We are going to tackle the F word here. Perhaps it’s a word you haven’t allowed to cross your lips when it comes to your spouse’s addiction to pornography for one reason or another. Maybe you’re not sure what it looks like in this context. I’d wager that you find it to be as challenging a concept as “trust” in your present situation.
WHAT IS IT?
When I refer to “forgiveness” in this post, I am NOT talking about the feel-good, immediate, unconditional forgiveness that is popularly promoted by far too many Christians and churches as sound doctrine.
Forgiveness is conditional. It’s dependent on repentance. In fact, extending unconditional forgiveness to unrepentant sinners undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ and deprives Christ of his due glory.
If we confess our sins,
He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and
to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
We are meant to imitate Jesus and forgive as he forgives. Colossians 3:13 says we must “[Bear] with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, [forgive] each other, as the Lord has forgiven you.” (Emphasis mine)
For the record, when our Savior hung on the cross at Calvary and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he was talking about a future forgiveness. Jesus didn’t say, “Father, thank you for forgiving these unrepentant Romans.” Nor did he say, “You are forgiven,” which he totally could have done, since we know he had the power to forgive (Luke 5:20-24, 7:49). If God forgives the sins of those who refuse to confess and repent, he nullifies the power of the cross. He rescinds Christ’s sacrifice of death.
Ken Sande’s, author of “The Peacemaker” says that forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:
- I will not think about this incident
- I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.
- I will not talk to others about this incident.
- I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
WHO IS IT FOR?
Forgiveness is for your spouse when they have repented and sought your forgiveness. It may feel unmerited, undeserved, and uncomfortable, but if your husband or wife has repented and asked for your forgiveness, you forgive.
For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Repentance (def.) – to turn from sin, to change one’s mind
If REPENTANCE means there is a complete turning from the behavior, then you will see evidence of new choices being made. Your spouse is no longer looking at porn on the computer, renting X-rated movies, or engaging in other sexually immoral activities. There is filtering software in place, he/she is in counseling, and has accountability with a mature, godly, trustworthy man/woman or group of men/women. If you see this evidence of changed behavior and your spouse is taking responsibility and asking for forgiveness, then give it.
Here’s a hard truth: Porn addiction is still addiction and there is a high likelihood that your spouse may experience SLIPs (Slight Lapses in Progress) as they strive to overcome the addiction. If he/she blows it, repents again, and seeks forgiveness, you have to follow The Book on this one:
“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Now here’s the thing that may surprise you: If your spouse is not owning their choices, repenting of them, and taking sincere steps to stop their behavior, then you are under no obligation to extend forgiveness. Forgiving them when they are unrepentant minimizes the damage he/she has done to your marriage and to you personally. Forgiving him/her in her sin interferes with his/her need to repent and seek restoration rom God, which will have eternal consequences. Let’s be frank, it would be impossible to keep the four promises listed above if your spouse is still engaging with porn.
WHAT IF THEY DON’T REPENT?
I your spouse isn’t taking responsibility, repentant, and seeking forgiveness then you stand ready to forgive, just as God stands ready to receive your spouse’s confession and repentance. You make a commitment to God that you are going to take care of your own business at the foot of the cross. You are going to work to not dwell on your husband/wife’s addiction, while you hold out the promise of future forgiveness once there is repentance, and in the meantime, you behave with mercy and love toward your spouse. You commit to not behaving with vengeance, which may be tempting. Instead, be wary, seek wise counsel, and pray that God would move your spouse to repentance so that you and God may both forgive.
Vicki Tiede is the author of WHEN YOUR HUSBAND IS ADDICTED TO PORNOGRAPHY Healing Your Wounded Heart, New Growth Press, 2012. www.vickitiede.com