Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
-Acts 2:37-38, NLT
While reconciliation is an admirable goal all Christians ought to seek–faithful and cheating spouses alike, we need to remember this basic teaching expressed here by the Apostle Peter regarding godly reconciliation:
Repentance Precedes Godly Reconciliation!
Too often, the repentance part is de-emphasized when pastors and church leaders are dealing with situations involving adultery. They are quick to skip over this requirement for godly reconciliation jumping straight to pressuring the faithful spouse to “reconcile.”
This truth is one of the main reasons I suggest we ought to expect the adulterous spouse to initiate reconciliation. The initiation of such reconciliation from the cheater demonstrates–in part and not totality–that the unfaithful spouse is on the road of repentance. Minimally, it opens the door to the possibility of godly reconciliation. It certainly does not ensure it happens, though.
I feel strongly about this both for Biblical reasons and for personal experience reasons:
First, the Bible is crystal clear that repentance needs to precede reconciliation. I have just quoted one place where that is stated. Further, it is arguable that even forgiveness ought not to be expended unless repentance by the sinning party takes place. That is precisely what Jesus says in Luke 17:3 after all.
Second, I am seriously ticked off at pastors and Christian counselors who put the screws on faithful spouses yet cowardly never confront the cheating spouse exhorting them to repent. This is not godly. It does not address the sin nor even the healing of the relationship as the sin is never really addressed. The sin is allowed to fester while being swept under the rug in the name of “reconciliation.”
I know I am not the only pastor or faithful spouse to have this experience. When I went through my denominational trial, not one pastor from my denomination offered to confront my adulterous (now ex) spouse as is clearly a directive from Scripture in such situations.
Not a single one.
While they were shy about doing their Biblical duty of confronting my adulterous spouse, they were not shy about judging my reconciliation efforts. They even wrote up what I would consider a “progress plan” judging my “healing.”
My ex-wife’s repentance was not a priority in that experience.
With different details, I know my story is not the only one highlighting such skewed priorities by evangelical leaders. The faithful spouse is put under the microscope and repentance on the part of the cheating spouse is practically ignored as irrelevant.
To be clear:
God does not see repentance as irrelevant to the question of reconciliation!
It is the first thing Peter tells the Jews on Pentecost to do. Then and only then do they receive the Holy Spirit indicating reconciliation with God.
So, next time a pastor or religious counsel dares mention reconciliation efforts to a faithful spouse, I have a question for them:
What indicators do you have that the cheating spouse is repenting of his/her sin first?
Because if the cheating spouse is not repenting, godly reconciliation is not on the table. That means the pastor would be pressuring the faithful spouse into a reconciliation effort outside God’s blessing. It would be an effort that simply minimizes or ignores the spiritual severity of the adulterous sins.
*As a side note:
If by engaging in reconciliation effort one means rebuking the sinner (Luke 17:3), then I would agree with such an exhortation. In my experience and in the experiences of others that I know of, I am unaware of any single situation–apart from the complete disappearance and abandonment by a cheating spouse–where the cheating spouse is never confronted in some way over his/her unfaithful ways.
My point in saying this is that the pressure for reconciliation is usually a Trojan horse to really mean telling the faithful spouse to ignore or minimize the adulterous sins committed against them:
“Come on! It wasn’t that bad. Can’t you just stop talking about it and move on?! Stay together. That’s what God wants for you.”
Such is ungodly counsel.