Slow down talk of divorce.
If either spouse is pushing for or seeking divorce, there are heart issues that will need to be addressed and explored more deeply. A desire to want to divorce indicates more is going on. Not all divorces are sinful, but all divorces are the result of sin.
5. Be in community and receive help.
If the couple is open to giving and receiving forgiveness and reconciliation, eventually restoration may be possible. It does take two to reconcile and the process can be long and painful. However, time and time again, God heals even marriages broken by divorce. Be prepared that walking with a couple through the process of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration, can be long, difficult and painful, and yet incredibly rewarding and redemptive. There aren’t any shortcuts.
Here is a summary of adultery statistics:
- 41% of marriages: One or both spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional.
- 57% of men admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had.
- 22% percent of married men have strayed at least once during their married lives.
- 14% percent of married women have strayed at least once during their married lives.
- 36% of men and women admit to having an affair with a co-worker.
- 35% of men and women who admit to infidelity on business trips.
- 17% of men and women admit to infidelity with a brother-in-law or sister-in-law.
- Average length of an affair: 2 years.
- 74% of men would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught.
- 68% of women say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught.
- 79% of respondents said that having an affair with a taken man was never acceptable, a surprising 46% admitted to having done it.
- Men who have been divorced or separated are twice as likely to cheat (28% vs. 14%).
- Women who have been divorced or separated are also twice as likely to cheat (19% vs. 7%).
- Children of divorced parents are at least 50% more likely to get a divorce than those from an unbroken home.
- When both the husband and wife come from divorced families, the odds of divorce are 200% higher.
- More than a third of divorce filings last year contained the word “Facebook,” according to a survey by Divorce Online, a UK-based legal services firm.
- The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81% of its members have used or faced evidence plucked from Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, including YouTube and LinkedIn, over the last five years.
- 66% of the lawyers surveyed cited Facebook foibles as the source of online evidence.
- 1 in 5 adults use Facebook for flirting.
Sources include: Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, via Statistic Brain; University of Virginia Marriage Project, via Psychology Today; Women’s Health; National Opinion Research Center, via Hooking Up Smart; Smart Marriages Coalition; NY Post; American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, via NBC News; Pew Internet and American Life Project, via NBC News.
Resources to help deal with adultery
I’ve compiled a list of some great biblical resources to help those who are struggling through the effects of adultery or counseling those who are.
Ken Sande / Peacemaker Ministries
This one doesn’t necessarily deal with adultery, but it’s a helpful book on working through conflict and sin leading to forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration.
Robert D. Jones / Christian Counseling and Education Foundation
Part of CCEF’s minibook series, which offers gospel-centered hope for everyday issues in a brief format that can be read about 30 minutes.
Winston T. Smith / Christian Counseling and Education Foundation
Another helpful minibook about adultery from CCEF.
Cindy Beall / FamilyLife Today
“A few days after an ordinary Valentine’s Day, Cindy Beall’s life changed forever. She listened with disbelief to her husband, Chris, a respected pastor, confess to pornography addiction, numerous affairs, and the startling news that a woman was pregnant with his child.”
Meg Wilson / FamilyLife Today
“Countless women have been blindsided by their husband’s sexual addiction. It is a shocking discovery that can leave women feeling hurt, ashamed, and even guilty. This book offers reassuring counsel, compassionate insight, and wise discretion—gently taking her readers through the steps to recovery.”
Nancy Anderson / FamilyLife Today
“From a woman who strayed to the other side of the marital fence–and returned to find forgiveness and restoration–comes this practical book about predicting and preventing an extra-martial affair.”
“On the one hand, sex becomes a complex darkness. On the other hand, sex becomes a garden of simple, pure delights. Which picture represents you?”
“If you had asked the betrayed partner before the adultery, ‘Do you think you could ever reconcile if your spouse was adulterous?’ Most would have said, with confidence, ‘no!’ Yet—many do. But how? What is their secret?”
Dwayne Bond / American Association of Christian Counselors
“Can a marriage recover from the devastation of adultery? This is the pervading question pondered by the adulterous couple as well as the counselor tasked with assisting them.”
Cheryl Scruggs / Association of Biblical Counselors
“We seemed to have it all: professional success, adorable twin daughters and a good marriage by worldly standards. But our picture-perfect image concealed a widening chasm between two people unable to connect on an intimate level.”
Pastor Eric Mason
“As we grow as believers in Jesus Christ and become surrounded by more and more Christians, it’s easy to put on a façade. Often we aren’t willing to admit where we are spiritually because we’ve become skilled at hiding our weaknesses.”
Jonathan Holmes / Biblical Counseling Coalition
“Is the church a place and a people where the adulterer and victim of adultery can find hope and healing for their marriage? I’d like to discuss some of the benefits of counseling within the local church following the revelation of marital infidelity.”
The initial shock and sense of hurt and betrayal that come from infidelity are devastating. How can you help a couple move through the trauma to encourage reconciliation and the rebuilding of trust?
The shock, sense of hurt and betrayal that come from infidelity is devastating. How can you help a couple through this trauma encouraging reconciliation and the rebuilding of trust?
The BCC has compiled numerous sermons, lectures, and other resources that address the topic of adultery.
“Sometimes circumstances in life become too hard to handle alone, or even in weekly counseling sessions. We provide one- to three-day counseling intensives in a retreat setting that is gospel-centered, and carefully tailored to each individual situation.”
For those at Mars Hill Church . . .
Redemption Groups are intense small groups that dig deep into difficult and seldom-discussed areas of life, such as abuse, adultery, addiction, and trials of all sorts. These groups are highly participatory and seek to show that the gospel is relevant to all troubles in life, even the most serious of troubles.
Also, the best way to deal with adultery is to avoid it altogether. Our pre-marriage class is one of the most longstanding ministries at Mars Hill Church, designed to help couples figure out if they’re suited for marriage with one another. For those that do get married, this class helps them establish a relationship based on the gospel that will endure to the glory of God.
Go to marshill.com/counseling to learn more and sign up for a pre-marriage class, a Redemption Group, or individual counseling.