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How to & How Not to Repent: Best & Worst Practices

repent_kellerThis post is meant to offer guidance to common “what now” questions that could emerge from Pastor Raudel’s sermon “Bear Fruit: Repentance – Psalm 51,” preached at The Summit Church Saturday-Sunday June 10-11, 2017.

How to Repent

There is no formula for repentance. The six points below are merely meant to help you experience the full redemptive impact of repentance. In this sense, repentance and God’s forgiveness can be like a smart phone. They have many features that we may not know are present or how to utilize. When we buy the phone, we get them all; but we do not get the full benefit of them until we realize they’re there and how to use them.

After each point, we will offer an area of self-assessment. These questions are meant to help you determine whether you are placing yourself in a position to receive the benefits God intends to provide through each aspect of repentance.

1. A desire to live for God and submit to His Lordship.

Repentance does not begin with remorse. If that were the case, then we would be saying the cure for guilt begins with feeling worse.

Repentance begins with a genuine desire to submit to God’s Lordship out of trust for His character. Repentance begins with the belief that what God wants for us is actually what is best. We trust God to lead our lives more than ourselves.

When we see God’s ways as best, we are sorry we strayed from them, but this remorse is not “icky” like shame; instead it is like the sense of reunion with a trusted friend after you realize you were wrongly upset with them and they graciously embrace the friendship again.

  • Self-Assessment: Are you surrendering to the Lordship of Christ because you trust his love for you or are you primarily seeking relief from unpleasant emotions and destructive habits?

2. An understanding of how our sin sought to replace God.

It is not just actions or distorted motives for which we repent. We repent for having replaced God with ourselves. 

The idols that fuel our sin want to control all of our lives; to interpret all the events and people in our lives. Repentance acknowledges this false worship as an affront to God and wants him to have his rightful place in our lives; allowing God to again rightly interpret the events and people in our lives.

  • Self-Assessment: Are you able to see the “against God” nature of your sin?

3. Brokenness over the nature of our sin.

A healthy life begins with recognizing our fallen human condition. Ultimately we sin because we are sinners. The myriad of factors that led to our sin are not the root cause. The root is that our nature has been distorted by the Fall (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

True repentance is not just sorrow over particular idols or behavioral failures but brokenness over our condition as a sinful person. When we acknowledge our depravity, we gain an accurate self-assessment that motivates us to perpetually rely on God. Realizing this is the perpetual need of every person allows for a non-shame-based honesty in which a real relationship with God can thrive.

Repentance is what allows you not to have to be either fake or fatalistic about your short-comings and perpetual struggles. Repentance allows you to be honest and have hope at the same time.

  • Self-Assessment: Do you resist seeing yourself and allowing yourself to be known as someone who is in perpetual need of God’s sustaining grace?

4. Expression to God.

After sin, our pride or fear causes us to hide from God rather than talk to God (Gen. 3:8). Too often we think that a directionless sense of regret for sin is the same thing as repenting to God.

You will not feel restored to God as long as you are avoiding God because of your sin. It does no good to address your repentance “to whom it may concern.” Any ambiguously addressed repentance is little more than talking to yourself differently. Talk to God when you repent so that you can know His response to your repentance.

  • Self-Assessment: Have you talked to God in your repentance? If not, might it be that your repentance seems ineffective because the “no one” you spoke to can have no power to forgive or comfort?

5. Faith in God’s willingness to forgive.

Repentance is an expression of faith. We come to God with nothing to offer in exchange for forgiveness. If we do not believe God will freely forgive, we will continue in our “try harder” or “hide more effectively” approaches that allowed our sin to fester.

All this does is inadvertently reinforce the false beliefs that our sin is good and God is mean. Unless we believe that God is willing to forgive on the basis of His grace and Christ’s death, then repentance becomes a form of penance that is more like putting peace in layaway than receiving a gift.

  • Self-Assessment: How do you view God (i.e., expression on His face, posture of His body, tones when He speaks, words that He says, gestures of His hands) when you come to God in repentance?

6. New direction of life usually expressed first by confession (to those we’ve offended and other Christians for accountability).

Repentance is our part of entering into or recommitting to a covenant relationship (i.e., like marriage) with God. This is why sin is frequently called spiritual adultery. 

Repentance is our vow-renewal ceremony that expresses our renewed commitment to covenant fidelity. Marriage ceremonies and vow renewals are not done in private. They are public declarations of who has our ultimate allegiance. This parallels why repentance doesn’t remain private. It is also expressed through confession.

  • Self-Assessment: Does it startle you to think of repentance as a vow-renewal ceremony? How does that image extend the implications of repentance beyond the moment of prayer?

How Not to Repent

The recognition that there are healthy and unhealthy forms of repentance is both common sense and biblical (2 Corinthians 7:8-13). On this everyone agrees; secular and sacred. The difficulty is in discerning disingenuous repentance. Mature and discerning people can witness the same conversation and walk away with distinctly different impressions about whether a given expression of remorse represents genuine repentance, sorrow for being caught, or a tactic to gain relational leverage.

In this post, I hope to accomplish two things. First, I will attempt to clarify two common misperceptions about manipulation. Second, I will discuss a series of phrases commonly used in repentance which can be red flags that the remorse being expressed will not lead to healthy relational restoration.

Misperception #1:

Manipulation is about motive (why or how something is done) more than method (what is said or done). There is no way to make a list of “manipulative phrases.” Every phrase listed below has a context in which it could be legitimate and appropriate. Manipulation is about motive (resisting change, minimizing responsibility, blame-shifting, etc…) and is most effective (in a negative sense of “effectiveness”) when that phrase/action used seems legitimate.

Implication – The explanation after each phrase below will be important to understand. If the description of how each phrase can be a part of manipulative repentance does not fit a given use of that phrase, it should not be considered manipulative.

Misperception #2:

Manipulation does not require “malice aforethought” or intellectual cunning. From my experience in counseling, most people who are using remorse to gain an advantage or avoid responsibility are not aware, in the moment, of what they’re doing. They just want to escape the discomfort of the moment. This driving desire (i.e., to escape) shapes the way they define words and frame questions.

In reality, that is what manipulation is: manipulation is defining words and framing questions (by verbiage or emotions) in such a way that makes a healthy response from the other person seem selfish, mean, or unreasonable.

“I know I’m not perfect.”

Your expectations that I responded decently are unreasonable. You are holding me to a perfectionistic standard. In order to avoid being confronted by you, I would have to be perfect. You should feel bad for being judgmental and harsh instead of asking me to seek restoration for what I did.

“I’ve never pretended to be someone I’m not.”

You knew who I was when we started this relationship so you are being unfair by expecting me to be decent. This confuses genuineness with righteousness; authenticity with holiness. By this standard, someone could be consistently hurtful and we would still be to blame for their sin because we chose to be in relationship with them.

“You are bringing up stuff from the past.”

We can only talk about events, not patterns of behaviors. Often this impasse is reached when the individual repenting is unwilling to see that the event (for instance, intoxication or belligerence) in question was part of a larger pattern (i.e., addiction or abusive speech). If there is a pattern of behavior and this pattern goes unacknowledged, then the level of efforts towards change will be inadequate to produce the necessary change.

“You know I am not the kind of person who would do that… that is not what I meant.”

Your experience of me is not an accurate depiction of reality. My self-perception and intentions are truer than your experience. These phrases leave the person repenting in charge of defining the event for which forgiveness is being sought. The intent /self-perception of the sinner is being imposed as a limit on the pain of the one sinned against. The result is that the offended person has less voice in describing their pain. The offending person remains in charge of the narrative.

“I said I was sorry. What more do you want from me? What more can I do?”

If anything more than my words (i.e., “I’m sorry”) are required in response to my actions, then you are being unforgiving, mean, weak, or hyper-emotional. Also, this response often implies that an apology should be met with an immediate sense of trust and equanimity in the relationship. Any lingering sense of mistrust by the offended person is then labeled as an unreasonable and ungodly form of punishment.

More use of first person pronouns (i.e., I, me, my) than second person pronouns (i.e., you, your).

While this is not a specific phrase, the excessive use of self-centered pronouns may reveal that the person repenting is focusing on their personal experience of the offense more than the impact on the person they hurt or offended. In this way, the person repenting is remaining the main character in their repentance as much as they were in their sin.

Note: First person pronouns should be used in the active / ownership part of repentance. However, in the description of the impact and aftermath of our sin, healthy repentance focuses more on the disruption we caused in the other person’s life.

“There are a lot of people / couples who have it much worse than you / we do.”

You should feel bad for complaining when the situation was not as bad as it could have been. This equates “could have been worse” with “not bad enough to mention.” It also portrays suffering as a competitive sport in which only those who suffer the worst merit sympathy for their hardship.

This phrase often comes towards the end of an unhealthy repentance conversation. Early in the conversation the repenting person minimizes or blame-shifts. When the offended party tries to clarify the degree of hurt, this is viewed as exaggeration. This perception of exaggeration leads the repenting person to use the logic of “this situation is not as bad as [more exaggerative situation].”

“I promise I will do better (without agreement about the problem or concrete examples)”

Even though I minimize and disagree with you about the past and present, you should trust what I mean when I say “better” about the future. Commitments to change are not bad, although these commitments should usually have more humility than an absolute promise. However, when commitments to do “better” are made during a disagreement about the nature of the offense, these commitments become a way to shut down communication. Again, if you don’t accept my promise, you’re being mean, unforgiving, or unreasonable.

Conclusion

Remember most expressions of manipulation are unintentional (this does not reduce culpability). Many people are unskilled at difficult communication and become unduly shaped by their own interests when they should be owning their sin.

Frequently, I have found that when a counselor can articulate the unhealthy dynamic that exists in an attempt to repent, the offending person can see the coerciveness of their attempt at reconciliation. Usually (if it’s in marriage counseling), the couple will say, “Yikes, we do this a lot. We knew it wasn’t working but we couldn’t figure out why.”

This leads to a fruitful conversation about why their past efforts at restoring conflict through the biblical process of repentance and forgiveness had been unsuccessful (or, only intermittently effective).

In other cases, where the offending spouse is more committed to their self-centeredness, these explanations are rejected as unreasonable. In these instances, helping the offended individual / spouse remain open to the possibility of a more fully restored relationship without acquiescing to the manipulative style of communication becomes the focus of counseling (example of this kind of approach here).

Responding to a Full Disclosure: Marital Restoral After Sexual Addiction or Adultery

full-disclosureThis post is an excerpt from Step 2 of the True Betrayal seminar manual. If you read the content and feel like this is a very weighty step, you are right. But it is a vital step in marital restoration. It is advised that you and your spouse have a counselor or mentoring relationship to support you in this process.

The main factual content of what your spouse should share with you is outline in the description of his/her “full disclosure” in Step 2 of False Love. This is meant to remove the I-have-to-ask-the-right-questions-in-order-to-get-the-full-answer game (not a fun or fair game). If your spouse is unwilling or procrastinates in completing this exercise, then there is not a “magic” way to ask questions that will produce the information you desire. Do not place the pressure on yourself to ask questions “just right.” In such cases, restraining from sexual involvement, sleeping in a separate bedroom, requesting a higher degree of counseling involvement, and contacting your church leaders for an additional level of disciplinary involvement may be appropriate responses.

While completing the full disclosure exercise is good and beneficial step in the right direction for your spouse, it will likely be very difficult to hear. Realizing this will help both of you during the disclosure process.

“[Testimony] It was the best and worst day of my life. I knew for once that he told the truth at the risk of great personal cost. It gave me hope that he could grow up and face life’s responsibilities. It was the first time his words and his actions were congruent. I felt outraged and sick, yet I also felt respected and relieved. It gave me hope for our relationship (p. 31).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

“Adultery is like a funeral, and you need to view the body. Mates need a thorough, honest confession (viewing the body) to validate that a real loss has taken place. Then they can slowly grieve and reclaim the marriage. If confession comes out in dribbles then trust continues to be broken (p. 349).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

Read Job 1:13-22. Hearing reports of evil invading your life is incredibly hard. Notice that when you read Job’s intensely emotional response (v. 20) you admire him rather than view Him as weak. Even as you read His words that are factually true but border on despair (v. 21a), you naturally read them as filled with faith because they are still addressing God and looking to Him for hope (v. 21b). Use Job’s initial response as an example for your initial response to your spouse’s disclosure – emotionally honest, physically expressive, and directed God-ward. It is wise to take your spouse’s disclosure and discuss it with God before you try to discuss it with your spouse.

Discussing the disclosure with God before your spouse does not replace bringing your questions to your spouse. It would be tempting for both of you to believe that one intense, honest conversation should “put this subject to rest.” Repent and forgive in one lengthy talk, right? Wrong. In False Love, your spouse has been taught that disclosure and confession are two separate actions. Rarely does the shame, deception, recidivism, and defensiveness of sexual sin allow these actions to occur simultaneously, although most people giving their disclosure would (at that time) consider it fully confessional.

“The first thing you need to realize is that disclosure isn’t a one-time event—it’s a process (p. 32).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

For this reason, it is false to think that asking additional questions only makes the situation worse. There does come a time when additional questions are counter-productive, but that is when either (1) the questions are being asked as a form of punishment to force the offending spouse to relive their shame, or (2) you already know the answers to the questions and are holding on to the false hope that eventually the answers will become untrue. Otherwise, questions can be a healthy part of assimilating the hidden sin into your life story and gathering the information necessary to know that future decisions are being made with adequate awareness.

“We wrongly believe that to love or forgive means never bringing sinful realities into focus since they would result in pain. Such thinking is dangerous and debilitating; it avoids pain at the expense of healing (p. 79).” Earl & Sandy Wilson, et al in Restoring the Fallen

Full Disclosure Follow Up

After your spouse’s full disclosure and you taking time to think about and talk to God about what you’ve heard, you will still have questions. You will have questions to clarify what you’ve been told and you will have questions that just randomly pop into your mind. If you bring these to your spouse in a random fashion, it will make assimilation of the new information harder. When you are hurt these randomly ordered conversations negatively affect the trust built through the additional disclosure. Random emotionally connected questions produce random logically unconnected answers that seem “fishy” even if true (and your current hurt makes it very hard to be objective about this).

For this reason, it is suggested that you write out your questions as they come to you (“popcorn” style), and then organize them. Having your questions grouped together will help your spouse’s answers fit into a cohesive history and, thereby, help you assimilate the answers. Now that your spouse has put the effort into writing out his/her full disclosure, this reciprocated effort is warranted. There are several ways that you can organize your questions.

  • Based upon the full disclosure outline – The recommended outline for the full disclosure was organized around the different expressions that sexual sin can take. This would allow you to ask questions based upon different aspect of the sin. This structure is often most helpful when you still do not feel like you know or understand what your spouse has done.
  • Based upon the history of the marriage – In this approach, the questions are arranged based upon a time line that may begin with dating and comes to the present. This structure is most helpful when the lies associated with sexual sin removed the confidence that you know your spouse or your own personal history (the theme of “disrupted story” will be developed more in Step 4).
  • Based upon subject areas – You may find that your questions better cluster around certain subjects (i.e., behavior at work, guy’s/girl’s night out, taking phone calls outside the house, etc…). This structure can be more helpful when your uncertainties gather certain events, devices, or people.
  • Based upon the dominant emotions you are feeling – When the other structure prove ineffective, you can arrange questions based upon the emotions they come from or illicit (i.e., anger, fear, sadness, etc…). This structure is recommended for when you believe your spouse has been honest with you, but you do not think they “get it” about their sin’s impact on you.

The “Why?” Question

This is the most common question with the least satisfying answer. Most of the time the “why?” question creates a Catch-22 scenario: either the answer comes across as blame-shifting (i.e., “Because you/we weren’t…) or ignorant (i.e., “I don’t know. It just kinda happened.”). One is insulting; the other infuriating.

“The reality is that we will never find a good enough reason for some of the wrongs done… Neither of us found ‘the answer’ or ‘the reason’ Gary chose to risk everything for an affair. He just did. Mona had to accept that as fact so she could move forward (p. 172).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

In order to get anywhere productive with this legitimate question, we must grapple with the nature of sin. Sin is ultimately foolish and foolishness will never be explained rationally. When we try to explain sin rationally it always results in some form of blame-shifting.

“All sin is ultimately irrational….. Though people persuade themselves that they have good reasons for sinning, when examined in the cold light of truth on the last day, it will be seen in every case that sin ultimately just does not make sense (p. 493).” Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology

As you ask the “why?” question, you need to recognize that the best answer that you are going to get is either an expression of repentant dissatisfaction (i.e., “I was upset with you for not appreciating me and, wrongly, I found someone who would,” or “I was under so much pressure that I used porn as a form of escape”) or acknowledged foolishness (i.e., “It doesn’t make any sense now, but I wanted to learn about different sexual experiences and porn was a fun way to do it ‘without risk’,” or “Once I started getting attention, I liked it and never did anything to stop it from escalating”).

No answer to the “why?” question will be satisfying. Ultimately, when asking the why question you are looking for the idolatry at the root of the sin – what did your spouse wanted so badly that he/she was willing to sin in order to get it? Your spouse may not be able to see his/her desire as an idol at this stage. In Step 3 of False Love your spouse will explore the motives of his/her sin. This is when you can anticipate more productive conversations about “why” to begin to emerge.

Playing the Detective

You might ask, “What if I don’t think my spouse is telling me the whole truth? How far do I go to get the truth? Should I check his/her computer, phone, bank records, etc…?” Ideally, in this situation, you would be honest with your spouse and say, “I am having a hard time believing you and would like for you to live transparently enough to settle my fears.” In Steps 5 and 6 of False Love, your spouse will learn that transparency in marriage is normal rather than a punitive response to sexual sin.

If your spouse responds negatively or negligently to your direct request, then verification of your concern may be something you choose to pursue. If you do seek to verify your concerns by checking on your spouse’s activity without his/her awareness, then you should adhere to the follow principles.

  • If your spouse is actively engaged in False Love with a counselor, mentor, or group and participating in the restoration process, it is not advised that you not seek information without your spouse’s awareness.
  • Before taking any investigative step, you should be seeing a marriage counselor or, at least, a personal counselor. A relationship at this level of trust deterioration will have a hard time surviving, even if you fears are disproven, without outside guidance.
  • You should resolve before you check anything to tell your spouse what you have done, what you found, and why you deemed this step necessary. Gaining information you will not share will only serve to further damage the relationship and you.
  • You should not do anything illegal in the pursuit of information. Your spouse’s past or continuing immoral action does not warrant you taking illegal actions no matter how hurt you feel.
  • You should not make this your regular practice. Investigation, even when it finds nothing, does not build trust. If your search finds problematic materials and your spouse will not acknowledge clear facts of sin, then you may need to take the next step outlined in Appendix A. If your search proves empty, then you should inform your spouse of your search, your concern, and trust that God will expose your spouse’s sexual sin (if ongoing) as He was faithful to do on the previous occasion(s).

“It is important for the wife to walk the fine line between trust and caution. One extreme keeps a wife in ignorance and the husband in his secret sin. The other extreme keeps the wife in a miserable life of fear which never disappears completely, no matter how hard the husband is trying (p. 34).” Kathy Gallagher in When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Pornography” or “Favorite Posts on Adultery”  post which address other facets of this subject.

Video: Overcoming Codependency (Step Nine)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Codependency.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“From Codependency to Salt and Light”
STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Overcoming Codependency – Step 9 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV), “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Salt… Light” – An implication of this passage is a recognition that we live in places of darkness and decay.
  • “Lost its saltiness… under a basket” – God does not intend for us to lose our voice in our hardships.
  • “Gives light to all” – Living out of God’s love and for God’s purpose is how God intends of us to have influence.
  • “So they may see” – Our freedom in Christ is either attractive to those who want to be free or infuriating for those who want to be in control (abuse) or are satisfied to live in bondage (addiction).
  • “Give glory to your father” – We find the most freedom when we don’t personalize other’s response to our freedom.

Teaching Notes

To “steward” something means to use it for God’s intended purpose. It is important to remember that what is being stewarded is the life of the group member in general, not your experience of suffering exclusively.

“One of the tests for an intimate relationship is answering the question, Can I be most myself in your presence? Can I be creative, funny, vulnerable, productive, strong, weak, flamboyant, shy or even smart? Can I couple any of those words with sex and romance? Can I be tough, forgiving, generous, spiritual, intuitive, graceful, clumsy, lazy, self-indulgent and disciplined? Do I feel equal, successful, attractive, encouraged, trusted and believed? Can I be fully as competent as I can be and not have my partner disappear? Do I feel challenged? Can I be accountable and hold my partner accountable? Is it OK to make a mistake? Does our time together really seem to matter (p. 66)?” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

“The odd thing is that fear and anxiety are running away from something, but they don’t know what to run to. They know danger, but they don’t know where to find peace and rest (p. 63)… It’s as if fear needs to be replaced in our lives, and it is replaced with a simple question, ‘What does my Father, the King, want me to do now?’ (p. 241) .” Ed Welch in Running Scared

Full Disclosure: A Step Towards Marital Restoration After Sexual Addiction or Adultery

full-disclosureThis post is an excerpt from Step 2 of the False Love seminar manual. If you read the content and feel like this is a very weighty step, you are right. But it is a vital step in marital restoration. It is advised that you and your spouse have a counselor or mentoring relationship to support you in this process.

Understanding the history and development of a behavior, even a sinful behavior, can be an important part of changing it. Often we forget, or never noticed in the first place, when and why we began to do something. When this happens that action feels completely “natural” and, therefore, its continuation is reinforced through our ignorance of ourselves.

“Recognizing how my pattern of sexual obsessions first developed its particular shape helped the tumblers fall into place for me in terms of understanding myself (p. 16).” Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon.

There is another reason for this kind of examination in our day. Where do most people today learn about sex? Movies and internet. Or, conversations with friends who learned about sex from movies and internet. Romance movies/novels and pornography are defining our sexual expectations. Because this is “all we know” for so many people (enhanced further by how little we talk about sex in church or family), the deceitful and destructive messages of these media forms stay in place to fuel our sexual sin.

“The sexuality of a whole generation of children is being formed not by talks with their parents, not by reading the kind of book I was given as a young man, but by professional pornographers who will do anything—anything!—to fuel an increased desire for increased depravity (p. 13).” Tim Challies in Sexual Detox

As you go through this section, your goal is not just to identify when you began “doing” bad but when you began in “believing wrongly” about sex. As we will explore more in chapter three, sinful behavior is rooted in deceitful beliefs or expectations. We believe that other things (in this case relationships, marriage, sex, or sexual fantasy) can give us what only God can give. It is easier to surrender these beliefs (biblically called “dying to self” Luke 9:23) when we understand when they began and how they have been reinforced throughout our life.

Before engaging the primary exercise for this section, there is a caution that needs to be given. While overcoming sexual sin, it is easy to begin to view your sexuality as evil or as your enemy. As you examine the history of your sexual sin, this is likely correlated with but not the same as your history of sexual development. We become sexually aware and enter puberty before there is a holy expression for our sexuality. In recent decades with the advance of nutrition causing an earlier onset of puberty and our cultural age of marriage getting older, this gap is increasing. This means that the window of temptation is larger, but should not be used to mean that sexual sin is inevitable (I Cor 10:13).

“That’s why it’s so critical to understand that sexual drive isn’t the same as lust. For example: (1) It’s not lust to be attracted to someone or notice he or she is good-looking; (2) It’s not lust to have a strong desire to have sex; (3) It’s not lust to anticipate and be excited about having sex within marriage; (4) It’s not lust when a man or woman becomes turned-on without any conscious decision to do so; (5) It’s not lust to experience sexual temptation. The crucial issue in each of these examples is how we respond to the urges and desires of our sexual drive (p. 35)… Misplaced shame can be dangerous because it saps our strength for fighting our real enemy. A person who is wrongly ashamed of being a sexual creature with sexual desires will quickly feel overwhelmed and helpless because he’s trying to overcome more than just lust—he’s trying to stop being human (p. 37).” Joshua Harris in Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is)

Exercise: Preparing a Full Disclosure

Using the outline and questions below create a chronological history of your battle with sexual sin. The outline will be built around the categories from the evaluation tool in chapter one.

Write out your answers on separate pieces of paper and leave room for questions raised by your counselor, accountability partner, or spouse. Be honest. Retreating back to lies or “partial truths” at this point destroys everything you are working towards.

If you are married, this exercise should be used as the basis for your “full disclosure” to your spouse. This full disclosure is not the same thing as the confession you will be asked to do in chapter five. But it is appropriate to ask your spouse’s forgiveness for the things you share and to let him/her know that you will be returning to them to further seek his/her forgiveness as you come to understand the spiritual and relational significance of your actions in the coming chapters.

Don’t try to convince yourself or your spouse that you fully “get it” at this time.

“An issue most people struggle with is the advisability of confessing undiscovered affairs, both past and present. Confession is vital in restoring honesty and rebuilding trust… Treating your mate as fragile or fearing conflict are inadequate reasons for not confessing (p. 349).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

Read Proverbs 12:13-28. Before you begin writing your full disclosure take time to consider this passage that portrays the difference between a life of honesty and a life of deceit. The honesty and transparency of your words will be the difference between peace and despair, joy and misery, life and death. You will likely be tempted to think that further deception and concealment is the only way you will know peace, joy, and life; but be wise and hear this advice – that is a lie (12:15). If you want to build enduring relationships, speak truth; if you want your world to continue to crumble, hide the truth (12:18). The Lord will delight in you if you are honest, even if that honesty is the confession of sin (12:22). Continued deceit will weigh you down with anxiety, but confession is the first step to joy (12:25). You have been headed towards death, but honesty is the path to life (12:28). Remind yourself of these things frequently as you work on your disclosure.

  • Objectifying People: When did you first notice that you classified people by favorable-disfavorable physical features, had a strong pull towards certain relational qualities, or began to fear people who had certain “strengths” you desired? How did you begin to arrange your life to pursue, be liked by, or avoid these “better” people? How did these changes in your social life result in isolation, social fakeness, over dependent relationships, or serial relationships? How has sin led to shame then secrecy and ultimately isolation?
  • Public Visual Lust: What features are you most prone to notice and linger upon? What locations or activities are (present sin) or have been (development of sin) the most frequent or concentrated sources of visual temptation? How have you (past or present) arranged your schedule to feed your appetite for public visual lust?
  • Private Narrative Lust: What romantic or erotic themes repeat themselves most in your private narrative lust? What insecurities are calmed or desires met through these themes? What movies or books best capture the themes of your private narrative lusts? How much time do you spend consuming these kinds of romantic books or movies? How much time do you spend in private fantasy about these themes?
  • Soft Porn: What was your first exposure to soft porn (catalog, magazine, commercial, fuzzy TV channels, lewd conversations with friends, etc…)? What current exposure to soft porn do you have? What parts of common life experience or conversation do you sexualize to the point of becoming soft porn?

“Sexual addiction seems unmanageable because acting out seems to just ‘happen.’ Sex addicts must learn that this is not true (p. 62)… Stopping rituals is key to stopping sexual acting out. Rituals are all the thoughts and actions that lead to sexual acting out (p. 153).” Mark Laaser in Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction

What rituals do you go through as you prepare to participate in soft porn (these questions on rituals apply to all types of sexual sin behavior)? How do you slowly move towards your sin, even if you are telling yourself you’re not going to indulge this time? What lust triggers do you continue to expose yourself? What habits frequently precede your sexual sin? How do you use sexual sin as a “reward” for completing a task or doing good?

  • Hard Porn: What was your first exposure to pornography with full naked bodies or sexually explicit scenes? How much time do you spend looking at pornography per week? How much money have you spent on pornography? Do you have any active subscriptions to pornography? In the last three years what is the longest period of time you’ve gone without viewing pornography? Do you have pornography hidden anywhere (physically or electronically)? Do you have any secret e-mail accounts?
  • Interacting with Real Anonymous Person: What website, phone numbers, or other services do you use to connect with these people? Do you use a chat room, social networking sites, or match-making services to connect with people? How much time do you spend “fishing” for a “conversation” partner? Have you put your real name and contact information on any websites? Have you sent real pictures of yourself (nude or non-nude) or communicated with a webcam (casual or erotic)? As you get to know someone does the relationship become more or less appealing? Have you ever scheduled to meet someone? How many steps did you take towards meeting?
  • Emotional Affair without Touch: [For single men or women these questions may not be relevant unless your dating partner is married or in a committed relationship with someone else.] How did the relationship begin and when did the conversations become more trusting and or self-disclosing? What negative statements have you made about your spouse, your marriage, or your family? Have the two of you told each other that you are attracted to one another? What means of hidden communication do you have? When and where do you talk? What steps have you made to hide this communication from your spouse? What life circumstances have made it easy to hide this relationship? Does your interaction include date-like activities? Could any actions you have taken jeopardize your employment? Was the relationship fueled by dissatisfaction with your spouse or attraction to the other person?

“We suggest that one of the first steps in extracting yourself out of an emotional affair is to come home and confess to your spouse. Some might think, Wait a minute; this one I don’t need to confess because nothing really happened. It’ll only upset my spouse and cause even more problems… This confession will accomplish three things. First… it diffuses the power of secrecy… Second, it helps prevent the escalation of the relationship… Third, it is a great motivator to immediately end the relationship and begin working to rebuild your marriage with your spouse (p. 238-239).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

  • Sexual Touch without Sex: How much physical touch was involved: holding hands, massage, hug, kiss, removing articles of clothing, fondling sensitive areas, or oral sex? With how many people have these touches occurred? With each person, how many occurrences of sexual touch have there been? With each person, over what length of time did these touches occur? Who or what stopped the sexual touching from becoming more intimate?
  • One Time Sexual Encounter: How many people have you had “casual” sex with? When and how have you been the pursuer in these sexual encounters? When and how have you intentionally placed yourself in compromising situations for these encounters to occur? Has there been reason to fear pregnancy resulting from these sexual encounters? Have you paid for sex? Have alcohol or drugs been involved in your sexual activities?
  • Affair in a Committed Relationship: [For single men or women these questions would address fornication (pre-marital sex) rather than adultery (extra-marital sex).] Answer all questions pertaining to an emotional affair. When did the sex begin? What percentage of your interaction with your adultery partner was sexual? What expressions of love and commitment were exchanged (verbal, gifts, risks, trips, etc…)? Was the relationship considered romantic or merely “friends with benefits”? Who knew about, condoned, or encouraged the relationship?
  • Affair as a Pseudo-Spouse: [For single men or women these questions would apply to situations of co-habitation.] What plans were made to leave your respective spouses? What research or other action steps were put into these plans? What family, friends, or children were introduced to your adultery partner? What actions have you taken to emotionally, financially, or otherwise protect your adultery partner at the expense of your spouse and family? What lies have you told yourself or others about your spouse in order to validate your choices?

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Pornography” or “Favorite Posts on Adultery”  post which address other facets of this subject.

When Someone Resists Your Advice: 3 Questions to Consider

????????????This post was originally published on the CareLeader resource site on March 22, 2017. We asked pastoral counselor Brad Hambrick to respond to a question that pastors inevitably face: “If someone you counsel in your church refuses or ignores your counsel, how should that be handled?” Here are his thoughts.

This is one of the things that can be difficult when we are counseling others. How much is somebody obligated to follow the counsel of others in the church to preserve the fellowship and the unity of the body of Christ? I think if we’re going to answer that question, we have to deconstruct it a little bit. We have to look at its pieces and then come back and ask some further clarifying questions.

First consideration: Who’s involved in the conversation?

So we start with the question, Who are you? What is your role? Are you the pastor? Are you a deacon? Are you a small-group leader? Are you leading in a particular ministry area, like a recovery group? Are you a peer?

And then we ask, Who is the other person? Is the person somebody held to a higher standard like a pastor, a deacon, or an elder? Is the person a peer? Does the person look up to you in a position of authority, like a teacher? Different roles carry different standards that come with them. Thus, pastors and elders are to be above reproach, and in these cases you might come to the other person with an issue that compromises the person’s reputation in the community.

Second consideration: What type of advice was given?

Next we ask, What is the advice that you gave? Is it moral instruction? Is it significant, logistical instruction, or is it more casual advice?

Scripture, when it calls you to counsel and care for others, is not calling you to be a social engineer in their lives, arranging their lives in whatever way that you see best. It’s calling you to be responsible for those moral areas in which hearts tend to be bent and broken. We all need people who see our lives more clearly than we do. We all need caring people who can say, “I really feel like you’re falling into error.” If it’s a moral instruction, then you might come along with somebody else, like it says in Matthew 18, to tell the person that you’re really concerned about this area of his or her life.1 If it’s not an area of moral weight, then you probably don’t do that.

If, however, it is not a matter of moral weight, you might look at the friend and say, “Because of the issue we’ve been talking about, you’re on the brink of burnout.” Or, “I can’t necessarily say that what you’re doing is sinful, but it’s foolish enough to be dangerous.”

Third consideration: What type of resistance is it?

And then we ask the question, What is the nature of the resistance? Was the person flippant? Defiant? Forgetful? You can use this set of questions to decide how you should respond if the counsel you offer is rejected.

This is where a passage like 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is very instructive, because it gives people different attitudes that they might have toward behavior that needs to change. This verse says if people are unruly—if they’re committed to their sin—then you should admonish them. Give a strong word of correction that you speak with a heartfelt urgency, because this issue really needs to change.

First Thessalonians 5:14 also says that some people are disheartened. They’re overwhelmed, and what they need is to be encouraged. You would say, “We’re here for you. You’re not having to do this alone. We see these fruits of grace in your life, and so we know that God is with you.”

And then the passage says if somebody is weak, that is, the person lacks the ability or the skill set needed in a situation, then you don’t offer words; you offer assistance. You “help the weak.”

At the end of the passage it says, “Be patient with them all.” Now if you are resisted, the last thing that you might want to be is patient. And Scripture recognizes that side of our hearts. But when you’re in the helping role, there is a higher calling of patience that’s upon you. When you are in a helping relationship, you are representing Christ’s agenda, and you shouldn’t be a distraction from what Christ wants to do in this person’s life.

Follow Up Resources for a Sermon from Amos: Robust Repentance

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “what now” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon “Amos,” preached at The Summit Church Saturday-Sunday May 20-21, 2017.

Repentance-300x200This post is written for the individual who senses their need to repent (a major theme in Amos). But, as is true for so many of us, we so seldom fully own our sin that “the language of repentance” is not our native-tongue. If you need to shift from minimizing, generalizing, and blame-shifting in how to you relate to you sin to robust repentance the points below will be helpful.

There is no formula for repentance. The six points below are merely meant to help you experience the full redemptive impact of repentance. In this sense, repentance and God’s forgiveness can be like a smart phone. They have many features that we may not know are present or how to utilize. When we buy the phone, we get them all; but we do not get the full benefit of them until we realize they’re there and how to use them.

After each point, we will offer an area of self-assessment. These questions are meant to help you determine whether you are placing yourself in a position to receive the benefits God intends to provide through each aspect of repentance.

1. A desire to live for God and submit to His Lordship.

Repentance does not begin with remorse. If that were the case, then we would be saying the cure for guilt begins with feeling worse.

Repentance begins with a genuine desire to submit to God’s Lordship out of trust for His character. Repentance begins with the belief that what God wants for us is actually what is best. We trust God to lead our lives more than ourselves.

When we see God’s ways as best, we are sorry we strayed from them, but this remorse is not “icky” like shame; instead it is like the sense of reunion with a trusted friend after you realize you were wrongly upset with them and they graciously embrace the friendship again.

  • Self-Assessment: Are you surrendering to the Lordship of Christ because you trust his love for you or are you primarily seeking relief from unpleasant emotions and destructive habits?

2. An understanding of how our sin sought to replace God.

It is not just actions or distorted motives for which we repent. We repent for having replaced God with ourselves. 

The idols that fuel our sin want to control all of our lives; to interpret all the events and people in our lives. Repentance acknowledges this false worship as an affront to God and wants him to have his rightful place in our lives; allowing God to again rightly interpret the events and people in our lives.

  • Self-Assessment: Are you able to see the “against God” nature of your sin?

3. Brokenness over the nature of our sin.

A healthy life begins with recognizing our fallen human condition. Ultimately we sin because we are sinners. The myriad of factors that led to our sin are not the root cause. The root is that our nature has been distorted by the Fall (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

True repentance is not just sorrow over particular idols or behavioral failures but brokenness over our condition as a sinful person. When we acknowledge our depravity, we gain an accurate self-assessment that motivates us to perpetually rely on God. Realizing this is the perpetual need of every person allows for a non-shame-based honesty in which a real relationship with God can thrive.

Repentance is what allows you not to have to be either fake or fatalistic about your short-comings and perpetual struggles. Repentance allows you to be honest and have hope at the same time.

  • Self-Assessment: Do you resist seeing yourself and allowing yourself to be known as someone who is in perpetual need of God’s sustaining grace?

4. Expression to God.

After sin, our pride or fear causes us to hide from God rather than talk to God (Gen. 3:8). Too often we think that a directionless sense of regret for sin is the same thing as repenting to God.

You will not feel restored to God as long as you are avoiding God because of your sin. It does no good to address your repentance “to whom it may concern.” Any ambiguously addressed repentance is little more than talking to yourself differently. Talk to God when you repent so that you can know His response to your repentance.

  • Self-Assessment: Have you talked to God in your repentance? If not, might it be that your repentance seems ineffective because the “no one” you spoke to can have no power to forgive or comfort?

5. Faith in God’s willingness to forgive.

Repentance is an expression of faith. We come to God with nothing to offer in exchange for forgiveness. If we do not believe God will freely forgive, we will continue in our “try harder” or “hide more effectively” approaches that allowed our sin to fester.

All this does is inadvertently reinforce the false beliefs that our sin is good and God is mean. Unless we believe that God is willing to forgive on the basis of His grace and Christ’s death, then repentance becomes a form of penance that is more like putting peace in layaway than receiving a gift.

  • Self-Assessment: How do you view God (i.e., expression on His face, posture of His body, tones when He speaks, words that He says, gestures of His hands) when you come to God in repentance?

6. New direction of life usually expressed first by confession (to those we’ve offended and other Christians for accountability).

Repentance is our part of entering into or recommitting to a covenant relationship (i.e., like marriage) with God. This is why sin is frequently called spiritual adultery. 

Repentance is our vow-renewal ceremony that expresses our renewed commitment to covenant fidelity. Marriage ceremonies and vow renewals are not done in private. They are public declarations of who has our ultimate allegiance. This parallels why repentance doesn’t remain private. It is also expressed through confession.

  • Self-Assessment: Does it startle you to think of repentance as a vow-renewal ceremony? How does that image extend the implications of repentance beyond the moment of prayer?

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” post which address other facets of this subject.

 

Follow Up Resources for a Sermon from Joel: Regret

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “what now” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon “Joel,” preached at The Summit Church Saturday-Sunday May 13-14, 2017.

This post is written for the individual we can relate to Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you,” because they are in the midst of a season of regret when it feels like what has been destroyed will not be restored.

Dealing With Regret from Equip on Vimeo.

Presentation Handout: EQUIP_Dealing with Regret_Notes

Regret always begins as an opportunity; hence the disappointment. There was something we wanted to be an enduring part of our life that disappeared, was forfeited, or was lost. Regret is never just a moment, but a painful and pivotal change in our life story.

When we neglect mourning the hope that birthed our regret or focus exclusively on the moment in which regret began there are two negative consequences: (a) whatever guidance we receive feels light-weight and cliché, and (b) we miss most of what God has been, is, and wants to do.

In this presentation I walk through the life of Moses in light of his most regrettable moment (Numbers 20:1-13) to illustrate how God’s works redemptively in the midst of the things we regret most deeply.

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Emotions” which address other facets of this subject.

 

Forgiveness After Adultery: What It Is and Is Not

forgivingThis post is an excerpt from Step 7 of the True Betrayal seminar manual. If you read the content and feel like it is “ahead of where you are” or “too heavy for you,” then it is recommended that you start at the beginning of this resource.

What is the first thing you need to “do” with all you have learned, understood, and processed to this point [Steps 1-6]? Forgive. Before now forgiveness would probably have been only a well-intentioned promise. When we forgive we absorb the cost of someone else’s sin. But forgiveness should not be a blank check or it easily becomes foolish enablement or willful naivety. Jesus knew the cost of saying the words “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48) or “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). Wise forgiveness, especially when it potentially leads to restoration, knows the cost of the check it writes.

Read Matthew 18:21-35. Notice that precise amounts are given for what is forgiven. Part of the benefit of Steps 2-4 was that you could know what you are forgiving. Too often a passage like this is used to imply that because the offenses against us are small compared to our offenses against God (which is true) that all offenses against us are small (which is false). In reaction to that logic we often resist forgiveness because the act of forgiving seems to minimize the offense. The act of saying, “I forgive you,” assumes the statement, “You wronged me in a way that should not be overlooked or minimized.” It should also include the assumption, “I am only able to assume the debt of your sin against me because God has assumed my debt against Him and promised to cover whatever losses I incur by forgiving others.”

“The fact is, what your spouse has done against you and God may be inexcusable, but it is not unforgiveable (p. 30).” Mike Summers in Help! My Spouse Has Been Unfaithful

So what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is the choice to no longer require someone to receive the punishment that their sin deserves. Forgiveness is an act of faith that trusts that the penalty for sin was sufficiently paid by Christ on the cross or will be paid by the sinner in Hell. Forgiveness is a willingness to treat the offender as gracious wisdom would allow given the offender’s response to their sin.

“Forgiveness is not a human function. You may have to begin by asking God to give you the desire to be obedient. There’s no sense in pretending (p. 170).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

Forgiveness vs. Restoration: These terms are distinct but have significant overlap. All restoration is rooted in forgiveness, but not all forgiveness will result in restoration. In the discussion below the tone of forgiveness implies a movement towards restoration. However, if your spouse is unrepentant of his/her sin, then your personal recovery may involve applying these principles without the particular applications made towards restoration.

Gary and Mona Shriver in their book Unfaithful describe five things that forgiveness is not (p.165-166; modified, bold text only).  As you read these use them to calm the fears of “I could never forgive because…” You will likely find that many of the things you say you could not do are not actually what forgiveness requires.

1. Forgiveness is not containing or restraining hurt and anger.

If this is how we conceive of forgiveness, then forgiveness becomes a synonym for being fake. Forgiveness becomes a form of self-imposed silencing rather than other-minded expression of grace. With this bad definition of forgiveness, we resist godly self-control in the name of resisting hypocritical forgiveness.

“There are a couple of principles that can help you deal with unresolved anger. Don’t allow your anger to control you. If we are out of control verbally or physically, we are in sin. And the truth is that no real work gets done in that atmosphere… Additionally, it is important to understand that processing and venting are two different things (p. 152).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

Forgiveness is what allows us to express hurt as hurt rather than hurt as anger. Even after forgiveness the hurt still hurts. It is just that after forgiveness the penalty for that hurt which anger tries to generate has already been relinquished by the forgiver. When you forgive you are not making a commitment not to hurt. You are making a commitment about what you will do with hurt when it flares.

2. Forgiveness is not letting someone off the hook.

Forgiveness is the complete opposite of saying, “That’s okay.” If the action being forgiven were “okay” then no forgiveness would be needed. Forgiveness is not the same as saying, “This is finished. Nothing more needs to be said about this.” Forgiveness is the start of restoration not the culmination. When God forgives us He does not assume we are a “finished product.” God remains active in our life to remove the sin He forgave. Similarly, when you forgive your spouse that is the beginning of restoring the marriage to what God intended it to be and which may involve continued dealing with fall out of his/her sin.

“Forgiveness is an important part of recovering from adultery, but forgiveness isn’t God’s way of ‘dropping the subject’ (p. 18).” Winston Smith in Help! My Spouse Committed Adultery

3. Forgiveness is not an excuse.

Forgiveness does not reclassify the offense from a sin to a mistake. Mistakes are excused. Sins are forgiven. Sometimes we resist forgiving because we do not want to ratify this perceived downgrade in the significance of the offense. Forgiveness is not a downgrade. Forgiveness inherently classifies an offense at the top level of wrongness.

On the opposite side of making an excuse for your spouse’s sin, is over personalizing his/her sin. While your spouse’s sin was absolutely against you, it may or may not have been about you. As you seek to express forgiveness by not dwelling on your spouse’s sin, you may have to battle against validating each way your imagination can conceive that your spouse’s sin was “meant” to harm or insult you.

4. Forgiveness is not forgetting or some kind of sentimental amnesia.

Forgiveness is not the culmination of a journey but the commitment to complete a journey. Forgiving does not require a rush of warm emotions towards your spouse that are consistently stronger than the emotions of hurt you feel towards his/her sin. This conception would make forgiveness a state of being to achieve rather than a promise being given.

A naïve-amnesia view of forgiveness implies that your spouse’s struggle with lust is over and that any future offense can/should be responded to without reference to past/forgiven sexual sin. Forgiveness does mean that you will allow unclear facts to be examined before making accusations and that progress would be considered in determining how to respond to a relapse. The social network each of you have built while working through False Love and True Betrayal, should allow for these assessments to be made in a wise, healthy manner.

So what does forgiveness mean you are committing to do with your memories, fears, and imagination? Forgiveness does not add anything new to how you respond to your memories, fears, and imagination that wisdom did not already advise before you forgave. The patient honesty that was outlined in Step 2-6 is the kind of response you should give. Forgiveness is not a commitment to become non-emotional ; but honoringly emotional.

5. Forgiveness is not trust or reconciliation.

The next section will talk about the process of restoring trust. But, for the moment, know that forgiving and trusting or forgiving and saying things are “back to normal,” are not the same thing. If you feel like you have to be “there yet” in order to forgive, then this belief will impair both your ability to forgive and progress towards restoring the marriage.

Read Ephesians 4:31-32. This passage describes where you should be at this stage in the process. There should be a commitment to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander (v. 31).” Forgiveness is when you make this commitment, not the declaration of its completion. After reading this section on forgiveness in light of the journey you have been on, how do you understand the phrase “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (v. 32)” differently? What is different in how you view your forgiveness from God? What is different about what you believe God is asking of you towards others?

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Adultery” or “Favorite Posts on Pornography” post which address other facets of this subject.

Follow Up Resources for a Sermon from Hosea

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “what now” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon “Hosea,” preached at The Summit Church Saturday-Sunday May 6-7, 2017. This post is written as a letter to an individual in the throes of adultery; someone in the role of Gomer. Even if you are in the Hosea role, hopefully this post can offer you a new way to pray for your wayward spouse and resources to aid you in this painful season of waiting.

hosea

Friend,

I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter. I can only imagine that it is hard for you to believe that anyone can understand what you’re going through. You are making some of the hardest decisions of your life in the name of love and, no matter what you do, people you love are going to be hurt deeply. That would leave most people feeling both trapped and highly defensive.

To make matters worse, those who knew you and your spouse as mutual friends or have a Christian background overwhelmingly take the position that you should end your affair and pursue your marriage. They make it sound “easy” and “obvious;” which only supports your belief that no one understands.

Furthermore, it leaves you feeling very alone and as if your adultery partner is the only one who can sympathetically understand. Who do you talk to in order to get unbiased advice? Is there unbiased advice? After all, you’re going to choose one path and radically alter the lives of many people you love dearly. That’s likely why you’ve tried to live in two worlds until now.

Let’s start with this reality: you are going to choose. You are going to choose to pursue a life with your spouse (and children, if you have them) or your adultery partner (with your children passing between homes in a blended family, if you have them). Unless you delay until your spouse and/or adultery partner abandons you, you will make a choice between these two options.

More than mere choosing, you are going to choose not knowing the outcome. You do not know if your current marriage will get better (supposing you had grievances about how it was before). You do not know if your spouse will be able to forgive you or will be willing to work on restoring the marriage (regardless of what your spouse says in the time after your disclosure or their discovery of the affair).

But, your potential future with your adultery partner is equally uncertain, although it likely doesn’t feel that way now. To this point the affair has been a fantasy. In reality, you know less about what this relationship will be like than you knew about what your current marriage would be like when you were dating and engaged. An affair is a relationship built on deceit and artificially fueled by the passion-allegiance of a shared secret and not having to bear the weight of day-to-day life. The story line of “forbidden love” evaporates as soon as there are “shared responsibilities” and no “them” to keep “us” apart.

This begins to get at why you haven’t already chosen. If you are like most people in your situation, you are looking for the route by which no one gets hurt, or those who get hurt, hurt the least. This is another fantasy. Sex forms a bond (I Cor. 6:16). When you sever either relationship, there will be pain. One or both relationships will die and your choices will be the largest deciding factor in which one. This is not meant to be a guilt-statement, but a reality-statement to sober you to the situation you have created.

Please keep reading. I recognize these words are painful. But if they are true, which I doubt you can deny, they merit your attention. This is not a choice you want to make by accident. It is too important to too many people you care about to allow that to happen. If you love anyone in this scenario besides yourself, you will quit stringing everyone along.

Chances are you’ve come to this point many times in your own internal dialogue since your affair began. The dead end has likely been, “But what do I do? There doesn’t seem to be any good options.” Then life goes on, so you continued living a double life.

In this letter, I want to offer you a path forward. I do not pretend it to be easy. But, be honest, neither path is going to be easy, so that shouldn’t be a criteria.

  1. Choose. The longer you delay, the more angst you create for everyone and the more pain that will result when a choice is finally made. You do not honor or care for anyone well by delaying. It is the epitome of selfishness to make people you allegedly care about to wait. The fact that you’ve allowed things to go this long should cause you to humbly question how wise and loving your intentions have been about this affair.
  2. To honor God, choose your marriage. Your spouse is not the primary person you’ve offended with your unfaithfulness. To make this decision as if your happiness and pleasure is the primary concern reveals a decision making process that will undermine either relationship. It is not hyper-spiritual to say that self-centeredness will destroy any relationship. It is common sense. I would encourage you to reflect intently on Luke 9:23-24 as you consider this decision and the overall direction of your life. If you are a Christian, this is the life you chose. It is a good life with a faithful God, if you will return to him and trust him with your life and marriage.
  3. Be honest. Often, in a crisis, we believe a “step in the right direction” is a monumental step of faith. We want full credit for partial honesty. This is why too many marriages die the death of a thousand confessions. It’s not the infidelity that kills them, but the pattern of incremental-partial honesty. Don’t say “yes” to “Have you told me everything?” unless the answer is actually “yes.” More damaging than your infidelity is your post-infidelity dishonesty. You might ask, “How much detail is needed to be honest?” That is a fair question and here is guidance on the subject.
  4. End the affair definitively. The longer you vacillate, the more pain and turmoil you will create for everyone. There is nothing pleasant about this step. Rarely does it provide the emotional affirmation that often comes with making a right choice. But it is essential to restoring any emotional or relational sanity to your life. “Closure” in an adulterous relationship is a fiction that inevitably leads to relapse.
  5. Don’t do this alone. Chances are, as your affair grew, you began to separate yourself from the people you previously considered to be trusted voices and examples of character. It is hard to be around people you respect when you are knowingly doing something dishonorable. Reconnect with these relationships. This will require a comparable level of honesty as you’ve given your spouse in point #3. But, unless you let these people in, then the only voice advocating for your walk with God, the restoration of your marriage, or providing you emotional support will be your hurt spouse.
  6. Have a process to guide you and your spouse in the recovery process. “What will we do after I open the Pandora’s Box of being honest about my affair?” Realize this box will be opened either voluntarily or involuntarily. This is the question that keep many people in your situation silent. The False Love (for you) and True Betrayal (for your spouse) materials are meant to be complementing studies to guide couples in situations like yours. They can be studied with a pastor, trusted mentor couple, or counselor (see point #5).
  7. Don’t confuse marital restoration with marital enrichment. This is the most common mistake after a marital crisis and will result in comparing dating-phase-affair with recovery-phase-marriage. Doing the things you should have been doing all along (dating, listening, flowers, sex, etc…) will not resolve infidelity. Marriage restoration is taking a relationship that is broken and making it functional. That is the focus of the False Love and True Betrayal seminars. Marriage enrichment is taking a marriage that is functional and making it excellent. That is the focus of the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series; which would be a quality series to study when you complete the False Love and True Betrayal materials.

These steps may seem daunting, and they are challenging. But I believe they represent what it means to honor God in your situation. As you’ve wrestled with the question of, “What do I do now?” I believe you will come to see that they do represent God’s best for you and your family; as such, they are for your good and not just your moral obligation.

As you come to the end of this letter, I would ask you to do two things. First, sincerely pray. Don’t just reflect in your mind and see what feels best, but have a conversation with God about what he would have you do. Ask God, “What would honor You most in my situation?” Second, call a friend. Quit waiting and talk with someone who has the best interest of you and your marriage at heart. Isolation will result in continued procrastination. Don’t leave yourself the option of waiting.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I pray you will follow its counsel and walk in integrity and faith. Yes, the road ahead is hard, but any alternative road without the blessing and favor of God is harder.

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Adultery” or “Favorite Posts on Pornography” post which address other facets of this subject.

Has Your Marriage Been Impacted by Pornography or Adultery? Help for Both Spouses: Video Tandem 9 of 9

When sexual sin impacts a marriage there is often a great deal of confusion exacerbated by shame. A couple is not sure what to do and is embarrassed to ask for help. The result is often either passivity (pretending everything is okay or that things will get better without help) or reactivity (taking a bold action with little sense of purpose or intent to follow through). The False Love and True Betrayal series are meant to provide couples with guidance for these difficult times.

These two, complementing seminars are each comprised of 9 steps and are meant to supplement a mentoring or counseling relationship. The presentation material is longer for the earlier steps than it is for the latter steps for two reasons. First, the early steps are the time of greatest confusion and, therefore, require more guidance. Second, once a solid foundation is laid for restoration the latter steps become more self-evident.

These materials are meant to guide a couple through the marital restoration phase — taking a marriage that is broken or in crisis and getting back to basic working order.

The Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series is meant to guide a couple through the marital enrichment phase — taking a marriage that is in basic working order and refining it to be increasingly, mutually satisfying. Often it is a misunderstanding between restoration and enrichment that derails a couples sincere efforts at marital reconciliation after the discovery of sexual sin.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

True Betrayal – Step Nine

True Betrayal: Step 9 from Equip on Vimeo.

False Love – Step Nine

False Love: Step 9 from Equip on Vimeo.

Blog Post: 9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Your Life for God’s Glory