Question:

I was looking for an answer to my question, and I ran across your church's web site. I am a troubled person.  I need wisdom, and I find it difficult to find direction. I know I am to search Scripture, but honestly, I believe I'm still in the place where I can only be fed milk, like a baby. I need help.

I had an affair. My wife found out about it, and I thought I ended the relationship. However, it was found that my mistress was pregnant and ultimately resulted in murder of a baby. Even after this, this affair continued off and on for three more years. At this point, this girl is no longer in my life. 

I don't understand confession and repentance. For true repentance, do I need to confess all my actions to my wife and family. Because I'm a coward; I'm afraid to face my wife. I know this may be very difficult to believe, but I do love my wife and hate that I've done this to her. I want to be completely faithful to her and honest with her, but I can't. 

My question is if I am faithful to her, does that constitute repentance or would repentance involve me providing full disclosure? How does that affect my salvation? I believe that I would have no change with Christ in my life, and I know what He did for me.


Answer:

Repentance is a complete change in behavior. "Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Corinthians 7:9-11).

You initially were caught in adultery. You might have been sorry about it, but you didn't repent of it -- you kept crawling into this other woman's bed. Now it has ended, but only you can say why. Did you finally choose to do what is right or did she tire of the affair and it just was easier to drop things? What bothers me is that you said you can't be faithful to your wife. That is a lie. The truth is that you haven't chosen to be faithful. No one is making you visit other women. You did this of your own free choice. So, the only question in regards to repentance is whether you finally commit to staying only in your wife's bed?

Confession, first and foremost, is admitting to God that what you have been doing was truly wrong. No trying to justify it, but a heartfelt acceptance and admission that you've let God down. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (I John 1:8-10).

God also encourages us to not keep our problems to ourselves. When it is just yourself, there is a strong tendency to ignore the problems or justify them in some way. "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). Beyond talking to a righteous person, James doesn't really say who we should talk to. The point is that it isn't good to keep our sins buried. We need the help of other people to make sure we are looking at the problems in the right way, and to have support as we work through the problems.

Nothing in either of these verses say you have to tell your wife. What I ask you to do is look at the situation carefully and consider how knowing about your adultery is going to help your wife -- not you, her. Too often people are driven to admit their sins because of their own guilt. They somehow think that telling their spouse will lessen the guilt; perhaps thinking that they will force the other person to share the burden of their guilt. Sometimes a desire to be punished also drives the person to declare his sins. But what really happens is that the spouse is forced to face what she really hoped wasn't happening. Though you think you hid your affair, I'm positive that you wife at least suspects that it continued. She is choosing to pretend otherwise. But telling her point blankly destroys that option. You are forcing her to carry your sins, and that isn't fair to her. Whatever shreds of trust she had for you is destroyed.

However, if she asks, you cannot lie about the matter. It might destroy your marriage, but that will be just another consequence of your sins.

Unless there is a reason that improves your wife's life by telling her, I suggest that you keep this between you, God, and someone you fully trust to never tell another person. When you truly and fully repent, your wife will notice the change in your behavior and the change in the way you treat her. That is what is important for your marriage.