Divorce Is NOT Worst Outcome Following Adultery


The speaker in the above clip from The Gospel Coalition, which is a theologically Reformed group of like-minded, evangelical Christian leaders, is Pastor Erwin Lutzer. He is a longtime senior pastor at The Moody Church in Chicago, IL. Pastor Lutzer does radio shows espousing his evangelical views and is a very prolific writer publishing many books. He earned his masters in theology at Dallas Theological Seminary plus has a doctorate from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary. I share these brief biographical details to explain where this author stands in the conservative evangelical community. He is well-respected as this brief bio suggests.

While I agree with Pastor Lutzer on adultery being clear grounds for the faithful spouse to divorce* Biblically, I am concerned about his focus following that statement. He talks about encouraging reconciliation, which is wise only if the adulterous spouse as first and foremost demonstrated clear repentance. The focus of avoiding a divorce to the exclusion of talking about real repentance following adultery is a subtle but important blindspot.

To be fair, he does talk about repeated adultery as grounds for Biblical divorce; however, I noticed that he goes to forgiveness first in talking about restored marriages. The Biblical order is repentance first and then forgiveness. That was the order presented by John the Baptist leading the way for Jesus’ ministry. And that is the order we need to follow if marriages are really going to be restored.

I believe this is often missed because so much emphasis is placed on not divorcing in the evangelical Christian community. That assumption misses a harsh reality:

Divorce is NOT the worst outcome following adultery discovery.

Repeated adultery in the same marriage is a far worse outcome. It may come with STDs and greater costs to the faithful spouse than if he/she had divorced years earlier in light of his/her spouse’s adultery the first time. That’s why it is important to follow the Biblical order on this one: repentance first then talk of forgiveness and restoration (of trust and maybe the marriage). Personally, I think it is pastorally irresponsible to encourage marriage restoration following adultery unless one is utterly convinced the adulterous spouse is truly repenting. Too much is at stake to not make sure the root sin issues are addressed in the adulterous spouse.

Also, it still remains in the court of the faithful spouse to make the decision whether to remain married or divorce. It is not the pastor’s decision to make. Faithful spouses are the ones bearing the risk and the primary costs of making it work. Plus, God has given them permission to divorce (Mt 19:9). The faithful spouse does not owe it to the pastor or the adulterous spouse to stay married.

While divorce is not a good option, sometimes life does not offer us a good option to take.

We must choose from a buffet of bad options.

But choosing divorce is better–by far in my opinion–than tolerating adultery and not insisting on full repentance from adultery as the foremost condition to even considering marriage restoration.



* As a side note, I think Pastor Lutzer’s interpretation of I Corinthians 7:15 is far too restrictive. Often times, one is not given a reason for the abandonment. To require it to be because of the faithful spouse’s Christian faith is practically hard to prove and is an addition to the actual verse under question. Personally, I believe the context that the unbelieving spouse is allowed to leave in peace here is because an abandoning Christian spouse would be subject to Church discipline if he/she did the same thing. So, I read I Corinthians 7:15 as it is simply written without adding to the reasons why the non-Christian spouse abandons the marriage.


12 thoughts on “Divorce Is NOT Worst Outcome Following Adultery”

  1. Tolerating adultery at all costs can teach the children the wrong messages. Messages about setting boundaries, self worth and most importantly that being in a relationship with another person is more important than maintaining a relationship that honors God by trusting Him to take care of you. I learned that one the hard way. I pray constantly that the kids figure it out. One has… two to go. Thank you for sharing your ministry with us.

  2. Even if the cheater is truly repentant he or she may simply not be able to endure the difficulties of the months and years ahead as they try to rebuild trust. Dumb example, but Tori and Dean come to mind. He seems truly repentant and willing to “do anything” to make it up to her, but her oversensitivity and anger seem to be more than he is willing to put up with. Many cheaters don’t bother to try to reconcile because they know from the outset that they won’t be able to handle the wrath to come.

    1. Agreed, prognosis not good after infidelity in general. Not accepting the anger really says they are not sorry enough, movingliquid. They are not sorry enough to make emotional restitution by accepting their partner’s righteous anger, etc. Plus, I don’t consider it over sensitivity to be twitchy after infidelity. That just means you are less trusting than before…..for good reason!

      1. So true DM. If truly repentant, an unfaithful would do whatever, endure whatever is required to help their injured spouse heal first, the relationship second. Reconciliation is not an entitlement, but atonement is certainly an obligation.

        1. Moddie,

          What concerns me with pastors viewing divorce as the worst option is that such makes them willing to lower the cost of atonement to the detriment of both parties (faithful AND adulterous spouse). It’s not theirs to lower in the first place. And it helps no one as it minimizes the sin. That is neither helpful for the process of healing or for the process of repenting.

  3. Ouch, Tori and Dean are not a terribly great example. She has tremendous reason to think it could happen, yet again. Their relationship commenced with adultery by both parties toward their spouses. What a truly sad mess, especially for the children.

Comments are closed.