Adultery: A Bigger Problem Than Just One Sexual Act

“‘But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person….'” – Jesus in Matthew 15:18-20a, NSRV.


While one act of adultery is horrible enough, I suspect many outsiders fail to grasp the depth of the spiritual problems present when adultery has taken place in a marriage. As I have written in other places, the spiritual reality about adultery is that it is soul rape. Yet that is merely speaking of the act of adultery. More is afoot spiritually when adultery takes place.

The adultery is the final manifestation of heart issues begun long before the sexual act took place. As Jesus teaches us, adultery is the overflow of an adulterous heart. When adultery is present in the marriage, the adulterous spouse has just exposed that he or she has major character flaws!

While stopping adultery from continuing is important, the more difficult task in healing a marriage is dealing with the root issues present in the heart of the adulterous spouse. We are talking about character transformation. That is why I think marriage resurrection after adultery is both miraculous and exceedingly rare.

Back to the Scripture:

Jesus is very clear in this passage that adultery flows…

Not out of the marriage. 

Not out of the heart of a faithful spouse.

But from the adulterous spouse’s heart alone!

How ought this to inform our approach as pastors and Christian leaders in addressing adultery Biblically?

1) The question regarding adultery’s origins is never solved by looking at the marriage. Never. I make this strong statement because Scripture is very clearly on this matter.

Jesus says adultery flows out of the heart. Whose heart? The adulterous spouse’s heart. Want to know what caused adultery? Look no further than the heart of the adulterous spouse. All else is foolishness.

2) When adultery has taken place, the adulterous spouse has revealed major character problems. This means Biblically the problem is always more than “just” one act of adultery.


The one sexual act is horrific enough for those violated.

However, the act is merely the tip of the iceberg. As pastors and Christian leaders, we must grasp this reality and see godly marriage restoration as only happening after a miraculous change of character in the adulterous spouse has taken place. Anything less minimizes the problem and sets the faithful spouse staying in the marriage up for further trauma and abuse.

God grasps this reality. It is why I believe God offers mercy to faithful spouses. They are permitted to divorce an adulterous spouse after a single or multiple acts of adultery without shame (see Mt 19:9). God grasps this sad reality and acts with mercy.

Will His people?


21 thoughts on “Adultery: A Bigger Problem Than Just One Sexual Act”

  1. David, thank you so much for your words. I had been programed for twenty years to believe that my stbxh was a Christian, honorable, wise, trustworthy and safe man.
    Then he left me out of the blue and a month later I found out he was having an affair and that he had been cheating with hook ups for years. The crazy part is that up until today he keeps saying the marriage failed for lack of communication and that the affair was the consequence of a marriage gone bad and my lack of this and that.
    I know in my mind he is lying and self-deceiving (is there anything more sad that a person who really thinks God is ok with him while sinning openly?).

    But still once in a while I get this doubt in my heart again, what did I lack of?, how could I lose his love? Has God really forgiven him even when he is still in adultery (I mean we are separated working on the messy divorce but he is with that woman)? Can he be genuinely repentant before God when he has never asked for my forgiveness or acknowledge full responsibility? If he remarries will he still be a continuous adulterer since he divorcing his wife without cause? Would like to hear your ideas on all these.

    Anyway. It is soothing to my soul to read again your words… adultery came from his heart. Period.

    Big hugs and blessings to you and your wife.

    1. Gaby,

      I plan on giving your comment (with its questions) its own post as I suspect many struggle with similar questions. My brief response is that someone who does not turn away from his/her sin and keeps doing it after it’s been exposed demonstrates their allegiance to the dark kingdom–i.e. not God’s. Your husband still being with the OW says he is his own god and knows better than Jesus. Jesus is clear on this matter–adultery in unacceptable in His people. Your stbxh is in open rebellion against God, and he is really only kidding himself if he thinks otherwise.

      More to follow…keep posted 😉


  2. What about when your spouse said that he had no feelings for you and then was living with the ow. His justification to living with her? Like baby left me out of the blue, he said he need space, time, etc

    1. Magicrain,

      I think you have just described a very clear case of spousal abandonment. The Apostle Paul addresses this in I Corinthians 7:15 teaching Christian spouses that they are to let their unbelieving spouses go and are not under bondage (i.e. not under marriage bondage to this abandoning spouse). Hope that helps.

      Plus, the fact that he is living with another woman is pretty indicative that he is committing adultery, and he was probably doing so before he left. Scripture is clear on the matter of adultery as an acceptable grounds for divorce. In addition, I suspect you were experiencing his “retroactive marital history” in that moment of abandonment. Besides, we can choose to cultivate feelings for our spouses or other people. He chose to cultivate feelings for another person and is completely responsible for those choices.


  3. This post has so much great insight. Major character flaws indeed! I love your statement about adultery being the manifestation of preexisting heart issues. I definitely saw this in my husband. Although he attended church every Sunday and was a devoted elder, his behavior 2 years before the adultery showed a corrupted heart- yelling at his children, choosing questionable new friends, being absent a lot, out of control selfishness were all signs of his slow slide into major sin. I begged him to change, I prayed for God to do work in his heart and my husband chose sin and doesn’t seem to have much remorse about it either. So thank you for once again for directing the fault at the unfaithful’s heart and not at the marriage.

    By the way, once I told the elders of his behavior, they confronted him immediately and since he wasn’t willing to repent, he was kicked out immediately. There are some Christian leaders who are willing to face these things biblically. The fact that these men my husband respected looked him in the eye and called him to repent and he refused gives me even deeper insight into my husband’s true character. Any ideas on how he hid this from me for 19 years? Any insight into why a man can be a model husband and father for many years and then go down this road?

    1. BrokenHearted Believer,

      The Old Testament is full of leaders who started well and finished poorly. For example, I have already written about King Saul. We even have King Solomon as an example in that line. If it happened then, I think it still happens today. And I think it is true in marriages. People can start well and then allow sin to take over the heart little by little. The parable of the sower talks about this sad process. And there’s a possibility the individual was truly disordered from the beginning but good at hiding it. God knows.

      Don’t beat yourself up about this, Brokenhearted Believer. Forgive yourself for missing it. Most faithful spouses have to do that sort of work–i.e. forgiving ourselves for not seeing the signs earlier. The sin is upon him. He did not guard his heart and ultimately gave into temptation. In other words, he did not finish well (and perhaps, he didn’t start well either–who knows for certain except him and God).


      1. Thank you for your reply. I have thought of King Saul through all of this many times. I’ve also thought of King David who turned his adultery around with true repentance but he did a lot of damage before he repented. I also think of the apostle Paul who started out as a bad man but became an amazing follower of Christ. Unfortunately, I think Paul is one of those unicorns and it took an extremely overt and powerful act of God to get him there. He had a special calling like Hosea. Judas Iscariot had the characteristics of a narcissist but fooled many. I completely agree that these things still happen today.

        Your empathy comes through in your writing and is so appreciated. I will keep working on not beating myself up over this. Most of my guilt now is that my kids will have to deal with husband for a long time where as I can get away from him. (However, I wouldn’t have those kids without him- that’s always a confusing juxtaposition.) I have to trust God will protect my boys in all ways.

        Thanks Again,

  4. Thank you. First bit of real understanding of what it’s like to be faithful to a man who betrayed his faithful, trusting and stupid wife for decades. It’s not my fault he has betrayed me continually and wore me down to having no self esteem. I forgave and forgave an unrepentant wolf. It’s his fault. His heart is corrupt.
    Jesus has been with me every step of the way, this past year, day and night. The church has not. Too delicate a matter, I suppose. A second betrayal.
    I go to church now because I have to. I need to worship. But, I expect absolutely nothing from the church body.
    The joy in deep anguishing sorrow is the very real presence of The Lord.
    To hear you lay the blame squarely on the corrupt heart of the adulterer is comforting, after of the years of betrayal. Thank you.

    1. Most welcome, Lee!

      Welcome to Divorce Minister. I hope the words here will bring further comfort to your soul at this tough time. Know that God never condemns the victims–i.e. faithful spouses–and is ever near the brokenhearted.


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