I have another blog dedicated to helping men and women find freedom from habitual sexual sin and give hope to marriages on the rocks because of infidelity. You can read my testimony here, but the short version is this: I was an adulterer. I cheated on my wife for many years, first with pornography and then with anonymous women. After 7 years of striving with me, she finally had enough and filed for divorce. That was three years ago. What God has done since then has been what God promises to always do when certain conditions are met. The Lord God says,
if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14).
Because I feel God has taught me some valuable lessons through His loving discipline, using even my sin to bring about good, I feel I have something to offer which might be of help to our present crises within our denomination. Having been on the verge of divorce (schism) within my own marriage and by the grace of God having come out the other side better, together, and stronger for it, here is a road-map for healing a ruptured life together.
- Repent. Without repentance there can be no reconciliation. In order to repair a ruptured marriage – or a church – there must be repentance. I had to acknowledge that I was in sin and turn from my wicked ways. My wife’s ability to trust that she could stay within a marriage, even after being so badly injured, rested in large part on her being able to trust that I knew what I had done was wrong and that I have turned around and decided to head in a new direction with my life. We would be divorced today if I had insisted we “agree to disagree” over my sinful actions, as though our marriage could endure me continuing to break our covenant while expecting her to put up with it.
- Remorse. Paul writes that godly sorrow leads to repentance and life, whereas worldly sorrow leads to death (2 Cor. 7:10). Worldly sorrow is sorrow over the consequences of my actions. So long I was remorseful over my sin because I was sorry it was causing schism in my marriage, my family, my job, etc., I would never be free. For many years I played that game, seeking help in 12 Step groups or pursuing other counseling mostly because I was just hoping to bandage the gaping wound in our marriage. I was sorry I got caught, or sorry that our lives were so out of control, or sorry that I and others were experiencing conflict. Anyone with lasting recovery will tell you that recovery doesn’t happen when the goal is to repair a marriage. It must be about getting right with God. Godly sorrow is a recognition that it is against God and God alone that I have sinned, and being grieved for it. Godly sorrow is to be willing to get your life right with God regardless of whether it heals your marriage, your job, or your church. If we are more concerned with preserving unity within our denomination more than we are with pleasing a holy God, we will divorce. I have learned that God will take away our idols (be that a spouse or an institution) if we are not filled with godly sorrow over our sin.
- Responsibility. I needed to acknowledge that my infidelity was sin and that I was the reason our marriage was in the state it was in. I was at fault for my wife’s filing for divorce, not her. There is no doubt in my mind that had I called her actions sinful or selfish we would be divorced today. I had to realize that it was my rebellion, my pride, my sinful actions which have caused her to threaten divorce. Taking responsibility for that was part of humbling myself, which allowed her to hope again that perhaps a new life could be forged together.
- Resurrection. We both had to acknowledge that what God has saved is not the same as what was lost. We each had to die to our old ways of living and being, recognizing that our best thinking had brought us to the end or our marriage. We needed a new life individually and as a couple, and thanks be to God, we discovered a God who specializes in making new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). We have had to learn, and continue to learn, that God tears down and builds up for a reason, and it’s always to bring about greater faithfulness and fruitfulness from His children. God can make these dry bones – in a marriage or in a church – live!
- Repeat. Today, when things are going well, it’s because we are living into this walk of repentance daily with each other and with God. When things begin to go south, we need to re-calibrate to God’s word, which is always reliable and true.
Living into the above is not easy, and requires daily dying to self. Yet isn’t that precisely what Jesus calls all of his disciples to do? His prayer for unity for us (John 17), that we be sanctified in “spirit and in truth,” is far more costly and far more beautiful than either being a couple living under the same roof as mere roommates for the sake of the children or a denomination living under the same logo for the mere sake of calling themselves united. Both can certainly be done, if just staying together is the goal, but they both fail to express the high call of “oneness” the gospel has in mind which is what advances the Kingdom of God and of which is attainable only, I believe, when we are all walking the walk of repentance outlined above.