Cheap Cheater Forgiveness

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

-Matthew 5:23-24, NKJV


“God forgives me. So what’s your problem?!” -Cheater

Does an unreconciled human relationship impact our relationship with God?

These words quoted above are attributed to Jesus give us an unequivocal, “Yes!” Jesus taught us that it matters to God when we knowingly are avoiding making amends–i.e. avoiding reconciliation with someone that we have wronged.

The order is first reconcile and then come to God in worship giving your offering.

Something has gone awfully wrong in our pastoral teaching that this order has nearly been lost totally. The imperative to forgive is often cited to faithful spouse (e.g. Mt. 6:14-15). However, these verses just one chapter prior about addressing the wrong committed is too oft ignored in conjunction with the forgiveness imperative. In other words, the forgiveness command context is lost.

I am going to reflect on these two verses a little more:

1) Notice that Jesus talks about the perpetrator noticing and acknowledging–to themselves first–that their “brother” is legitimately a victim of their actions. 

That is what “has something against you” means (vv. 23). It means the religious person understands that they wronged their “brother” (and by “brother” I mean both genders). They start from a place of humility. It is an acknowledgement that they themselves are the perpetrator and their “brother” is their victim.

2) Jesus is crystal clear hear that everything is not “a’right” in the church for the perpetrator. No cheap forgiveness here!

What floors me is hearing of situation(s) where churches, pastors, or even other “Christians” will embrace a cheater after he or she has discarded their spouse for the adultery partner. They may even justify their embrace with phrases about “God forgives [the cheaters], and so must we.”

This is not a picture of reconciliation.

Cheating on and chucking your spouse are clearly examples of wronging your “brother.” And that means the cheater must seek reconciliation prior to presenting their “offering” at church. That is what Jesus says.

Their relationship with God is in the breach. Jesus discourages pretending something is fine when it clearly is not.

Doubling down on one’s treachery does not fool God.

3) Reconciling with the wronged party is an urgent matter for faithful followers of Christ.

Jesus does not teach a easy forgiveness piece here. He does not instruct us to go along with our religious activity while our human relationship is in the breach. Jesus says that the breached human relationship needs addressing first and foremost prior to continuing in worship.

4) The responsibility to initiate reconciliation is placed squarely on the perpetrator and not the wronged party.

This last point is often missed. While I totally believe Christians ought to be about reconciliation regardless of victim/perpetrator status (see 2 Cor. 5:18), I do think what this passage teaches as an initiator of reconciliation is important.

In their selfish arrogance, the adulterous spouse wronged the faithful spouse and made a horrific mess. By being called to initiate reconciliation, it says the cheater recognizes that they did their spouse wrong as well as means they are starting to take responsibility for sinning against him/her. It is an act of humility to seek forgiveness and reconciliation from that place.

Somehow church leaders have got this last point so backwards as to insist the reconciliation initiation come from the wronged spouse. Then they put the wronged spouse’s reconciliation efforts under a microscope. This is absolutely wrong.

If the cheating spouse is unwilling to lead the charge in this area of reconciliation, they are not willing to repent of their sins. And pretending God is fine with them short of insisting on this being done is promoting a lie. God is not fine with them. He calls them to seek reconciliation with their wronged spouse.

Finally, I am a firm believer that our actions have consequences that do not go away even with perfect forgiveness. The innocence of the marriage is forever lost after one spouse has violated the covenant through committing adultery. Reconciliation may simply mean the end of enmity between the parties. It does not necessarily mean remaining married.

I suspect a reason why some Christian counselors/pastors pressure faithful spouses to initiate reconciliation is because they realize the cheating partner is not going to do that. They settle for something less than repentance in the cheating spouse, in other words. This serves no one spiritually.

Jesus does not peddle cheap forgiveness.

He calls us to the hard road of humility and reconciliation.

God is not to be used a cover to avoid repentance.

7 thoughts on “Cheap Cheater Forgiveness”

  1. On point as always DM. The focus of the verse calls the offender to reconcile and not the other way around.

    I recently had a conversation with some good Christian friends. I brought up the topic that in Romans, it says that God is loving but he is also severe. I felt push back from my friends right away. I think this is a tendency in the Christian/Church culture. It’s preferred to think of God as a loving and forgiving God who is gracious enough to pursue sinners in hopes that they will receive salvation. While this is true, the same people generally do not like to think of God as a God who punishes and can remove His grace. I think this is a gross misrepresentation of Him and is indeed counter to knowing God in his fullness. I think, in my church at least, they can represent Him more accurately by preaching more about his wrathfulness and that realizing this should create a deeper respect for God. I don’t think the general body has a healthy fear of Him, partly because Jesus is represented as more of a friend than a superior. Most Christians I know don’t like to think about Him like that. They cling to the loving part, but choose to turn away from the severe part. Only internalizing both can one know Him in his fullness.

    I think in part it is this hyper loving and forgiving misconception of God that drives some of these RIC pastors.

  2. I feel like I’m in limbo here. Starting in September I caught my husband in a series of lies that all included ended up looking like he was trying to hide something from me and he admits to this day that he can understand that it looks like he may have had an affair. We’ve been married 33 years.

    We’ve argued. We’ve had long drawn out discussions over this entire thing. We’ve gone to counseling once. He absolutely 100 percent insists that the biggest thing he is guilty of is lying. One lie led to another and led to another etc. He has groveled big time and asked for forgiveness over the lies and the way he treated me when I found all this out.

    So here is where we are at now. I’m in limbo – it feels like it. I feel like I’m just waiting on God to bring up if anything else has happened. My husband has been wonderful the past few weeks. He’s repentant of the lies and the way he treated me. He even took me somewhere for my birthday out of town for two days. He swears there is nothing else to tell and that there is nothing else to find out because it didn’t happen. The affair. The lies still just don’t make sense to me. I have to just trust the Lord right now and believe me when I say I’m watching everything. I’m not paranoid but I carefully consider what is going on day to day. I honestly think it’s possible that an affair happened but he doesn’t want to leave me for her and realized it was a mistake. She is also married. It makes me sick honestly but I have to wait for something else to come up. This is just where I’m at right now. I’m not afraid to know the truth and sometimes honestly just ask myself is this all it was..The lies. Honestly though- who lies when they have nothing to hide? Any advice? Thanks!

    1. Just keep monitoring is my advice, Marie.

      Lies do make it more likely that something happened. As you say, why lie if you have nothing to hide? Gathering information/monitoring is valuable for peace of mind whatever you decide to do regarding your marriage. Ultimately, he needs to stop lying either way and monitoring is about seeing the repentance through even if it was “only” lies.


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