To begin to answer this question, we need to know what adultery is. Contrary to popular belief, adultery is a consequence of divorce, and not a cause of divorce. Often, marital unfaithfulness is equated with adultery, when in fact it is simply sexual immorality within marriage, which may lead to divorce and then adultery.
In my study on marriage based on 1 Corinthians 7, I learnt that adultery is the ultimate forsaking and dissolution of the marriage covenant, and the seal of this is remarriage, because remarriage makes reconciliation after separation or divorce impossible. Because of the abomination of adultery, Paul instructs Believers who divorce to not remarry, but to remain open to reconciliation. It is worth asking, therefore; would a breach of this Biblical instruction to remain alone (so as not to commit adultery) after the sin of divorce, make such a person unforgivable?
The concept of ‘living in sin’, which is used to describe Christians who are living with sexual immorality and cohabiting, is usually extended to people who have breached this command to not remarry. By so judging, their second (or third, fourth…) marriage is considered to be unholy and sinful, because their first covenant marriage was not broken by death, but by unfaithfulness. It is for this reason that I present the question, is adultery an unforgivable sin? Certainly, if it is forgivable, then the new marriage should be holy too.
I know divorce is a sin. Adultery is an abomination. Divorce and adultery are every bit as distasteful to God as murder, homosexuality and pedophilia. However, I think everyone believes that murder, homosexuality and pedophilia are forgivable sins, the same as hatred, deceit and fornication. They may be harder to forgive, but they are forgivable nonetheless. We expect that those who are forgiven from these sins can live whole lives, filled with the same peace, liberty and grace as other Believers, if they are repentant and committed to walk no longer in sin.
However, I feel that the stain of adultery on a Christian’s conscience and soul can be harder to overcome, because of the scourge of the accusation of ‘living in sin’, though one is renewed in their commitment to abide in love and obedience. Like the single mother living with the evidence of her sin of fornication, the truth is ever before you that you messed up. Big time. You sinned, and people may always judge you based on your past failure, because the evidence is plain for all to see.
I think it is by reason of this guilt and condemnation that Jesus warned us to be careful how we judge. He said:
“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt 7:2).
I remember as a young Christian, I was always hard on what I considered right and wrong, and spoke harshly about those who fell short. I also believed in my own strength so much that I thought that if ever I was to do anything so abominable, it would certainly mean the end of my faith! Not that I would give up the faith as a result, but that it would only take me giving up the faith to be so wicked. And then I fell.
I didn’t lose my faith, but my sin was ever before me, and I lost my self-righteousness. I desperately needed God’s grace. But I had been so judgmental, that my own judgments were taunting me! It was a long time before I could accept God’s forgiveness. I eventually came to see that “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (Prov 24:16). God was able to make me rise again, despite the spiritual death sentence I had spoken over myself years before…
I couldn’t bare the burden of abiding alone, to fulfill all righteousness, as the burning I felt was evidence that a life of celibacy was not my gift. By understanding the better covenant that I have been called into, I learnt that adultery, though abominable, is not an unforgivable sin. However, it has been hard for me to confess this new found belief. I certainly do not want to cross over from being overly judgmental to becoming an abuser of the grace of God. I am not in the ministry of teaching people that divorce is OK. Or that remarriage is an option. But I know that we all sin – even after we have come to the knowledge of God and have been saved by the blood of Christ – and we are all forgivable.
Ultimately, it came to the point for me that I either accept the grace of God, that no sin is too big for Him to cleanse, and no fall is too great for Him to redeem…or I walk away in my shame and guilt, and deny Him and His power to save (which is the real unforgivable sin as, by so doing, I exempt myself from forgiveness). Accepting the grace of God has truly helped me to be so much more gracious (Luke 7:47). He has continued to teach me so many things, through the great love He has shown me. I truly hope that anyone else going through such a crisis of faith will humble themselves before God and accept His forgiveness and redeeming love.
If you liked this post, you might like SHAME – THE DEVIL’S STICKY TAPE